Travel is one of those activities where small mistakes cascade into larger ones, and where simple preparations can make a huge impact on the quality of your travelling well-being.
Throughout my PhD, I have been travelling a considerably amount more than I have done before and I have (more times than not) had travels that did not go according to plan. I have been delayed or stranded in airports and train stations, so I have learned a thing or two about optimizing a travel day and how to make travelling easier and more comfortable for myself. This list is continuously updated when I learn something new.
As always, share you own tips so I can post them here.
Last updated: March 12 2020
Prepare for your travel
Back-up your important documents and things
One is none – always have a backup!
Scan important documents such as passports, driver license, or possible visa documents and save them to your devices and an online back-up such as your email, Dropbox, Nextcloud etc..
Take a quick picture of the inside of your packed suitcase/bags and save it with your other documents. If the airline loses your luggage, you will want this to prove its value.
Have directions in a physical format
Print out any addresses and Google maps directions you may need ahead of time. If you’ll take a taxi, this will make everything run a lot smoother which is what you need at the last 5 percentage of the travel.
Also: consider printing the directions in the language of the destination!
Make sure your phone works across borders
Check with your phone carrier whether your phone plan includes mobile and/or data outside your home country.
Without an international data plan, the GPS feature on a smartphone can be extremely expensive. International data plans can be expensive, but they are worth it just to get GPS.
Combating the lack of power
Power – or more specifically the lack of power – has been a common issue for me when travelling.
It sucks to be a foreign place with no phone to call a cap, no digital map, or even the possibility to look up the address of your hotel which you forgot to write down on physical paper before you became powerless.
I usually carry my phone and my laptop with me, but even though I make sure they are fully charged before I begin my journey, the battery always seems to be running out when I need it the most.
In most European airports, you can find ‘power bars’ where you can charge your devices for free, but often they are crowded with people and in many other airports you would have to seek any corner for a usable power outlet. Therefore you either need a good power bank
A power bank solves this issue easily and makes sure that you can rely on having a working phone and other device during your travels.
or at least a USB charger, so you can charge your phone with the laptop battery in an emergency.
Bring a universal power adapter
In 2018, I was at a multi day meeting in New York City and I was going to give a presentation. I sat down in my hotel room after a long day of discussion to prepare my last slides and polish my talk and then my computer ran out of power. No worries, I thought, I brought my charger. And I took a closer look at my charger. My charger with the danish ‘Smiley’ plug that not in any way compatible with the power sockets in the US.
In ‘the city that never sleeps’, I went from one almost-closing foreign store to the next, frantically looking for a plug adapter or alternatively a replacement charger with the right plug. After almost 2 hours of searching while jet-lagged, the small, suspicious corner store had what I needed:
The All-In-One 125V 250V universal travel power adapter which can input even weird Danish plugs and connect them to the wall outlets in more than 150 countries worldwide. It falls rather easy out of the wall, but besides that it gets the work done.
I got to my room, charged my laptop, and finished the presentation slides even in my slightly fluttered, jet-lagged state-of-mind. This is not an experience I would like to repeat, and therefore I always carry this universal power adapter with me in my backpack when travelling.
Pack food and an (empty) water bottle
This is a life-saver! Especially if you travel though smaller train stations or airports where there might not be any stores or where they are closed for the night. Or if you have allergies or dietary restrictions, which further limits your options in these places.
Pack at least a few snacks. Remember the limits on liquids for going through security. Fruit can be an issues through security in different countries, so consider something individual packed.
My go-to packed foods are: Salted almonds, oat cookies and dark chocolate. For longer trips, I usually bring a lunchbox with spicy chickpeas and mixed vegetables wrap.
These are the best dark chocolate/oats cookies I have come across. Unfortunately for me, they can only be brought in Penny’s in Germany.
This advice is especially important when travelling with kids. Travelling is exhausting for everyone, but for kids it can be even more tiresome due to the many new sensory inputs. Some comfort food can help turn the travelling experience into a more positive one.
Bring a refillable water bottle – it will save you a lot of headache and money. If you are flying, remember to keep it empty until after security and then fill it up.
Prevent losing your luggage
Luggage gets lost or accidentally taken from time to time.
Prevent this by making your luggage easy to identify.
Use colored straps, unique baggage tags, or add your own flair to your bag in order to avoid looking for the generic black, medium-sized carry-on.
Also: Put your name and contact information on two labels: one outside the bag and one inside the bag.
Minimize your luggage
Have as few bags as possible! There are many benefits to this strategy:
- You can get around quicker
- You get less tired as you carry less weight around
- You don’t loose important stuff because you have a better overview
You don’t need half of the stuff you bring anyway, so consider one extra time about what things you are bringing with you. If you stay at hotels, you need only few items in general, so keep it minimalistic.
- Only bring versatile pieces of clothing that can be worn in different combinations.
- Be okay with wearing repeated outfits.
- Simplify the color palette of your clothes,
- Pack at most one extra pair of (running) shoes as shoes quickly fill up a suitcase.
- Bring fewer gadgets and bathroom appliances.
- Wear your bulkiest pieces such as a cardigan or a sweater on travel day so they don’t take up space in your bags.
I usually travel with 2 bags at most: my backpack and my carry-on suitcase.
My backpack is a simple North Face school bag with two bigger rooms and one small outer pocket.
I like to bring a backpack as I like to use it as an everyday bag during my conference/meeting/stay.
On travel days, my back-pack is mostly empty, but it contains the things that I will reach for during the travel: travel documents, my laptop, my headphones, an extra cardigan, my snacks, the phone charger, and maybe a book or papers to read.
If I am flying, my backpack also contains the clear plastic bags with liquids for an easy walk through security.
My carry-on is a normal small carry-on with 4 wheels with one big room and a small outer pocket.
On business trips, I usually save bills and receipts for reimbursement in the outer pocket as it has a ziplock and enough space for me to not worry about folding the receipts up too much or for them to get wrinkled and curled. It also seems useless for most other purposes.
My carry-on contains mostly clothes and my toiletries and thus the things that I would leave in my hotel room at the destination. If I am away for more than a few days, I will bring my running gear and shoes.
I like there to be a bit of extra space in my carry-on, so I can put my coat and scarf away when I get to the train station or air port. I don’t need to wear the coat in these places and not wearing them gives me more freedom of movement and allows me to use fewer bins in the security line.
When I am flying, I can stove away the carry-on in the overhead compartment as the backpack contains the things I will reach for during a flight, saving a bit of much-needed mental energy.
Pack clear ziplock bags!
Pack a handful of clear 1L ziplock plastic bags in one of the inner pockets of your carry-on suitcase. It might sound ridiculous, but it is so convenient!
You can use then for travelling with liquids in your carry-on bag (and have spares in case one of your containers explode). tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/liquids-rule You can use them for wet/dirty clothes that needs to be packed in a hurry.
They don’t take up a lot of space and they can solve small otherwise annoying issues.
… and use clear plastic bags for an easy packing system
I apparently like plastic bags..
I like to divide my stuff in categories e.g. socks, small electronics, running clothes, and then pack these categories in separate plastic bags before putting them in my carry-on.
This makes it easy for me to keep an overview of my stuff while travelling and it makes it easier for me to keep clean and dirty clothes separate.
Do you every feel like a plastic bag?
This also make the surprise extra security screening check a lot easier.
Consider noise-cancelling headphones
I am probably going to write more about how getting noise-cancelling headphones changed my life.
These headphones Bose QuietComfort 25 changed my life. These are wired noise-cancelling headphones that run on AAA batteries.
But especially when travelling, they fully transform the experience.
I have more energy now when travelling. I can mute (or at least turn down the volume) for crying babies, loud chit-chatty passengers, and annoying muzak, and just focus on my own things in my own bubble.
I usually listen to relaxing conversational podcasts such as Hello Internet while travelling or nice power music.
Double-check what you packed!
Did you remember your toothbrush?
Did you put your passport and ID in your bag?
Did you pack chargers for all your devices? Phone, laptop, toothbrush, headphones, wearables?
Did you check the weather at your destination and maked sure that you will be dressed accordingly?
Did you remember to leave most of your clothes at home?
While on adventure
Use a travel wallet
Do not carry all your cash or credit cards in the same place!
Spread it out over multiple wallets/pockets and consider keeping some in the hotel safe in case of emergencies.
Receipts and tickets
Do not discard a train or subway ticket! Some system require you to submit the ticket to a machine when you get off.
Keep a designated pocket in your suitcase or bag to receipts if you plan to be reimbursed.
If you forgot basic toiletries, ask the reception when you check in.
Most receptions have a small stock of travel-sized version of everything.
Double-check your room for bed bugs
It is annoying to do, but it would be even more annoying to bring these unwanted guests with you back home or get bitten.
You should be searching for bed bugs, but also signs of bed bugs such as dried blood stains or dark pepper-like spots on your bedsheets or mattress, the shedded skins of a bed bug, or bed bug eggs, which are whitish-clear and look like tiny grains of rice. Focus your search around the bed and near wooden furniture.
If you find some of these things, contact the front desk immediately. Get a refund for your booking and get out of the hotel.
If there are bugs in one room, they are probably in all rooms.
Find the closest landromat and dry all clothes and shoes on high heat for at least 20 minuttes.
When you get to a new hotel, place the clothes you have worn in a plastic trash bag and seal it up until the clothes can be washed.
Take a shower. Drink a nice cup of tea or something stronger. Repeat as necessary until you’re able to fall asleep.
What other steps could you take to prevent getting your things infested with bed bugs?
- NEVER put your bags on or underneath the bed. Preferably, put you luggage in a bath tub if that is possible as the bed bugs cannot fly and have trouble climbing smooth surfaces.
- Use the plastic bag system to store you clothes.
It is a nasty topic but the situation will be even nastier (and more expensive) if the bed bugs infect your home.
It is not fun to forget something in a hotel room.
I use a simple system in order to make it easier for myself to not forget anything
- Never put anything in a drawer
- Avoid using the closets. Instead I use my carry-on (and different plastic bags inside it) as my closet.
- Use only one power outlet
- Place all loose items on the desk and only on the desk
Even if you follow this system, remember to double-check your shower niche and the power outlet near the bed for the things that you forget the easiest.
Dealing with jet-lag
Everyone has their own technique for how to cope with jet-lag.
I like to stay up until 10 pm in the destination time zone and set my alarm for 6 am the next morning
I get up, get ready, and get outside for a morning walk as soon as possible.
I find that light helps my synchronize my inner clock, be that either sunlight or strong artificial ligthing.
Avoid alcohol when you are getting used to a new time zone.
Travel can destroy a regular workout routine.
Lack of sleep, jet-lag, and a new city are all challeging to the everyday schedule.
In most cities I have been in, I feel safe enough to go for a morning run. It is easy and free and refreshing and it let’s you discover our destination in a different way.
If I do not feel safe outside or if the weather is not running-friendly, I usually opt for an apartment-friendly, body-weight work-out routine in my room – here YouTube is your friend!
But otherwise: don’t worry! You will catch up on the lost sessions in a week or two. It is more important to get your sleep (and do the work that you are travelling to do) than to follow the exact routines you would do at home.
Have food in your room
During conferences and meetings, I usually have dinner at a restaurant with collegues, but there are many other meals in a day than dinner. This can be a cheap, quick breakfast or just a snack.
It is convenient to have a bit of food in your own hotel room. This could be for when you are jet-lagged and have not yet syncronised your inner clock to the clock at your destination. It is annoying to wake up in the middle of the night in an all-closed city and be ready for breakfast when there is not even an open 7-eleven for miles around.
Or if you are in a city, where the stores are all closed on Sundays (looking at you, Germany).
Or if you are simply tired.
Just like with the travel snacks, dry snacks are ideel as hotel room snacks: cookies, fruits, and protein bars. If there is an electric kettle available, a nice cup of your preferred hot beverage can make your mornings or late nights more comfortable. I also like buying quick oats, peanut butter, and bananas for an easy breakfast or late night oatmeal.
If there is a small fridge in your room (with no automatic weight-sensors for the mini-bar), you can also keep yoghurts, milks or other chilled goods.
Returning back home
As mentioned above, unwanted guests like bedbugs can hitchhike to your home using your luggage.
Earlier, I had access to a big freezer and I would remove toiletries, electronics and other stuff that cannot handle big temperature changes and just put the rest and the bags in the freezer for a couple of nights.
This is no longer an option and I now leave the bags outside on the balcony for a couple of days so the cold Danish nights can kill potential nasty bugs.
Do a visual inspection of your luggage, looking for the tiny stains in corners and along seams.
Wash your (travel) clothes as soon as possible.