So far in 2018 I’ve traveled over 10,000 miles and been through airports in D.C., Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Columbus, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Toronto, and Phoenix. While the bar for achieving “travel-pro” status is pretty arbitrary (let’s be honest, some people will never understand how to airport security is supposed to work), I’m claiming my crown. You can call me Queen Ashley.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of my very first whirlwind batch of biz trips, when I had to visit the burbs of Denver, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Memphis for a series of video shoots over a six-week period. They were 24-hour stints, but I was young (26!), bright-eyed (airports are fun!), and eager to prove myself as a new remote employee (love me!). If I learned anything, it was how to pack, how absolutely critical TSA Pre Check is, and that if you want a really useful carry on, you should test it by running through the store, maneuvering around people and down aisles to simulate what it’s like to try to make a tight connection. (If the bag passes that test, buy it.)
So for those eager beavers out there just dying to earn your wings as a travel pro, here are a few of my best tips.
Buy a 4-wheeled spinner carry on
While my big, overnight duffle is monogrammed and adorable, the first and last time I ever used it was on a red-eye from San Diego – Phoenix – Charlotte – D.C. (I know. Horrible routing.) Trust me, splurge on the spinner simply to avoid dragging a duffle bag through an airport at 6 a.m. after flying cross-country. (Pro tip: I scope out places like Ross and Marshalls for great prices.)
Get some packing cubes
My boyfriend insisted I get packing cubes before we went to Europe last fall. I thought he was just being an organized nerd, but I quickly realized his brilliance. Whether you’re packing for two days or 13, packing cubes are gold. I bought this five-pack from Amazon and, for conferences, organize my business casual clothes, jeans and shirts, pajamas, blowdryer and brushes, etc., each in their own cube. No more digging around a bag to find that one shirt and getting everything else wrinkled in the process.
Keep a go-bag of TSA-approved toiletries
Flashing back to that one time I forgot a toothbrush and the hotel front desk didn’t have any and I had to brush my teeth with my index finger… yeah. Now I keep a bag of tiny toiletries stored away in my linen closet. Time to pack? Grab and go. I also keep a neat little basket filled to the brim with travel-sized bottles of contact solution, toothpaste, face wash, etc., so I rarely need to make a last-minute trip to the store or spend some exorbitant amount of money in the airport convenience store.
Get TSA Pre Check
It only took one time for Lorne to text me from the airport bar in Atlanta like, “Enjoying my bourbon… how’s security?” for me to realize paying for Pre Check is worth every cent. And for those of you who frequent an airport wherever everybody seems to have Pre Check (Reagan National, I’m talking about you), find a friend with free guest pass for Clear, the subscription-based trust traveler program that identifies you by your fingerprint and then personally escorts you to the front of the Pre Check line like a celebrity — or just a really snobby frequent flyer. Try it out, and then decide if it’s worth paying the annual membership fee. (Currently at $179.)
Get a laptop bag with a sturdy strap and that can attach to your carry-on
I avoided this for five years because I didn’t want to pay money for a good bag with straps that wouldn’t dig into my shoulders and leave me sore. Then a few weeks ago I found myself at the Philly airport at 7 a.m. with not enough coffee in my system and I walked by a TUMI store that was having a storewide sale. I must’ve blacked out because 15 minutes later I had a bag I didn’t need, but now can’t live without. The fact that it attaches to my carry-on is a game-changer. I know as I’m walking down the aisle of a plane to my seat people are secretly applauding me for not being that person that hits everyone with their bags as they walk by. Now I only have to write like 20 Fish blogs to pay for it.
Have a monogamous relationship with an airline
Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. Every frequent flier will tell you they only got to where they are by traveling exclusively with one airline. Aside from racking up miles that you can cash in for flights and hotel stays, you can get priority boarding (which means nabbing that coveted overhead space), boosted closer to the top of the upgrade list, free checked bags, etc. At the advice of a friend, I took it a step further and got the American Airlines MasterCard and use that sucker for everything. Thanks for the miles, cable bill. You, too, really expensive x-ray when my puppy leapt off the stairs and I thought she fractured her leg. (She was fine.)
That’s my two cents. What other tips do you have? Share in the comments!