A Simple Guide for Traveling Smarter

Takeaway: The trick to traveling smarter is to prepare ahead of time, and develop strong traveling habits. Some ideas covered below: creating a default packing list; preparing things to consume and work on while you’re offline; leaning into how tired you are while traveling; and making your trip feel more like home.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 46s.

Podcast Length: 29 minutes, 22s.

Whether you’re traveling for a business trip, for fun, or something in between, here are some strategies to manage your energy, get more done, and just enjoy traveling more. As someone who travels 50-60% of the time, I couldn’t stay sane without these tactics.

As always, my cohost and I dig deep into these tactics in this week’s episode of Becoming Better—but if you don’t have the time or inclination to listen, here’s a summary of what we talked about!

To Do: Before Traveling

Create a default packing list, that contains everything you could ever want possibly pack. This is one of my favorite strategies for saving a ton of time each time I travel. I have a snippet of text (that I store in TextExpander, though a simple text document would do) that contains every possible thing I could ever want to pack for any trip, ever. On the list is everything from a travel belt, to my Nintendo Switch, to printed information about my flights. When packing for a trip, I just paste this snippet of text into a new document, and delete the items I won’t need. This helps me pack for trips without forgetting anything, in a very small amount of time.

Prepare things to consume and work on while offline. This is key. It’s easy to burn through a lot of time on long plane rides, or while just waiting around. Download a few podcast episodes or audiobooks to treat yourself while traveling—or use a read-it-later app like Instapaper or Pocket in order to read a bunch of articles. Make sure to also download work to do ahead of time. If you want to be productive, avoid downloading things like movies in order to nudge yourself into doing higher-quality tasks. If you’re traveling with someone, be sure to plan for that, too. When we travel together, my partner Ardyn and I never travel without a cribbage board.

Plan ahead for time zone changes. If you’ll be transversing across time zones, shift your wakeup and bedtime an hour or two before you leave, to make time zone shifts less jarring. When you begin traveling, eat and sleep on a schedule consistent with where you’re going. This helps get your mind into where you’re going. It’s important to stress about time zone shifts an appropriate amount—I don’t overthink them if I don’t have to “perform” on a trip (ie. do some work or give a talk), but shift my wakeup times a tad leading up to the trip if I’ll need to hit the ground running.

Find a solid travel rewards card. If you travel often, a good travel rewards card can grant you access to airport lounges, comprehensive travel insurance, trip delay and cancellation insurance, and even hotel room upgrades. Not to mention that it can give you the points you need to go on a free trip every once in a while. My favorite card for this is the American Express Platinum card, but that one has a hefty annual fee. (Here are a few of the best ones if you live in the US.)

Scope out airport lounges ahead of time. I use LoungeBuddy for this. Airport lounges aren’t always worth the cost of admission—they can cost upwards of $50-100 when you don’t have lounge access included with your credit card, or don’t have a fancy first class ticket or elite status with an airline. But if you have a long layover, they can be worth it: while they’re pricey, lounges often include meals, drinks, showers, and a place to hunker down to get some work done and avoid the chaos of the airport.

Check out SeatGuru when checking into your flight. SeatGuru lets you type in your flight deals to see which seats on the airplane are good, and which ones suck. Scope it out when checking into your next flight.

Plan around disruptions to your routine. When it comes to how disruptive it can be, travel is infinitely easier to plan around ahead of time. Before heading out, schedule time to exercise, meditate, and maintain your keystone habits. I also like to scope out healthy meal options ahead of time, as well as what restaurants I want to check out, so I don’t resort to ordering in.

To Do: While Traveling 

Lean into your tiredness. If you’re traveling across time zones, take advantage of how tired you are on the first day. Do your best to live in the time zone you’ve arrived in: your first day may be crappy, but you’ll adjust more quickly to the change. Pro tip: do creative work during this tired day. Your mind is the most creative when you’re tired, because your brain is less inhibited.

Work on what you’ve prepared! You almost never get as much uninterrupted focus time as when you’re traveling. Don’t waste this time! Read the articles you’ve saved for the trip, watch the TED talks you’ve downloaded, and work on the stuff you’ve prepared.

Make your trip feel more like home. If you’re like me, the more you travel, the more you miss home. This is why I do my best to bring home to me; packing things I enjoy at home, like my favorite kinds of tea and coffee, and calling loved ones more often than I regularly would. If you’re like me, this will give you a pretty good boost of energy!

A few things to buy/pack, which I never travel without:

  • Good noise-canceling headphones. Or, at the very least, good earplugs. I never travel without my Bose headphones—but there are great noise-cancelling headphones out there at a lot of different price points.
  • A light-blocking sleep mask. Works great for when you need to sleep on a flight, or sleep in a hotel room or bedroom that doesn’t have blackout blinds.
  • A portable speaker. I never travel without a portable speaker. When I first picked one up, I didn’t expect to use it much. Now, I never travel without it. It’s great for listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks in a hotel room.
  • A portable clothing steamer. While most hotels have irons, I hate ironing, so I travel with a portable steamer. There’s very little setup involved in using one, and steaming clothes takes a fraction of the time that ironing does. If you dislike steaming clothes as well, or just want to same some time, hang your clothes up when you’re taking a hot shower or bath. The steam should remove most of the wrinkles in your clothes, and you may not need to steam or iron afterward.

If you’re looking to maintain how much energy you have, get more done, save time, and enjoy travel more, these tips will help! Have a great trip :-)

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