Inspired by Danielle LaPorte and Carmen’s incessant need to write herself down in order to learn who she is. These are our travel rituals.
Since my girlfriend Geneva lives on the other side of the continent and I’m constantly dreaming of California (and A-Camp), I’ve had my fair share of experience on airplanes. (I’m a United MileagePlus enthusiast, because I’m thrifty and now I get rewarded for it.) Since I live four hours from home, I’ve also ridden many a BoltBus to New York. (MegaBus is just not as good, y’all — weirder people, low-fi Internet, fewer outlets, and a lot more setbacks.) But no matter the format, the patterns are mostly the same.
First things first: I leave my room absolutely spotless when I travel. Coming back to my real life can be rough, but a clean room to come home to can make it all better. As I’m packing, I’m also cleaning — I hang up clothes that are laying over my clothing rack, I fold up the things I decided not to bring and put them away, I throw out trash and wash any piled-up coffee mugs or toast plates. When I’m leaving, I arrange my vanity and make my bed before I get on the shuttle. All of these things help me to calm my pre-travel anxieties (which are, oddly enough, super common) and also help me return home feeling happy to be there, no matter where I was before.
As for the actual traveling itself, I need to feel fabulous when I’m en route or else everything else feels like shit, so showing up for a trip in pajamas is a huge no-no for me. Instead, I show up for red-eye flights and mid-day buses alike in my favorite outfit at the time and most likely reeking of Daisy by Marc Jacobs. (Add a pair of shades, a pack of cigarettes, and two well-placed cocktail rings and I’m ready for the paparazzi.) Before every trip, I take a long, hot shower and rub glitter lotion on my shoulders. Traveling can be stressful, frustrating, and annoying (waiting in line for a dirty bathroom, your plane being delayed two hours when you’re on a strict schedule, crying children, judgmental normie old folks in your row, the dude who takes up both armrests), especially when you hate people as much as I do. Looking good helps me feel confident and centered as I’m going through these motions, as does making a diamond in the TSA screener instead of a triangle.
As a “collector” (read: hoarder) of thrift-store suitcases, I’m terrified of checking bags for fear of losing them. Instead, I travel with a soft brown leather carry-on and my floral backpack.
Inside the backpack, I keep Notes to Myself, usually in conjunction with The Royal Tenenbaums manuscript and/or Acorn, a Moleskine for journaling, and photos of Eli (my dog) and/or Geneva to look at on the plane and display wherever I’m staying. In the suitcase, I roll all of my clothes to maximize space and make sure I’ve packed a pair of pajama socks to make me forget I’m not wearing my fuzzy slippers at night and at least two extra pairs of underwear, just in case I encounter a panty thief. My toiletries vary: whenever I’m in a hotel, I take home the free shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and body soaps and washes on the return trip, which I then bring along for trips where I’m staying somewhere less accommodating. It saves me money the next time around, and it also allows me to remember the good / #luxelife times no matter what my travel situation is. I’ve spent a few trips now smelling of five-star hotel and feeling like I’m with Geneva in Los Angeles, so I have no regrets. Judge me all you want.
Speaking of those toiletries, though: when I’m packing, I make sure I put all the “removables” at the top of a bag. Laptops, phones, liquids — anything that ends up in one of those plastic baskets that nobody ever wants to prepare in advance despite the gargantuan line at the airport security terminal — I put somewhere easy to access and easy to refill when they’re done scanning. That way, I get to one last bit of self-righteous superiority over everyone who’s struggling to fit their laptop back into their laundry bag. (Last meaning I already showed up, as shown above, looking better than all of them.)
I’m more zen when I’m being indulgent, so I break out of my #foreverbroke mindset whenever I’m traveling, too. I buy too many drinks at an airport bar or pick up the most recent issue of Glamour if that’s what makes me feel good. I also dish out money for cabs or shuttles to simplify getting to terminals and back home again without giving myself any guilt; that way, I arrive with my ticket in hand and no back pain, and I know I’ll be there on time. (I’ve tried the Dulles Bus. That shit took too long.)
I’m also more zen when I’m not hungry, so I make sure I’ve packed at least one snack when I’m on the go. (My go-to picks: party mix, cheddar crackers of any kind, white cheddar popcorn.) If it’s morning when I’m coming or going, I go to Dunkin Donuts for a medium iced coffee, everything bagel with cream cheese, and side of hashbrowns. It works every time.
Unlike 99% of human beings, I hate sleeping en route. Over time, I’ve realized I hate working on trips even more. Travel time is me time, especially the actual journeys, so I try to avoid packing a laptop for pleasure trips or worrying about projects on the plane. Instead, I disconnect and give myself full license to contemplate my existence while staring out the window listening to Fleetwood Mac. It’s revolutionary, really.
The trips I take vary from hour-long train rides to Brighton from the station at my doorstep to long-haul flights between Singapore and London, but almost without fail, these are what texts to my girlfriend (who is usually asleep) sound like hours before I’m due to leave:
“hello I haven’t packed”
“I just started [new TV series]”
“I should sleep OR PACK MAYBE, IDK”
“OMG WTF [thing that happened in new TV series] ok fine I stop now”
“ugh why am I even going”
“oh I’m done”
I actually have packing down to an art, but it’s not something you really learn to love, is it? I keep everything I need to go in a drawer: travel-sized toiletries in an airport-safe plastic bag (can’t recommend GoToob bottles enough), a travel towel, slippers (I usually stay in hostels), a universal travel adapter, and a bag to fit chargers in. All of these go into the Deuter Cross Bike rucksack I used to carry everywhere, but that’s been stolen recently so I’m now eyeing the Deuter Superbike EXP — though tbh for the past few weeks I’ve been travelling with an ordinary, super basic backpack a friend gave me and it’s not half bad save for the sore shoulders and lack of waterproofing. If I’m travelling for a bit longer, I use ziploc/vacuum seal bags to squeeze more stuff in.
I’m really easygoing when travelling, which, ironically, tends to make people I’m with anxious. I’ve found that you don’t really need to arrive at the airport more than an hour or so before your flight leaves (I’ve tested this even with two kids in my charge — my mum still hasn’t really forgiven me for this one), especially if you’re not checking a bag. It’s even better with trains and buses.
At the destination: get a paper map! For me this is the fastest and best way to navigate unfamiliar territory. (Google Maps tells you the best way to get from A to B, but doesn’t give you a good sense of what’s where.) Map postcards are also the only souvenirs I get for myself, aside from the occasional obligatory touristy photo. I’m not a fan of travel photography — capturing what many others have done before me, and probably better — so if I do bring a camera along at all I leave the zoom lenses behind in favour of more compact prime ones. I used to carry a Nikon D5100 with a 35mm f1.8 lens but now I have an Olympus OM-D EM-10 with a 25mm f1.8 lens, which, in silver, is an A+ accessory for anyone who ones to look like a caricature of a tourist. Or, y’know, just a tourist. Taking photos. As tourists do.
What’s most important to me when I’m away is taking things at my own pace, whether that means sleeping in then spending the day reading in cafés and parks or pushing myself to cycle for hours on absurdly hilly country roads. I think it’s totally fine to give a giant shopping centre or rainforest tree-top walk or even the Eiffel Tower a miss if you know that’s not gonna be your thing. (Though if there’s even the slightest chance that it might be, now’s the time to find out! Tree-top walks are awesome.) “Must-sees” are a social/commercial construct, and together we can resist the homogenising hegemony of Buzzfeed’s “25 _____ You Must Visit Before You Die” lists.