The Twitchy Traveler’s Guide to Making Travel Less Horrible and Embarrassing

I know the traveler I want to be.  I want to be the guy in a sensible sports coat, carrying a briefcase that can fit easily under the chair or in the overhead compartment, yet is still capable of containing a lap top, a tablet, a bottle of whiskey, a vase, and a full-length mirror.  All of his devices are fully charged, his gin and tonic is always half full, and he falls asleep immediately after closing his out-of-print hardcover biography about the father of Romanian botany.

After a transatlantic flight, his clothes show no sign of wrinkles, his hair not even slightly tousled. There is no panic upon his exit. He does not frantically pat himself down for his wallet or passport. He is refreshed, focused and struts off the plane confident in his purpose.

He is indeed the traveler I want to be.  This, however, is who I am:

I’m the guy smacking everyone sitting on the aisle in the head with my backpack and carry-on duffle bag, both filled past the point of decency because I’m convinced any checked baggage will be lost.  The duffle bag will fit perfectly in the overhead, but the backpack will be smashed under the seat in front of me, effectively eliminating any hope for legroom.

I’m also the guy sweating profusely.  This is for a couple reasons.  The first reason being I sprinted from the parking lot to get in the security line even though I arrived at the airport 18 hours before my flight.  The second reason being the amount of clothing I’m wearing. Remember those bags I packed so tightly?  Well, I still couldn’t pack it all in.  That’s why I’m wearing everything else.  I’m wearing so many layers that I look and move like the little brother in A Christmas Story.  If I’m traveling in October or November, I could very likely be clad in a T-shirt under a thermal under a long sleeve shirt under a hoodie under a jean jacket under a winter coat under a sleeping bag I cut arm and head holes into.

Once I’m safely ensconced in my seat, I’ll shed my sweat sacks and pile them into a lumpy mass I will later use as a pillow. Usually, I will be in the window seat because I like it when everyone in the row knows I gotta take a leak. I will hope against hope that no one will sit next to me. An open seat creates the illusion that I might sleep on the plane. In reality, the only type of sleep I’ll get is in 2 minute spurts over the course of a couple hours that will make the flight seem impossibly long and leave me more crazed and sleep deprived than if I stayed awake the whole time. If I’m really desperate, I’ll unfold the food tray and put my head on it. This is cool because, sleep or no sleep, my spine will feel like it’s about to snap for 5-8 days.

I will be at my groggiest and most confused when it’s time to get off the plane. Everything will be spilling out of my pockets. My passport will fall out of the passport holder I bought specifically because it has 3 levels of zippers that make it impossible for a passport to fall out. I will not notice the missing passport until I’ve already walked halfway down the aisle so I get to wait like a creep while the entire plane disembarks.

Upon entering the airport, I will whip my head around like a time traveler from a bygone era unable to comprehend the technological gadgetry that surrounds me.  I will probably walk in the wrong direction.  If there is no one to meet me at the airport, I will take a look at the public transportation maps, have a panic attack, and drop dead.

You see? I’m a goddamn mess. I’ve clicked on every article entitled, “5 Travel Hacks for Your Carry On Luggage” or: “This Guy Never Drools All Over The Person Sitting Next to Him: You Can Too!” These articles are useless. “Show Up to The Airport Early” is not a hack, my dude. Neither is “Pack Light”. That’s obvious shit that I obviously do not adhere to.

I shouldn’t be giving anyone advice, but if you are as pathetic as me, these this might help.

Tips to Make Travel Less Horrible and Embarrassing

1.) TSA Motherfucking Precheck

I’m gonna marry TSA PreCheck.  I’m gonna write poetry for TSA PreCheck.  If I ever publish a book, I’m gonna dedicate it to TSA PreCheck.  When I see the PreCheck symbol printed on my boarding pass, I feel like the fanciest boy who has ever lived.  I strut past the regular security like I’m Henry Hill in Goodfellas sneaking into the Copacabana.

Yeah it’s $85, but it’s for 5 years. If you fly domestic more than once a year it is worth it. Not only do you get to skip the lines, you don’t have to take your shoes off and expose the airport to your funk. No zipping and unzipping and repacking to take out your laptop and toiletries. If this is as close as I get to being a baller, I’m okay with it.

PreCheck is for domestic travel only.  There are international options, but I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about that, so go ask Google.

2.) Be Real: You Ain’t Working Out on This Trip

We all have the best of intentions. We pack our running shoes, our jump ropes, our Lycra pants, etc. We envision waking up in our hostels or Comfort Inns before daybreak to log a couple miles before the day begins. Fuck that. I don’t even do that when I’m at home. If I’m out of the country, I’ll be walking around all day anyway, and if I’m in the States I’m sleeping in a bed that has zero chance of my son jumping in it at 6:30 am. I’m milking that shit for all it’s worth. I accept that I will not work out, and I have a much happier experience.

The only time I’ll pack work out stuff is if I’ve committed to a checked bag.  Once I’ve decided I’m checking a bag, I’ll throw in everything: workout clothes, boxing gloves, heavy bag, whatever.  I still won’t use them, though.  Those items will languish on the bottom of my bag under cases of the local chocolate I’m smuggling back to Illinois.

You’re not a professional athlete.  Your personal trainer gave up on you months ago and is only in this relationship for the money.  You’ve been saying that you’re prepping for a marathon for 6 years now.  I don’t think a couple days off are going to impact your time.

3.) If You’re 19 and 2 Burly Dudes Whose Combined Weight is on the Wrong Side of 500 Pounds Approach You on Bourbon St. and Ask You If You Want to Go Down to the Docks and Smoke a Joint, Don’t Do It.

That’s about it.

4.) Stick With Me Here…Spandex Underwear

Spandex or a spandex/cotton hybrid is my underwear of choice.  I might cheat on TSA Precheck with a pair of spandex boxer briefs.  They are rad because they are comfortable and they make you feel like you are fighting in the UFC or about to do CrossFit.

I’m a notorious over-packer.  My rule of thumb is to bring one more set of clothes than days I’ll be away.  This means tons of t-shirts, socks, and underwear.  Now, I only bring 3 pairs of underwear no matter how long the trip.  I’ll wash them in the sink or shower with some liquid soap, mat them dry with a towel, and hang them to dry.  Unless your taint is a wretched hellhole or you are prone to shitting your pants, this method works all the time.

5.) Low-Fi or Die

I love technology, but I don’t trust it.  I’ve had too many phones stop working when I needed them most, had too many batteries decide to up and die, etc.  Although I would say smart phones are magic, have a backup.  There is a small notebook in the top pocket of my travel bag.  It’s the kind of notebook shitty poets keep in their back pocket just in case they get inspired.  All I do with that notebook is write down flight numbers, reservation numbers, contact info, and any other necessary details.  Instead of fishing through my phone and wasting my data, I take out the notebook and I’m good.

6.) Visit Places Assuming You’ll Come Back

I usually travel with limited time.  While this is way more rad than not traveling at all, I leave cities mostly unexplored.  Since I’m short on time, I’ll do a bunch of research beforehand to familiarize myself with the area I’ll be staying in so I don’t waste time.  I’ll Google Earth it, do street view if it’s available, and get a feel for the place.  If you got that travel guide money, go buy one, but they won’t be able to tell you anything that can’t be found online.  Look at a map, calculate distances, estimate how long it will take to get from place to place, and find out what you really, really want to see, then prioritize everything else around it.

Last spring, I had a few hours in Philadelphia before I had to fly home.  I wanted to see the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Liberty Bell.  They are on opposite sides of the city.  I could’ve taken a Lyft from one to the other, but it would’ve taken up a lot of the little time I had. I chose the Art Museum because A.) the fucking Rocky steps, and B.) there were other things to see on the way.

I never got to see the Liberty Bell, but I always say, “Next trip”. I know that is a very non-YOLO perspective to take, but it allows me to enjoy what’s in front of me and gives me an excuse to come back.  It allows me to kill my tourist darlings till the next trip.

7.) In General, Don’t Be an Asshole

I’m not perfect.  There could be a gang of orphaned children of Dickensian origin panhandling outside Gate B, and I’ll still rush past them to make my boarding.  However, I do my best to not get mad unless I have to.

Airports are filled with monsters who are looking for something to freak out about. Whether it be overpriced water, delayed flights or confiscated cheese, there will always be opportunities to act like a horrible person.  You know what?  Nobody gives a shit about your problems.  Everyone else is either trying to get home or escape.  Your complaints are irrelevant.  Do you think the flight attendant is going to make the captain forgo the safety inspection so you can make your connecting flight?  Do you think the person at the gate is going to lose sleep at night knowing that you missed your flight because your sorry ass showed up to the gate too late?  Leave them alone.  Shit happens.  Go eat some Chili’s and chill out.

If you’re in another country, learn how to say “please” and “thank you”.

If you’re gonna be on a plane with kids, try not wearing your Cannibal Corpse, Deicide or MAGA shirt.

And finally but most importantly: DON’T STAND THE FUCK UP WHEN THE AIRPLANE LANDS AND TRY TO WEASEL YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT UNLESS YOU ARE ON FIRE YOU SELF-ABSORBED PRICK!  If this happens, I suggest everyone on the plane creates a gauntlet and is able to smack the offender in the junk with all their carry-on items.