I have an insane job. In the same week I could be traveling between two hemispheres, from arctic to rainforest, covering a swank ski palace on a mountain one day, then down to a macaw research center in a jungle the next. Ok, it’s not really a job, it’s a passion, and I would happily die for it, and most people hate me because my Instagram looks like a Pinterest board. That said the one question that gets asked more then any other is not what’s the best thing you’ve seen, done, or eaten, but, how the hell do you pack.
It is actually a great question, and one I don’t think has a clear answer. No where in school or on the job did anyone go over what to do when you realize you need something you dont have, and how to apologize in a foreign language for yelling a barrage explicative at the ceiling for apparently no reason. So after years of being my own guinea pig, I have a few tips for anyone that wants to travel like a travel writer.
1. Be nice.
I start with this as it is the most important tool in your arsenal. Niceness will always get you the most out of any situation, period. Flight oversold and you’re stuck? Don’t yell at the poor human that is trying to make minimum wage to live their life, be nice. They’ll help you out if they can. Someone purposefully trying to be a dick to you because they don’t like your accent/shoes/man-bun? Be nice, because it’s an oportunity to open their world to a new perspective, or at the very least you’re less likely to get shived if that was their plan. Just be nice.
2. One of each, and double up.
What the hell does that mean Dr. Seuss? Well it means be economical with what you take, but take enough to cover any basis. For clothing look at it like this; take something casual and also something you can dress up in. You need to be comfortable but you don’t want to feel out-of-place if a fancy occasion arises. If you can, find something that is both comfortable and can be dressed up, like a pair of nightclub sweatpants, or a schizophrenic jacket. You want to bring a Swiss Army knife, not your grandmothers entire place setting.
3. Get good gear.
If you like to make things to make things while you travel like me, you know that having the right gear is key. Too much and you’ll weigh yourself down, too little and you’ll be cursing yourself for not bringing “that lens”. While technology changes constantly, I have a pretty solid set of tools I like to bring with me on any job. I made a film for you about it above, enjoy.
4. Carelessly Plan.
Again with the riddles. What I mean here is that as a journalist I have to be somewhat organized. Even when I’m not reporting on something I still do the same amount of planning. I usually open a Google Doc and put any information I might need in it like hotels, confirmations, phone numbers, anything in any order. I just keep a running list, and if I need something I hit Command + F and search for it. If I’m feeling really like my father (love you pop) then I’ll even open Google Maps and plug-in a few locations. You can easily save them to a personal map, and even put notes in each location. If you’re exploring the city and you get hungry, you can pop open the map and see whats near you, this way you don’t have to go hungry while you research on the road.
5. Get Lost.
It’s probably by some divine inside joke that I’ve been travel writing for the last 15 years for a magazine called Get Lost. Getting lost somewhere is by far my favorite thing to do, so much so, that it’s a bit of a philosophy for me. Backstory: my parents met at 666 5th Ave at the Alitalia offices and I was born into an airline family, flying well before I was driving. Back then there was no cell phones, and when you went to a foreign country the only tools you had were the ones you brought with you. You were lucky if you had an out of date GlobeTrekker guide-book, and it became something of a game to try to survive a foreign city. Discovering where to sleep, eat, how to communicate, and what was beautiful was done with only the skills within you, and this love for discovery and problem solving became a foundation of my character. While I think it’s fantastic we have these tools in our pocket now that can translate for us, tell us where the best croissants are, and find us the cheapest hotel, we lose the gift of discovery, and with it, lessen the reward of connecting with a foreign culture; if the game is too easy, how interesting can it be really. So my advice is put the phone away and just let your curiosity lead the way, it will never steer you wrong.
Those are the quick five to get you traveling like a travel writer. Secret #6 is just go, because really that’s all that matters.
I’ve had a few people throw some questions my way so I thought I’d answer specifics… if you have anything you want to ask, drop it in the comments.
Q: Do you ever have any trouble with the TSA.
A: Depends. There is no rhyme or reason when they will stop and search a bag of mine, despite literally packing it the same way for a decade. I do have TSA pre and Global Entry which helps a ton, but overall rule number one of “Be Nice” seems to be the only real salvation in a TSA situation.
Q: What phone carrier do you use? Is it not really expensive traveling as much as you do?
A: Google Fi. Before Google Fi I had ATT for my iPhone, and yeah, it sucked. I did buy a cheep Samsung that I could pop a local SIM card in, but that was a pain too. Google Fi changed all that as I can literally go anywhere in the world and my phone works for the same data rate. It’s a game changer.
Q: Are there any specific clothing brands you like?
A: Socks I like Stance. Prana also makes great travel gear that looks swank, great jeans and pants and shirts that don’t wrinkle. Duluth makes great tactical underwear. Yes tactical underwear.
Q: Do you know any travel hacks?
A: Hmm… well one thing I do is always keep an old hotel key with me in my go bag. Reason being is that most modern hotels these days require you put a key in to get the outlets to work, and if you’re charging batteries, then you best leave a key in while youre out.