One Way to Reduce Packing Needs by 50%

Fitting 10 days of clothes for rain, hiking, and Michelin restaurants into a 22-inch carry-on forced me to pack ruthlessly, and to distill my packing thoughts into 5 packing pro tips. Flying to Hungary right after a cycling accident reminded me of the hassles of traveling on the injured reserve list. All this and listener comments on EU mobile regulations, travel apps on smartphones, and the need for Atlanta baggage X-ray ninja skills at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #133:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL after what has been a light month of travel, just 10 days in Scotland on vacation, and then a quick overnight to Atlanta a couple of days after I returned. Other than that, I’ve been in Chicago trying to get back my body clock back to local time. Conventional wisdom says that your body will adjust at the rate of 1-2 time zones a day. So, for the 6 hours between Chicago and the UK, it should take me 3-5 days to adjust. I dunno, it’s felt longer than that. The older I get, the longer it seems to get.
  • It’s also harder for me coming west than going east. When I go to Europe, I can set an alarm to wake up at the right time and will myself out of bed and into the shower. Back in the US, I can’t quite “will” myself back to sleep when I wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning. I did find, though, on this trip that I needed to be careful how long I stayed up the first couple of nights. My usual routine is to take a 30-minute nap the first afternoon I’m there — say around 4:30 — which then lets me push through to, say 10 or 11 that night. I’m then tired enough to get to sleep at what my body might still think is 5 or 6pm. This trip, I found that if I stayed up past midnight — maybe because I got to reading something after getting back from dinner — my body sorta tipped over that inflection point, caught a second, or is it a third wind, and would be happy to push through to 2 or 3 in the morning, which would make the morning’s alarm much tougher to handle.
  • The United flight to and from Edinburgh was direct — always nice — but on an old 757 that had definitely seen better days, and many of them. Eight hours on any narrow body is tough, but on a 757 — the narrowest of the narrow bodies — it’s a bit tougher. And it was completely full — nothing out-of-the-ordinary nowadays. Our flight from ORD landed shortly after the United direct from EWR landed, and so there was quite a queue for the non-EU passport line. Indeed, as we were coming off the jet bridge, an airport worker turned off the escalator and blocked it off. The end of the passport queue was beginning to block it on the floor below. So I reached into my backpack and pulled out my UK passport and was waved over to a set of four unmanned automated gates with no lines. I put my passport in, took my glasses off for the camera, and walked through when the gates opened up. It was pretty slick.
  • I still had to wait for my wife and kids to work their way through the non-EU line, but I made some good use of the time — I helped a mother and daughter from the EWR flight wrestle some amazing large bags onto a luggage cart, and had collected all of our luggage. If they had a Starbucks there in baggage claim like they do at ORD, it would’ve been damn close to a perfect morning.
  • Bridge Music — i knew by bridges (c) copyright 2008 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. Ft: shannonsongs

Following Up

  • Received some good comments on the last episode
  • Nick — no last name on the e-mail — helped answer the question I had about arbitraging different European phone SIMs now that the EU had banned roaming charges. Nick writes –
    • You mentioned having 3 EU SIMs to choose from in Dublin, and working out the best value of the three.
      I live in the UK and have a UK SIM. If I go to Spain, and call a UK number (even if that number belongs to the person next to me) then I just pay a local rate call – or nothing if I have an unlimited calls account. However, if I call a Spanish number, then it counts as an overseas call, as if I were in the UK – even though I’m in Spain. So which is the best SIM to use will to an extent depend on the actual call rates, but also which country it is registered in, and which country you are calling, independently of where you are.
      I hope that makes sense, and it’s useful
  • Nick, thanks for that. It makes a lot of sense when I recall that the EU wanted to eliminate roaming charges, so a mobile call from the UK is the same as one from Spain. For us, though, we’re rarely making a phone call. Indeed, I’m usually the only one making phone calls and that’s typically into a conference bridge. During our 10 days in Scotland, I used 11 of the 300 minutes in my 30 day plan. My wife’s 7 day plan ran out and she never noticed, because her 1 GB of data didn’t. And I think that’s where the arbitrage still could work, on using the cheapest data plan. That will, though, take a good bit of wading through really bad websites with confusing plan descriptions that are only partially in English. I think I’ll probably default to using my UK SIM just out of sheer laziness.
  • Steve Frick left a comment on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page about the new parallel loading baggage X-ray machines I’ve encountered in the ATL PreCheck line. Steve writes –
    • I agree with you that people are hesitant to jump the queue in front of others….. and you do need mad ninja skills if you’re in the first slot trying to grab one of those oversized bins
  • Steve linked to his blog post where he has video and a more detailed description of the situation. Check out the show notes for a link to his blog
  • I have to give the ATL TSA crew props for noticing the problem with breaking into the stream of bins if you’re in one of the front loading stations. When I was going through ATL a few weeks back, there was a TSA person at the parallel loading line choreographing each bin push, having everyone hold up until all the previous bins had cleared, and then having everyone push their bins onto the conveyor at once. I haven’t seen this problem with parallel loaders in, say, Edinburgh or Heathrow or Madrid. I wonder what’s different that requires this manual intervention.
  • And there were a couple of comments on the travel apps people use on their smartphones. Dan Brener left this Facebook
    • Great episode! Here’s the apps I use the most: Air Canada and United, TripIt (although it’s not as good as it could/should be), I used to use FlightTrack and really miss it, FlightAware since the AC app doesn’t tell me where planes are coming from, Uber and Lyft, Packing (it’s a list app to make sure I don’t forget something obvious!), SPG, Yelp, Google Maps and Waze. There’s a few others, but those are the main ones.
  • Dan, thanks for that list. I had forgotten to mention Yelp in the last episode. I have some colleagues who are heavy Yelp users; they’ll build lists of restaurants and bars before starting a project in a new city. I tend to use Yelp and the “Explore food & drinks near you” feature in Google Maps for restaurant suggestions interchangeably when I’m in a new place. I’m always surprised at how different the recommendations often are.
  • Gary Learned sent in on Twitter –
    • What I love about Lyft over Uber is their ability to produce a consolidated receipt of all my rides on a trip
  • Thanks Gary. I’ve noticed that functionality in the Lyft app, but it’s not hugely useful for me since we use Concur for our T&E reporting, and it picks up the individual Amex charges rather than a feed from Lyft. Would be handy if Concur would pull a single consolidated charge from Lyft.
  • And finally, a couple of weeks later on Twitter, Eddie Antar, who is always a chuckle, said
    • Binge listening to TC bc I had to let an AA voucher expire.😖 OTOH I’m not being groped or dragged down the aisle screaming, so.
  • I dunno, listening to my is better than being groped or dragged down the plane aisle. Feels a bit like being damned with very faint praise…
  • And one last Tweet, this one from the Craig and Linda Martin of the Indie Travel Podcast…
    • Highlight of the week? meeting fellow travel podcaster @mpeacock for lunch & craft beer in Edinburgh. 10 or so years of podcast friendship
  • Honestly, I think Linda and I had been trading e-mails for most of this year, seeing if we could physically meet up after so many years of knowing each other in the travel podcast universe. One of us would hear the other mention travel plans in a podcast that might overlap with the other’s. It finally came together at the end of our Scotland vacation and the beginning of theirs. They flew into EDI Sunday night; we were leaving from EDI Tuesday morning, so Monday lunch was the call. I drove over from St Andrews to a new neighborhood for me; kinda hip. Linda picked a nice pub with a great beer list that we all enjoyed. It is one of the great things about travel — getting to meet up with friends; and in this case, for the first time.
  • Bridge Music — Funkist – cdk dub mix by cdk (c) copyright 2007 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: teru.

Packing Pro Tips

  • Getting everything I needed for our 10 days in Scotland into a carry-on bag pushed my packing skills just a bit. The trip was mostly hiking and hill walks with a couple of 1-star Michelin restaurants thrown into the mix. And the forecast was for rain just about every day. We were on a direct flight to EDI and my daughter had to check a bag with stuff she was taking back to university, so the carry-on limitation wasn’t because of lost luggage or being able to power past the baggage carousel — a non-starter given the long non-EU immigration line at EDI. It was more about trunk space in the rental car. As it was, I was doing luggage jenga just about every morning trying to puzzle everything into the back of our Nissan X-Terra.
  • I easily spent an hour — 2-3 times longer than usual — trying to figure out how to get hiking shoes, rain gear, dress shirts, and everything else into that 22-inch bag. It made me pack ruthlessly — everything had to earn its space in the bag. And though I’ve casually mentioned some of these ideas in prior episodes, this latest packing experience really crystallized this pro tip list.
  • First and foremost, pick a single color family for your clothes, and make it black. Three main reasons — Black makes everyone look thinner, it spans casual to smart dress codes, and black doesn’t show stains. OK, the thinner thing is a nice-to-have, but hiding stains is key. I packed two pair of slacks and wore a third on the plane. I couldn’t be one-and-done because I took incoming from a fork-handling mishap.
  • Second, no one-and-done outfits. Every piece of clothes has to serve multiple purposes so it can be worn multiple times — every shirt has to work under multiple sweaters and has to go with more than one pair of pants. Versatility is key. And yet another reason to pack black.
  • Third, think “additively”; pack layers. This was key in my last packing challenge too — last year’s Spring Break trip to Iceland and Southern Spain that I talked about in episode #121. Pack multiple thin layers that you can pile on when it’s cold and wear separately when it’s not. Black sweaters and a black fleece vest are my layering go-to’s.
  • Fourth, wear your bulkiest clothes on the flight. I packed the hiking rain shell and flew in the blazer I needed for the 1-stars because the shell is infinitely more crushable. My only caveat to this is shoes. I packed the hiking shoes, even though they were bulkier than the dressily casual walking shoes I was also bringing, because I didn’t want to set off the metal detector in the Pre-Check line or get pulled out because the soles are too thick. If you’re not doing Pre-Check, you’re already taking your shoes off, so wear your biggest ones.
  • And my fifth and final pro tip, use a non-descript black rolling bag. Black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents scanning for bag-sizer bait. My daughter had a baby blue roller bag for the longest time. She loved that color, and it was easy to spot on the luggage carousel, which is a good thing; it ended up there a lot because gate agents were always pulling my daughter out of line to gate check that bag. Her current bag is a dark eggplant purple. It’s not black, but it’s close. If you’re flying a budget airline that’s a stickler on size, use a hard-shell bag. It’ll keep its dimensions better when overstuffed, and the polycarbonate shell will slide past the metal bars of the sizer easier than the ballistic nylon of a soft-sided bag.
  • There you go, my five packing pro tips. If you’ve got some of your own to share, send them along through the usual channels and we’ll have them on the next episode.
  • Bridge Music — Jolanta Blues by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.  Ft: Admiral Bob, Martijn de Boer

Traveling Injured

  • In a couple of past episodes, we’ve talked about how miserable it is to be sick on the road. Traveling injured is a bit similar, but not quite the same. While you’re not, say, shivering under hotel blankets after you’ve cranked the thermostat as high as it’ll go, you’re not powering through your day at 100%.
  • The most recent stint on travel injured reserve was our May trip to Hungary. My wife had left the week before to visit her aunt and cousins, leaving me alone with the cat. I was working from home one nice day and decided to take a break for a bike ride. Figured I should take every opportunity to burn some calories now since Hungarian food isn’t known as spa cuisine. I did my normal 17-mile circuit for the 50th or 60th time. Coming towards the last mile, I’m looking ahead to line up a turn and boom — I hit some huge divot in the pavement that I’ve never seen before. My hands fly off the handle bar, I see the front wheel turned 90 degrees, and down I go, skidding across the asphalt. I come to a stop just short of the curb, pick myself up, rinse the visible road rash with the last bits of water in my bottle, and limp my bike and myself home.
  • I immediately hit the shower, scrubbed out the road rash (with, as you might imagine, a bit of loud vocal commentary), and surveyed the damage. Good sized abrasions on my right elbow and forearm, my right butt cheek, both knees, and a line on my left chest where I must’ve popped the handle bar. I lost a bunch of skin, but felt lucky I didn’t break a collarbone or something worse.
  • The Friday night flight to Vienna was not a comfortable one. No knock on Austrian Airlines; as I mentioned in an earlier podcast, I was happy with their service. It was primarily the seat — a standard coach seat, so not overly spacious — pressing up against that large bit of road rash on my right, uhh, hip. Indeed, that abrasion was still — I think “weeping” is the technical term. And so halfway through the flight, I was in the toilet with my tube of neosporin, my gauze pads and my surgical tape re-dressing it. It was either that or change pants. And following my packing pro tips, I couldn’t do a one-and-done on these pants. Luckily, I was in that quiet time between the after-dinner and the just-before-landing toilet rushes, so no banging on the door to hurry up.
  • Every day was like that — 30 minutes of removing and reapplying dressings, at first 3 times a day, then 2, and then when things finally scabbed up a bit, just in the morning, and really by then as much for cosmetic purposes — so that people wouldn’t ask me about it — as much as anything. I had to skip the family trip to a Budapest thermal bath — I didn’t want some bath guard calling me out of the pool in front of a couple of thousand Hungarians, and I honestly wasn’t sure how aggressively they were chlorinating that water.
  • That wasn’t my most awkward stint on the travel injured reserve list. Last year, I squeezed in a dermatologist appt for a mole scan before a flight out that afternoon. The doc said “This one looks a bit suspect”, putting his finger on a mole right in the middle of my back. He numbed it up, shaved it off, sent it off to the lab and bandaged me up. “Change that dressing every day,” he said as I raced out to head to ORD. The next morning, in a hotel bathroom, by myself, looking in the mirror at the gauze dressing between my shoulder blades that I couldn’t reach, I wondered how I could change that dressing — call the front desk, ask a colleague? That seemed way too much to ask. And, it wasn’t that big of a mole. That dressing could wait ‘til Friday.


  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #133
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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