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Keeping Your Sanity: 15 Tips for Traveling Better and Smarter from a Frequent Flying Working Mom

As the Chief Diversity and Professional Development Officer for an AmLaw100 firm with 53 offices in six countries, it’s safe to say that I do my fair share of traveling. Over the past seven years in my current position, I have easily logged over 100,000 miles annually. In fact, it seems that I’ve almost always […]

As the Chief Diversity and Professional Development Officer for an AmLaw100 firm with 53 offices in six countries, it’s safe to say that I do my fair share of traveling. Over the past seven years in my current position, I have easily logged over 100,000 miles annually. In fact, it seems that I’ve almost always had a position that required traveling throughout much of my professional career. As a young associate attorney at an AmLaw100 firm, for example, I traveled monthly throughout Latin America helping to find expert witnesses for my client’s product liability cases filed abroad.

Then, when you add on the weekly personal travel my husband and I have done over the last few years to take our youngest daughter (a high school freshman playing on a competitive soccer team) to matches in Texas, Colorado and Nebraska coupled with travel to Illinois to watch our middle daughter (a college sophomore) play volleyball, and to Oklahoma to see our oldest daughter (a college senior) perform with her dance company, I easily log another 20,000 miles annually.

Lately, several young professionals, many of them working moms who are also starting to travel a fair share, have reached out to me for travel tips. This article captures my top fifteen tips for keeping your sanity as a frequent business and personal traveler.

  • Buy the Best Luggage you Can Afford: I’ve had several sets of cheap luggage that never lasted more than a couple of years. I’ve been in airports when a handle broke on a critical piece of luggage that I then found myself having to drag or carry. I know a lot of frequent travelers swear by Tumi, but I’m still not willing to spend quite that much on luggage that just gets banged around. I personally like the Delsey hard case luggage. The deep compartments on both sides mean that I can get six pairs of shoes (yes, you read that right) into my carry-on, especially when a two to three day business trip turns into another weekend sports-related trip.
  • Do not Check Luggage: Just don’t do it. You will waste precious time standing in line to check or pick up a bag on the way to the outbound or inbound flight. That precious time could be spent working, reading a book or just vegging out instead of stressing out about whether you gave yourself enough time to check luggage and make it to your gate on time.
  • Spend the Money and Time for TSA Pre-Check: Invest in the $85 fee to visit a TSA Pre-check center for a background check and fingerprinting. That way, in most airports, you don’t have to stand in long lines for airport security which means more time for you at the gate to do what you want/need to do. Many of my friends who travel internationally have also invested in Global Entry passes which cost $100 for a five year membership. This provides expedited U.S. Customs screening upon re-entry into the United States. The best thing I ever did was to invest in TSA pre-check for my youngest daughter. So now when we travel together for her soccer games, we bypass the long lines and have more time to shoot the breeze at our gate.
  • Invest in Travel Cubes: Get thee to Amazon and pick up a set. They come in all sizes and colors and help to organize your toiletries, accessories, clothing, and undergarments into separate compartments that can be neatly stored in your luggage. The bonus is that when you arrive at your destination, you can just take them out and throw them into the hotel drawers, and voila!, you’ve unpacked!
  • Roll Your Clothing: Whether you invest in travel cubes or not, one hack for fitting more into a carry-on piece of luggage is to roll your clothing up really tight instead of folding it. Trust me. You can fit a whole week’s worth of clothing into a carry-on bag if you learn how to roll your pieces properly. I also have a foldable garment bag for my suits and dresses that easily lies on top of my folded clothing. I almost never have to iron clothing upon arrival.
  • Store your Pre-packed Toiletry Bag in Your Luggage: This is a big time-saver. I have multiple three ounce little bottles filled with my favorite toiletries all placed in one of my travel cubes. After every other trip or so, I replenish those bottles to ensure the bag is ready to go the next time I travel.
  • Bring Snacks: Never ever get on a plane only relying on the peanuts, pretzels and drinks to nourish you, especially if the flight is over two hours. Bring or buy healthy snacks that will sustain you and give you the energy you need to hit the ground running when you land.
  • Pack a Good Pair of Headphones: I promise these will save your life. You don’t have to talk to your seat mate if don’t want to. Plus, you get to rock out to your favorite music, catch up on the latest podcast, or binge watch your favorite Netflix show.
  • Bring Something to Read: I always have a list of books I’ve either downloaded to listen to or I bring my latest favorite hard copy. Sometimes I’m reading for work, and sometimes I’m reading for pleasure. Trust me, when the WiFi is not available on a flight, you will be glad you brought something to read.
  • Find a Great Outer Bag to Carry both your Purse and Personal Devices: For women travelers who don’t like to check their bags, this is a BIG deal. Because we often have a separate purse, laptop bag, and then work-related items, it’s hard to downsize everything into just two bags. The solution is to find a strong, sturdy, stylish big bag that holds all these things so that you can get them all on the plane following the two bag maximum rule. You can always untether them once you’re on the plane and need them. I found a cool vegan leather bag made by Shiraleah in Chicago that now two of my team’s managers have also purchased! I now travel with a backpack (a tip I nabbed from my husband) instead of a purse. This bag fits my backpack, my I-pad, a red well folder or two, my travel folder, AND snacks!
  • Use the Time on the Plane Productively: I’m always cognizant of building my firm’s brand for diversity and inclusion and professional development. My personal brand is tied to my firm’s brand and vice versa. I use the time on planes to write articles for LinkedIn, to plan social media posts, to do some deep thinking about programs or initiatives I’d like to roll out. Many times being on a plane is the only quiet time I may have in a week to actually prepare and think things through. Sometimes though being productive means sleeping or resting so I’m fresh and ready to go when I arrive at my destination.
  • Pack “Go-to” Suits, Dresses, Accessories: I have found that certain articles of clothing travel better for me. Thus, they become my favorite go-to pieces when traveling. I love a nice pantsuit with a simple blouse or a dress that doesn’t require much thinking when I arrive at my destination. For women, a pretty scarf can dress up even the most mundane outfit.
  • Travel in Comfortable Clothing: Honestly, I hate when I have to go right to a meeting or presentation when I land. So, I try not to do that if I can. If I have a two to three hour window of time, I can wear my favorite pair of jeans or slacks and my favorite pair of boots or wedges. And, nine times out of ten, I wear the exact same outfit home on the plane. That way, I save space in my luggage. I always travel with an extra pair of socks in my backpack to put on my cold feet while on the plane.
  • Send Documents to Your Destination/Keep a Travel Itinerary: I travel with an I-Pad; I do not like traveling with a laptop computer and having to get that out of my bag during the security check. If there are materials that I will need at my destination, especially if they are bulky, I have my assistant mail them ahead of time so that I don’t have to be bothered with carrying them myself. I’m sure there are handy travel apps to store your itinerary when traveling. I don’t use them. I just always ensure that my flights, hotel and rental car information is both on my Outlook calendar (with e-invites to my husband so they appear on his calendar too for planning purposes) and in a red travel folder that my assistant prepares for every single business trip I take. That folder also has a flash drive with any presentation I am to give, extra business cards, and my department’s Talking Points document which summarizes our major initiatives as well as our latest diversity metrics.
  • Sync Your Family Calendars: The best thing I ever did was purchase an I-phone for myself about five years ago. It was such a pain when I was the only one with an Android and everyone else in my family had I-phones. Our calendars were not in sync, and we were frustrated trying to track my travel schedule and ensure adequate parental coverage for our three daughters. Once I got an I-phone, it was easy to empower our girls to create and send to me and their dad their own Outlook invites for their activities; my husband did the same for his work, civic, and leisure activities as did I. Boy, did our lives change! We can all see what the others are doing on any given day, and it allows my husband and I to more easily divide up our parental responsibilities and seek help from family or friends when necessary.

I am sure there are many more travel tips you have that can be added to this list. Share them in the comments so that we may all benefit. In the meantime, I hope you have found a few of them helpful for your next business or personal trip.

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