There are lots of lists out there with things you need to know about traveling. Over the years, I’ve developed three simple rules I swear by. Not surprisingly, I formed these rules by violating them.
Rule No. 1: Eat first
Nothing makes a trip more miserable than being hungry. If you’re embarking on a journey and you don’t know when or where your next meal will come, eat first. If you can’t eat first, bring food with you. If you can’t eat first and you can’t bring food with you, don’t go. It’s that important.
One time I was getting ready to board a train from Frankfurt to Paris, about a six-hour ride. I arrived at the main station with plenty of time to spare, and there were plenty of choices of places to eat. However, I managed to convince myself I didn’t need to eat yet because it had only been a couple hours since breakfast. Besides, I figured I’d just get a sandwich on the train.
Big mistake. For whatever reason, this train didn’t have an onboard cafe. I arrived in Paris starving, having eaten nothing but the Pocket Coffee they were giving out for free at the station in Frankfurt. I found food right away, but a sandwich and soda before I left would have made the long trip much more pleasant.
Rule No. 2: Pee now
Like being hungry when there is no food, having to pee when there is no bathroom can make a trip really uncomfortable.
One of the more unpleasant times to have to pee is when you’re in a long line to wait for something, especially if leaving to find a bathroom will lose you your place in line. Another bad time to have to pee is that time between taking your seat on an aircraft and leveling out at cruising altitude. Depending on weather and traffic conditions, it can sometimes be an hour or longer.
My first ever cross-country solo flight as a student pilot was to a small airport in Bagdad, Arizona. There was no bathroom there. There were also no people there. In retrospect, I should have just gone behind a cactus. I didn’t.
About half way back to Phoenix, I had to go so bad that I was literally squeezing myself off with one hand and flying with the other. I have no idea how I was operating the throttle. I seriously considered landing in Wickenburg, even though my instructor hadn’t endorsed me for it. I somehow managed to land back in Phoenix, where I did the absolute minimal post-flight check and ran for the terminal.
To avoid discomfort when I’m about to put myself in situations like these, I make it a rule to pee now. Even when it’s somewhat immodest to do so. If I wait until my body to tell me it’s time to go, it may be an even worse time.
I suppose another option would be to take along an empty bottle.
Rule No. 3: Pack light
Packing light may mean different things if you’re driving to Las Vegas for the weekend or flying to Europe to backpack for two months. In either case, though, packing lighter is always better.
My wife and I had a disagreement several months ago about how much we should pack for our trip to Pennsylvania and Italy. We had a wedding and reception to attend in Pennsylvania, and we also wanted to look nice for the Pope’s general audience in Rome. I insisted on one medium suitcase for the two of us, while she pushed for two suitcases. She took her case to Facebook in an attempt to sway me. All her “friends” took her side, but since none offered to pay the additional checked bag fee, I held firm. Finally I agreed to take one larger suitcase.
After the trip, she admitted she didn’t wear a third of the clothes she brought. She’s now firmly on my team when it comes to packing.
So how light is light enough? If you’re traveling by any mode other than your own car, I don’t recommend packing more than you’re willing to carry up a flight of stairs by yourself. Even then, pack lighter if you can.