In 2008, I spent just over one hundred nights away from home on business, plus a few more on a couple of holidays. This has made me something of a reluctant expert on Women Who Travel, and I’m often asked for travel tips for business women who have to travel more than occasionally for work.
So, as this blog is all about women, here are some highly personalised and very individual tips from the “Travel Tao of Cleo”, as built up over the last three years’ worth of trips to an assortment of countries.
Before you go ….
Some call it “anal”, others call it “Type A”.
I call it organised.
I find it speeds up my packing and planning to warp factor to keep everything which I habitually pack, in one place at home. For me, this is a drawer, but it could just as easily be a box or any other storage receptacle. In this drawer, I keep such things as a duplicate wash/sponge bag with my toiletries, a small umbrella, electrical adaptors for a variety of countries, a travel dual-voltage hairdryer (the hotel ones which are a tube of warm air emerging from a wall don’t work for me, so I take my own), travel speakers for my MP3 player, and other essentials. Once I’ve put the contents of The Drawer into my case and added my clothes, I’m ready to go.
Mentioning clothes – for this, I plan and I Make a List, which details what I’ll be doing and what to wear for each activity or event. Again, very Type A, but I’ve found it helps me to both be more decisive and also avoids over-packing and taking either pointless or duplicate items. I got stung for excess baggage on my first ever long haul trip, but not now. I also take separates, rather than suits, as I find them more versatile, but obviously this will depend on your business trip and the local environment.
It’s easy to find room for accessories, even in the smallest of cases – and a scarf, a belt, some costume jewellery – can help to ring the changes on your outfit while you’re away.
Still on the subject of clothes – when I shop for business attire, I now bear in mind the fabric as well as the usual considerations of fit, cut, price, colour, etc. Try scrunching the fabric of the garment up in your hand – anything with even a small amount of linen in it will crease (and stay creased) at once and is not your friend. Blended fabrics work quite well – I have a jacket which is a silk and cotton mix and which has accumulated many frequent flyer miles in its’ time. I’m sure that I must have colleagues overseas who think that I only wear one jacket, so often does it get an outing. Anything with Lycra® in it (say, 5%) also travels well.
But stay away from the linen. I once took a beautiful linen jacket to Mexico City and, even after having it pressed by the hotel, I still looked as if I’d been sleeping in a field for a week. Not a good look.
(NB: I no longer own this jacket).
When packing, roll your clothes instead of folding them. This works particularly well with jackets, dresses and skirts, and ensures that you can remove them from your case, give them a shake and they’re ready to wear (assuming that they’re not, of course, linen). My top tip for folding a jacket was provided to me by a professional wardrobe consultant, who suggested the following routine:
– Lay the jacket flat on the bed
– Do up the buttons
– Fold the arms across the main body of the jacket
– Then roll it up, from the bottom hem towards the collar, like a sausage.
– Insert sausage into suitcase.
When you arrive, you can unpack and then just hang the jacket up, and it will be in good shape and not have creases impacted into it caused by the weight of thousands’ of other people’s luggage pressing down on it in the hold of the plane.
And finally … stuff socks/tights/underwear into your shoes to act as shoe trees and use up the “dead” space in your footwear.
Probably the most unusual item in my suitcase is a plastic clothes peg – or even two. I can’t even remember why or when I first started including these in my “essentials” kit, but now that I have them, they get a lot of use. Recent outings include:
• Clipping together errant hotel room curtains to stop the light coming through
• Attaching a broken shower curtain to the shower rail to prevent major flooding
• Being used as an impromptu paper clip
• Holding together the sides of my wash bag after the zip broke
… and so on.
While you’re travelling …..
I always take a pashmina (a large, rectangular woollen scarf) in a neutral colour onto the plane with me. Over the years, it has served duty as a blanket, a protector against vicious on-plane air conditioning, a neck pillow, a back pillow in the case of insufficient lumbar support on either the plane or at an event, and an impromptu provider of warmth if you’re ever somewhere which is hot during the day but unexpectedly cold at night (Zebra Lodge, South Africa, August 2008 – yes).
There’s a scary statistic doing the rounds somewhere on the internet about the amount of times that air is recycled on a plane during the average long-haul flight. Even if it’s an urban myth, I still interpret this to mean that someone sneezing in row 26 is likely to be sharing their cold with the whole plane, and I think that I’d rather not be ill at all, thank you, let alone while I’m away. I therefore always travel with a small tub of slow release vitamin C tablets, and I take a couple as soon as I board the plane. The benefit of boosting my immunity like this has served me well so far and, in the event that I ever do start to feel ill while I’m away, taking a few vitamin C capsules has, in the past, been known to prevent a sore throat from turning into a full blown cold.
On similar lines, I always carry a mini bottle of hand sanitiser gel with me (both on to the plane and off it) and use it liberally. No, I don’t have OCD but, then again, I’ve never been sick on a business trip either.
Moisturising while you fly is vital. A flight attendant once told me to do two things on a long haul flight: drink a LITRE of water per hour of the flight and spray my face regularly with a Body Shop vitamin E moisturising spray. I generally find that the first suggestion is neither practical nor sustainable, although I do agree that drinking as much water as you can is a great idea (not alcohol or coffee, though). But the moisturiser is a must, and the spray in question is readily available – I imagine from places other than the Body Shop, too.
The aerosol spray dispensers of water are also very good for constant facial hydrating in mid-air, although you’ll have to buy these after you’ve been through airport security, as they are larger than 100 mls.
If I’m flying and then arriving somewhere in daylight which is likely to be hot/with strong sunshine, I also fly with a very small (airport security approved) tube of SPF sunscreen and then stick on a layer just before we land. Admittedly, I’m pale and English so this one’s not a tip for all, but even so – it’s still moisturiser.
Mentioning small tubes – I am an avid collector of tiny tubes and samples of all kinds of products, and I hoard them for use when I travel. Sachets of moisturiser and tubes of cleanser are much prized, as they can go into the clear plastic bag and beat the security issues surrounding larger sizes of product. If you normally buy your toiletries at a department store, try asking for a few samples next time you shop; I do this quite often and the sales assistant always says yes and hands over some useful trial sizes of all types of goodies. I’ve also noticed that many websites and shops are now selling miniatures of various products, marketed as “holiday sizes” or “airline approved”, so it’s worth looking out for them.
In a similar vein, I also decant certain products, if I can’t get them in Lilliputian sizes, into small plastic pots. These are sold in many drugstores/pharmacies and I find the wooden stirring sticks available in coffee shops are handy for assisting with the decanting of hair gel and the like.
When you’re away …
When you arrive and unpack, sort out your clothes first, then the rest of your case. Hang clothes up in the bathroom while you shower or bathe, as the steam will help them settle back into shape, particularly if you’ve followed the tip above and rolled rather than folded.
Keep a note of your packing list with you – it will remind you of what outfits you have pencilled in for what event, and also act as a handy check list for when you have to re-pack and move on. I’m now much better at not leaving assorted possessions in hotels, and life is all the better for it.
My former boss, a man for whom long haul travel is more “normal” than a daily 20 minute commute from the suburbs to the office, once told me that, if one wakes up in the middle of the night, to NOT check what time it is as, if it’s night, you should be asleep, right? I try to stick to this and I’m also very happy to take the occasional over-the-counter sleeping remedy to assist with both getting to sleep and staying asleep in an unfamiliar time zone. I generally find that, if I can have a couple of nights of decent quality sleep at more or less the right time in the local zone, I’m fine and can work in the way that I’m meant to. For me, a non prescription sleeping aid helps me to stay asleep rather than to get to sleep – like most people, when I’m jet-lagged, it’s like being felled by a tree, and so the idea of taking a sleeping pill seems pointless; but it will seem like a great idea when it’s 3am local time and you are WIDE AWAKE and staring at the ceiling of your hotel room, wondering what time breakfast service commences.
The same theory holds true for when you arrive home from a business trip – get a decent night’s sleep at the right time in your local time zone and you’ll be fine; nap at odd times, however tempting it may seem if you’ve missed a night’s sleep on a red eye flight, and you’ll be off kilter for days.
I’m off to California next week so, if you see a woman on a Virgin flight, swathed in a beige pashmina, slapping moisturiser on to her face – say hello.