Top ten air travel essentials

VirginAmericaCoastline.jpgSince I’ve been traveling a lot recently, I thought I’d share a few essentials:

1. Laptop privacy filter – if you plan to work in-flight, this screen guard will make sure your neighbor can’t read the presentation you are working on, or the emails you are replying to. On a recent flight I sat down next to two other PR people in my row. You can bet your competitors or your clients’ competitors will happily read your stuff. We’ve all seen sales pitches and forecasts while queuing for the toilet. Given the nature of our work, you need to avert prying eyes.

2. Noise-canceling headphones – great for getting in the zone in-flight and damping out the tourists behind you. Prices have come down substantially. I personally use these JVC headphones since they are less than half the price of the Bose, use standard batteries and work even when they are flat. If you plan to sleep, they are also much better than earplugs, and wearable for several hours.

3. Inflatable neck pillow – don’t worry about the appearance, you’ll get a lot more sleep in coach with one of these on a redeye. Depending on the airline, take an eyemask too since some have even economized on those.

4. Chargers and adapters – take them in hand luggage and recharge wherever you can.

5. Sleepmaker apps [iPhone only – free app] – I’ve just discovered a set of white noise apps on the iPhone which recreate the sound of waves, storms and rain. Play these through your headphones when trying to sleep and it’ll drown out the clanking of the tea trolley, and that guy with the inappropriately loud laugh.

6. Broadband dongle – one of those USB devices which will give you connectivity wherever you are. I have one from Sprint. Frankly it’s not that difficult to get a connection and these don’t work internationally, but it can get you out of a squeeze. I actually find they’re more useful at conferences with patchy wifi than when traveling.

7. A book – requires no batteries, won’t get seized by security and can be used in take-off and landing. If you are stuck on the tarmac, you’ll want one.

8. Content – that said, make sure your laptop and smartphone/MP3 player are loaded up with podcasts, audiobooks and movies you want to watch. You might not want any of the in-flight entertainment, and sometimes the whole system crashes. Plus this is good for layovers when you have time to kill but no energy to work.

9. Hand luggage only – do whatever you can to only take hand luggage. If you are going for less than a week, use the hotel laundry service to reduce your luggage to carry-ons only. Not only will this save time, it’ll also mean you are not separated en-route. I’ve lost my suit on the way to a wedding, and even left my house keys in my checked baggage which has been promptly lost. Don’t do that btw.

10. Gym kit – if you are traveling abroad take your gym kit so you can exercise on arrival. It’ll help reset your circadian rhythm and make sure you get a good night’s rest. Plus if you are a runner, it helps explore the city. I often ask someone to jog around with me – it’s a good way to get business done and enjoy yourself at the same time. If you really don’t have much room, pack your swim kit.

As a bonus tip, I’d also say bring your patience and sense of humor. Traveling is stressful. For everyone – including the staff. Freaking out about delays, missed connections, bad food, lost luggage etc will not usually get you far. The staff have seen it before, and it’s rarely their direct fault. Having tried the vinegar approach, I have found the smiling, understanding one to yield better results.

Hope these tips help. Safe travels.


  • Great tips Morg, thanks.
    And agree on the “be nice to the staff” point. Some years ago I was bumped off a BA flight from Nice to London. The guy infront of me in the queue was livid: shouting and abusing the young lady at the desk who was trying to get him home. He got routed via somewhere in Scandinavia. I was calm and pleasant and got routed the most direct way via Lyon. I think I got home two hours before my irate fellow traveller.
    Being nice costs you nothing, keeps your blood pressure down and encourages people to be helpful. Hard sometimes I know, but worth it IMHO.

  • Thanks Mike – great story. Bet he was still fuming when he arrived. We’ve all been in that situation – it’s difficult when you have little control over your destiny (or destination!). All the more reason to befriend the one person who can help you.