How to travel like a pro – 10 tips for frequent flyers

As a frequent traveller it is easy to be scornful of those that don’t travel so often, so I thought I’d open up my box of secrets. This might help you if you are like me, a frequent traveller for meetings and conferences – or also if you are a consultant travelling Monday through Thursday.

1) Shop around for a good carry-on

For me the Zen of travelling is the Tumi International Zippered Expandable Carry-On but others prefer Briggs & Riley. They have a few things in common.

  • Maximum size for carry-on = maximum capacity
  • Ability to carry 2 or even 3 suits
  • Expandable if you need it for long trips (but must go in the cargo of the plane)
  • Expensive (sorry) – $350-$600

But, this is a one-off purchase. Briggs & Riley offer a lifetime guarantee. My Tumi has been going for 5 hard years. The expense will offer you a huge degree of comfort and if you shop around in the sales, you will find one at a 30-50% discount.

2) Choose an airline group and become a frequent flyer

You have roughly 3 choices:

  • Star Alliance: Adria Airways JP, Aegean Airlines A3, Air Canada AC, Air China CA, Air New Zealand NZ, ANA NH, Asiana Airlines OZ, Austrian OS, Blue1 KF, Brussels Airlines SN, Croatia Airlines OU, EGYPTAIR MS, Ethiopian Airlines ET, LOT Polish Airlines LO, Lufthansa LH, Scandinavian Airlines SK, Singapore Airlines SQ, South African Airways SA, SWISS LX, TAM Airlines JJ, TAP Portugal TP, THAI TG, Turkish Airlines TK, United UA, US Airways US
  • One World: Air Berlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines
  • Skyteam: Aeroflot, AeroMexico, AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines

Figure out which one serves your home location and destinations best and stick to it. Always log your frequent flyer number. You will get benefits (cheaper miles flights) and upgrades. US Airways are particularly good to their frequent flyers in terms of upgrades, and the One World group has free lounges for Silver members and above.

3) Purchase travelling suits and shirts
This is very budget dependent so take your pick. Austin Reed, Ted Baker, Zegna and Prada all have travel-specific cloths which are a great idea. Avoid linen suits and very expensive suits as they do not travel well. Go for dark fabrics and heavier cloths and you will spend less time with an iron.
The same applies to shirts. Look for “wrinkle free” or “no iron”. This isn’t true but it will reduce the amount of work you have to go to! I prefer to travel with plain white shirts because they match any suit. This improves your combinations.
4) Choose your clothes carefully!
Here is the list of what I fit in my bag (yes, this all fits in a carry-on!):
  • 1 Pair black shoes and belt (I wear the black belt on the plane)
  • 1 Pair tan shoes and belt
  • 1 Grey Suit
  • 1 Navy/Black Suit
  • 5 White Shirts
  • 7 Pairs of Underwear and Socks (Black)
  • 3 casual tops
  • 1 pair denim jeans
  • 1 Washbag (see below)
  • 1 Pair Sneakers & workout clothes (see below)
There is no room for waste when you are travelling.
5) Learn to pack your bag and never check your luggage
Here’s how to pack it:
  • First lay the shoes in the base, toe to heel. Fill them with underwear and socks. Fill your sneakers with the workout clothes.
  • Fit the belts into the gaps
  • Then lay the casual tops and denim on top.
  • At the last minute, put the suits and shirts in the suit carrier and fold it over into the bag.
  • Press down hard and zip it up!
Now you can pack a week’s luggage in a carry-on, you will never need to check your luggage again. This means you don’t have to worry about losing your suit for the next day, or wear your suit on the plane (yuck).

6) Don’t forget your workout clothes

I always pack one set, use them wherever I am and wash them in the shower and hang them out to dry for the next day. It’s not perfect but it’s a reasonable compromise.

7) Be frugal on your wash bag

Remember that you’ve only got a carry-on now, so you have a 100ml (1oz) limit per item and 1 litre (1 quart) overall limit for your wash bag. So go and buy a 1 quart clear wash bag in Acme or Boots and buy travel sized toothpaste, hair wax etc., but always a full sized toothbrush.

I never pack shampoo or soap as I always use the hotel variants. Suit yourself if you want to!

Then I always put my wash bag in my laptop case. This way it is easier to get through security as you don’t have to unzip your bag and you have no worries about spillages.

8) Travel in comfort

First, shower before you fly. I don’t know how many times I have been sat next to someone with bad body odour or halitosis. Don’t be that person!

I always wear loose jeans, smart sneakers, a t-shirt and a jacket. Smart enough so you don’t look out of place if you get upgraded, but not so smart that I’m uncomfortable.

Once on the plane, I always ask the attendant to hang my jacket – which I carry mostly so I have something to wear in the evenings if I need it.

9) Choose your laptop bag contents carefully

You may have to put this under the seat in front of you, depending on the flight, so I pack a small laptop bag with the bare minimum. Here’s what’s in it:

  • Laptop with travel charger and adapter for my destination
  • iPad – great for browsing in the hotel room
  • USB phone charger for iPad and iPhone
  • Adapters for network and VGA display for presentations
  • Camera
  • Noise-cancelling earphones to cut out the screaming kids
  • Washbag
  • Pen (for immigration and customs forms)

10) Learn how to get through security

This is so easy and people make it so hard. Here’s the trick:

  • Put the contents of your pockets in your jacket pocket, take your belt off and put it in your bag and take your shoes off (if required).
  • Get 3 trays.
  • In the first put your shoes, jacket, empty laptop bag and wash bag.
  • In the second, put your laptop and iPad if you have one. And watch this tray because items can  be stolen.
  • In the third, put your carry-on.

Then, when it all comes out, you put your shoes and jacket on, put your wash bag in your laptop bag, then your devices come out to put in it and off you go. Put your belt on later.

Final notes

I hope this helps you – I know it took me some while to learn my formula. What are your travel tips?

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6 Responses to How to travel like a pro – 10 tips for frequent flyers

  1. susan says:

    I end up packing clothes in Space Bags (like a giant ziploc- you roll it to get the air out),clothes get organized by type (undergarments and workout, all others)
    Being female, it can be a bit more challenging- I try to color coordinate a weeks travel- blacks or browns or….never mixed- it is a bear otherwise to coordinate shoes and makeup.
    Jewelry- also mix and match- goes in my laptop bag

    • John Appleby says:

      I’ve heard of people using those – and they do them that accept a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out too! I carry so few items like that that I don’t bother, plus mens shoes fit a load of socks! Great point on what it means to be female and travel – hadn’t catered for that audience! Most of the women I know check luggage because they prefer not to drag a big carry-on around the airport.

      And to that point – if you have valuables like handbags or expensive shoes, then get a larger tote carry-on and put your laptop, handbag and shoes in that if you are checking luggage. Never check anything valuable because the airlines don’t care about your stuff and will trash it.

  2. Great article John as I picked up a few tips although traveling for the last 14 years for SAP Consulting had “learned” many of them the hard way most over time.

    A few ideas for you since you like to travel lean would be a reversal belt (most are black/brown) so you only need 1 belt and the other is to get high performance (UA/Nike) white undershirts which you can wear during the day and use to workout in at night (or next morning).

    Keep up the great blogs.

    • John Appleby says:

      Nice tips!

      Like the reversal belt – I actually do travel with one though I never remember to reverse it 🙂

      Us Brits don’t wear undershirts but it may help others!

  3. For the women in the audience, I can recommend strongly travel knits, in lighter or heavier weight depending on destination. In the US, Chico’s and Travelsmith carry a good line, but even better quality are those from Vikki Vi. Two travel knit suits, black and navy, 10 nicer t-shirts or shells, a few upmarket scarves and suitable jewelry, and you’ve got two weeks of business outfits that fit easily into a rollaboard. Add jeans and a casual top or two, plus dress shoes (wear your walkers for travel), and underclothes, and I can do two weeks easily with my rollaboard and rolling briefcase.

  4. Vital BI says:

    And one more advise: watch “Up in the Air”, for the part where Clooney shares his frequent travel tips 🙂
    For more tips I liked to read “Road Warrior” column in “Fortune”, and was very disappointed when the magazine abandoned it after yet another design change.

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