I travel a lot for work these days. This travel has taken me to every province and almost every territory in Canada as well as to parts of the U.S. Like John Candy and Steve Martin in one of my favourite movies, I’ve travelled by plane, train and automobile. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to see a bit of the world this way.
As a way of paying it forward, here are a few travel tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Become a Trusted Traveler
If you travel frequently, consider getting a Trusted Traveler Nexus card or the equivalent. This can expedite travel through major airports. While everyone else is lined up waiting to get through security, Trusted Travelers are usually whisked through. You still have to do security like everyone else but there will only be a handful of people ahead of you in the Trusted Traveler line. Caveats: Smaller airports don’t make a distinction between Trusted Travelers and everyone else. And on one occasion the Trusted Traveler line in Toronto actually took longer than the regular line, but in my experience this is unusual. Getting such a card will take a bit of time; you fill out an online application, wait, and have to do a physical interview at the airport, but it was worth it for me.
At the Airport
I think everyone knows to get to the airport early, but every now and then I forget that excellent advice and cut it a bit too fine (usually this has to do with early flights and wanting more sleep). I recommend building in extra time in case your ride arrives late or doesn’t show up at all. Ideally I plan on being at the airport at least one hour before boarding begins.
A few words about getting through security. Make sure your fluids are travel-sized and fit in the small bag the airport provides. Double bag it within a ziplock bag to prevent spills in your travel bag. Know and follow the airport rules. No knives etc. as they will be confiscated. Don’t wear metal, or make sure you take it off before you pass through the security scanner. I stubbornly wear a metal belt that I always have to take off before stepping through the scanner. It is my one inefficiency. One day I will find a plastic one. But dammit I like that belt. And keep your hands out of your pockets as you step through the scanner.
The Perfect Bag
I only ever travel with one piece of carry-on which I never check unless I’m forced to. My longest trips for work so far have been seven days and both times I managed no problem with just the one bag. I love being able to walk right off the plane into a taxi.
I use a small carry-on with wheels and a padded compartment for a 13” laptop. It’s perfect. I made sure to get one small enough to fit into just about every airplane overhead compartment. Because I travel often, I always keep my bag partially packed. I have toiletries and cables just for travel that live in that bag permanently. I can pack the rest of what I need in minutes.
I always bring a pair of headphones for the plane and for catching the odd Netflix show in the hotel room. Like everyone else on the planet these days I carry a cellphone, and I make it work for me. I have apps on my phone for Air Canada and WestJet with all my info, including my Frequent Flyer numbers. When possible I download my boarding passes directly to these apps.
I always travel with a battery charger for my phone and at least one spare cable. This is especially important when my flights are long and involve multiple legs, and I’m relying on electronic boarding passes.
I carry a hair brush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, spare shampoo (twice the hotel didn’t have any), Ibuprofen, my laptop, a power cord for the laptop, and that’s about it.
Once in Iqaluit the authorities almost didn’t let me fly home because the name on my ticket was Joe Mahoney but the name on my Nexus card is Joseph T. Mahoney. It took almost an hour to convince the authorities that Joe Mahoney and Joseph T. Mahoney are one and the same. I nearly missed my flight. Now I always make sure the name on my ticket is exactly the same as the name on my identification.
On the Plane
I always book an aisle seat when possible. When I first started travelling I always booked window seats because I enjoy the view, but that was soon overshadowed by the need to pee at least once every trip because of my tiny little bladder. Now I love the convenience of aisle seats where, if I have to get up during the flight, I can do so at my leisure without bothering anybody. Now other people bother me to get up, but I don’t mind.
I always bring a good book and my laptop. I rarely take advantage of inflight entertainment, preferring to either read, work, or nap.
In Canada, I prefer Air North. Unlike southern airlines such as Air Canada and West Jet, Air North always feeds you, anywhere from a steaming hot pasta dish to a hearty sandwich to (once, for breakfast) a muffin (it was a damned good muffin). On a recent trip to Whitehorse, Air North concluded lunch with chocolate chip cookies. For half an hour the entire plane smelled like freshly baked cookies. The cookies were delicious.
If I can’t fly Air North, I choose West Jet. Unlike Air Canada, West Jet still serves pretzels along with their free beverage, at least the last time I flew with them. Also, you can upgrade your seat to Premium seating with more leg room and a few more snacks for as little as forty bucks.
If I can’t fly West Jet, I grow a pair of wings and fly myself.
If I can’t do that, I fly Air Canada.
Take the Train
Whenever possible I take the train instead of flying. I highly recommend Via Rail Business class if you can swing it. They feed you in Business Class, and the food is good. The train takes a bit longer than the plane but it’s so worth it. It’s better for the environment, for one thing. And you have the option of booking a seat all by yourself. A window seat, no less.
At first, eating out every night while travelling for work is a treat, but if you travel often this can become an insidious trap. It’s easy to spend too much, eat too much, and make poor choices. The less you spend, the more you benefit from your per diems. Consider adopting a specific strategy to ensure that you eat well consistently. One day, one day soon, I plan on adopting such a strategy.
See the Sights
I don’t often have much in the way of spare time when I travel for work, but I usually have at least one evening to myself. If I’m some place new, I like to take a walk around, get a bit of exercise, see the sights, take a few photos, and eat at a restaurant unique to that location. I’ve really enjoyed exploring Iqaluit, Yellowknife, Calgary, Winnipeg, Kamloops, Prince George, Kelowna, Victoria and New York this way, and I’ve been fortunate to have friends old and new show me around St. John’s, Rankin Inlet and Washington, DC, to name just a few locations.
I hope you find some of these tips and observations useful. Feel free to share your own travel tips and thoughts in the comments below. Or not. Hey, it’s up to you.