Trippin’

IMG_8455I travel. A lot. I travel for work. A lot. And I travel for pleasure. A lot. When you travel, a lot, it becomes a way of life. As I write this, it is 9:30 in the morning and I’m at an airport bar having a mimosa and a turkey, spinach and brie omelet. I love airport bars. The food is usually mediocre, excepting the plate before me now, but the people watching and conversation is usually fantastic. Strangers have so much in common, so much to talk about.

Is it bad that I have been to nearly every Vino Volo airport wine bar in the country? That I know where to find decent food in just about any U.S. airport, if decent food can be had, and that I book my layovers accordingly? Is it bad that there is a bartender at a wine bar at Chicago O’Hare that works at 6:00 AM who recognizes me and knows I like sparkling wine? Is it telling that I know how every domestic air carrier boards their planes and select my seat accordingly, because I want to be among the first on the plane because, even though I don’t have a roller-board suitcase, I’d like to stow my computer bag overhead rather than underfoot? Is it bad that I can consistently and expertly pack my checked bag to precisely 49.5 pounds in order to take all I wish to, without incurring additional baggage fees? This is how I roll.

So, I’m a road warrior. All the folks on my team are road warriors, too. I’m on my way to a “team meeting” in Austin, Texas. Since we are all “remote” employees and don’t report to a specific office, we are scattered all over the continental U.S. We only see each other once or twice a year. There are several new team members I have “worked with” on projects and web training sessions that I have never met face to face. I’ll meet them today. During our team meetings, we often discuss travel, it’s such a large part of what we do. We all have our own methods and practices. We are very particular, but that may have more to do with the fact that we are all accountants, by profession, and tend to be rather, shall we say, “detail oriented”. We’re sort of a fussy lot!

I have one fashionable, female co-worker who can pack for two weeks of international travel in one carry-on using a very elaborate rolling rather than folding method of packing.I have another team member who brings her own sheets when she travels because she has a phobia about the cleanliness of hotel sheets. Another who always has two suitcases, one solely for shoes. No pun intended. I have another co-worker who buys incredibly cheap luggage from Wal-Mart and is always replacing suitcases, mid-trip. Another who can fit everything required for a week into a single, very small, soft-sided duffel bag. He is heterosexual and not very well dressed, and I’m not making an association there, just a coincidental observation, I’m sure.

On travel methods, mine have evolved over the course of the five years I have been trippin’. I have duplicates of things like deodorant, floss, my razor, toothpaste and toothbrush. I just leave one set in my suitcase and one set in my bathroom. I actually have some items in triplicate, and leave the third set in my backpack, though,sadly, I haven’t been on a trek in a while. My suitcase maintains temporary residency in my bedroom, it doesn’t have a permanent storage place anywhere else in the house. I don’t really, ever unpack. During my busy season, I pretty much just show up at home once a week, sometimes for a less than a day, to collect my mail and do laundry, to make sure the key still fits the front door. Once, I was home for such a short time that I went home, did my thing, slept for a moment, and returned to the airport for the next week’s journey and got the same, exact, parking spot! I keep my “work clothes” in my suitcase. When I come home from a business trip, I wash my work clothes, usually the instant I arrive home, even if it’s 3:00 AM. When they’re dry, back in the suitcase they go. The only thing that has complicated this, recently, is my increased pleasure travel. I now must remove my super conservative work wear from my suitcase and replace it with my more flashy, fun wear. Those frumpy accountant clothes look so foreign hanging in my closet!

I used to be so George Clooney from “Up in the Air”. I was all about carry-on and traveling light and timed trials through the security line, about moving through the airport, the world and life according to the itinerary and with the most speed and efficiency possible. I dressed accordingly, with slip on shoes, a pullover rather than a cardigan that requires removal in security, no jewelry, nothing at all that may set off the scanner. I had an expertly packed 3-1-1 bag, bulging at the seams because it had to have shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, lotion, and all liquid components of my makeup for the better part of a week.

Why speeding through security was so important, I don’t know, because I always arrive at the airport hours before I need to. Remember, I hate stress and I rather like airports, for people watching and for giving me some “me time”, like right now, where I can write with leisure and with little interruption. Other than by the flirtatious bartender with his Boston accent and Boston stories. The game is on the television and it’s opening day for baseball, and it’s the Red Sox and the Yankees. I don’t have the heart to tell him I’m a Yankees fan. I digress.

I traveled light and all carry-on for a few years. It was just about two years ago, after a team meeting in Chicago, that I changed my ways. I had to fly my least favorite airline for that trip. When you are all carry-on and you’re flying an airline you don’t have status with, there is considerable stress about securing adequate overhead space for you  roller bag, somewhat proximate to your seat, especially if you have tight connections and you need to exit the plane to board the next in a short timeframe. This was the case  this particular flight. It was so incredibly stressful! When I finally arrived in Chicago, at the hotel, I met a coworker in the elevator. I had my little roller bag, zipper straining as it tenuously held all the things I needed for the next week within it’s confines. My coworker wheeled two huge, I mean grotesquely huge, suitcases onto the elevator. We sized each other’s luggage up. I must have had a raised eyebrow, I can’t help it, my eyebrows are autonomous, they do whatever they want, I have no control over them, and they are very, very expressive! He explained to me, without a prompt of any sort, that he packs for comfort. If he is going to be on the road 70% of the time, he is traveling in style and in comfort. A lightbulb went off. An incandescent one, I prefer those, I just can’t picture one of those funky looking fluorescent lightbulbs as an “idea bubble”. I digress. Again.

Why was I trying to cram my life into a carry-on suitcase, compromising my comfort and, well, my quality of life, while on the road. Upon returning home, I purchased myself a generously sized, purple suitcase. I am very particular about my suitcases, they have to have the 360 degree, spinny wheels. Four of them. I was actually able to find a suitcase exactly like my carry-on roller bag, Just way bigger. Score. And I will admit, these days, I often bring both, and check them both. There is just something so incredibly liberating about leaving your baggage with some overly made up clerk in one city and having it meet you three flights later, clear across the country. And that’s usually how it goes. And I get to watch everyone else on the plane jostle and fidget and fight over overhead compartment space. I’ve got a computer bag and a purse. I’m weightless. I lie. My computer bag may way more than my big suitcase, but I’m a backpacker, so I am really just training for my next trek.

So I’ve got the whole luggage thing figured out to my benefit and satisfaction. I have everything I need in my generously sized purple spinny wheeled monstrosity of a suitcase; I have room for work clothes, for play clothes, for more than one pair of shoes, or even boots, for workout clothes and workout videos, an adorable, silver knife, fork and spoon set, a microwave-safe bowl, with lid, a miniature screwdriver set,  just in case I have to rebuild a computer while away from home, which I have done a few times this year alone, a multi-wrench, I’m not sure why. I carry my own Starbucks coffee, green and chamomile tea, crushed red pepper packets, coffee mug, reusable water cup with straw, wine bottle opener. The beer bottle opener I actually keep on my keychain for speedy accessibility, you just never know when an impromptu micro-brew is going to present itself, in need of rapid opening.

Second mimosa. It’s going to be a very long day. Good grief, I hope that screaming child isn’t going to be on my flight. It’s Monday, right? Chances are …

Let’s talk about security. As I mentioned, I used to be all about speeding through security, dressing for the utmost efficiency. I traveled with a very low profile; precision packed carry-on, no clothing that required removal, like jackets, sweaters, scarves. I wore slip on shoes with socks, socks that were warm enough to keep my ankles warm on an over-air conditioned flight, which, by the way, is a pretty ugly fashion statement, if you think about it. My M.O. has evolved, here, too. I wear whatever the #$%@ I want! I look like the person you don’t want to be behind in security. I have knee-high, zip up boots, a scarf, a cardigan. I have bling on my jeans and jewels on my shirt. I have tons of jewelry. But I never, ever, ever have anything in my pockets. When I travel, now, I dress like I normally do! I have a big ol’ backpack with not one, but two laptops; one for work, one for life. I have an iPad, and iPod, a Kindle and a Jawbone Jambox stereo complete with a sub-woofer. I have my own wi-fi system. I have two cell phones, again, one for work, one for life. And I have cords for all of it. It’s like Best Buy in a backpack! I laugh when I see the X-ray image of my backpack! It looks like a bomb! And it has only been pulled off the conveyor for inspection once. I am, in spite of first impressions, exceedingly efficient getting through security. In the twelve linear feet it takes to proceed from the agent who checks my ID and boarding pass to the conveyor, I go into a kung-fu hero-like maneuver and have my ID back in the correct sleeve in my wallet, my wallet and boarding pass in their proper spot in my purse, my scarf and cardigan or jacket are off and stashed into my enormous purse and my boots are off and in the bin with my purse, ready to be placed on the conveyor. I like having an enormous purse in which the scarf and cardigan or jacket will fit, so it isn’t flopping around in the bin on the conveyor and I can bring them out only if I’m cold on the plane. Which is likely. I have a scan-safe bag, so I don’t have to remove my laptops, and it only takes a few seconds for the TSA agents to pat down my butt and my boobs for my bling and jewel bedecked clothing. I can get through security, so encumbered, more quickly than most people take to place their ID back in their wallet. I will not compromise comfort or style for TSA, or anyone else. Period. End of story.

Like much in my life, my travel style has evolved to suit my needs. And like most things in life, what works for one may not work well with others. As a seasoned traveler, my only advice is, check the TSA requirements before you pack. There’s even an app for that, now! Arrive at the airport early enough to eliminate stress and start your trip off on a the right foot, like a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Don’t be grumpy and just go with the flow. Many things that happen, like delays, are going to happen no matter how upset you are about it, it is so not worth the temper tantrum. Relax, and enjoy! The airport and your flight are the first part of your trip, make it the best you can so the entire memory of your trip will be pleasant. Go with the flow and just be trippin’!

So now I’m on the plane, my bags stowed, ready to go. But, you know, I’m that person the flight attendant is going to have to remind to turn off my laptop and cell phone. Sorry.  I’m just trippin’.

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