I flew over 100,000 miles in a year, here's what I bring with me to make air travel more enjoyable
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Travel is an incredible way to step away from your day-to-day life, relax and reflect, not to mention have new experiences, but air travel can be incredibly stressful. While these items won’t completely get rid of all of the stress associated with flying, they have made air travel much easier and more enjoyable for me, to the point where I look forward to getting to the airport, rather than dreading it.
Patagonia Black Hole Duffels
The type of luggage you prefer vastly differs depending on what kind of travel you do. For me, duffels like the Patagonia Black Hole duffel check all of my boxes. With a variety of sizes from 40 liters, which meets most airline and train carry-on requirements, to 100 liters, they allow you to bring as much or as little as you need. They’re also weather resistant, feature a handle as well as removable backpack straps, have some internal organization and fold into their own pocket for storage when not in use.
When I was in my 20s I had no problem throwing a 100L duffel on my back and hauling it around an airport. That is not the case anymore, which is where the wheeled duffel comes in. It’s a bit more price-wise, but my back has thanked me over and over.
My favorite feature for all of these, especially with how often I travel, is Patagonia’s Iron Clad lifetime guarantee. Traveling 3three or four times a month can be incredibly hard on your luggage and the fact that the brand will repair or replace any duffel that doesn’t hold up is a huge plus in my book.
Personal item bags
For me, hiking backpacks check all of those boxes much better than regular personal item-specific bags do. If you think about it for a bit, it begins to make sense. Hiking packs are usually lightweight and are designed to make carrying a lot of gear comfortable for long distances. Many of them are also designed with synched built-in, meaning you can compress what you carry to fit in the rather limited personal item sizes of each airline.
My current favorites are the 22L Patagonia Altvia and 20L Osprey Daylite Plus, which both offer features like dual water bottle sleeves, multiple exterior pockets and a lightweight hip belt (which is removable on the Osprey).
Double check to make sure that your personal item will fit. While most airlines don’t always check to see if your personal item is exactly the correct size, more and more often budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit will charge you upwards of $99 per bag per flight if your personal item is larger than they allow.
If I could bring only one thing with me while flying other than my luggage it would be a water bottle. It is incredibly easy to get dehydrated while flying (especially on long flights on older aircraft) and a water bottle from the airport will usually set you back five or six bucks, if not more. Also, every single airport I’ve been to in the past few years has had filtered water stations, making it incredibly easy to stay hydrated. Just make sure the bottle is empty before you go through security.
My go to is a simple narrow-mouthed 32 oz Nalgene, though it can be a bit cumbersome at times. This 24 oz Hydroflask will keep your water cold, while being a bit easy to fit in your backpack’s water bottle sleeve.
Unless you have lounge access, getting food at the airport can become a budget buster very quickly, which is why I bring my food to the airport every time I fly. This allows me not only to spend less, but to have healthier options than those offered at the airport. High protein, easily packable options like beef jerky and different bars are good options that usually keep the hunger pangs away until I land.
There are over 45,000 flights and nearly 3 million passengers a day in the U.S. according to the FAA. With that many people traveling in close proximity to one another, your immune system will be working hard. Add to that the fact that many people deal with allergies, upset/anxious stomachs, motion sickness and body pains from incredibly uncomfortable seats, you’ll likely want to have something with you to address at least a few of these issues. Whether you throw a few Tylenol in a Ziplock bag or have an organized case for all of your pills, you’ll be glad you have it with you, even if you don’t end up using it. Here’s a list of what I bring with me, leave a comment below if I’ve left anything out:
Diarrhea medicine (Imodium or Pepto-Bismol)
Pain and fever relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
This should go without saying, but here it is: I am not a doctor nor am I giving medical advice. Make sure to check with your doctor before taking any medications.
Patagonia Houdini Jacket
Like most travelers I always try to look at the weather for upcoming trips and pack accordingly, but I have had times when I had to board a connecting flight on a tarmac and didn’t think to look at what the weather was going to be. Other times I’ve expected places like L.A. or Las Vegas to be warm and sunny based solely on reputation and have arrived to a downpour. That’s where a packable jacket like the Patagonia Houdini comes in handy. At just over 3 oz in weight, I can throw it in my bag and usually that’s the last I think about it. But when you need it you’ll be very glad you have it. It won’t keep you dry if you’re outside for hours in a downpour but for short jaunts from airport to cab to hotel or even longer waits on a drizzly tarmac, it’ll do nicely.
Noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones
I usually have two pairs of headphones with me at all times when flying, a pair of over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones and a set of earbuds. The noise-canceling headphones are my go-to the majority of the time. They’re comfortable on long flights, reduce fatigue by ridding your ears of the loud drone of jet engines, and most come with 3.5mm cables that allow you to connect to the plane’s entertainment system so you can watch TV or a movie while you fly.
The earbuds are small, have a case that charges them and have come in handy on incredibly long travels (I once had a trip to New Zealand which took 29 hours door to door) when the battery life in my over the ear headphones hasn’t been sufficient and I didn’t have time to recharge them. Plus, as someone who likes to go running in a lot of the places I travel to, they’re handy for that once I arrive at my destination.
While you can go the expensive route for these headphones, they don’t have to be a luxury item for those who are willing to spend $400 or more. The headphones I currently use cost me less than $75 total for both and are about 80-90% as nice as the $300 Bose headphones I’ve worn.
Patagonia Black Hole Packing Cubes
Before using packing cubes I had a packing ritual. In order to get my luggage to close I would sit on the lid, pulling the zipper as hard as I could, hoping that the integrity of my bag would hold all of my clothes and gear until I got home from my trip. It is incredible to me, not that I fill each duffel with various sizes of packing cubes, not only how organized everything remains, but how much you can fit in one area by using packing cubes that compress what is inside.
My favorites are Patagonia Black Hole Cubes, mostly for the variety of size, the clam shell design and the warranty. I also have a separate cube specifically designed for all of my electronics, the various charging cables I bring along with me on each flight, my charging brick and universal travel plug. I generally keep this cube easily accessible in either my personal item bag or my carry-on so I can charge up my phone and other electronics at the airport. Packing large lithium-ion batteries in your check-in luggage is also not allowed.
Cables, power banks and universal travel plugs
Until the day comes when every single piece of electronic equipment I own has the same charging port, it will be necessary for me to bring along a plethora of cables, from USB micro to Lightning to USB-C. As a video producer and photographer, I tend to bring along even more options to charge batteries and other devices, so organizing them in their own specifically designed cube as mentioned above is a necessity. In addition, power banks and universal travel plugs (when traveling internationally) live in my bag, in case I can’t find a place to charge my phone on the plane or at the airport.
Whether you’re a reader or someone who likes to play video games, bringing along something to entertain you on long flights is easier than ever. Instead of bringing heavy books along with me on a flight, I can bring along my entire library thanks to the Amazon Kindle, which even has apps to get books from your local library for free.
If gaming is more your speed, bringing along something like the Nintendo Switch is a great way to pass the time. If you plan on only using it for travel and don't care about being able to connect it to your TV, the Switch Lite is cheaper and more portable.
Not all of us are fortunate enough to have lounge access at the airport, or sometimes we don’t have time to hop in the shower and clean off after a long transcontinental flight. That’s where wipes come in handy. They’re an easy way to clean up messes as well as clean yourself off, even if we’re only talking about wiping your face and hands. As a traveling dad, wipes have even more of a use now than ever and I can’t imagine what air travel would be like without them. Dispose of them properly though. Even wipes that say flushable on the package really shouldn't be flushed.
Wallet phone case
My daily phone case features a slot on the back that holds up to four cards easily and while I didn’t initially purchase it with air travel specifically in mind, the fact that I no longer have to carry both my phone and a wallet separately has made air travel easier on me with one less thing to carry. That said, it doesn’t fit my passport so if traveling internationally a passport wallet may be something you will want to look into.
This one may go without saying but being comfortable on a flight will go a long way towards making your overall travel experience more enjoyable. Fabrics like merino wool wick away perspiration as well as keep you smelling fresh without having to wash them constantly. Pants with zippered pockets will keep items like your phone, wallet and passport secure (though please empty them BEFORE you get to the front of the security line!). Comfortable shoes aren’t to be overlooked either. It is incredibly common for me to walk multiple miles on air travel days, so I usually wear a pair of Hokas like these to keep my feet happy and pain free.
Technically this isn’t something I bring along with me to the airport. Life likes to throw you curveballs, which may come in the form of food poisoning the night before a flight home from Hawaii or a positive covid test the day before a ski trip (I’m speaking from experience here). These kinds of scenarios are bad enough on their own, but if you don’t have travel insurance they can end up costing you thousands of dollars if you have to cancel your trip. It isn’t fun to spend money on travel insurance but thankfully it usually isn’t too expensive and when you finally need to use it, you’ll be happy you did.
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