Pack Like a Pro–or Be Packed by a Pro

16561168929_07b86aff3a_z (1)If you travel a lot, packing gets routine. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s still not fun—just elevated slightly from pain to annoyance. What if you could leave packing to a professional, a virtual valet?

A new company called Dufl promises to automate packing for the frequent traveler. Let’s say you know you always need certain business “uniform” items like cotton shirts, dress pants and jacket, khakis, etc. You ship your business travel wardrobe to Dufl in a Dufl-issued bag, where your travel wardrobe then resides in your “virtual closet.” For each trip, you use the company’s app to select the items you’ll need. Then Dufl sends the professionally packed bag to your destination hotel, to await your arrival (you hope). When you check out, leave the bag at the hotel front desk and it’s returned to Dufl, where your wardrobe is professionally cleaned, ironed and stored—ready for your next trip. The cost is not inexpensive, nor is it prohibitive if you consider the alternative of bag fees or the hassle of lugging a suitcase–$10 a month, plus $100 per round trip.

I will be curious to see how much uptake Dufl gets. I’m skeptical. It’s perhaps only slightly more foolproof than self-packing, though I’d love speeding through the airport without hauling my rollaboard behind. I do have a Dufl-like packing hack, though–one that I suspect most frequent travelers abide by.

My hack is to keep some items pre-packed in my carry-on, the most important of these being a toiletries kit. The rest is relatively easy and rather rote: I throw in x number of days work “uniforms,” add some accessories to dress them up for evening, then layer on my customary workout clothes. At that point I consider exceptions–if there’s an event that requires extra-dressy evening attire, or weather-related gear. Finally, I double-check shoe needs and conduct a day-by-day review of every piece of attire, to be sure I’m not missing half an ensemble. (What have you forgotten to pack? My worst omission was a pair of tights, and I learned that you can buy anything in New York at 6 a.m.) But all this takes very little time—maybe twenty minutes for a three-day trip.

I’ve also noticed that I gravitate towards wearing the same outfit (or a variation) every travel day, a guise based on comfort (stretch is good), TSA requirements (nothing complicated) and practicality (white pants tempt fate with turbulence spills). I’ve also used packing checklists in my more compulsive past—particularly when traveling with kids before they packed themselves.

Alas, Dufl and my hack only address packing clothing. I find more stressful the packing of tech gear, chargers, converters, power strips, and flash drives loaded with files. Throw in a paper file or two and a Moleskin notebook. Then there are snack essentials: I never leave home without a Kind bar, an apple and some premium tea bags in my tote. Forget any of these, and I’m heartbroken.

What are your packing hacks—or blunders? Would you pay for a packing service?

Photo: Flickr/Craig Sunter

Travel Tip: Build a Time-Pocket Habit

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  • On each flight, a business traveler jots an entry into his journal while he waits for the plane to finish boarding.
  • A mother gets her two kids ready for day care 10 minutes before they need to get in the car each morning, so all three can play together for those 10 minutes before embarking.

These scenarios were mentioned on two different podcasts I listened to this week about productivity and time (I may need to lighten up on my podcast consumption!). They struck me as brilliant. Both examples have triggers to remember and repeat the habit (boarding a plane and the start of the commute). I’m a huge believer in the cumulative effect of habitually repeated actions: Results, long-term can be astounding.

Tiny things are so much easier to do and to keep up with than big, hairy, audacious goals. And they fit so nicely into these little, previously wasted, time pockets.

You and I are in luck, because business travel includes so many of these time pockets, time otherwise known as waiting.

Is there something you wish you could do but don’t because you don’t think you have the time? Start with a baby-step action and fit it to a travel time-pocket.

Some baby-step actions towards something bigger:

  • If you’ve been wanting to start a blog: Add one post idea to a running list of topics you want to write about. (Sometimes the hardest part of blogging is to figure out what you want to write.)
  • Research links increased happiness with gratitude cultivation, so you’ve been meaning to keep a gratitude journal: Jot down three things that went well on each trip.
  • You’d like to up your professionalism: Hand-write a quick note of thanks to someone you met with on the trip.
  • If you’ve been wanting to organize your photos: Move 10 recent photos into folders you’ve created. (Or one that I’d like to incorporate is to delete duplicate, poor or useless photos recently taken.)
  • If you’ve been meaning to become more active in social media: Send one tweet.

Now pick a trigger, depending on whether your action requires 30 seconds or five minutes. Aside from plane boarding time, others might be:

  • The wait for a hotel elevator. (Come on, we know you’re spending that time checking yourself out in that big mirror.)
  • After dinner, when you return to your hotel room. (Who doesn’t have five minutes here?)
  • Taxi time or waiting for the valet to bring your car. (Valets take forever, or at least it seems that way.)
  • If you’re not at the front of the plane, the wait in line to deplane. (I’ve never ever seen anyone use this time productively except for checking email.)

These things can add up to boost your travel productivity! I want to begin a habit of always tweeting a photo from the airport gate, a place with endless photo ops. Closer to home, I’ve been taking advantage of a little time pocket: When I heat water for tea (which I do at least a few times a day), I put the cup in the microwave, punch in two minutes, and while I wait, I swing a kettlebell I keep nearby. A painless way to build a little exercise into the day…and surprisingly effective.

The glorification of busy-ness concerns me. We have more time than we think, and I’m working on having clear priorities and intentionality in how I spend it. How about you?

Photo: Flickr/Switchology

How to Travel Like a Caveman

5459938298_1d7141f127_zCavemen can become nervous on airplanes or at a power lunch—the Mediterranean snack box and pumpkin ravioli in cream sauce simply will not do.

In case you’re living under (or behind) a rock, the caveman diet (aka paleo) means eating as our Paleolithic ancestors did—primarily protein and non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and it’s a huge lifestyle trend. But a paleo diet can be a challenging proposition when traveling, as can be any gluten-free regime.

When I developed a gluten intolerance several years ago, it took me several months to grieve for the lost bread and pasta, but eventually I happily embraced a new way of eating that actually made me feel better (on so many levels). Gradually my eating evolved—or, since it’s reversed evolution, would the correct term be devolved?—to eating mostly paleo, like a caveman.

Over time, I learned how to order from just about any menu and how to navigate the occasional etiquette dilemmas. But travel still unnerved me—not just because of the unfamiliar food situations I’d find myself in, but also because the last place I want to feel sick is on a plane or in a hotel room.

So, when I signed on for a long business trip to India, I was apprehensive. Many of the foods would be unfamiliar, we would be dining at least once at a prominent executive’s home, and I feared the gluten intolerance would not be understood by restaurant staff.

As it turned out, this was not a problem. I did some planning (asked an Indian friend for advice on safe foods I’d commonly find served) and came up for a strategy for navigating the home meal. As it turned out, a number of dinners were chef-prepared and -presented in a private dining room. These chefs always made sure I was accommodated gracefully (and deliciously).

This week I wrote on TravelSkills.com about strategies for sticking to paleo and gluten-free diets when traveling. You’ll find the post here.

If you eat paleo or gluten-free, what are your tricks for staying healthy on the road?

Photo: Flickr/Tavallai

The Covert Stress of Reentry

14973731919_7530d9b4e0_zOne of the biggest pain points for frequent travelers doesn’t even happen on the road, but at home. It’s that window between when your body walks in the door after a trip, and when your mind and heart settle in. You made it home—that’s the good news. But chances are, you’ve arrived tired, stressed, and (often) hungry, a recipe for an adult meltdown, if you’re not careful. That’s the bad news.

Reentry is often overlooked as being stressful because it’s on the home side of the trip. After all, aren’t you so, so happy to be home? And chances are that your loved ones have missed you, too, so they dive at you, ready to have you all to themselves finally. All good, right? Not really. You may very well not be ready.

I’ve noticed that even if I get home from a trip at 2 a.m., I need to sit and acclimate to being home—sort of soak it all in–for at least an hour before heading to bed. And when we first were married, my husband reported that I acted like he was a stranger when I returned from a trip. He’d only regain the real me 24 hours later. I probably still do that, but we’re just accustomed to it now.

On a recent Michael Hyatt podcast, Michele Cushatt reported that after her almost-weekly trips she schedules one day of doing nothing but restorative things, to regain herself before continuing the week. Another frequent traveler I know has a ritual of unpacking his suitcase immediately, no matter what the time. It’s his way of signaling to himself that he’s making a clean break of the travel…he’s really home.

What do you do when you get home from a trip to ease the reentry?

Photo: Flickr/Hernan Pinera

How – and Why – to Add a Ritual to Your Travel

15546530359_4f0d1da9f4_zHabits and rituals are trending. Or so it seems. There’s a whole body of literature on the subject now, and it’s a market that does not yet seem saturated. (A book I’ve particularly enjoyed on the subject is Daily Rituals, How Artists Work.) The theory is that habits, particularly morning habits, reduce cognitive load, preserving our limited decision-making capacity for later in the day when it’s really needed.

I have a morning ritual. I awake before the rest of the household, check email, do 10 minutes of spiritual reading, then head outside to exercise (usually a run). After breakfast and getting the kids off to school, I meditate and then write a little strictly for fun. Then I buckle down to work. I’ve been doing this, in the same order, for a few years.

After a while, I noticed I threw these habits out the window when I traveled. Maybe I figured the ritual would be disrupted because my travel days were disruptive. Or maybe I thought I needed a break, because travel is harsh. Or maybe I was just being lazy. Who knows. But one day, it occurred to me that I really had no excuse.

There was no reason NOT to do this when traveling. Especially without the “getting the kids off to school” part, I could pretty easily get up at the same time as at home, do it all and be ready for a breakfast meeting at 7:30. By now, I’m pretty devoted to my routine even when I travel, because I’ve felt the payoff. The ritual anchors my day.

By no means am I perfect. Sometimes if I’m out very late at a dinner the night before (which never happens at home), I’ll skip. Or if I’m getting sick, I’ll sometimes take the extra sleep. But I’ve found that a ritual makes my whole trip go better.

Travel rituals don’t have to be grand mirrors of your at-home rituals either. Even small gestures, done routinely, can bring on a sense of stability and home when you travel. (I used to buy a bag of M&Ms at the airport before every trip, and there was something satisfying about the tradition of this treat. Then I discovered the “240 Calories” in big type on the front of the package forgot to mention that’s per serving, with two servings per bag. My new snack ritual is a Kind bar.) Some people tap the plane’s fuselage as they step into the aircraft. One of my friends puts a framed photo of her family beside her hotel room bed. These little things can really ground you, even on a trip.

Whether it’s big or small, think about adding a ritual to your travel life. I guarantee you’ll be more at home, wherever you are in the world.

Photo: Flickr/Diana Nguyen