I’m an innate planner, sometimes to a fault. The amount of research I spend on routes, hotels, places to eat and shop and be merry, is actually insane when I think about it. While I do that with the intention to have the best possible trip, I will admit that I am generally a bit of a control freak and I enjoy it too. Planning a trip is half the fun for me now, but back in the day I perfected the art of traveling because I had to.
Before I moved to Cape Town I worked as a fashion assistant in New York or as the devil who wears Prada as my brother called it. The job title was very adequate because everything you know from the movie is true, unfortunately without the glamour and the Prada. No assistant I ever knew could just “borrow” from a magazine’s fashion closet, flew first class or wore heels to run errands. We would wear H&M knock-offs, fly coach, and only touch heels while kneeling in front of a model to help her into the shoe so she could live a Cinderella moment.
But the nice part of the job was traveling and getting to work in some really amazing places around the world. I got to go to St. Barth’s in winter, ride on snowmobiles in Park City, and have sundowners by the beach in Ibiza. And if that wasn’t great enough even I, the mere assistant, was usually allowed to stay at the 5-star hotels and resorts with my boss. Not that I got to see much of them, but I could always appreciate the small things…Hermès products in my bathroom for a late night bath, reliable 5am wake-up calls, and the occasional midnight swim in the hotel pool. While I didn’t care that I was potentially sitting next to a supermodel at the bar, I did enjoy having my drinks put on the client’s tab.
These trips also made me an expert on being able to work for 14 hours after getting off a red-eye, traveling with mounts of luggage and wiggling my way through customs without getting stopped, and exploring cities in a complete state of exhaustion in under two hours. That’s how I learned that Canadian immigration is the toughest, LAX is awesome, and Barcelona is absolutely magnificent even in the middle of winter.
These days I only travel for leisure, for adventure, and of course to have material for stories to tell. But over time I have tried, tested, and learned a few things when it comes to packing and getting from A to B. While I haven’t mastered the art of getting upgraded yet, I do know the art to travel like the devil in Prada, even though I’m not wearing any. So I compiled 12 ½ tips for you and it goes without saying I have learned them all the hard way so you don’t have to.
No ½: Don’t leave your passport at home when wanting to fly somewhere. Okay, I made that the half tip, because it should go without saying. I still can’t believe it has happened to me, but if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
Now onto the real No 1: According to my great-grand-uncle, who was a flying teacher in the army and later a commercial pilot, the safest place when a plane is crashing is the back toilet. Forget the fancy first class cubicles you have been coveting all flight long, head to the back! But while I trust his judgment on most things aviation, this advice stems from over 40 years ago and airplane safety was a different matter altogether. Mind you, I use my his word to comfort me if I fail yet again at upgrading or get stuck in the back.
In general I recommend to get a seat as far upfront as economy can get you. This way you will be quickly off the plane and in line for immigration. This is great if you are impatient, get bored standing in aisles or have a boss to catch up to who left first class an hour before you even saw the airport approaching.
No 2: If you get to fly in a 4-seater Cessna always call shot gun. There is nothing better than rubbing knees with a pilot and the view from up front.
No 3: Do not get on a plane with a hangover or still drunk. If you partied through the night and didn’t sleep at all it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to sleep on the plane oh so much better. Most likely you will be very awake and very miserable. If you do end up on a plane hangover or still drunk, good luck and just daydream of the great room service waiting for you at destination.
No 4: Do not fly between the UK and South Africa or Australia during rugby season. Even just the fans tend to be quite large and will thus hog all your space. Also they drink all the wine. Even yours. There is no set and promised allowance as I found out over a long hauled flight. Once it’s gone it’s gone. Only if you get very lucky, will these guys be punished with a romantic comedy as the one-for-all big screen movie choice.
No 5: Yes, we are girls and we need lots of stuff like shoes for each occasion. However we do not need an entire shoe closet for a 3 day trip. And yes, I have been there and done that. But unless you have a rich father/ husband/ boss who will pay for excess luggage and a gentlemen who will carry it for you, take only as much as you can carry yourself. There is a reason why nobody has travelled with steamer trunks and hatboxes since Rose DeWitt Bukater.
No 6: If number 5 is not possible for whatever reason work related or other, pay someone to help you. That’s what porters at the airport and bellboys at the hotels are there for and how they earn a living. Yes, back in the day I didn’t have to pay for them out of my own pocket, but even now I will gladly fork out a few bucks for them myself, because they are worth it. When on holiday I don’t need to prove to someone that I am a strong girl by taking out my back or getting a stiff neck and shoulder.
And to save a bit on excess luggage some airlines will offer an advance and cheaper check-in for these pieces.
No 7: If the unthinkable happens and your luggage goes missing remember that you will get an allowance to spend on necessities if you are not at home. Perfume and nail polish are not necessities for the airline even though you might consider it such. They will check receipts and may or may not reimburse you for what you bought. Missing luggage is not equal opportunity to a paid shopping spree á la Pretty Woman.
No 8: If your luggage cannot be found, go to the airport or have someone on your behalf where it was last seen a day later. Speak to someone face to face, tell them how you desperately need your three suitcases full of gowns for your Miami weekend and ask them to search in person. Simply by going to the airport and speaking to an actual person I have retrieved more lost luggage than any threats of lawyers or yelling at call centre employees could ever do.
No 9: To beat jet lag and general exhaustion after flying I drink lots of rehydrate sachets on and off the plane, use face spritz and listen to yoga nidra tapes. A 30 minute session that you can do in your seat, eyes closed is an equivalent of 4 hours solid sleep. Once back on the ground try ardha kurmasana, the half tortoise pose, a yoga posture that is energizing when it needs to be, but can also balance your sleep/ wake cycle in a new time zone.
No 10: Don’t walk around barefoot in a hotel room unless you, well, don’t mind getting your feet dirty. Even in some fancy hotels floors and by floors I mean floors, couches, and mattresses, are not as clean as you would think they are or wished for.
No 11: The concierge is your friend and so is every other person at a hotel. Be nice and tip and wake-up calls will not be forgotten, luggage will be carried without an eye roll, room service hours will be extended, and spa treatments will be obscured as ‘miscellaneous’ on your bill for your boss to pay.
No 12: Last but not least – girls, take your own toothpaste! For the first years of traveling for work it never occurred to me to take any. It seemed too big and bulky for just a few days. I guess I was naïve to think that toothpaste should be a standard in a swanky hotel – it is not and my research shows that they charge an average of $7 for a tube. Mind you sharing mine with a handsome male model, see him below, who incidentally didn’t bring any either, did warrant the price during a trip to Ibiza.
Images: 1. The Devil Wears Prada, 2. Le Guanahani, 3. by Peter Lindbergh for Talisker, 4. St. Barth’s, 7. Shoe Box Gal, 10. Bikram Yoga Vancouver, 13. Oriol, whom I shared my toothpaste with, by Mert and Marcus for Bulgari
All other images by Annika