I travelled many thousands of business miles when my children were small. A close friend remarked: I expect the thing you enjoy most is not the business class seat, the glass of bubbly and a copy of TIME, but the fact that nobody is screaming, climbing into your lap, or vomiting on you.
(Now and then it was a close-run thing though. On one trip to Portugal there was a bunch of very drunk golfers – but really, I’d rather leave it there in case you’re enjoying your breakfast.)
But my friend was right – I had also travelled thousands of miles with two very young children, often alone, so I fully appreciated the contrast.
If you are travelling business class at someone else’s expense, then it’s much easier to stay cool, calm and collected. With Virgin Upper Class I often opted to eat my meal in comfort before boarding, then I could remain undisturbed for the entire flight; though personally I used to draw the line at exchanging my suit for one of the free tracksuits left on each seat before I settled down to sleep.
At the end of a flight back from Boston a man said to me – Aren’t you taking your tracksuit?
No, I said.
They’re free! He enthused. I have thirteen at home!
Yes. Well. That was I guess where he and I parted company – sartorially.
I did learn a few things over the years about how to survive long-distance travel and the need to spring off the plane into a meeting looking refreshed and preferably un-creased.
First tip is to refine your packing – for women that means choosing outfits that can come out of your suitcase without a wrinkle – leave the linen at home. Go for a neutral core colour palette with a few splashes of colour. I take a pashmina for the plane and the cool night air of other cities. Tailor your wardrobe for your destination: I left the business suits at home when I was heading for the tea fields of Kenya for an environmental story.
Second, collect free samples of your cosmetics, choose travel sizes or buy travel bottles. It’s not a bad idea to have a separate set of toiletries and cosmetics just for travel – and I prefer to carry my toiletries bag in my hand luggage after a spillage en route to Tokyo last year ruined a favourite dress, plus it makes preparing for those dreaded airport security checks a bit easier.
Third, shoes. Be ruthless and take as few as possible. And remember that you will have to walk miles. Even to the gate for some airlines can be a half-hour walk! So pack flats and reserve your heels for your destination –whether it’s the boardroom or that rare evening out. I like to slip in a pair of Converse in case I get the chance to have a proper walk.
Fourth, remember to take your flight socks – DVT can strike anyone, not just the elderly. And keep hydrated on the flight – by which I mean moisturisers (my favourite is Elizabeth Arden’s Eight Hour Cream), lip balm and water – not lashings of alcohol, which will further dehydrate you!
Fifth, make sure before you leave that you have your passport, your travel insurance policy and emergency numbers and your foreign currency – a collection of essentials that is surprisingly easy to leave behind.
Sixth, use your time in the airport and in the air to relax where possible. I’m a fan of the iPad – smaller and lighter than a laptop and it will carry your music, films, books (and downloaded copies of the Economist) too. Buy noise-cancelling headphones and you will be in your own little world.
Travelling can be a creative space if you use it wisely. I use it for writing and have penned many thousands of words at 30,000 feet. So much so that I might have to include a dedication in my next book to those air stewards who bring me orange juice in the depths of the night when they see me still tapping away on the iPad.
My final tip is to keep a drawer or a storage box for those essential items you know you will need next time you travel. Mine contains that pre-packed toiletries bag, a new pair of DVT socks, Imodium (the one medicine you won’t want to run around looking for in an unfamiliar city), adapters, chargers and batteries.
All just in case the next time I need to go abroad, it will be at short notice.