Tactics of a Skilled Traveler

In the last two years, I have traveled around the world three times.

After dozens of trips, visiting over one hundred cities throughout multiple countries, via different forms of transport, from airplanes and trains to ride-shares and ducks (the buses that double as a boat), I now consider myself a highly-skilled traveler.

Many people (my past self included) think traveling is nothing more than a necessary task. A mere journey from Point A to Point B. Although this is true, it's important to note the stark difference between traveling - and traveling well.

My observation is that few people travel well - and even fewer people enjoy the travel experience. They think their trip doesn't begin until they reach their destination, and that it doesn't end until they get back home. To them, travel is something to be endured instead of enjoyed.

It doesn't take much to ruin a trip. Flight changes, rude staff, no toilet paper, food poisoning, screaming babies, rude and selfish passengers, Covid-19, and the list goes on.

After getting "burned" by these issues enough times, it's logical why many would avoid travel altogether. Those people are fairly easy to spot during holiday season, because they are usually the hosts. Hosting comes with the privilege of passing the stress of travel on everyone else. It's tough to blame them though; as most of us have had at least one trip where we said to ourselves "Never again" afterwards.

However, I have noticed that after a little retrospect following each trip; my enjoyment of travel grew incrementally.

By the time Covid-19 hit earlier this year, I was traveling constantly and loving it. When the lock-down began; I was devastated. This was partially because when the pandemic began I had a Dominican Republic getaway planned with a young and beautiful woman from Central America.

The penthouse we rented sat high atop a building overlooking the beach. The balcony was very large, with an all-tile 4-person custom Jacuzzi that had stairs on all four sides. It was positioned close to the balcony railing, providing a nice view right over the tops of the gently swaying palm trees. To sum it up, this balcony would make even a Roman Emperor want to queue "Good Life" by Kanye West.

When it  became clear that the trip needed to be canceled, the girl and I were very disappointed. We actually entered a dispute and ended-up parting ways. Covid cheated me out of five days of good times. In hindsight, it was for the best. Unfettered narcissists don't make good girlfriends. Shocker, I know.

Now that countries are starting to re-open, I'm already back to traveling.

In fact, as I write this very sentence, I'm cruising at 30,000 feet in-between Bakersfield and Dallas. There is something very peculiar about this flight, however. When we were on the tarmac, it was like being in an oven on the broil setting. People were gasping for air. And now that we're in the air, it's frigid.

The guy next to me is literally shivering right now; with his short sleeve and 3% body fat. Every couple of minutes the poor guy starts rubbing his hands together ferociously like a caveman. I'm pretty sure the people in the last aisle of the plane can hear him. Sorry dude, I bet you're wishing you had eaten more oatmeal in the mornings now. But even I, a medium-build man whom women call "The Oven" when cuddling, am chilled - and I have a fleece on right now.

But, despite the wild temperature swings on this flight, I'm exuberant - and this is because skilled travelers know how to handle surprises during their journeys - and this allows them to travel well.

Here are some of the things I've learned throughout all of my journeys that have proven to be quite helpful:

Tip #1 - A little bit of strategy goes a long way

To avoid suffering like the dude on this flight right now, who is literally bouncing his legs up and down to try and avoid hypothermia; you must put forth some effort into being strategic. For the last 5 minutes he has actually been moaning outloud. I'm sure everyone (except the flight crew) feel bad for him.

But, let me point something out. He chose not to employ a little strategy and bring a sweater. He must take responsibility for his own lack of foresight.

It's impossible to travel well without being strategic. With a plethora of potential things that can go wrong, it's important to think about those risks ahead of time so that you can put controls in-place. Otherwise, you're just opening yourself up for a ton of disappointment.

Now, don't be too extreme with this. It's not feasible to bring items for every possible surprise; but it's wise to establish controls for the more common issues.

So reflect on your last several trips, and identify the issues you ran into that you could've put countermeasures in-place for. This will prove helpful.

Tip #2- Expect lots of noise

We all thought The Grinch was a jerk, but all it takes is one crying baby with a mother who does nothing to quiet him/her down because "It's good for their lung develompent" to agree with him. Failing to mitigate noise is a swift route to raw nerves, migraines, and a ruined trip.

Toss a pair of cheap, compact ear plugs in your bag. You'll thank me, eventually.

Tip #3 - Stay lean and fit

There are several advantages for the lean and fit traveler.

For an average weight person, airplane seats are decent. As a heavy person, seats are like sitting on 2x4's.

Notice, however, that what I am NOT suggesting is to be skinny. That can actually be worse than being heavy.

As I write this, the skinny guy next to me is literally running in place (legs only) while sitting down to try and generate body heat. Yet if he was heavy, he would probably be sweating. So common sense reveals being in-between heavy and skinny is just right.

Another advantage to being lean and fit is it helps you navigate the airports.

Nearly each time I land in Miami from an international flight; there are several things I find myself doing:

  1. Walking what feels like 2 miles from the plane to the taxi drive.
  2. Running to get ahead of the sea of people heading to immigration.
  3. Using stairs with bags in-hand to avoid the escalator line.
  4. Running from one side of the huge terminal to the other because they don't seem to care about gate distance. (Each time I fly to Bogota through Miami, I usually have to walk a ton of gates).

Being physically incapable only makes all of these situations more difficult, and therefore, more stressful. In other words, it reduces your ability to travel well.

Tip #4 - Use optimized packing

Listen to me very carefully, you need to pay attention to what Robert DeNiro in "Meet the Fockers" says; always use carry-on bags only.

To clarify, I'm not talking about the hard, square, plastic carry-on bags that rarely fit into the overhead bins on smaller planes. I'm talking about soft side carry-on bags that allow you to adjust their shapes when packed.

Choose a carry-on and personal item bag that are soft-side and to the exact measurements of the airline's requirements.

Hard shell bags are not ideal, because all the benefits of traveling with carry-0ns are lost if your bag gets checked; so avoid it.

Also, you don't need to bring your entire house with you. Keep in-mind that by not checking bags you get to do everything faster, generally speaking. This includes things from checking-in to passing through customs.

Minimalism is key when packing. Focus on essentials only. Sometimes I try to travel with nothing more than the clothes I'm wearing, phone, wallet, passport, laptop with charger, and essential hygiene items. Sometimes it feels quite freeing to leave all the "junk" behind.

Please, leave the 12" hairbrush  at home. Source personal care essentials that are light and small while still being functional. Less is more with everything when packing.

Remember, just about everywhere you stay is going to have laundry facilities. Why on earth would you bring 14 different outfits for a 14 day trip?

When I fly to Spain, I intentionally pack really light on clothes. This is because I love a particular chain of stores that are only in Spain. This is a double bonus, because I get to travel to Spain super light, and I get to come home with things from one of my favorite countries on planet earth.

RANDOM THOUGHT: This is such an important item that I want to give it special attention. Bring wet wipes with you. Get the tightly packed ones in a soft package. These things are so handy. I can't tell you how many times I was stuck in the airport when the airline clubs were closed and wanted to clean myself up  and wipe down my gear. They are also handy for wiping down your seats.

Traveling from a minimalist perspective will keep you lighter, faster, and with less stress.

Tip #5 - Sign up for relevant expedited security

Your time is valuable.

Actually, no, it's not valuable. IT'S PRICELESS.

There is a phenomenon at the Nashville airport. Their security lines are often times longer and more stressful than many international airports I've traversed.

But that's not all. Some of the biggest jerks I've ever met were in that airport.

To this day, I still don't understand why.

So let's think about that for a second. TSA Precheck's application fee is $85. How many times would be willing to wait in a long line with a bunch of jerks before that amount of cash starts looking miniscule? For me it was immediate.

In Scotland, I paid $8 for expedited security, and I bypassed a huge line. No taking my shoes off, no taking my watch off, no taking my laptop out of my bag. It was great. Everyone else in the normal line looked stressed and angry.

Please, for the sake of traveling well, and for your own mental health, don't be cheap. Pay for expedited security. It's truly a bargain.

Tip #6 - Remember that life isn't perfect

I have had lots of perfect trips. It was great.

But one time I also spilled an entire glass of wine in my lap - and was forced to sit in it by flight attendants for 3 hours due to turbulence.

No matter how much strategy you employ, or control measures you put in-place, something WILL eventually catch you.

They key is to have a serene attitude. Life is one grand irony. Control what you can control, and meanwhile understand that not if, but when something unexpected hits you, that it does you no good to be ticked-off the whole time afterwards. Instead, just maintain a solution-focused perspective, and be prepared.

If we go back to my wine incident. If I had simpy placed an airline blanket in my lap (which I highly recommend you always do anytime you have a drink/meal); I would have fared much, much better. But don't show up to your flight and hope they have blankets. Bring your own.


Travel is not just a thing. It's a skill; akin to riding a bike. The more skilled you are, the more you should be able to enjoy riding.

There are so many life-enrichments that accompany travel - and in order to discuss them appropriately, I would have to write a book. That's not necessary right now.

Just trust me when I say that you can travel well; whether for business or pleasure (however I argue all trips should include both). You don't have to be in First Class to travel well; either. Don't get me wrong, it can certainly help - and that's why I usually lean towards it; but it's no guarantee.

My cabin class from "Bakes" to Dallas is First, and this flight isn't rosey. Rude staff, whiny passengers, poor service, and worn-out seats. Honestly, will all that in mind, it's somewhat of a phenomenon that I'm still happy as a clam right now.

When I compare this trip with my last Economy class flight to Iceland, it's like night and day - and I was even sitting in the back of the plane on the way to Iceland; which is something I avoid like the plague. However, the flight was great, and I met a really cool lady. We had several great conversations during the flight.

To travel well, smart tactics are required; like planning ahead, staying fit, and packing light. But, what's more important is having the right mentality; because that can transcend (or succumb to) any situation, regardless of cabin class.

Travel well.


J. Patrick Nichols

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