by Suzannah Gilman
Because I travel so much, my kids started calling me “Superfly Mama.” That’s superfly with the emphasis on self-confidence, not on ostentatiousness; the latter will get you nowhere fast while traveling, especially with the TSA (which some may not know stands for “Thousands Standing Around”). But I can get through security faster than that character George Clooney played in Up in the Air, and I will tell you how you can, too. I’ll give you a couple of tips on how to save the day. And I can’t wait to tell you which small items I never travel without.
How to Fly Through Security
- Put your ID and boarding pass away after the TSA agent checks it and clears you; you need your hands free. You won’t need to show your ID again, and you’ll only show your boarding pass again when you board your plane.
- No one likes to wait, but being in line gives you time to do the things you need to do. If you fool around in line and wait to get your act together at the last second, you’ll frustrate and delay the people behind you. Beware: if you tick them off, they might manspread (women do it, too) if they are on your flight seated next to you. Take care of these things while you’re waiting in the security line:
- Read the signs that are posted around the security checkpoint if you’re not sure of what’s required of you during screening.
- Men (if you’re reading this), empty your pockets and put the items in a zippered compartment in your carry-on.
- If you didn’t wear slip-on shoes, unzip or untie your shoes now.
- Skim through your purse and/or carry-on and double check for small liquids and creams. Make sure you don’t have a bottled drink, either. If your bag contains any of those things, it will be put through the scanner again, making you wait and causing the people behind you to roll their eyes and whisper that you don’t deserve to be let on a plane.
- Leave your belt and sweater in your carry-on and put them on after you clear security.
- Don’t place your carry-on in a tray; there’s no need.
- Ditto for a purse. Just lay it on the belt.
- Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily.
- You don’t have to take out your tablet and put it in a tray, but you do have to take out your laptop. Be ready for that and have it handy to place into a bin. Good news: you can leave your laptop in its protective case.
- If you have a 3-1-1 plastic bag of liquids, have it ready for the bin as well.
- You can put several items in one bin, as long as they’re not piled on top of one another—shoes, laptop, bag of liquids, sweater—but you will most likely need two bins if you have that many things.
- After you and your items are cleared, pull your things down the roller belt to the end before getting your things back in order. Standing in front of the opening and holding up the people behind you from getting their things is rude. It’s like getting a drink at an open bar and standing right there to talk to someone, blocking anyone else from getting a drink. Capiche?
How to Smooth Wrinkles in No Time
- For literal wrinkles, you can use the old method to steam clothes: put them on hangers and hang them in the bathroom where the spray won’t hit them. Blast the shower with the hottest water there is, and shut the door. But it’s easier, more environmentally friendly, and more effective to buy a travel steamer, which weighs almost nothing and costs between ten and twenty dollars, and takes only a few minutes to do it right.
- To make sharp creases in slacks, take a shortcut: heat up a flat iron used for straightening hair. Make a crease by opening the appliance’s maw, then squeezing it gently shut and sliding it down the pant leg. I’ve done this to shirt sleeves, too, and I’ve used it on the placket of a dress shirt when I was at an inn that did not have an iron. My flat iron saved the day. (And FYI, a placket is the strip of fabric with buttonholes, running down the front of a shirt.)
- If you’re in need of a lint brush and don’t have one, use tape. We all know that one. But you probably don’t have tape with you. Do you have a feminine product with a sticky side? There you go! You can now remove the lint from your clothing—but don’t do it in public, thank you very much.
- One of my lifesavers is a portable charger that I charge before I leave and take with me. It holds four complete charges for mobile phones. When I’m out for the day, I can take as many photos as I like, post on FB and Instagram as much as I like, and not worry about my battery going dead, because I can plug it in and use it while it recharges. A few years ago, I suffered a major trauma when I ran out of power on my smartphone in The White House. Yes, The White House! I was heartbroken.
- I used to carry a photocopy of my passport when traveling internationally, but now I take a picture of it with my cellphone and then I email it to myself. Why? Because if it is lost or stolen, having a copy of your passport will streamline the process of getting a replacement at the U.S. Embassy. Why do I email it to myself? If I lose my smartphone along with my passport, I’ll still be set. I have Gmail, so I can retrieve the emailed copy of it from any computer in the world— including at a U.S. Embassy.
- Opening my suitcase and finding that my shampoo, lotion, conditioner, or other liquid has oozed out of the container while in the unpressurized cargo area of an airplane has happened many times. I devised a fix. While packing, I take the cap off, place a piece of thin plastic over the container’s opening, and screw the cap back on. There’s no way for a mess like that to happen again.
- The very small pair of scissors I bring with me has many uses, and one is cutting new squares of plastic for my containers before I go home. I have also used the scissors to cut strings hanging from my clothing, remove a hangnail, cut the tags from clothes I’ve bought, and even trim my bangs a touch.
- Where do I get the plastic to cover the health and beauty container openings? Either from one of the extra Ziploc bags I bring with me (all sizes, because I’m a Ziploc freak), or from the plastic laundry bag provided by the hotel. I don’t have to tell you how useful Ziplocs can be. You can think of five reasons off the top of your head.
- You’ll see in my photo that I actually label my travel-size toiletry bottles. I used to write on them with a Sharpie, but Sharpie rubs off. Without these labels for my travel size toiletries bottles, not only can I not tell the products apart, but between trips I forget which brands and types of toiletries I filled the bottles with. Knowing which brands they are is important to me. Maybe they’re a brand I don’t use anymore.
- Getting blisters can ruin a trip. I’m not promoting BandAid brand on purpose, but it’s the only company I know that makes a product to prevent blisters, Band-Aid Friction Block. Apply it to the areas where your shoes are rubbing or where you usually get blisters. I apply it before I put my shoes on instead of waiting for blisters to start forming. I was without it on a trip a couple of months ago because I forgot to pack it. I rummaged around in my things, trying to think of what else could keep me from getting blisters. I tried my dry stick deodorant because I couldn’t think of anything else. And it worked! I’ll still keep buying the BandAid product. Look at the photo of it next to my lip balm—it’s so small and convenient. Now I keep it in my purse. *UPDATE, August 14, 2016. Every online retailer is out of Band-Aid Friction Block. Mine will be used up soon, which is why I was trying to find it online. And when it’s gone, I plan to use the simplest stick deodorant I can find instead. Why? The ingredients of Friction Block are hydrogenated vegetable oil, cetyl alcohol, and fragrance, and several stick deodorants contain those three ingredients or a version of them. In addition to these inactive ingredients, stick deodorants contain other ingredients that I haven’t looked up. I don’t think they’d harm the effectiveness of helping prevent blisters, though. Unless and until Friction Block becomes available or a new product is introduced, I’ll have to stick with deodorant.
- At Chicago’s super-packed O’Hare airport, I once had to open my suitcase on the floor in front of the check-in counter, and there it lie, splayed open, exposing my bras and panties and everything else to a million strangers. My bag was overweight, so I had to transfer some things into my travel partner’s underweight bag. The next day, I purchased a priceless baggage scale for under $10. I’ll never be humiliated again. At least not that way.
- Touring in a big city, one has to be vigilant. Not having your wallet and money organized is not only frustrating, but perilous. While you’re fussing with your bird’s nest of money and receipts, trying to stuff it all into your wallet, a pickpocket could take advantage. Put your money or credit card in your wallet right away, snap it shut, and slip it into that zippered compartment inside your purse, which is where I know you’re safeguarding it. You brought an envelope to put your receipts in, of course, so that’s where you’ll put them after you’ve secured your wallet. You’re quite the organized traveler, I must say.
- You know how it is when you wake in the night in a strange place and you don’t immediately remember where you are? And what it’s like to have to pee but not be able to find your drowsy way in the dark? I carry one little bug-eyed nightlight for that purpose, and I plug it in over the bathroom sink. They’re made to be plugged into electrical sockets low on the walls to light a pathway, so I’m thinking of taking a second one with me.
- Even if the room in your hotel has a coffee station with good coffee pods, it’s likely to be stocked with “the pink stuff” artificial sweetener. The color pink makes me think of the eyes of white mice used in experiments with “the pink stuff.” Of course I’m staying away from it. A snack-size Ziploc filled with packets of your own sweetener makes your trip That. Much. Sweeter.
- Bring a few old-school wire clothes hangers if you have a lot of clothes or if you’re packing clothes in a garment bag that is built into a large suitcase. Only a few hangers will fit into the top loop of that garment bag. Many more wire hangers will fit there. Plus, you’ll never have enough hangers at a hotel, and you can toss the hangers before you go home if you want to.
- I bought a pack of three zip-together drawer organizers from IKEA. When unzipped, they lie flat. When zipped, they provide a handy way to organize various items. I put after-shower products in one, hair products in another, makeup and skin products in another, and over-the-counter and Rx meds in another. (Yes, I carry more than three.) I put the organizers in a clothes drawer and take them out only when I’m using them. My hotel bathroom is always neat.
- I feel bad if my makeup stains hotel washcloths, but a bottle of makeup remover and a sleeve of cotton makeup pads takes up weight and space. Now I buy makeup remover towelettes and carry them in—what else?—a small Ziploc. But I cut them up first, some in halves, some in quarters. I never need a whole towelette, and bringing 2 whole towelettes for each day is a waste, and it’s heavy besides. Resizing them is perfect. And if I forget to cut them before I leave home, I have my Lilliputian scissors to do the job.
- I’m no prude, but I don’t like it when my room has curtains and they don’t quite meet in the middle. There are two fixes: a hair clip or a paper clamp—those black things hanging around in your desk drawer. Either one of them will hold the curtains together and give me the privacy I deserve. Not that I’m going to prance around in the nude then. But I could if I wanted, and if I did, no one would ever know.
- Okay, maybe I’m a bit wary, some might say paranoid, but I’m uncomfortable unless the peephole in the door is covered, which is one reason I always carry Post-It notes. There are creeps out there who have lenses that allow them to see everything in the room when they hold them up to peepholes. I saw a story on this on ABC’s 20/20 news show when I was a teen, and there was a recent court case because a female sportscaster was filmed that way. It’s a danger that has been around for decades, and I solved it with a Post-It note. No one gets to see me naked unless I want them to.
- Speaking of dirty, I’ve always meant to bring a Ziploc of disinfectant cleaning wipes with me. Because I haven’t, I don’t take baths at hotels, no matter how beautiful and inviting the tub. I’m also grossed out by the bathroom door knob. When I leave public restrooms, I hold the knob with a paper towel because not everyone washes their hands. Hotel restrooms are public restrooms; why do we assume the knobs are clean? The countertop and sink also aren’t disinfected, nor is the toilet seat or handle. And then there’s the remote control. Blech! I’m amazed that I haven’t died of a communicable disease already!
How Did I Live Without This
- Several years ago on a flight out of Orlando (how many more flights to/from my home airport, Disney Central, before I earn sainthood), a four year-old screamed “I want ice cream!” nonstop for half an hour at least. Of course, there is no ice cream on an airplane. And cookies offered by the flight attendant would not do. If it were my child, the problem would have been solved two minutes after it started—“Step into my office,” I’d say, and drag her into the lavatory. But it wasn’t my child. Luckily, I myself had a childish habit back then. I was a Skittle muncher. I took my prized last pack of Skittles from my purse, held them in one hand casually behind me, and went over to the mother. I asked if her child could have “S-k-i-t-t-l-e-s,” and she said yes. I handed them over. The kid shut up. From then on, I’ve traveled with some kid-friendly candy in my bag. (Lollipops are safe-ish for just about any age child who eats candy.)
- I eat healthy snacks now. Raw almonds are a favorite. I savor them. But airlines don’t even give out peanuts anymore, much less raw almonds. To stay away from pretzels and Doritos, bring along your own snack.
- I buy a cold, bottled drink just before boarding. I don’t have to wait for cabin service to start. I don’t have to worry about a cup spilling if there’s turbulence. And I don’t have to keep the garbage inconveniently on my tray table until flight attendants come by to pick it up. Sounds like a small pleasure, but it makes me happy.
- I saved the best for last. Thanks for sticking with me. A friend who lives in wine country and enjoys savoring a very good white with heavy minerality passed along a tip that shocked me. “You know you can take small, airplane-size bottles of liquor on board? You put them in your 3-1-1 plastic bag. TSA allows it.” She doesn’t need to save money, and drinks on board aren’t expensive, but again it keeps one from waiting to be served. Some airlines specify in the guides in the seat back pocket in front of you (I’d like a shot of tequila for every time I’ve had to hear that phrase) that only alcohol purchased from the airline may be consumed onboard. But it’s all good, because you can consume the alcohol when you get to where you’re going—which may be a Hampton Inn without so much as a bar, or it may be a decent hotel in Manhattan where ice is plentiful and free, but cocktails downstairs are $15. But you don’t have to go downstairs. You have arrived, baby, and you need a bit of relaxation. So use those wipes to disinfect the germy surfaces real quick, grab one of your clean gallon Ziplocs, and take a struttin’ stroll to the ice machine. Come back, unwrap a new disposable cup, fill it with ice, and pour the Tito’s. Kick your shoes off, lie back, and you can finally say, “Damn. I forgot the Post-Its.”
Note: though they admire my traveling skills, my kids have never called me “Superfly Mama.” I want to find out if any of them reads The Gloria Sirens. If they do, I’ll hear from them! Embarrassing your kids works better than texting, calling, or emailing.