Up in the (international) air

STEP THREE: Shoes go in first. Ms. Pools packs them along the edges of the bag, then begins putting in jeans and pants to form the bottom layer of clothing.

The New York Times gives us a slide show on how to pack a carry on bag efficiently. I concur.

In the first five minutes of Up In the Air, George Clooney, veteran traveller, sails through airport security with grace and speed. Jeannie and I watched with a certain amount of grim familiarity. At one point I remember thinking: “Rookie move, Clooney.” How sad.

My specialty is international travel, where Clooney offer little help. I am routinely out of the airport so fast that veteran taxi drivers in several countries have openly marveled. Here are some global travel tips for your arival:

  1. Carry on bags only. I can do a 3-week, 3-country, 3-climate Africa trip with a single small suitcase and my little backpack.
  2. Bulkhead seat. Ask for it when you book, or when you check in. Not only do you get some extra leg room, but you’re usually in front of the door so you can…
  3. Speed walk. To the immigration desk, ahead of the crowd. Otherwise you can kiss an hour goodbye. Fill out your entry card on the plane.
  4. The dreaded bus. Some places drive you to the terminal, rather than have you walk the 100 meters. Argh. This may frustrate tactic 3. Stay near the door, and never, ever take a chair.
  5. Choose your line well. If you aren’t fast enough, take the “non-citizens” line closest to the “residents” or “diplomats” line. They empty first, and start calling people from your line next.

Here’s a random assortment of other travel tips.

  1. Plastic buckle belt. For going through security without your pants falling down. Slip-on shoes too.
  2. Priority Pass. Buy a membership, for access to Business Class lounges with a coach class ticket.
  3. Stopovers. No more than one or you’re sure to miss a connection somewhere.
  4. Miles. Pick one carrier in each alliance and build miles on just one. You can do that. You’ll never get a free trip, of course; they’re too smart and stingy for that (unless you’re the type who books vacations a year in advance). But if you get enough miles you start getting upgrade privileges and–best of all–access to first class check-in with a coach ticket, and first boarding.
  5. Valium. It’s unfashionable, but it works. You cannot afford jet lag when you have 35-hour flights to get somewhere for two weeks of field work. My doctor cheerfully recommended Valium when the new fangled stuff didn’t work, and I’ve never looked back. I use one on the plane, and one the first two nights in the new time zone to force myself onto schedule. It’s magical. I have eliminated jet lag from my life, and hit the African ground at a swift jog, if not running.
  6. Other meds. If on a return flight from Africa, I carry my malaria, anti-nausea, and anti-diarrheal meds. I forgot to do this once. Once. Never again. Enough said.
  7. Leave clothes. Keep working in the same countries? I now have a mini-wardrobe in Uganda, Liberia and (soon) Ethiopia. One day soon I may not even need my carry on suitcase.

What are your tips?