This week has seen me doing a fair amount of travel for a client. I travel a fair amount for work and have racked up my share of airline miles, but I don’t travel nearly as much as others. With my whole family on the east coast and a race schedule that has me on a jet at least annually, there are a few tips to travel that I thought I would pass along– and hopefully get some thoughts flowing.
Stay Calm and Carry On
I have a challenge for you. The next time that you’re in line at security (perhaps waiting to put your bags on the belt for the x-ray machine), take a deep breath and do a quick body check. Does your chest feel just a little tighter (maybe a lot tighter) than normal? Do you feel a little tension near the front of your head and around your temples? My challenge is that I bet you won’t do it. Why? Because you’re too stressed.
“Did I remember to take the toiletries out of my bag?”
“Did I remember to remove every scrap of metal out of my pockets?”
“How did the guy in front of me not know that he couldn’t bring a hunting knife through the metal detector?”
(yes, the last one has happened to me– twice— at the airport). Remember Matt Dixon and our post from yesterday? Stress is stress– particularly for age-group athletes pulled in a million directions at once. Anything we can do to get a handle on that stress is worth its weight in gold. Being mindful of the stress at the airport is one of the most important things you can do to eliminate that stress. When stress is ignored or when you just pretend it isn’t there, it creeps up on you and leaves you utterly trashed the next day. Instead, do these little mental check-in’s throughout your trip– they’ll be useful barometers telling you when some stress reduction may help out.
Great. So now that you’re aware of your stress, what can you do to make it easier? Here’s where we get into some of the luxuries of travel– the goals of which are purely to reduce stress.
- TSA PreCheck. This used to be the greatest travel secret ever. Sadly TSA has done a good job at marketing it so the word is out already, but it’s still well-worth the investment even if you rarely fly. Basically, applying for TSA PreCheck is a matter of being interviewed by TSA and being asked a bunch of security questions and then you’re eligible to go to a “magic line” at security where you don’t have to take off your shoes and don’t have to take anything out of your bag. You just walk up, put your bag on the belt, walk through a metal detector, smile at the happier TSA agent, and walk to your gate (the TSA agents at the PreCheck line are invariably happier because they have a lot less work to do). A non-refundable fee of $85 will cover you for five years. As great a program as TSA PreCheck is, I’d actually recommend going for the Global Entry program instead. It’s basically the same process and almost the same cost ($100 versus $85), but it whizzes you through customs and passport checks when entering the United States. Rather than waiting in the LONG lines at customs, you just walk to a special kiosk, scan your fingerprints and look up at the camera. The kiosk photographs you and you walk through to pick up your bag. Then, instead of waiting in the lines at customs, you just hand the border agent your receipt and walk out of the airport. It’s also gives you access to all of the goodness of the TSA PreCheck program. Even better is that credit cards like the American Express Platinum Card will pay your application fee to Global Entry. Here’s a second hint to the application process. When you apply for either PreCheck or Global Entry, you’ll be given an interview date MONTHS away (mine was 7 months out!). Instead, the next time you’re at the airport (particularly if it’s in the middle of the day) stop by the office where you’re told to go and say, “oh, hey, I have an appointment later on but I happened to be passing through and was told you might be able to slip me in.” Chances are that they can slip you in easily– thus saving you months off the application process.
- Airport Clubs. Any time spent loitering around the gate is wasteful, stressful time. The seats are crowded and filthy (germ count in public areas is related to the frequency that different people touch an object– and so these seats are dirtier than most toilet seats). Plus, there is a TON of noise. Check into an airport club and you’re suddenly in a quiet oasis with nice comfortable seats. Sure, there’s usually free alcohol (not my thing when traveling) but it’s the calmness that you’re after.
- First Class Upgrades. Ask any frequent flyer why they try to hog up so many miles on their favorite airline and they’ll tell you it’s to get first class upgrades. This actually is huge for reducing stress– and it’s not the free booze that does it. Instead, the wider seats help isolate you from the elbow bumping interactions with your neighbors (particularly if you’re unfortunate to have a middle seat) and the extra touch of cushioning helps reduce the vibrations on your body. Another perk to being a frequent flyer is early boarding– and winning the battle for overhead bin space. This isn’t such a big deal to me– if I don’t have status on an airline, I have no problem checking a bag. But upgrades can mean all the difference in a flight and are well worth the struggle. Alternatively, if you have the money, buying a first class ticket outright is well worth the investment for an older athlete. Let the young punks fly steerage in the back of the plane.
I’m not a crazy germ-a-phobe in my day-to-day life, but I become one on travel. Just remember that the dirtiest items in public areas are the ones that are touched the most and that your hands are like a direct pipeline into your body. This means to avoid touching doorknobs and to wash and sanitize your hands whenever you do.
Here’s a hint that I can pass on about sanitation. It’s been known for some time that washing your hands doesn’t really “kill” anything– instead, washing your hands takes advantage of the friction of rubbing your hands under water to physically dislodge viruses and bacteria. Effective, but not in the way that your mom may have told you. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (e.g. Purell) only kill viruses that are immediately present– a better approach is to have a disinfectant built into the hand sanitizer. The most popular hand sanitizers in this category used benzalkonium chloride and this is the active ingredient in most foam hand sanitizers and alcohol free hand sanitizers. But the problem here is that benzalkonium chloride does nothing about rhinovirus– a major cause of the common cold. Instead, organic acids do a much more effective job and lasts for up to four hours.
So here’s what I do. Buy a bottle of 100 proof vodka from your local liquor store. You’re looking for the cheapest, unflavored vodka you can find, but you want it to be at least 100 proof. The reason is that 50% alcohol (100 proof) is much more effective at immediately killing nasty bacteria and viruses. Also, buy some powdered citric acid, which you can likely find at your local drug store or at Amazon. On a small scale, measure out 100 grams of ethanol and pour in the citric acid until it weighs 106-110 grams. This doesn’t have to be precise– you just want a solution that is above 5% concentration citric acid. Put this into a mini-spray bottle and use it religiously. It isn’t unreasonable to set an alarm to remind yourself hourly to wash your hands and sanitize your hands and around your mouth when you are traveling.
Compression and EMS
In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about the advantages of using compression and EMS when traveling. Compression is, by far, more convenient but there are times that EMS is more effective.
I find that compression is de rigueur when traveling by plane. I think it has something to do with sitting for prolonged periods in low air pressure that makes my legs and ankle balloon up to gargantuan proportions. As I’ll discuss in a future post, this mean CEP Clone or medically-prescribed compression gear– everything else seems like a joke by comparison.
Hydration, Noise Cancellation, Etc
Sure, the travel blogs will tell you to hydrate like crazy, which they say helps because air in planes is so dry and dehydrating. I find just as much benefit from the fact that drinking like crazy means you have to go to the bathroom like crazy– and that little bit of movement really helps. Noise cancellation helps a little. I’m on the fence about it because I hate carrying a big set of headphones. Others swear it’s worth the effort.
Pretty much everything I’ve mentioned works well for driving, except I’m not as much of a germ-a-phobe in the car– it’s a much more controlled environment. One final advantage to the Global Entry program mentioned above is that it can qualify you to go through the (much speedier) NEXUS lines at border crossings into Mexico and Canada– TSA PreCheck alone won’t get you that perk.