The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.
-- Henry David Thoreau
I'm what you might call a "jet-setter." According to dictionary.com, a jet-setter is one who travels internationally, "from one fashionable place to another," in the pursuit of pleasure. Though I received my first passport last week, I still think I qualify. For example, an invitation to an exclusive party or an urge to see a particular piece of art are each compelling enough reasons to justify a quick trip to New York, just as my desire to see snow on New Year's Eve is excuse aplenty to send me and my man to Vermont the week after Christmas. We haven't begun to party internationally yet, but we hop all over the country, either for David's gallery openings or simply because we feel like it.
Why am I telling you this? Well, many of you will be traveling for the holidays, and as a frequent flyer (that's more than 25,000 miles a year, baby), I can offer you occasional-event flyers some tips on how this diva does it.
Flying over 50,000 miles a year worldwide, my father is a natural. Far from being the prima donna his daughter is, Dad's rules are simple -- if it's a long flight, upgrade to first class with the many miles under your belt, drink a handful of free alcoholic beverages, and sleep the whole way, which will have you arriving sprightly at your destination. He tells me -- through chortles and grins, similar to how he might communicate a racquetball victory -- how his younger fellow sojourners are consistently dragged down by jet lag and travel exhaustion. Dad has never experienced jet lag because his circadian rhythms are not bothered by something as inconsequential as the local time.
David has told me I'm more of a "flower," quick to wilt at the slightest change in weather, altitude, or time. Like a good boy, he's always striving to make my journey more comfortable. Last year, he surprised me with a new experience, flying in first class, thereby forever ruining me for coach (or as David would say, "steerage").
It took me years to learn the secret to being handled with kid gloves in the air, but I'll share it with you now because I like you: become a loyal customer. Pick one airline and stick with it, even if a few of the flights end up costing more than other airlines. After you choose your company, become a member of whatever frequent-flyer program it offers. Dad, David, and I all fly United. And because of our loyalty and accrued miles, we are treated like royalty. We are allowed to check in and board first and can trade in our collected miles to upgrade our asses to first-class seats for long hauls, which is what I now do when flying back East. Once a flight is booked, I like to ruminate on what to pack. I don't know why I bother doing this, because the night before a flight, I stuff everything into any portable container in sight. My father has the same problem; maybe it's genetic. Our bags are so overstuffed that David and I have to weigh our luggage before leaving for the airport -- 50 pounds is the max a bag can weigh before they charge you extra. I try, I really do, but inevitably, after I have smartly sorted my necessities, this voice hisses from the back of my mind, "What if you want to wear those cute, dangly earrings?" You're right, I think, but then, after every piece of jewelry I own is packed away, the voice desperately moans, "Shouldn't you have more shoe options?"
It's not worth arguing with the voice inside my head for two reasons: For one, I'd hate to freak out David with a verbal solo squabble...again. But more importantly, that voice is ultimately me, and if I don't bring what I think I might need, I will be a no-fun neurotic mess for the duration of the trip, eventually forcing myself into a position in which I do need said object left behind so that I can experience my expected horror for having failed to bring it.
David never forgets his own pillowcase and a couple of tiny toys. The pillowcase, lightweight and compact, offers a scent of home, not to mention the comforting softness of high thread counts. The toys are not for David, but for screaming, seemingly inconsolable children. It is my firm belief that airlines should offer (if they are ever able to pull their heads out from under this perpetual almost-out-of-business state) separate flights for children and their parents. Think about it -- Mom and Dad don't have to feel embarrassed because their whiny kid is ruining several hours for 150 people, and traveling childless adults don't have to suffer for long periods of time while projecting negative energy onto the world as they secretly hope, "Maybe it will die, and we'll finally have some fucking peace and quiet."
But until separate flights are possible, David will continue to arm himself with toys -- his silver bullet for dealing with the little howlers. He allows the child to scream for 10 minutes, hoping the parents will quiet the kid with whatever parental voodoo they normally use in such situations. However, after 15 minutes, intervention is called for. This is when David pulls a small toy suitable for sucking upon from his bag, and without a word, walks down the aisle and presents it to the crying culprit. Thus ending the reign of irritation. Once, after applying his superherolike power, grateful passengers shook his hand, thanked him profusely, and offered to buy him drinks. If you're feeling less altruistic and seeking only personal relief, an MP3 player and inner-ear canal headphones (such as those from Shure or Etymotic) will banish the offending sounds.
Seating is important, and when booking, you must consult with seatguru.com, a website that color codes every seat for every plane, complete with measurements, so you can be assured you're getting the best. Sitting closer to the front is a smoother ride (and if you're lucky enough to get a meal on the flight, they won't run out of options before they get to you); exit rows have more legroom, but the seats don't recline. More such facts are available on the website.