19 May How to Sell a Book in America, Part VI: your road kit

Although I love to travel, I don’t totally have my travel act together. For example, I always overpack and yet no matter how well prepared I am — writing lists, packing the night before, taking inventory — I always forget at least one thing. Still, I’ve learned some tips about making traveling easier, simply because I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, starting with the 9,000 mile zigzag I made across the continent after graduating from college. More recently, I lived in a motel room for five months in Micronesia. I’ve done all the usual things: washed clothes in sinks, made soup in coffee makers, etc. And I’ve done some unusual things, like the morning I discovered a wild hair growing from the tip of my nose and, unable to pluck it with my fingers, tweezed it out with one hinge of my eye-glasses. Yes. improvisation is often the key to doing well on the road. But there’s also something to be said for being prepared.

What I recommend is a survival kit. To be less dramatic, let’s call it your travel kit. If it’s put together well, your kit will help you keep body and mind together, especially if you’re away from home for longer than, say, 3 days. I’m currently on a 5-city book tour that will last just over a week. That’s long enough to mess you up in many ways. Here are the top-ten items in my travel kit:

1) ear plugs
Most travelers don’t notice, but they should know that planes are as noisy as subways. Maybe noisier. If you’re plugged into your music player or watching an in-flight movie, you probably couldn’t care less. But, if you’re reading a book or typing on your laptop or trying to nap, your ears are getting hammered. Next time you fly, take note afterward of the ringing in your ears. That noise wears you down, even if you don’t notice it. I carry wax earplugs with me everywhere and use them in subways and other noisy places too.

2) inflatable pillows
You can get these at camp stores. I carry two. They’re about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a conventional pillow, they inflate/deflate like miniature air mattresses, and they’re more for the hotels than for planes. I never get enough pillows at hotels unless I’m staying at a really expensive place. Recently, I stayed at a “guest house” that had a cell-like room whose bed offered a single flat pillow. My inflatable, half-sized pillows have made a big difference in instances like this, not to mention instances when the hotel pillow cases looked like poorly laundered diapers.

3) lunch
Bring it. Nobody is going to make a better sandwich of better ingredients than you can make at home. I usually make an avocado, sprout, lettuce, and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread for a fraction of the cost of anything I might buy on the road. I make it just the way I like it, with plenty of mustard. I can eat it any time, anywhere. And it will last, if it must, for a day and a half.

I also bring at least two apples, an orange, and a carrot; also a small ziplock bag of peanuts and another of raisins. The added weight isn’t burdensome (the load lightens quickly) and the advantage of having your own snacks is tremendous, especially when you’re starving for a bite and tempted by junk-food vending machines.

Good food makes good energy.

4) Vitamins and supplements
Too many people, it seems, abandon their routines when they travel. This means that not only might they forgo their usual eating habits (and resort to eating junk food) but also forgo taking their daily vitamins and supplements. That’s understandable: travel is a logistical hassle that makes it difficult to sort through bottles of vitamins etc.. That’s why I make up a vitamin pack for every day of travel. Other supplements, like ground flax seed, I put in small plastic containers and spoon them out as needed.

5) a portable orange juicer
This sounds exotic but is not. You can find one at the housewares aisle of most supermarkets. It’s made of plastic, lightweight, and easy to carry (comes in two pieces). It allows you to buy a handful of oranges or grapefruit and squeeze your own juice anywhere (as long as you have a serrated plastic knife – see #6). Talk about starting the day right! Do you know how hard it is to find fresh-squeezed juice anywhere in America? And how much it costs, if and when you can find it? Day or night, fresh juice gives you a kick not only because it’s healthy but also because it’s a treat and makes you feel very special.

6) Plastic eating utensils.
TSA will not confiscate these. And they are handy for more than just eating. Any kind will do – knife, spoon, fork – but I prefer the heavy-duty variety, which is especially important in the knife (see item #5). I also carry napkins. BTW: your heavy-duty plastic utensils are easy to wash and re-use. No need to throw them out.

hand/face wipes
As you know, there are all kinds of wipes you might carry—some are alcohol based, others are infused with hand cream, and others are anti-bacterial. I’m talking about something a little different: individually wrapped aromatic oil wipes. These are herbal wipes that contain no chemicals but are naturally anti-bacterial (if that’s your worry) and, above all, offer a quick, cleansing respite from the sweaty, sticky vicissitudes of travel. They smell great and will make you feel like you’re giving yourself a treat.

8) day bag
This is the small carryall – nylon backpack or canvas messenger bag — that is with me at all times. It contains the usual stuff (cell phone, wallet, chapstick, etc.) and three vital items: toothbrush, deodorant, and dental floss. If you are truly stuck somewhere, a good tooth-brushing may make you feel a little better. And flossing? Have you ever spent the better part of a day, absently and persistently tonguing at a particle of food stuck between your teeth?

If I’m going to a city, my day bag also includes a change purse with plenty of quarters for parking. (I forgot this the last time I was in Boston.)

9) map
Nothing’s worse (for me) than being holed up in a hotel and having no idea what’s around me. Inevitably, the hotel’s courtesy map offers a paltry depiction of your surroundings. So, before I travel, I download a set of Google maps so that I am well acquainted with the neighborhood surrounding my hotel and/or the place where I’m reading. This is really important for fetching food and locating cool sites you might visit. (Before printing out your map, be sure to look at “print preview” to make sure you’re getting the portion of the map that you want.)

10) compact mirror
Most women carry this. But, guys, I’m here to tell you that our need for a small mirror is no less important – as you surely know if you’ve ever returned from an outing or, heaven forbid, a reading only to discover that – nestled at the opening of one nostril – you have a booger the size of a mung bean. Sorry, I know you don’t want to hear this. But looks do matter, especially if you’re presenting yourself to the public. So a small mirror for a last-minute check is really helpful. Jill got me a vintage travel mirror that has been invaluable.

I could probably name another ten items. But let me close with three life-style habits that will get you off to a better start, no matter what your itinerary:

a) Stretch out in the morning, before breakfast. If you know yoga, do some. If you don’t know yoga, just stretch – 5 minutes will make a difference, as good as a jolt of caffeine.

b) Breathe deeply. All day long. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Remind yourself that a deep breath is energizing – it brings oxygen to your blood.

c) Keep your head up. Literally. Looking down at the ground as you walk is a tremendous strain on your back. It brings you down physically and mentally. Keeping your head up helps you meet the world face-on and will make a difference in the way you feel.

It’s tough being on the road – which is why vacations so often are NOT restful. And, vacation or no, it’s tough enough simply being in the world. Wherever we are, our challenge is to find the care and nourishment we need. Our travel kit reminds us that we can give ourselves some of this when we’re far from home and on our own.