Mastering Travel With Your Best Guest Dames

Guest Editors Lisa & Terri, yaaaaaaay!

Hello! I'm Lisa Schmeiser -- previously of the woods, recently back from two more trips there, among the seven I've taken in the past six weeks -- and owing to those perambulations, when Dames Margaret and Sophie asked if I'd like to guest-edit and what I'd write about, I replied, " … Perhaps a piece on travel?"

And I’m Terri Coles, never of the woods if she has any say in the matter. I prefer to be of beaches and cities but am usually of Newfoundland, a place with many charms -- Icebergs! Puffins! Unironic beards on men! Our weather, however, is not among those selling points, which is a real problem for an indoor cat like myself when forced to leave my cozy environs.

The Lisa Schmeiser Method of Efficient Air Travel

I am the type of person who firmly believes that travel of any type -- from business to grief to pleasure -- can be rescued from "it's a pain in the back, only without any of the comforts of home" if you keep three guiding principles in mind:

  • Find your small pleasures where you can.

  • Keep an eye out for intensely local experiences and things.

  • Just as you avoid unitaskers in the kitchen, avoid unitaskers in your luggage.

I’m not advocating for minimalism here. I am not the type of person who can brag about how they traveled the world carrying only one slim nylon envelope containing a black jersey tunic and a toilette comprised of a bar of sea-salt soap and a single hinoki chopstick.

(If you are, please contact the Dames so you can guest-write for them. We all deserve to know how you do it.)

Instead, I am advocating for well-chosen and versatile items, to be kept in your bag and deployed in moments where you need to restore your equilibrium.

In the last six weeks, I have traveled approximately 23,117 miles over seven separate trips. (I am not making up that number. I really did go all those miles.) Below are the things in my carry-on that helped keep me sane.

Binder clips. I have a friend who has a gift for wearing cardigans -- they could come from Old Navy, but on her, they read as Yohji Yamamoto. And she almost always has a giant binder clip stuck on one of the lapels. It has been used to close her cardigan, to secure a tote, to clip a muslin blanket to an infant carrier … and to confuse people who are unsure if they're looking at an avant-garde accessory or something she forgot to take off. (This last use is obviously my favorite.)

I bought a big container of white binder clips and I have deployed them in my travels in the following ways: Clipping substandard hotel curtains shut; winding down a tube of concealer and squeezing out the last dab; winding up all her tech cables into tidy spiral; closing snack bags; hanging swimsuits to dry; corralling receipts.

Your binder clips don't have to be white. They can be space-age silver, Mondrian-primary colors or black. Just bring them. You will find uses for them. If you're lucky, you will think of a kind and stylish friend every time you do.

Reading material that doesn't make me feel bad about myself. Once upon a time, I boarded a return flight when I was not feeling so great about myself. A get-together "back home" had made it clear my friends and I were diverging; the "home" part of "back home" was feeling less so, yet the place I was living was not yet home; I was returning to a job that felt as if it were actively dragging me away from my career goals; my boyfriend had just dumped me. You know, your basic late-twenties daily hellscape.

Then I opened my copy of Glamour, there in the front of the book was a "Check out how attractive one of our employees is!" blurb, and the attractive employee was someone I recognized as a person who had been consistently unkind to me in high school. Below, my reaction:

I spent the next six hours having an acute quarter-life crisis. I have never bought another women's magazine for a long flight.

A good airplane read is one where you're so engrossed in the work, you barely notice when the flight attendant hands over your three ounces of ginger ale. Or it's the book that introduces you to a whole new way of looking at the world.  Or it's a beloved re-read where you can reacquaint yourself with the ideas or characters that make you feel like a better version of yourself. It does not feature any of the people who enjoyed taking cheap shots at you in high school.

And if you think you're ever going to work your way through your stack of New Yorkers while you're traveling …? You're not.  Just admit it and liberate yourself to read something bright,  tender and stealthily informative like Sali Hughes' Pretty Iconic or Hadley Freeman's The Meaning of Sunglasses.

Oh, and consider an e-reader. One slender tablet takes up almost no room in a bag and if you get one with a magnetized cover clasp, you've got a place to store extra binder clips.

A first aid kit that fits in my Bitches Get Stuff Done coin purse. I once experienced the slow-motion agony of developing the flu right as a plane I was on began its descent. I honestly thought my head was going to explode from the sinuses out. And even that was not nearly so miserable as having to then drag my carcass out to an unfamiliar neighborhood and find cold medicine. That happened twenty-odd years ago and I have never been without a mobile medicine cabinet since.

A coin purse is pocket-friendly and keeps you prepared. Stock it: band-aids aplenty; an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or whatever alternative you prefer; cough drops; Tums; the kind of Sudafed that requires you to sign your name on a ledger, so when you do embark on that second career as a small-batch artisanal meth maker, you've given Feds a lead like the good sport you are.

A lot of these -- save your Sudafed -- can be bought via Amazon in those boxes of 100 pre-measured single-dose packets. It's not cost-effective but it is space-saving.

A decent beverage container and a snack that survives being squished. Fun fact: The Girl Scouts require volunteers to get certified in camping skills before they'll let anyone think about filing the paperwork to take a troop camping. And anyone who's ever volunteered with the Girl Scouts knows they're serious about paperwork.

The course I took was run by a six-foot-tall Valkyrie who probably taught Lord Baden-Powell how to set a fire, and she spent the first twenty minutes of the workshop extolling the usefulness of the Camping Skills Certification.

"We live in a dangerous world," she thundered. "You give your girls these skills and they'll be prepared to survive when the shit hits the fan."

Take it from me: You need to take a camping skills class taught by the woman who could give Auntie Entity advice on commanding an army of little girls to run a post-apocalyptic civilization.

I left feeling as if I could survive anything with only a clean canteen and a sweater.

Which brings me to the next point: Get a leakproof beverage container, preferably insulated. I like the Zojirushi 16-ounce stainless steel mug -- I give it as gifts to people, so strongly do I feel about this vessel's utility and versatility -- because I can use it at the waterbottle-refilling station in airports or to stock up on crushed ice at a QuikTrip. A lot of coffee shops will knock a few cents off your beverage price if you provide your own container. And in mid-flight, when you open it up, it makes a weirdly pleasing "Poof!" noise. Take your small pleasures where you can.

And yes -- snacks that survive being squished. During one hungry flight, I peeled the flattened paste of a Quest bar off its wrapper and gnawed on it like someone out a dystopic sci-fi movie set in a space prison, and I could feel my dignity physically leaving my body.

After that, I prepared better.  If climate and allergies are not considerations, I highly recommend chocolate-covered almonds.

Eat your antioxidant- and protein-rich virtue nuggets and think about how, when the Girl Scouts rise from the ruins of civilization, the Girl Scout Law exhorting that we "be a sister to every Girl Scout" will come in handy when establishing trade routes with Girl Guides in cacao-producing countries. And there will probably be paperwork, whole reams of it fastened with binder clips.

Something that smells really nice. I was once on a flight where two "Look at us! We're FREE SPIRITS" types had just wandered down the aisle with bare, grubby feet. Then the woman next to me pulled out a bottle of EO lavender hand sanitizer and I swear, Léo Delibes' "Flower Duet" began playing and all of row 32 instantly felt less murderous.

This hand sanitizer is not cheap. But it is multipurpose. According to one of my instructors in the Wilderness First Aid course I took -- look, the Girl Scout Afterscape is coming and obviously, I'll need to have my paperwork and certifications in order -- you can use hand sanitizer to sterilize wounds before dressing them. So you're really getting a three-fer here: Sanitizing your environment, augmenting your first-aid kit, and smelling something nice when you need it most.

You can find the EO hand sanitizer in your usual health-food stores. While you're there, pick up some responsibly-sourced chocolate-covered almonds (see above) and a tube of Weleda Skin Food. Not only is this an effective moisturizer and skin soother, it's also another lovely-smelling thing to keep in your bag. If the hand sanitizer scent fades, you'll have the wholesome, vaguely-herbaceous smell of Skin Food to keep you swaddled in a cocoon of contentment.

Yes, I know that every beauty editor and writer recommends Skin Food. I am not among their poreless, frizzless ranks. I get made fun of by their poreless, frizzless ranks. (see above)  Ergo, I am to be trusted. Really. I'm certified in camping skills and wilderness first aid. And I have many binder clips to share.

The Terri Coles Method of Dignified Bus Travel

These days, my adventures are rather pedestrian and usually involve taking a Greyhound-style bus from one end of Newfoundland to the other in order to visit family. On the most recent trip, the bus broke down about an hour outside of town and my son -- long plagued by motion sickness -- vomited a half dozen times. It was neither the worst nor the best bus trip we have had.

There are clear downsides to travel by bus, but there are some advantages as well. My son has become quite good at making long trips without too much complaining; he really only gets antsy at about hour five. He better appreciates our shorter trips on city transit, because it’s a lot better than the other kind of bus trip. We have watched many classic children’s movies together on the road; the original Jumanji was played on the last trip. And I have seen a lot more of the landscape of the island I live on than I might otherwise.

This does, however, require some clever packing in order to make the trip better for you and your charge. Some must-have items:

Starbucks Via packets: Sometimes the bus will not stop for very long at the gas station, because of delays in the trip. Sometimes the coffee that is available will be an abomination, even by my admittedly low standards for such things. But by god, you will need coffee. Via packets mix up remarkably well with hot water, and you can even get the iced variety to mix with cold water if it’s summer or that might be all you have on hand.

A portable battery pack: Never rely on the plugs available on a bus, because I have found that the odds they will work are 50/50 at best. A portable battery pack is going to be a lifesaver when you let your kid watch YouTube in order to get some peace (I would never, of course), and if there is an emergency and you end up stuck on the side of the road, you might be very glad you can eke out a bit more time on that phone. My own portable battery pack is a pink poop emoji, and I advocate for making this tech item a place for a tiny bit of silliness in your day.

Baby wipes: I have previously mentioned that my son is prone to motion sickness, so these have come in handy more than once on that front. But baby wipes, or a facial wipe, or even a couple of damp washcloths in a Ziploc, are an essential for any travel. You can wash your hands, you can wash your face, you can wash your armpits (sometimes you need to!), you can otherwise feel vaguely more refreshed and human after a long day of travel.

Nintendo Switch: This is a new addition to our arsenal, but it’s a welcome one. The small controllers are perfect for kid-sized hands, and you can either play with the unit as a contained gaming system or take the controllers off and use the tiny screen for two-player action. Mario Party is a new favourite game, and it takes up a decent amount of time without getting dull. On a recent trip I spent some time playing Stardew Valley and my foraging skills are getting better all the time.

Topical anti-nausea medicine: I have no idea how my mother came about this information, but at her local compounding pharmacy they make an anti-nausea cream -- you rub it on your wrists and the medicine absorbs through the skin. And it works! I cannot tell you how much better this is than trying to force-feed Gravol to a small child. In a fit of desperation on our last trip, when I could not find our tube of this cream, I crushed up some Gravol pills and mixed it with my mother’s face cream. It still kind of worked, but I’d stick with the stuff from the pros.

A book of essays or short stories: I like to catch up on reading on long trips, but that can be hard to do with a kid sitting beside you. I find essays and short stories to be a good choice here because you can knock a few out if your child dozes off or is happy to amuse themselves for a bit, but there are several natural breaking points built into the book. Scacchi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a re-readable favourite choice, and the Roxane Gay-edited collection of the best American short stories of 2018 is surely solid. I’d like to throw in a recommendation for a wonderful Newfoundland author, Lisa Moore, who writes a hell of a short story.

Two Bossy Dames is brought to you by:

  • Well-planned and restorative travel

  • Oldest-child overplanning

  • Righteous lady rage!

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