MEMPHIS – With the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League in full swing, we’ve basically spent the last two months bouncing back and forth from Memphis to the NBA 2K League studio in New York City.
And that means we’ve spent roughly half of the last two months on the road. My next-door neighbor is a pilot for a major airline, and I’ve been gone just about as much as he has. It’s tiring and a bit head-spinning.
The thing is, I was already a seasoned traveler – having journeyed from Europe to Africa to South America – and spent the last decade-plus crisscrossing the country covering the NBA. I’ve maintained at least Gold Medallion status on Delta for as long as I can remember, and I can tell you, from memory, where all of the Chick-Fil-A’s are located in most major domestic airports.
I suppose it stands to reason, then, that I have become a pretty good flyer, if I do say so myself. When you are spending the majority of your time in airports and inside airplanes and trudging through hotels, you do your best to figure out ways to make each experience as simple as possible.
It would likely be helpful if I were more process-oriented, but while I am not the most organized person in the world, I find that having a system and adhering to that system at all times while traveling makes everything easier for me.
Here are my failsafe tips for traveling, with a few thrown in from the Grizz Gaming guys. Ignore them at your own peril…
1. A backpack is my preferred method of carrying stuff when I travel. A messenger bag or briefcase may be more urbane or stylish, but when I’m traveling I need function over everything.
2. There are things I use frequently when traveling that always live in that backpack. Even when I’m at home or work, these items stay in that bag at all times, so I always know where to find them when it’s time to hit the road again.
These items include: my laptop and its charging cable; a notebook; a couple of pens (always grab the hotel room pens and throw them in your bag); two iPhone charging cables/plugs and a charging cable for my headphones; two sets of headphones (one earbuds, one over-ear with an optional wire in case you get a plane with a monitor and you want to watch a movie); bottles of Advil, Airborne and Zantac; an HDMI adaptor; my digital audio recorder and a second personal ID.
It’s important to resist the urge to grab and use these items when I’m at home. Because as long as I’ve secured my bag, whenever I check into a random hotel room somewhere or sit down at an airport gate, I always know where to find a charging cable.
3. Avoid checking a bag at all costs. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, sure, but it’s just adding another layer of worry on top of everything else you’re dealing with on the day. Try to pack as light as possible and take the smallest bag available. If I can go with a backpack and a small rolling suitcase, I’m good.
4. This is a small thing, but always plug in your phone when you go to sleep at night. Facing the day with your phone fully charged is always a good idea.
5. Flying direct is always preferable to connecting flights. If you have to connect, leave yourself two hours of connecting time.
6. Flying early is always better than flying late. (There’s been less time in the day for the planes to get delayed, and airports early in the morning are less crowded and easier to navigate).
7. Always wear socks. I don’t care what your footwear situation might be, you should wear socks, unless you don’t mind going barefoot through a veritable ocean of bacteria at the TSA checkpoint.
8. And as tempting as it may be to wear flip-flops to help speed through the TSA area, I would advise against it. A friend and I once had a narrow connection to make in an airport and needed to run, and he was wearing flip-flops, which just made the whole situation ridiculous. You’re going to another city, not the pool. Wear shoes that are easily accessible.
9. As soon as I’m through the airport security checkpoint, I head for the nearest newsstand. There, I purchase two things that will make the rest of my day easier:
A) The largest bottle of water that will fit inside my backpack. You never know when you’re going to need water, and by buying a large bottle of water, you can usually have enough remaining post-flight to take with you to your final destination (your hotel room), so you don’t have to pay like $8 for a bottle of water at the hotel.
(Pro tip: Whatever you do, don’t buy the water that comes with the squirt top. You are not a professional athlete and you don’t need immediate access to your drink. You’d rather be able to seal that bottle shut and know it’s not going to burst in your backpack.
B) Reading material. I use the Amazon Kindle app on my phone to read books, so I always have four or five reading choices available on hand at all times. But for those moments when you want something tangible to flip through, it’s worth it to have at least one magazine that will present you with at least an hour or so of interesting reading material, which for me usually means either The New Yorker or GQ.
10. Find your gate, pay attention to the boarding process, and then when they announce that they’re about to begin the boarding process, go to the bathroom. This way when you return in time to get on the plane, you should be good for the next few hours.
11. I am not a loud proponent of most airport dining options, other than One Flew South in Terminal E in the Atlanta airport. But on travel days, I do think it’s important to take advantage of any opportunity to eat food. Because who knows when that opportunity may present itself again? You might think to yourself, “Self, since this is such a short flight, I’ll skip breakfast and just grab some lunch at my destination.” And then you board the plane, sit on the runway for three hours before taking off, find yourself starving on board and relegated to begging the flight attendant for a second bag of pretzels. And then upon landing, you have to run to make it to your meeting and you still haven’t had lunch.
So before you get on the plane, grab a container of yogurt and granola, or eat a club sandwich or whatever. The whole travel experience is defined by so many random moments, when you have the chance to choose something certain, you should take advantage.
12. Understanding that, you should also be careful not to buy food and bring it on the plane. Airplanes are a confined space, which is stressful enough without the aroma of a turkey sub with extra onions wafting through the plane.
13. Perhaps the greatest skill I’ve developed in life, other than learning how to live on a budget and how to make perfect scrambled eggs, is training myself to be able to sleep on airplanes. Unless you’re in first class or the exit row, it’s virtually impossible to have the space needed to get any work done. One of the most productive things a person can do on an airplane, I’ve found, is to get some sleep.
Now, I know there are those who prefer sitting in an aisle seat to take advantage of a few inches of legroom when the aisle isn’t in use.
But I will take a window seat. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a dice roll here, because sometimes you get the window seat without a window at your shoulder, which is a tiny bit cramped. But sometimes you don’t, and you get a few extra inches of shoulder room. Life can be tricky that way. I get in that window seat, put on my seatbelt, stick in my earphones, put on my sleeping playlist – the one that’s worked for me lately is the Apple Music “Night Dreamer” Blue Note Records playlist – close my eyes, lean my head against the wall and doze off.
14. You do not need to recline your seat. Nothing plunges me into a simmering anger on a flight faster than the person in front of me putting their seat back into my knees. I am over six feet tall, and I can manage to sleep for hours without reclining my seat. You can probably live for a few hours on a plane without needing to lean back into my lap. Be kind, don’t recline.
15. Stay covered. Look, it’s been super-hot lately in Memphis, and I understand the temptation to wear shorts and a t-shirt to the airport. But once you’re up in the air, the airplane usually turns into a veritable meat locker. Seriously, the air pumping into the plane is so cold you can actually see it coming down from the vents as a thick fog. You will want to have at least a light, long-sleeve shirt or hoodie, plus either jeans or pants.
And socks, of course. But you already knew that.
16. Do not buy one of those U-shaped travel pillows. They don’t work. If they did, wouldn’t everyone sleep with U-shaped pillows at home? The only circumstance I can think of where a travel pillow might be deemed acceptable would be if you were sitting in a middle seat on a long-haul redeye, but even then you’re probably going to spend most of your time fighting your neighbors for armrest real estate.
17. There are plenty of apps that are certainly useful, but one that is definitely worthwhile if you’re flying on Delta or American or even Alaska Airlines is the Gogo Entertainment App. Through some magic wizardry, once you’re in the air you can connect to the Gogo App and—FOR FREE—watch any movie that the airline has in their library. The problem is that you have to watch on your phone or iPad, but it makes it worth your while if you’re on a plane without entertainment options.
18. When the airplane lands, don’t be in a hurry. It’s so tempting to jump up and grab your stuff and stand in the aisle, but if you’re in coach you’re going to sit there for at least 15 minutes until you get your chance to deplane. For some reason, time seems to move backward in that situation and people forget how to form an orderly line.
19. Use the airline app. I’ll admit I was a bit of a luddite and preferred to print my tickets each time I arrived at the airport. But the Grizz Gaming guys showed me how easy it is to put a plane ticket in my phone’s “wallet.” Plus, it’s one less piece of paper for you to worry about.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.