How a flight attendant gears up for the perfect weekend trip
A professional traveler shares her tips and tricks for packing light and navigating the airport during the peak holiday travel season.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's are some of the most stressful times to travel in America—people who are only occasional travelers flood airports, train stations and highways, while the possibility of weather-related delays grows with the cold weather. Hopes&Fears asked flight attendant Caitlin Wright how to pack for a long weekend effectively and prepare for holiday travel woes, whether you're going to see family or ditching them for a tropical weekend.
As a flight attendant, Caitlin Wright spends half of her time away from her home base of New York City, and has learned how to pack efficiently and move effectively from one place to another in comfort and style.
“My travel makeup is much more streamlined than my everyday makeup; the only thing that changes is whatever color lipstick I pick for that trip. I usually only bring one.” Guidelines require flight attendant makeup to be neutral, and never freshened in front of passengers.
SKIRT, OXFORD SHIRT, SWEATER, BELT: “I have a work sweater that I wear over the skirt and oxford. You have to wear a topper of some sort, but I don't like to travel with a blazer because it's too bulky. It's very cold on planes and the sweater is the warmest thing to wear.”
Jewelry & nails
Jewelry: “Clothing-wise I have a very minimal color palette, so if I want to get playful I do it through accessories. Especially if you go to a nice dinner, you have a nice top and some dangly earrings when you wear your hair back, it’s an easy way to feel dressy.”
Nails: If a flight attendant wears nail polish, the color must match the uniform and be free of chips. Also, unusual shades and adornments are generally not allowed, so no nail art here!
45-LITER PATAGONIA TRANSPORT MLC CONVERTIBLE SHOULDER BAG: “It opens like a suitcase, has backpack straps that pull out, or you can carry it like a messenger bag. Inside has one big compartment with netting, two smaller compartments, an organizer compartment, and padded area for your laptop. It’s nice to be able to not have to worry about wheeling something around, say in Europe, where it’s all brick.”
SECOND BACKPACK: “If I do carry an extra bag, I usually bring my backpack because that’s my usual style of bag. That has my book, my notebook, pen, maybe my iPad, my headphones and my wallet. I always keep my wallet in the bag that's going to be closest to me or smallest so it can get locked up. Sometimes I'll put socks in there, if it's a flight that I know I'm going to be sleeping on, so when I take off my shoes I have socks to put on.”
“The tights are dual purpose; they're part of my uniform but also work for general wear during my trip."
“I bring usually three or five pairs of shoes almost every time I travel. I'm serious. We have two work shoes, black leather pumps, and I have one pair of black ballet leather flats."
If she isn’t on a work trip, Wright carries a 45-liter Patagonia Transport MLC convertible shoulder bag, which she finds to be more nimble on the go and recommends it to all travelers. The soft body allows it to be stuffed into limited precious overhead space, while still packing the equivalent of any carry on-sized roller bag. This specific bag also converts into a backpack, making it an ideal choice when wheels just won't cut it; “Europe's all brick, and it’s much easier going from place to place with a backpack,” Wright says.
Wright advises sticking to clothes that you know are comfortable in a minimal mix-and-matchable color palette. For a long weekend of personal travel, she advises one pair of jeans, one skirt, two casual tops, one dressier top, a pair of tights, a sweater, and a daily change of socks and underwear. Since Wright travels so much, exercise clothes and sneakers for working out on the go—which can also double as an outfit for hanging out—are mandatory (research also suggests that exercise can help the body more quickly adapt to time differences, making a short trip all the more pleasant). In addition to the aformentioned sneakers, Wright says a seasonally-appropriate flat and a dressier boot or heel option will cover all your footwear needs for a long weekend.
Register for TSA pre-check
While the initial process can be a hassle, a Pre-Check pass will save you from the anxiety of missing your flight by getting you ahead of tremendous holiday security lines. And because you don't have to remove shoes, laptops or liquids, life at the airport is just that much less stressful.
Her favorite travel outfit on personal trips is a jumpsuit cinched at the waist with a sweater on top. She reasons, “It's never good to travel in anything too tight, especially if the flight is over two hours, because loss of circulation is very real and super uncomfortable. Even if you don't feel it when you're on the plane you'll feel it later—it is what makes you feel bloated.” A jumpsuit also "dresses up" quickly with some added accessories and nice shoes, making it a great choice if you're running straight from the airport to a family dinner. Also mandatory is a big scarf; "I bring a scarf everywhere I go. That's like my number one travel thing, always bringing a big scarf," Wright says, "even if it's a gauze scarf it still works as a blanket that you won't forget on the plane, and, of course, you can wear it to keep yourself warm.”
For feeling energized post-flight, Wright says staying hydrated is a must. Long duration flights mean lots of time spent with no water and high-sodium airplane food if flying unprepared, so bring an empty water bottle to fill post-security or buy a bottle of water before boarding. Wright also suggests packing your own snacks to stave off starvation, junk food and inflated snack prices. When you land, Wright says you should “use food to regulate your new time zone. If get into Europe at 6 or 7AM their time, and everyone there is like, ‘Oh time to eat breakfast,’ then I'm like, ‘Yes. I'm going to eat a full breakfast.’ Then I can take a nap, and I get up and do my day and I'm fine.” And if there are delays? It’s a good idea to preload movies or books on to fully-charged electronic devices, since airport (and airplane) Wi-Fi is expensive and unreliable.
Get these three apps to help you navigate travel time smoothly
MiFlight: Crowdsourced information about security wait times so you can figure out exactly when you need to leave for the airport.
GateGuru: Real-time updates on departure and gate changes, with information about amenities in different terminals. Bonus: GateGuru partnered up with Avis to provide discounted car rentals.
Airport Life: Airport maps at your fingertips so you know exactly which direction to run to make that tight layover.
Editor: Gabriella Garcia