10 essentials for jet-setting travelers

Packing. It’s a whole new world.

Some travelers barely missed a beat as the pandemic wore on. Armed with their vaccination cards and new masks, they were constrained only by international borders — some of which still are closed to foreign visitors.

Many other travelers, though, are out of shape when it comes to gathering things and flying off for a week or two.

I’m surrounded by several piles as I get ready for a flight this afternoon. But the real holiday travel season is approaching in a couple of weeks.

If you’re flying during Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can bet there will be thousands of travelers who are going on their first flight since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Don’t ask me what to wear on the plane. I’m all for loose-fitting comfort clothes. The kids roll their eyes when they recall that “Dad flew in his pajamas” on a late-night flight. I refute that, of course. But my cross-country ski pants and long-john top were just as soft and cozy as some bedtime clothes.

But here’s a list of my essential must-fly items. Some are old standards. Others are new additions. Hopefully, they’ll contribute to a more comfortable trip.

[At least 5 airlines are planning international flights to and from Anchorage next summer]

1. The cord nest. I appropriated one of those packing cubes that you can get at Fred Meyer or REI. The big features are a mesh see-through top and a sturdy zipper. That’s where all of my charging cords go: phone charger, camera charger and battery chargers. The zipper tames them, preventing the cords from exploding in my backpack and getting tangled up with my laptop charge cord — which is too big to fit in the little zip-up bag.

2. Extra power. How many times have you tried to find a plug-in at the airport for your phone? Outlets certainly are more available now than they used to be, but it’s handy to have your own portable battery pack. I have two of them. One is a slim Clutch battery. It’s available for either Android devices or iPhones at $50. But it will give your phone a full charge. I love it.

The other power brick I have, from Mophie, can power my laptop if necessary. It will charge the camera, an iPad. When I got it, the list price was $80. Now they have more powerful wireless chargers for less money. It’s about the same size as my phone, but a little thicker.

I’ve flown many times in an airline seat with no power, or a plug-in that didn’t work. That’s what these chargers are for.

3. Extra light. I always fly with my portable headlamp. There are too many times when the light on the plane is busted. But there also are lighting schemes that don’t work very well in hotel rooms — or my sister’s guest room, which has no lights at all. My favorite is the Petzl Zipka model. You can order it online for $30.

4. Headphones? Earbuds? Both? I’ve carried a pair of Bose headphones on every trip for many years. Mine is an older model (with a cord). The noise-canceling feature is what really helps when you’re on a plane. You can zone out to music on your phone, or plug it in to the seatback to watch a movie.

In fairness, the earbuds are really improving on the noise-canceling front. There are many brands available, including Apple’s own earbuds, Beats (also owned by Apple), Bose and Sony, among others.

5. In-flight entertainment. If you’re flying on Alaska Airlines, you have to download the Gogo App to watch in-flight movies and shows on your own phone or iPad.

American Airlines has a similar set-up, where you have to download the app before you take off to watch movies.

Delta loads all of its movies, shows and music to view in the seatback monitors. Plug in your headphones or pair your wireless headphones to watch your show.

6. Free bags. If you haven’t joined Alaska Airlines’ Club 49, do it before you fly so you can get two free checked bags. Delta also is offering two free bags if you have a Skymiles account and you live in Alaska.

7. Creature comforts. I wish I was short enough to use the fancy neck pillows (or any pillow) on a plane. But my head is much taller than the seat back, and it’s tough to slide forward enough to lean on the headrest. The person sitting in front of me gets excellent lumbar support from my knees.

Airlines aren’t passing around pillow and blankets anyway (unless you’re in first class). But Jin Chen developed a home-grown solution that includes both: the “Planeket.” There are a couple of thoughtful touches to keep the blanket from slipping on to the floor. And everything zips up nicely when it’s time to go. It costs $40.

8. Stay hydrated. Alaska Airlines made news last week when it announced it was ditching plastic water bottles in favor of largely plant-based cartons (they look similar to milk cartons).

That’s good, but I still prefer to take my own water bottle and fill it up after the TSA checkpoint. You don’t know how long it’s going to take for the water cart to roll by.

9. Money. Nobody gets travelers’ checks any more. All the action is at the ATM. But if you’re traveling out of the country, you’d better let your bank or credit card company know before you go. I’ve been in line with travelers at the ATM in Frankfurt Airport who learned the hard way, and it’s happened to me, too.

Another tip regarding your credit card and travel. If you plan on getting foreign currency at the ATM machine, be sure and ask your bank to increase your daily limit. The default setting is $300 per day. You might want to boost it to $1000 per day while you’re traveling.

10. Lounge lizard. I love airport lounges. Not all of them are back open, but hopefully we’re on the right track. I get the “Priority Pass” through my Chase credit card. There are about 1,300 lounges around the world that belong to the network, including some Alaska Airlines lounges (but not all of them).

If you want to relax during a long layover, you can use your Alaska Airlines Visa card to get 50% off a day pass. Last time I checked it was $25 with the discount. If you have a long layover, that’s a good price for some peace and quiet.

Take care when you pack. Grab a book or your Kindle. Never check a bag with your car keys, prescription medicine, fancy camera gear or basically anything you cannot afford to lose. Of course, you have to check that bottle of wine, or sunscreen.

Now buckle up and enjoy the rest of your flight!