Fast Lane

22 Feb 2014

Unlike my boss, I do not lead the optimised travel lifestyle, but I do travel to the US enough now that I’ve made some moves to optimise the items on my itinerary to make the semi-regular pilgrimage from Cambridge to our Cupertino office go more smoothly.

First up is luggage. Before my regular US trips I used to either end up taking a large, heavy suitcase with me, or try to spooge everything into hand luggage. The first option is usually down to poor optimisations why buying luggage (why spend lots on luggage if you don’t travel more than a couple of times a year?), and the second option is letting the airlines win at your expense. My aim these days is to make transitioning through Heathrow and SFO as little of a chore as possible, whilst not having to use a shoehorn when packing.

First things first: yes, I do take hold luggage. Yes, this adds some time at the other end that a lot of my colleagues would rather walk over hot coals than endure, but in practice it’s not nearly as much as variance in immigration takes, so I think this is a bit of a false optimisation (at least for mortals like myself who don’t get to use the magic electronic entry devices at SFO, like said boss). Also, my flowery shirt and tweed habit is at odds with trying to compress everything I need for a week into a tiny hand luggage bag. So I take a full size case and a shoulder bag, as seen here:

Prizes for those that recognise the carpet there.

The above pictured suitcase is the simply wonderful Salsa Air from Rimowa. It’s wonderful for two reasons: firstly, it’s so very, very light, being made of polycarbonate with no rigid frame; and secondly, it has four independent wheels on the bottom rather than two fixed ones. All of which means even fully loaded with a week’s worth of outfits that would make James May jealous, I’m hardly pushing 12 kg, and it glides smoothly alongside me rather than my having to drag it along behind me. It wasn’t cheap, but I have no regrets at all given how much more relaxed it is to move through an airport with.

I used to take on a wheeled hand luggage case too, but I’ve stopped doing that in favour of the Crumpler bag you see above. I can easily fit my laptop, magazines, kindle, etc. in the Crumpler, at the expense of giving up some bulky items like my DSLR. That trade off is mostly because I don’t yet have a sense for when flights will be insanely packed, and I don’t want the stress of the “will they make me put my bag in the hold with all this sensitive electronics in it” game. That’s happened to others on a couple of flights I’ve been on, and I want to avoid that scenario, and more importantly, I want to avoid worrying about that scenario. The Crumpler will easily slide under the seat in front of me in a pinch too, so I have zero stress about getting onto the plane and worrying about where my stuff will end up in flight.

All of which means my travel on foot at either end is a much more sedate experience, which is what I’m optimising for, with hardly any sacrifice in terms of time through the airport itself.

The other recent purchase I’ve made to make the ten hours sealed up in a loud metal tube pass more easily is a set of noise cancelling headphones. Until I’d tried some on, it really hadn’t occurred to me how spookily good these things are. If you’ve not tried any, go find a shop selling them and experience it for yourself – the noisier the shop the better. They really are quite spooky at first, almost unnerving.

The popular choice of my co-travellers in the United Economy Plus cabin are the Bose QC15 over ear headphones, but I prefer something more discrete, and opted for the in-ear QC20i instead.

If nothing else, I like to think Batman would approve of their design.

Whilst they don’t cut out the noise by 100%, they do cut down the in-plane sounds significantly, making it easier to think, read, or watch inflight movies. If I’m working I’ll often have them on and not be listening to anything, sat in my own bubble of calm. The battery pack claims to be 16 hours, but the most I need them for is the ten or so hours it takes to move between London and San Francisco, so they are more than adequate for my purposes. The only downside is you need to pay more attention to when the person next to you wants to get by (a problem for aisle seat people like myself).

The final thing I find that makes my trips to the US smoother is one that probably is hard to follow for most people: don’t drive a car in the UK. Living in Cambridge, where it takes twice as long to get anywhere by car compared to bicycle, and being a motorcyclist, means I don’t actually drive right handed cars that often. This has the handy side effect that my muscle memory remains intact when picking up the left hand drive hire car for the final 40 mile trek from SFO down to Cupertino whilst my body clock things I should have gone to bed a good handful of hours ago.