Flight ETE 5 hours, 45 minutes. You’ve been there – the BOS to SF flight that never ends.
In the past 10 years, I’ve been on a really long flight about once a week.
Probably like you, I’ve had my fair share of air travel nightmares — usually involving an assault on one of my senses that goes on and on… and on.
From screaming children to lost passports to Montezuma’s revenge, I’ve experienced it all. I’ve also had incredibly productive, serene and, even fun, flights.
With all this time at 30,000 feet, it can’t be a surprise that I’m on the constant lookout for any tool to help me make the most of my time at altitude. I’ve tried, rejected, and optimized a huge number of gadgets and systems over the years.
Although a work in progress, I’m happy to share those things that work for me — so here’s the “What’s In My Bag — Inflight Edition.” Let me first say what this isn’t. This isn’t my full carry-on bag, which might have clothing, a dopp kit, camera gear, etc. This is the small bag that joins me as I squeeze into seat 23F. It’s also not the same every time (e.g. the journal is often the item most left behind on short business trips or a MacBook Air is brought along).
My constraints are that the bag has to be small enough to fit in the seat pocket or next to the armrest. It’s also limited to what the TSA allows, so, unfortunately, no pocketknives or clever multi-tools. So a small bag.
I found the optimal bag accidentally. The bag was waiting for me on my seat on an upgraded American Airlines flight to Europe. It’s their amenity kit. It’s a neoprene iPad classic case repurposed it to hold all those small items that I previously carried-on individually. Before the bag, my pockets were often stuffed with stuff — and I was always fearful that I’d forget something on the plane, which I often did.
The most important tool in my bag are headphones. Getting rest on a plane is absolutely essential. I used to watch with dread and guilt as families with babies squeezed down the aisle toward my row. Babies cry on planes — and some don’t just cry, they wail! I can’t blame them — flying is hard. But, it doesn’t make it any easier for the rest of us. The only defense in these situations is good headphones. You might as well leave your Apple earbuds at home — they don’t even come close to helping.
Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones: $279
So, like most frequent travelers, I upgraded to noise canceling headphones. The Bose Quiet Comfort were my first foray into noise canceling. They did a good job, but were bulky and only somewhat effective. A nearby unhappy child or talkative passenger would frequently overwhelm the technology.
After some time, I discovered the benefits of in-ear headphones, like those made by Shure technologies. Small, expensive and effective at blocking sound — they don’t use active noise canceling; instead, they simply seal the ear canal. I used them for years, but they would irritate my ears after 5+ hours. After some research, I upgraded the Shure’s to the slim-fit Klipsch X11i Earbuds. They work, and I still recommend them.
About a year ago, a friend suggested I try Bose’s newish in-ear noise canceling earbuds. Not being able to resist a new piece of tech, I bought a pair and became an immediate convert. They are the quietest, most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn.
The only downside is that you’re likely to miss service (or “brace for impact” order) as you float unaware in your bubble of bliss. Unlike Shure or Klipsch, these headphones require that you charge the battery pack (with the MicroUSB cable). A charge lasts about 16 hours. They also have some neat in-chord features like noise canceling pause and volume controls.
Dream Essentials Escape Luxury Sleep Mask: $20
Yes, I look like an idiot wearing an eye mask during the day, but I don’t care! They feel great and cut out all light. The crucial thing to look for in a sleep mask are eye pockets — standard eye masks press uncomfortably against the eyes. My two favorites are both by Dream Essentials — the Escape Luxury mask or their Contoured Sleep Mask.
Han Kjøbenhavn Sunglasses: $145
Rolex GMT Master Date: $5,000 and up
Before boarding, I empty out my pockets and put everything away. Wallet, keys, sunglasses, pens, etc all get safety stowed in “the bag.” I really like small wallets and am partial to the Bellroy Very Small Wallet. It holds a stack of credit cards, business cards (Moo photo cards), and cash — and zips up into a tiny package. The Han Kjøbenhavn Sunglasses sunglasses also get stashed. They are stylish and functional, sporting Zeiss glass.
Although almost everything goes in the bag, one thing comes out, my watch — which I set for the time zone of my destination. This 1970’s Rolex GMT simply works — and the second time zone hand helps me easily keep track of the time back home. A less expensive but really great timepiece alternative is the $318 Casio ProTrek PRW-3000B.
Being without a pen on a flight is a problem. There is always something to write, fill-out, etc. I actually pack 3. Two are everyday pens, the uni-ball Jetstream and the bullet space pen. The uni-ball is inexpensive and works as well as pens costing much more.
The plane is a fabulous place to get caught up on journaling. I really like the Cavallini Roma Lussa leather journal. It pairs perfectly with the Pilot Fermo retractable fountain pen. The Fermo writes with breathtaking beauty and is such a joy to use.
Global Entry Program: $100
Well, you might be saying, “Why a passport?” Well, it’s not an ordinary passport. It’s been enrolled in the U.S. Customs Global Entry program. Global Entry not only allows fast access through U.S. custom lines, it also works to supercharge enrollment in the TSA Pre-Check program. Pre-Check enables fast lane access (and no shoe or computer removal) in domestic security lines. The combination of these two benefits has saved me countless hours of waiting in line.
Once on a flight back from Peru, I awoke to either 1) stomach flu or 2) food poisoning. Let’s just say it was an explosive situation, and I couldn’t have felt worse. It was absolutely horrible. I wasn’t prepared with in-flight meds to deal with it and vowed never be caught again with my pants down, so to speak. Don’t give me that look — it’s happened to almost everyone! Be prepared or don’t risk the fish entrée.
So, that little container of “Airborne” actually contains no Airborne. It holds packets of Immodium, Advil, and Cipro. I also carry Melatonin, Purell, Visine, and lip balm. Depending on the length of the flight, I might also include a toothbrush, toothpaste, and hand lotion.
Anker Astro E5 15000mAh Dual USB Portable Charger: $50
Kensington International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter: $13
I carry an Ipad Mini. Although I prefer to read on the Kindle, the iPad is more versatile — movies, books, work, etc. Power for my iPhone & iPad can be an issue, so I bring along the Anker Astro E5 USB charging device and cables (Apple charging cable, USB plug, and MicroUSB for camera & headphone charging). For international travel, I’ll also pack the Kensington travel plug adapter.
As a photographer, I feel naked without a camera. So, I generally keep the Sony’s RX100 II in my bag. I’ve captured some pretty incredible aerial pictures with it. The RX100 III was recently announced and includes a retractable electronic viewfinder The leather case by MegaGear is really beautiful and shockingly inexpensive.
Petzl Tikka 2 Plus Headlamp: $40
Finally, I travel with a Petzl headlamp. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it in-flight. I remember landing in Myanmar and not being able to find my passport – that’s a special kind of stress. I looked everywhere and embarrassingly asked the flight attendant for help (it was obviously with me when I boarded). No luck. In desperation, I pulled out the headlamp and looked into the seat mechanism. Sure enough, it was stuck deep inside the seat. I would never have found it without the light. I’ve also thought it might not be a bad thing to have in the event of a more serious emergency.
The American Airlines iPad Amenity Kit (full): Similar Cases
You can almost get all of this in that little bag — it’s probably the journal or the camera. If it’s real travel, the camera goes in the overhead with the other stuff. Everything else fits.
Bag in hand, I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the flight. As the Buddha said, “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.” Good thing, as we’ve only got another 5 hours to go…
Christopher Michel is a photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. He’s photographed some of the world’s most unusual places and people, from the South Pole to the edge of space aboard a U-2 Spy Plane. His photographs can be found online at www.ChristopherMichel.com or at @chrismichel.
[OK, now it's your turn. Send photos of the things in your bag (and of the bag itself, if you love it), along with a description of the items and why they are useful. Make sure the photos are large (1200 pixels wide, at least) and clear. Use a free file sharing service like Bitcasa to upload the photos, and email the text to email@example.com. -- Mark Frauenfelder]