The Single Most Important Tip in Travel

The most important philosophy in travel is “hang up, call back” — when you don’t get the help or answer you want the first time, whether over the phone or in person, start over with someone else. Be nice, be patient, and the next person may be more empowered or more sympathetic. I’ve been beating this drum for years.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten the award I wanted, some rule bent, or moved into a premium cabin because I’ve simply tried someone else – nicely – and didn’t argue.

But the most important tip in travel is far simpler. Bring extra underwear.

Bring extra underwear
Copyright: topntp / 123RF Stock Photo

My packing routine is simple. The number of pairs of underwear I need on a trip is the number of days plus one. That’s especially true when traveling late in the day (later flights are more likely to be delayed, the accumulation of delays earlier in the day) and more likely to cancel (crew timing out), or traveling to or through someplace with bad weather.

In fact I pack an extra pair of underwear, and an extra pair of socks.

In general I pack light, I try to take as little with me as possible, there are many things I can buy (or have delivered) wherever I am. I don’t need everything I could conceivably need most places I go. There are exceptions, traveling to remote places, there aren’t many things I can just ‘pick up’ when I’m on a remote island in the Maldives. But that’s not most of my travel — I’m usually in DC, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver…

There’s even more that you can buy at the airport than you might think, I once went through security starting off a two week trip when I took off my shoes for screening and realized I was wearing two shoes that did not match. Fortunately directly behind the checkpoint at Washington National airport was a Johnston & Murphy shoe store.

At the same time there’s less than you can buy at the airport than you might think, I wish there were full pharmacies at major US airports like there are in some other places, plus grocery stores – I could pick up dinner conveniently on the way home – or maybe a dry cleaner I could use on my way in and out of town.

There are no underpants gnomes in the airport who have collected clean underwear to give you.

It’s not super convenient to buy underwear and socks when your flight cancels late in the evening and you wind up at an airport hotel with an early morning departure. You may not get much sleep, but you can have a shower and change into something reasonably fresh.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I enjoyed this post. The most important tip for me has been to not check bags. Find a way to get everything needed in a carry on. Following this rule can helped me countless times.

  2. Lol. I think the chances of me spilling something on my shirt/pants and needing extra underwear is about equal.

  3. @Blue — Anything decent that’s cheaper than Give-N-Go? At $25 a piece, they seem priced as a luxury item. Last week, I wound up short on the road and rinsed a pair of normal underwear in the sink. It reminded me that the rinsing part is pretty fast (a minute or two) but regular underwear generally takes more than a day to dry on a hanger. If you don’t have that time, you can use the hotel’s hair dryer (hopefully, you’ll have one) to solve the drying problem. So while I’d welcome a better solution, my inner cheapskate tells me that $25/pair is too much to solve my very occasional, very minor problem.

  4. @Chopsticks- I think there are plenty of underwear options just as good if not better than ex officio. Adidas “Sport Performance Climalite Boxer Brief Underwear” is great. Wicks moisture and dries very quickly when washed. Fun colors. I’d suggest looking for the ones with a 6″ or 9″ inseam as these will be very secure. Under $10 a pair. I wear daily.

  5. For underwear, pack at least two pairs of synthetic material, or at most 50%cotton 50% noncotton. Either will wash and dry pretty quickly in a pinch.
    My must have is extra eyeglasses and a couple of sets of disposable contacts.
    Prescriptions are photographed before I give it to the pharmacist and i closely manage the pill bottle(s) while traveling. I rarely take meds, so I have to try to think about this while packing.
    The worst is the car keys, dome light and headlights. Remember to turn them off, lock the car, and pack the keys with my carryon.
    Add pajamas and at least a rain jacket and the rest I can manage on the fly, no pun intended.

  6. I’m so glad to see more pharmacies pop up airside. I once forgot to pack melatonin before a transatlantic flight and was bailed out by a pharmacy at Denver airport. PDX just got an urgent care facility with pharmacy too, right after passing through security.

  7. @chopsticks I have six pairs and all have been 8-10 bucks or so at REI Outlet sales.

    They’re also indestructible. Still using the first two pairs I got to go to Egypt in 2014.

  8. My wife laughs at me when I “pack one more pair for Elijah,” but now I have an expert on my side!

  9. Ex Officio “Give-N-Go” underwear are perfect for travel, as noted above, and are periodically discounted 25%-30% on the Ex Officio website. Easy to wash and dry and they last forever.

  10. Oh gosh, packing extra underwear is a NONO, as the above posters have said, two lightweight pairs, one to wear, one to wash and dry overnight or faster. I wash them while I’m in the shower. same with Bras…

  11. Who decided your shoes have to match? I once wore mismatched shoes for ten days deliberately until some one finally said something . Then we both chuckled .

  12. So along with HUCA and “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”, we now have the Holy (except for the underwear) Trinity of Travel advice!

    Thanks, Gary.

  13. I have 3 pairs of underwear and socks on every trip. I alternate back and forth between two of the sets twice (4 days), then wash them in the sink the following morning, wearing the third set while I’m out and about and they are drying all day. That night, I bag one of the now clean sets, and alternate back and forth between what I wore that fifth day and the other now clean set. Repeat cycle every five days.

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