Thursday, March 13, 2008

Naked On The Road

from Jacqueline

I’m limping onto the home stretch now – almost four weeks on the road, a 'plane and new hotel just about every day, and I know this is not the fashionable thing for authors on book tours to say, but, I’m knackered. Or, in cockney rhyming slang: cream-crackered. That means just so tired I could drop. But somewhere at the end of every security line, every take off and landing, there’s a great bookseller in an independent bookstore who is performing a local civic miracle in not only keeping its doors open amid a good deal of competition, but keeping free speech alive by stocking more than just the bestsellers. That’s what makes it all worth while, bags under the eyes and all.

However, dear readers, I thought I would kick off what I think might be my next literary adventure. It occurred to me that my flight schedule over the past four weeks has been even more intense than it was thirty-odd years ago when I was flying the skies for Britain’s Laker Airways, and seeing as how-to guides to travel by the travel professionals have been so popular, I think it’s time we authors had our own guide out there. Working Title - Naked on The Road: The Naked Authors Guide to Just Getting There. So, I’m collecting pearls of traveler wisdom from writers and readers, starting today. I’ll just kick off with a few of my own here, in no particular order:

• When you check into the hotel, make sure you make your room preferences known. Helps to give an example. I prefer a room somewhere quiet, so I always add, “And well away from elevators, ice machines, air-conditioning units, any sales team also staying at the hotel ....” One guest’s “quiet” is another guest’s sleepless night. On this note, beware any hotel that has "and conference center" added to the end of the name. Conference center means big groups of people away from home with expense accounts, which to me means noise and tipsy people in the hallways late at night when I am trying to get to sleep because I have to be at the airport by 6am. If you like a party, this might just be a good place for you.

• Before you even open your suitcase in the room, check to ensure that the room has everything you might need, such as a properly working shower, a toilet that flushes, a bathtub plug that actually stops water going down the hole, curtains that close, a heating/cooling unit that heats and cools ... you get it. It is such a bloody nuisance to get your suitcase open, get your computer out and generally settle in, only to find that you are sweating like a pig and can’t turn off the heating. In Coral Gables, in one of a chain known as “The Leading Hotels of the World,” my first room had the overpowering aroma of mold, in the second room I encountered two staff trying to rid the room of smoke, and finally had a good room by my third try. Call this the Goldilocks rule – don’t settle until you get one that’s just right.

• Planning the tour. If you are planning your own tour, make a list of the things you need/want and your preferences before you even start. And even though Southwest offer good flight prices, that business of not having a seat assignment gets really old really fast. Remember you will not be gaining energy as the tour progresses. (There’s also the issue of regular aircraft servicing).

• If your publisher is planning the tour, they tend to confirm the events, then have the travel agent book the flights/trains/cars, then they assign media escorts where appropriate. Here’s how it should be done: Plan the events, talk to the media escorts, confirm the events, book the travel. It’s amazing how many publishers do not take advantage of the wealth of knowledge available via a media escort, who can say things like, “Half an hour in the car from X to Y? You must be joking!” Or, “Why would you put an author in a hotel that’s two hours from the airport in the wrong direction, when I can just take her to the hotel up the road and they have a fifteen-minute shuttle from there?” They can also advise on such things as, “Those two bookstores don’t like to compete with each other, so you send her to either one or the other, not both.” This one saves you apologizing to bookstore owners. Media escorts are a mine of information. Mind you, the ones who can’t drive are as scary as all get-out. If you have media escorts on your tour, make a note of the good ones and make sure you get them in the future. And on the QT, do let us know the ones who run stoplights and can’t keep a car on the road.

• Food & Sustenance: This is really, really important. I think a book tour is the perfect time to live by my father’s maxim: Breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dinner like a pauper. You won’t have time for dinner anyway, so you had better make the other two worth it. Have protein at every meal and don’t overdo the carbs, otherwise you’ll feel like s**t. And because you haven’t had dinner, do try to avoid gobbling up the two chocolates left on your pillow by the hotel turn-down service (if you’re in that kind of hotel). That chocolate will sit in your esophagus and you’ll wake up with indigestion half way through the night. Not recommended. Also on the subject of food, whenever you can, stock up with energy bars – they come in so useful when you have to miss a meal and they prevent you eating really, really bad airport food or having a blood sugar crash and wanting to kill someone. I won’t comment on alcohol – we’re all grownups. I wouldn’t overdo it if I were you though – book tours are hard enough, so save the imbibing until the end, then get schnockered when you fall through the door of your own home.

• In-room laundry: OK, if you are on the one city, one gig a day kind of tour, at some point you are going to have to catch up with your laundry, and you don’t want to pack damp laundry in your case the next morning. Here’s the best way to get it done, but do not do this with your best cashmere sweater. This is for what my Aunt Rene always called your “smalls” and for t-shirts, cotton blouses and shirts, you know, those simple things. The shower gel makes a better laundry detergent than shampoo, but both work nicely. Use the hand-soap for those hard to remove stains. Wash your bits and pieces in cold water, rinse properly and then lay out a bath towel lengthwise on the floor. Squeeze excess water from your clothing and lay each piece in a line down the center of the towel, as if you were making a submarine sandwich. Flap the sides of the towel into the middle, so you have a sort of laundry roly-poly, then taking one end in each hand, begin to wring out more moisture as you twist the roll. Unwrap your laundry then hang over the shower rail – oh, and not one on top of the other, please. Give each item a bit of room to dry. Put shirts on hangers. This method works almost as well as a spin cycle on your washing machine. If there’s still a bit of damp the next morning, a quick once-over with the hair-dryer should take care of it.

• Airplane seating. At some point you will want to do damage at an airport. This is you hitting the wall on your tour. It should pass. If it doesn’t, talk to someone before it ends in tears. However, airplane seating is an important part of the mix. Make sure your preferences are known before you travel, do not leave this to chance. I would recommend sitting as close as you can to the front of the aircraft, so when that thing stops you are not stuck at the back with your inner scream because it’s the tenth flight this week and you just have to get off. Chances are you might actually get grumpy, and you don’t want to be hauled off and into security.

• Wheels. I know this is old hat, but do make sure anything you carry has wheels on it and is working properly, or can be put in the bag with wheels. Lugging your stuff around is hard enough. And make sure you have good luggage – and by that, I do not mean expensive. I was always a fan of the Ross-Dress-For-Less luggage collection, or the Marshalls or Costco suite of cases (I had a great suitcase from Costco that lasted years – thirty bucks), however for this tour I thought I should invest in an ultra-light case. Oh, my, never again! A couple of hundred bucks later and I have a case with a twisted up-and-down handle that won’t go up and down, and just as I was closing the thing this morning I noticed two thick wires bursting through the shell of the case – it looks like I’ve got a bomb in there, no kidding! So, it’s back to Ross or Marshall’s for me. I just hope this suitcase can make it through a few more flights. So, let’s share advice on luggage. I should add that I am not in the league for Louis Vuitton, clearly.

OK, I think that’s enough from me for one week, though I have even more gems up my sleeve, believe it or not. What on-tour travel tips do you have?


  1. Excellent advice, OUr J!

    The only thing I can add is to bring along a whole bunch of zip-loc bags--more than the one you need for airport security these days.

    They're great for carrying all the little bits and pieces of things, and you can sort through which is which (makeup, jewelry, whatever) really quickly because you can see in them.

    I learned this from the woman who took us trekking in Nepal, years ago.

    Also, do what a friend of mine learned to do in film school: the "idiot walk." When you're absolutely SURE you've got everything packed up and ready to go, walk around the room and bathroom and check the closet one more time. There's almost always something you forgot that seems so obvious you'll want to slap yourself on the forehead and say "I'm an idiot."

  2. It's funny, Jackie, but I was thinking of a how to navigate airport blog in the next few weeks.

    Good advice.

    I'll see you in two weeks in Virginia.


  3. Our J, your post served a two-fold purpose. It was great advice and it made me laugh. I love media experts because they can (and do) entertain you with stories of famous authors behaving badly. And now that you've conquered tour travel, please tell me how to manage transporting giveaways (books and stuff) to conventions?

  4. Try for a terrific selection of well-priced, sturdy luggage.

    And my own secret is to pack a six pack of those tiny Spicy V-8 cans in said luggage. They work well for any meal you miss. You can even pretend it's a Bloody Mary.

  5. wonderful advice!
    if I may add another tidbit, toss all your wires and cables (computer, camera, whatever) in ziplock bags that way when you need to pull out the phone charger to call home, you know exactly where it is.
    i am also a very big fan of the "idiot walk." husband thinks it's that important that we both do it. Of course this is after not doing it once and leaving behind some clothes and a pair of sunglasses.

  6. from Jacqueline

    So, we're well on the way with this little lot! Thanks, all.

    I always do the idiot walk - and I talk out loud while I'm doing it ("bathroom counter - check, bathtub - check, on top of the cistern - check, closet, desk - check, bedside table ..."

    I have plastic bags for so many things, especially anything in a tube because lack of pressure in the hold can lead to leakages, and I don't want toothpaste everywhere. But to have an extra supply - that's good!

    Transporting stuff to an event - giveaways, etc: if you are only going to one event, mail it on before you go so that it's there waiting for you. You can do this with several locations, it's just going to cost you. Better that than a dislocated shoulder, and more incentive to give the lot away. I also mail back home stuff I don't think I'll need. On this tour I needed more clothes than usual because I've gone from snow to tropical sunshine in a flight, but I have shipped things home that I'll no longer need (case in point - Mobile yesterday, Atlanta today, Toronto tomorrow)

    And I'm going to ebags right now. Also - I bring sachets of that "Emergen-C" drink with me for an extra energy boost, and whenever I see a Jamba Juice, I always have smoothie with either an energy or immunity boost - does you good!

  7. Lots of good advice here....

    I know a couple of people who always FedEx their lotions, shampoos, etc. to their destination to avoid checking luggage. It's not always practical, but can work really well sometimes.

    Another thing that seems obvious but maybe isn't, is...if it's valuable, don't check it. I always carry important stuff in my carry-on. I try not to travel with anything I can't bear to lose, but if it's unavoidable, then I don't let it out of my sight.

    I've also come to appreciate the airline "Special People's Clubs" or whatever they call them. Depending upon the airline, and the airport you're in, if you're stuck for several hours, the airline may let you into their club for a nominal one-time fee, or trial membership. It's been a real help on more than one occasion.

  8. "OK, I think that’s enough from me for one week, though I have even more gems up my sleeve, believe it or not. What on-tour travel tips do you have?"

    Have a man at hand!

  9. Thanks, Jackie! I'm copying this, theoretically before you copyright it. Hopefully I'll have a chance to use it on a book tour one day!

  10. Keeping your important things with you, and not checking them is good advice. Along the same lines, when I was a flight attendant, one of the things we did was to have a small bag with us with overnight necessities, just in case your suitcase went on to Hong Kong or some such destination. So I've always done that - a couple of baggies with the basics in my carry-on bag, just in case.

    What do you mean, Anonymous, a man on hand? Come on, the best idea is a man in every port! But if that man's not my husband - not interested.

  11. Jackie,
    I hope the storms in Atlanta do not keep you from coming back. It was wonderful seeing you last night.
    You carry yourself and speak with such grace. I know that you probably have dealt with all of the traveling hurdles with just as grace.

  12. So, Laker Airways hired ten year-old flight attendants? ;-)

  13. Sherri - getting out of Atlanta was a bit of a pain this morning, but am now in Canada, finally. I was actually more worried about you driving home through the eye of that storm. It was truly lovely to see you - thank you for being there. I had hoped you would come and it meant so much to me knowing you were there.

    Oh, and anonymous - yeah, old Freddie Laker hired 10 year-olds. Kid you not, it was like working for the airline equivalent of a Dickensian workhouse, except that I got to see the world!

  14. Funny, we were more worried about you because I didn't know where you were staying. We made it home about 15 minutes before the rain came in. However, we did get to see a pretty spectacular lightning show for the drive. The girls oohed and aahhed as if it were a fireworks display.

  15. Oh, God. There are so many things I leave at home or travel specifically with because we fly so much. I'm too tired to go into detail right now, because we just drove home to Rhode Island from New York State, from a weekend convention and artshow. Things we always pack for the drive-to shows include: our own pillows; a humidifier - or alternately, use the shower to fill the bathtub with hot, hot water to bring some moisture into the air - stuffy sinus and throat infections are no fun; light snacks like rice cakes and baby carrots; we also take a one-foot-square mini fridge for milk and yoghurt, but that's just us; our favourite tea-bags; spare smalls and t-shirts incase we get snowed in, etc.; comfortable shoes; packing tape, but that's another story; ibuprofen; travel sized toiletries. Can't think of anything else right now - need more tea.

    Also, you can buy travel sized packets of washing powder for clothes at CVS. I often take one or two on long trips, particularly Japan, for catching up with small stuff. I also check ahead to see if our hotel has a guest laundry. Planning ahead does help. :-D

    Marianne "It's all routine rocket science, now..."