Home > Uncategorized > Mathbabe’s Guide to Overtravel

Mathbabe’s Guide to Overtravel

November 4, 2018

Friends, I travel a lot. Too much, if you ask me, or my youngest son, or my husband. It’s all for work, because nowadays I make money giving talks, and also I give book tours in foreign countries where publishers are kind enough to buy, translate, and publish my book, or sometimes I even travel for business related reasons for my company ORCAA.

Long story short, I travel way. too. fucking. much.

But I think I might have just figured something out about traveling, and I wanted to share it with all of you. In fact it’s not one thing, it’s a whole bunch of little things that might just add up to one medium sized thing. It’s also possible that I simply feel that way because of next dimension jetlag, but whatever, I’m in the mood to share.

And in case you’re wondering if I travel enough to feel like an expert, I’m traveling right now, and I started out in Lexington, Virginia, and then Barcelona, and then Madrid, and most recently Seoul South Korea, and now I’m in Paris, which to be honest is the best stop of all in terms of environment.

So yeah, I kind of have some idea or ideas about overtravel, and I’ll list them in random order of things that come to mind:

  1. People who don’t travel too much, I have some very very good advice: please don’t hate people who travel business class. They’re only doing that because they’d rather be home with their family, and yet they’re on yet another fucking airplane, and they tried to get out of it by explaining that their kids and spouses have threatened to never talk to them again and that they cannot face another trip in coach squeezed like a lemon in between smelly farty people including themselves and so whoever pays them offered to bump them up to biz class and they reluctantly – reluctantly! – said ok because they need the money.
  2. Said another way, business class is only disgusting and righteous-anger-generating for people when they compare it directly to coach class. In other words, they are assuming that the person had to fly, and they got to fly business class, whereas everyone else had to fly and they ended up flying coach, and that sucks. And while I’ll agree that sucks, we should instead be comparing all of this to *not flying at all*, in which you’ll have to admit flying business class is actually way suckier than being at home, or literally anywhere else besides flying coach.
  3. Same goes with lounges in airports. Nice compared to the smelly fucking mall atmosphere of the rest of the airport, way worse than being home with wifi and your actual favorite people in your actual favorite time zone. Also the food is generally speaking terrible, and they never, ever offer you peanut butter crackers that you can eat later in your hotel that maddeningly doesn’t have a minibar even though everyone knows minibars are everywhere extremely profitable because of jetlagged people running out of peanut butter crackers in the middle of the night.
  4. To conclude, lounges in airports have terrible food and offer you absolutely nothing that you can carry with you by design, not even oyster crackers in those little bags. They might – if you’re lucky – have oyster crackers, but it will be in a huge bowl and you’ll have one of those tiny plastic tongs to retrieve them, again literally designed so you can’t stand doing it for more than five minutes, resulting in about 4 oyster crackers.
  5. The one thing you can count on, both in lounges and while flying business class, is a shit ton of free drinks. If I wanted to hide an alcoholism problem, then business traveling would be The. Way. To. Do. It.
  6. As it is I have a “I’ll try not to drink more than I should” attitude and I still always end up drinking about a drink more than I should, resulting in mild regret mixed with mild hangover mixed with jetlag mixed with righteous anger about having to be, once again, not near my family. So once again you end up with righteous anger whether you’re traveling business class or you’re traveling coach.
  7. That leads to the important traveling question, what should one do with righteous travel anger? But first let’s talk about an even more urgent question, namely what to pack.
  8. Always, always pack lots of peanut butter crackers. And by that I really mean pack something that you can consistently eat in the middle of the night when you’re in a weird time zone relative to your internal brain time zone, and which won’t gross you out, but will also not tempt you whatsoever when you’re relatively satisfied, including when you’re in an airport lounge, which is a low fucking bar and hard to get much lower without being truly disgusting.
  9. So it’s kind of tricky to find that VERY middle of the road kind of food, especially that comes in super packs and is cheap and portable, but for me peanut butter crackers are perfect. I have a special pocket in each of my carry-on bags specifically devoted to peanut butter crackers.
  10. Before I get to all the different carry-on bags I own, and why, I’d like to list all of the other things you absolutely must pack on every trip. Here goes:
    1. Lots of advil. I bring tons of these little travel size packs of advil, two per package. Good for hangovers, good for aches and pains of uncomfortable travel, and good to fall asleep when combined with alcohol. And before you judge me, know that I’m the only person that travels a lot who doesn’t take actual sleeping pills. Nothing else can explain how, on trips over oceans, everyone around me is asleep the instant the meal is over, even if it’s 3pm local time. Not that sleeping pills are bad, because I don’t know if they are, but I’m afraid of them becoming addictive, so I avoid them, and instead I drink one too many drinks and take advil and that works out pretty ok, as in just about terrible on average. One or two packs per day of travel.
    2. Lots of dry coffee. I bring these, at least two per day of travel, because the above plan for sleeping while flying is actually terrible and I’m always tired, and the hotel’s dry coffee is always like brown uncaffeinated water compared to actual coffee. So I actually use both per cup.
    3. Did I mention peanut butter crackers? Can’t travel without them. One per day of travel, maybe two.
    4. Travel toothbrush (the kind that folds) and travel size toothpaste. Never bring a large bathroom bag, it wastes space. bring a bathroom bag (or what I use is technically a cosmetics case) that is too small for a real toothbrush, and limit yourself to filling that bag with mini sized everything, then top it off with as many advil and dry coffee packs as you can squeeze in there. You might need to bring deodorant separately. Also you’ll get more free tiny toothpastes if you travel business class, so don’t bother to bring more than one.
    5. I separately bring my travel-size pill box, because I need to take multivitamins and thyroid meds daily. I actually have three different travel size pill boxes depending on how long my trip is, and I always bring the smallest one that can fit all my pills.
    6. A knitting project that’s not too large. I mean, if you don’t knit, replace this with some hobby thing you can do when you’re drunk in an airport lounge and there’s no baseball on TV and the wifi sucks and you’re fighting off existential angst (more on this below).
    7. Laptop, chargers, phone, and wallet, passport and adapters if you’re traveling to another country.
    8. Paper printouts of basic details of where you’re going in case there’s no wifi or phone signal when you land. To tell you the truth there’s always wifi and phone signal, so I think this is just me being old and you don’t actually need paper anything anymore.
    9. Clothes, but I’ll delay saying more about this because…
  11. OK and here’s where I’ll talk about all the things you should NOT pack:
    1. Don’t pack more clothes than you need. Just one outfit per day of travel, no more, and one blazer or sweater that goes with all of the outfits, or at most two if the trip is long, and one coat. Don’t bring an umbrella, ever. Easiest thing is to choose outfits that all go together, or better yet multiple versions of the same exact outfit. This is easy for me because everything I own is black.
    2. Some unsmelly people can even get away with less than one outfit per day. Not me, I’m super smelly.
    3. Most importantly, don’t bring more clothes than can fit in an international sized carry-on. If your trip is longer than a few days you’ll end up doing laundry or paying outrageous prices for the hotel to. It’s worth it.
    4. Don’t pack books. Bring your laptop with stuff to read, or better yet audiobooks on your phone. Business class seats have USB chargers so you don’t need to worry about losing juice on your phone, and if you’re in coach then bring a portable battery. As long as you’re not lighting up the screen, your phone can run many hours with an audiobook and not use up too much battery.
  12. If my trip is short, I might be able to pack everything into my luggage carry-on, but I’ll still bring a very small “personal” carry-on, kind of like an actual purse but I hate purses so actually a drawstring bag, to hold my ticket, phone, wallet, headphones, and obviously peanut butter crackers.
  13. If my trip is long, I’ll take a larger personal carry-on which will include my knitting project and possibly my bathroom bag and pills.
  14. If my trip is very short, sometimes I’ll fit everything into one large backpack.
  15. You’ll never regret having less to carry.
  16. Unless you forget peanut butter crackers.
  17. OK now that we know what to pack, let’s talk about the real issues, which are existential angst and righteous anger, the twin menaces of overtravel.
  18. Because, and here’s the thing, traveling means having multiple shallow interactions with multiple people on a daily basis. It’s enough to make you think there’s no such thing as love, or meaningful connection, or even meaningful conversation, especially because it’s always in relief of a backdrop of “the news,” which is typically the only thing available on TV in English, which is always bad and quite possibly horrifying.
  19. The short answer to this problem is to remain “open and connected,” which is a squishy concept but basically means, assume that the person you’re about to meet is interesting, deep, thoughtful, and is about to expose something unexpectedly important and meaningful to you. But also, don’t hold it against them at all if they don’t. They just weren’t at the right place for that, but you are.
  20. Remaining open and connected is hard work, but it’s important, and is the single best piece of advice I can give to people who overtravel.
  21. It also likely comes across most of the time as simply being nice. That’s ok. Being nice is a good thing.
  22. But also, being nice is an invitation to conversation as well as a signal that you won’t judge, which is even more important.
  23. Of course, being open and connected is more than being nice, and it’s easy to start a conversation with the intention of being nice but not of being open and connected. That’s kind of lame.
  24. You gotta push yourself to actually be open and connected, which is to say finding out, without prying, something about the person, or exposing something about yourself that you didn’t even know about (ew, not in a gross way), or at least being willing for the conversation to go in unexpected ways and to find a universal truth or commonality with this person even though they’re coming from a totally unique place.
  25. Righteous anger is an impediment to remaining open and connected.
  26. That means righteous anger is something you need to acknowledge and deal with immediately, even if it’s embarrassing. It’s especially embarrassing to feel righteous anger when you’re flying business class to an amazing city to give a talk about your book that a bunch of people read and loved, because for god’s sake it’s a fucking dream come true.
  27. But then again there it is, sometimes you’re just feeling petty and small and wishing you could be home with your goddamned family and not eating any more goddamned peanut butter crackers, and that resentment makes you not only sad and shitty and embarrassed but also incapable of remaining open and connected whatsoever.
  28. To get over the embarrassing righteous anger, I suggest meditating on gratitude while knitting.
  29. Remaining open and connected is hard, but it’s totally worth it, and you’ll make friends you never thought you’d make.
  30. Also, sometimes you hit an open and connected wall, because at some point you hit the existential angst wall, which is to say the moment when you realize that interactions between humans, even when they’re meaningful and kind, cannot heal one’s wounds, and that it’s only a person’s own sense of worthiness that can ever do that. And maintaining a sense of worthiness is even harder than maintaining a sense of openness and connection.
  31. I’m working on that last thing. The great thing about traveling is that it gives me lots of time to work on that last thing, but friends, it’s really hard, maybe the hardest thing of all.
  32. Which is really all you can ask about something like travel, that it lets you work on the hardest thing of all, because honestly who has time in their normal lives to work on the hard stuff?


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 4, 2018 at 7:10 am

    I’m printing this out, in case I ever travel… though I think you’ve convinced me, whatever else I may do, to never, ever, ever travel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathie Reilly
    November 4, 2018 at 7:20 am

    Love the straight up honesty here. So refreshing. I also our invite to a book club in suburban NJ, might not qualify as a paid gig, exotic as it might be. Oh well. Stay tuned for an invite to Stuyvesant High – so commutable, in comfortably familiar NYC- sometime soon. Thanks for the travel tips.


  3. rgsherr
    November 4, 2018 at 7:36 am

    Interesting post. Here are a couple of other travel sites you may find interesting:



    Many good tips.


  4. November 4, 2018 at 7:47 am

    I travel too much. Love the post


  5. rgsherr
    November 4, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Meant to add – many thanks for the coffee tip. I’ve ordered some Starbucks Via Instant Italian Roast Dark Roast and I’m looking forward to trying it. I usually grind my own beans but it would be useful for those days I just want a quick cup.


  6. Domi DF
    November 4, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Cathy, you need a break. If you cannot get one, how about extending your stay in one of the nicer cities you have to travel to and asking your family to join you?


  7. Serafina Versaggi
    November 4, 2018 at 10:27 am

    I love the way you think; but most importantly, I love a woman who has as much of a potty mouth as I have. Wishing you safe travels always, and lots of time to reflect on the worth you’ve already contributed to humanity.


  8. deaneyang
    November 4, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Hotel coffee: Just use both packets together for one cup. It’s less terrible. If you can find the room, carry along some ground coffee and either an Aeropress or drop filter holder with some filters.


  9. deaneyang
    November 4, 2018 at 11:13 am

    You’re probably on a much tighter schedule than I usually am, but I like to arrive during the day with a few hours free, so I can scout out the neighborhood for decent places to eat or buy groceries. I try to buy stuff for breakfast, so I don’t have to eat the stuff that is bad for me and makes me feel crappy. Your peanut butter crackers (great suggestion) are my bag full of cashews and almonds.

    “Open and connected” is great, but only in controlled doses. I prefer saying “being civil” than :being nice, because it sounds easier to do.

    Sometimes staying in a private room in a hostel (especially in places like China) is just more comfortable. Since they’re usually run by Westerners, there’s usually decent coffee or even espresso available. And, if you want to be open and connected, it’s an easy place to do it. And, at least in China, they are often cleaner and less smelly than the hotels.


  10. Mark Schaeffer
    November 4, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Excellent essay/rant, many thanks.
    I used to have a big problem with existential angst,
    which I manage by telling myself “be here now.”


  11. Josh
    November 4, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Try Kind bars or cheaper Trader Joe’s equivalent. Much more durable than Brandt butter crackers but as or more satiating.

    Have you tried melatonin for sleep? It absolutely changed my international travel experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. November 4, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    I feel your righteous anger. 🙂 I only flew enough to rack up AA platinum, but I live for those upgrades to business and first.

    Recently Adam Sandler released a song that spoke to my travel weary soul. Warning, swearing. But once he gets to plane travel… Abh. Trust me – you need the laugh! https://youtu.be/e9N6_Tj9u2U


  13. bertie
    November 5, 2018 at 1:41 am

    Honest and insightful, nice work once again.


  14. November 5, 2018 at 3:36 am

    Brilliant! And agree that keeping the righteous anger in check is a very good thing. Even when some F wit bangs into the back of your legs with his luggage trolley on the way to airline check-in aisle, then blames it on you for not looking where you’re going. So tempting to give him the finger from the business class line, as he checks into economy but way better to ignore it all.


  15. November 5, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    always glad to have some argument that it’s okay to fly bus class instead of giving that extra money to, say, refugees from Syria; on the you-just-shouldn’t-do-it side – add carbon footprint; on the yes-you-should – add age….as one ages, that lie-flat seat is essential. And one more suggestion – learn employees’ names, and use their names… it gets you a long way. I gave up knitting long ago, but Podcasts, studying Italian, and cross-word puzzles are good ways to while away the time. I probably also should add on the pro-bus class side (including lounges), it keeps my husband happy.


  16. Jim Baumbach
    November 6, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    In his book Why We Sleep, Mathew Walker says that sleeping pills create sedation, not sleep and then gives a lot of horrible statistics about how those who take them end up, so stick with the Advil (though he’d have bad things to say about drunk sleep.)


  17. November 7, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    I want to hear more about “all the different carry-on bags I own, and why.” !


    • November 8, 2018 at 5:48 am

      I explained which one I use depending on the trip. Important thing is they all have peanut butter cracker compartments. I have three of them altogether.


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