A Preppy Survival Guide: How to Travel Like a Civilized Human Being

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Sometimes things just don’t go smoothly at an airport. (Photo: Think Stock)

Nothing makes me more excited than planning a vacation and then actually going on that vacation. My imagination runs wild, fantasizing about indulgent hotel rooms, the incredible sights I’ll see, the fantastic meals I’ll eat, and the future, “Oh this little top? I picked it up in a teeny shop right off the beach in Trancoso” conversations I’ll have to have when I return home.

But enough about me. Before you even board your first flight to Bahia, you must obey the public protocols in the airport and on the plane. Why must you? Because it is the only right and decent way to travel if you don’t go by private jet, donkey, or share the name Branson. This is how nice people do it. You are a nice person.

Going Through Security

By now it would be surprising if any traveler were surprised that going through airline security is the most time-consuming portion of any trip—whether you are traveling on business or for personal reasons. The long snaking line is always filled with people who are drinking from enormous tureens of bottled water, who wear  layers of sweaters, waistcoats, jerkins, bodkins, and dickeys … and carry a multitude of electronic equipment. Most of the time you will be stalled behind tourists who do not prepare themselves for the conveyer belt routine of undressing, exposing their toiletries, debelting their pants, unshodding their feet, and turning on their laptops. (Sir, over there with the large fanny pack, I’m speaking to you. Take that vile thing off your waist and put in in the bin. Yes, you.) Eventually, even that family with four children under the age of 6 will figure it out, hopefully with time for you to make it to your gate. At the very least, be mindful that though style is almost as important as politeness, wearing your knee-high gladiator boots will cause you to be the most disliked passenger at Miami International Airport. Wear slip-ons, and you will not disturb the peace.

An airport mishap. (Photo: Lori Greig)


Where was it written that Walgreens made the best travel bags? I’m not talking about the totes they sell in their ubiquitous pharmacies/groceries/sushi stores; I’m talking about their plastic shopping bags. What an insult to Bed Bath & Beyond and Home Depot! (Not to mention Tumi.) Whenever the line for the escalator is especially long and energetic in an airport terminal, I’m invariably standing behind someone with a matched set of bulging Walgreens luggage, worried that the overstuffed bag poised above me will burst. And what happens when said bags are hoisted into the overhead compartments? They do not fasten and they are forever spilling out their contents. I consider these valises a pitfall of modern travel. In a perfect world, of course, we would all check all our luggage—free of charge. Then we could sashay around the airport unencumbered, without worry that if we needed to go to the bathroom, or to visit the unappealing food courts we wouldn’t have to take all our carry-ons with us. Upon landing, miraculously, our bags would be unloaded simultaneously with the passengers, so that we wouldn’t have to wait another 45 minutes to be reunited with our black ballistic nylon rolling bags. A woman can dream, can’t she?

Illustrator Mike Licht’s take on TSA rules.

What to Wear

Enough has been written—and frequently by me—about the sin of wearing shorts on airplanes.  Unless you are a DHL courier and you are flying to a courier convention without time to change after you land, there is no reason on earth to board a commercial flight in shorts. Planes are cold, you are sitting thigh to thigh with strangers, and it’s just not nice. (What you do and wear on your private jet is your business.)

While Onboard

Do not consider traveling sans reading material, unless you are part of the flight crew. I don’t care if you read books, newspapers, magazines, Kindles, Nooks, iPads, computer screens, or cereal boxes, a flight is the perfect time to catch up on your reading. No, the in-flight magazine doesn’t count. If you don’t read, then watch a movie on your thingy or play Solitaire. Under no circumstances do you come onboard just hoping for a good old-fashioned conversation with the stranger in the adjacent seat. It’s not fair to make him or her your hostage.

Which class do you fly?

First Class is for the unsophisticated. Look at its passengers as you pass through their gauntlet. Oh they want you to look at them. They do. They want you to see them drinking those first-class mimosas. If they were so secure, why would they be looking at you intently, looking at them? Consider that they paid full price for a first-class ticket. No one does that. Even if it’s a business trip that is paid for by the company, we cash in our first-class tickets and travel business class and save money and miles, or we buy coach and then upgrade to business. Wait out the mimosas and get a real drink immediately after take off. No glaring, no sharing. We will splurge on a great hotel—you can actually enjoy your time there. First class only lasts a few hours, most of which you are trying to sleep off.

Travel can make the best of us feel like this. (Photo: Bethany Petrik)

Young Passengers

Screaming babies and the parents who travel with them are a form of remarkably effective birth control. Babies and small children who are loud and annoying before and during takeoff who mellow out after their bottle or breast or 35,000 feet are not the problem. There are babies and small children who are loud or cranky who have parents who are appropriately embarrassed. They are not the problem either. The real culprits are the parents who do nothing, who say nothing—neither to their noisemakers or to those of us who must suffer through the noise. They are the true contraceptives. If you are traveling with someone younger than the age of reason, make sure he or she is tired and has 24 hours’ worth of bottles and pacifiers, just in case.

Please follow my advice. Next time, I will teach you about tipping.

Lisa Birnbach got her first passport at the age of 4. An award-winning journalist, cultural commentator and bestselling author, she is best known as the author of The Official Preppy Handbook and her Lisa Birnbach College Books. She has traveled to all 50 states and promoted her last book, True Prep, in Bermuda, Tokyo, Madrid, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Paris, London, and Milan.

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