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 always bring my bathing suit in my carry on. If I’m required to check the carry on, I pack he bikini in my purse. The last thing I want to do in this would is bikini or bathing suit shop, especially while away from home. I love a swim while traveling.

  2. I actually bring an extra shirt for the same reason I (also) pack an extra pair of underwear and socks. Also has the advantage of potentially saving you from a dining disaster at lunch before afternoon/dinner meetings.

  3. I used to be one of those people that did the ‘one underwear’ routine…you know Icebreakers, etc. The problem with that is, while they are wool and don’t stink, they don’t hold shape well. As a result, the days+1 has been my rule of thumb as well. When I travel for work, I never carry more than three, and then expense dry cleaning at the hotel to my master.

  4. No Ex-Officio underwear?

    Can’t do the same with socks but you can really reduce how much you have to pack.

    Also, on trips longer than a week, it’s hard to avoid doing laundry, especially in the summer where long days out walking will result in a lot of sweat-soaked clothes.

  5. @Gary, if you are going on a 2-week trip you bring 15 pairs of underwear?!! I would bring a much smaller number and launder them in the room with my other clothes..

  6. I always bring an extra pair of undies and and one extra white collared shirt. The white shirt can pretty much go with anything.
    When travelling with my kids i always make sure to have a t-shirt and shorts in our backpacks for everyone just in case someone spills something. At first it was in case of accidents by them, but now those drinks can fly off a tray table when playing cards or whatever they are doing.

  7. 4-5 pr of Ex officio underwear + hand washing. No way I’m taking 15 pr of undies for a 2 week trip!

  8. I keep a fresh pair (plus a light weight t-shirt) in a ziplock bag in the bottom of my backpack. They are always there in case I’m stranded overnight, even if my luggage is checked and cannot be retrieved. It is remarkable what clean undies can do for your state of mind during IRROPS.

  9. I have socks and underwear that are quick-drying, so I can wash them in the sink and dry them overnight. So, in theory, with three sets of socks and underwear, and a bit of a 10-minute sink session every other day (to wash two of the three pairs), I’m golden for an extended trip. And in practice, this has worked well.

    One of the keys to quick dry is to lay them out on a towel, then roll the towel tightly (like a cinnamon roll), then *walk on* the towel for about 15-30 seconds. Really squishes them dry.

  10. I use the same “roll in a towel” method. The towel gets very damp, which is that much less water that needs to be evaporated from the clothing items.

  11. I have been doing the +1 method for a long time. I also always bring a bathing suit and workout clothes, even if I’m unsure if there’s a pool or gym available. You never know when you meet new friends or want to go on a quick run. And both don’t take up much space for guys or gals.

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