Living out of a Suitcase
In an upwardly mobile society, ‘more, more, more’ is the name of the game. Not so for frequent flyers. Here’s how to live out of a bag
If it can’t fit into a suitcase, you don’t really need it. Tough sell, right? But hundreds of people make it work everyday. From businessmen and performers to writers and, of course, cabin crew — these frequent flyers wear that slogan like a proud badge and can flash it at you as quickly as they can their passports. How do they make it work? Apparently, it’s an art. Hear it — the good, the bad, the nutty — from the members of the high-flying club themselves.
Who: Jay Robert
What: International air steward
Ask cabin crew Jay Robert how often he travels and he goes, “I think an easier question to answer would be how often I don’t travel.” Just for an idea though, he had “three different suitcases from three different trips waiting to be unpacked” on his floor recently. The 30-year-old travels so much as part of his job (he’s out of the country about one to three times a week) that he’s now popularly known as Fly Guy and has even started a travel blog and cabin crew social media network (www.internationalflyguy.com) that has a reach of up to four million a week.
The American expat was practically born with the travel bug. “From as far back as I can think of, I always wondered what was on the horizon,” he says. “When I was a child and my family took me to the beach, I would gaze out over the water and wonder what it must be like where the water ended.” Jay’s mother was a flight attendant and he was home schooled, so he was able to join her on many trips around North America to visit the historical places he was studying about. Upon returning to public school, he promptly joined the French club — just because they offered a trip overseas to France. It was his first venture out of North America but from that trip forward, he began planning his adult life around travel.
Living out of a suitcase, for him, is every bit as glamorous as it may seem to those of us on the ground, he assures. “With it comes a nomadic lifestyle that’s always taking you to new fascinating places and introducing you to interesting people — all of which makes your life so much richer. Some need the stability that comes with living out of their dresser,” he agrees. “Others, like myself, thrive on the spontaneity that comes from the nomad lifestyle. But it’s the one who keeps moving that sees the most.”
The lifestyle has its perks (“Travelling all the time means you’re always growing as a person,” says Jay. “I truly believe it’s the best education you can buy) — but it also has its snags. And for someone in this profession, that means “having strange beats in your sleep rhythm. I’m often awake at 4am eating my dinner and up at 5pm having my breakfast.”
Is he ever going to want to give up his ‘high-flying’ ways though? “I think Frank Sinatra put it best when he sang: It’s quite the life to play gypsy/ but your heart starts singin’, when you’re homeward wingin’,” Jay muses. “It’s nice to go travelling, but I admit after too many days away, I get excited when I see the flag on the tail of the plane that’s going to fly me back home to Dubai. Even as a Fly Guy, I do take staycations and just sit on my couch, resting up for my next big adventure.”
In His Suitcase: Aside from my clothes and grooming products, I always have my camera and computer for my blogging. I keep a small hotel room ready kit that has room and linen spray, travel candle, a compact travel speaker, eye mask, earplugs, travel adaptors and phone charger inside. This is great for making your hotel a little more relaxing and personal. My diet is important when I travel so I have some nuts and healthy energy bars in my bag to snack on.
The Art of Packing: The first tip to packing is to take half of what you packed and get rid of it, because you probably don’t need it. We spend so much time packing our lives with stuff we will never use. When you live out of a suitcase, you become used to living with the bare essentials and this is a great practice to bring to your everyday life. An added bonus is: your bank account also improves. Try to pack your clothes around a certain colour pattern so you can mix and match and get more outfits with less clothes. Shoes take up a lot of space so find a fashionable pair of travel shoes that are soft sided and compact (for example, I always travel in TOMS). Rolling your clothes is another secret my mother passed on to me from her days of flying. It’s very important to choose the right suitcase as well. Too large and too much luggage can ruin your travel.
Who: Hilary Maiberger
What: Singer/ Actress
California-born Hilary Maiberger has played Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) over 540 times on stage. “You’d think it would get old,” she exclaims. “But it never does.” What does get to her at times is all the travelling she does on tour for the show — which can be an “amazing, exhausting, wonderful” experience.
The 28-year-old is in town for the Abu Dhabi leg of the international tour (the show ends in the capital November 8) and is still trying to get over the ‘surreal-ness’ of it all. “I’ve been playing Belle for over two years now. On the previous USA-Canada tour that I was part of, we hit over 170 cities in two years — and that can really wear on you. Time was a blur.”
Thankfully, the current international tour (where they’re playing just nine cities in as many months) is not as nutty. “Travelling is part of the job. You learn to adapt.”
What she finds most ironic though is that she’s “such a homebody”. Hilary’s idea of the perfect day off would include no travel, yet this is her third year on tour. “I haven’t celebrated Christmas with my family in two years,” she says. “It can get really hard, missing holidays with the family — but they’re incredibly supportive. My parents have already seen the show in different cities 21 times but they’re coming over to see me in Abu Dhabi this week too (show #22!) so that kind of support really helps me cope.”
On a more candid note, Hilary admits she has days when she dearly misses her closet at home too. “We’re obviously allowed only a certain number of suitcases that have to weigh under a certain amount. I love clothes — that’s just how I express myself — and I can’t take my whole closet, which kind of stinks sometimes. But you really learn what’s important, what you can do with — and without. You pack for survival.”
Her co-star Darick Pead (who plays Beast) shows us a photo he snapped the other day of her super-organised bag. “Nuts,” he shakes his head. But Hilary is very evidently proud of the neat rows of rolled up, colour-coded clothes. “I have it down to an art,” she says, pretending to preen. “It used to be golf, but now I find packing the most relaxing thing ever.”
While the constant travelling can be tiring, she says it’s the best part too. “The first time I heard of Abu Dhabi was in Sex and the City 2,” she confesses. “So to be performing a dream role in this dream place is so surreal. If I ever have kids, I can’t wait to tell them: ‘Look what I did in my 20s — I travelled the world!’ It’s very, very cool.”
Speaking of kids, she “absolutely” does want to give up the globetrotting to settle down eventually. “When I was 16, I said: I’m going to be married by 25, be settled with a husband and a dog and maybe be pregnant by, let’s see, 28… Obviously, that’s not how it’s turned out,” she rues. “But I definitely want those things that I grew up with: a family, home, dog… Maybe in a couple of years, I’ll be ready to settle down but right now, I’m going to live this up.”
In Her Suitcase: A great pair of jeans, great pair of heels, a jacket (I have to pack for all seasons), a lot of accessories (so that I can change things up and not feel like I’m wearing the same thing every single day!), and skincare like moisturisers and primers. I usually pack a ton of earrings too — they’re super light and can just tszuj up an outfit in a trice.
Who: Imad Ghandour
What: Purchasing Manager
As purchasing manager for Wamli.com, an online shopping site for funky, quirky and one-of-a-kind design products, Imad Ghandour needs to always be on the lookout for fresh products to sell. That involves a lot of travelling from one side of the globe to the other, mostly to attend trade shows. In January this year, he went to New York for a few days then returned to Dubai for a day, only to board another plane bound to Tokyo. Between April and August, he went to Hong Kong for two days, New York for four, followed by three days in Madrid and two-day trips to Milan and London each.
It’s not an easy lifestyle. “I can tell you that it’s quite hectic and you can get really tired from all the commuting,” says Imad. “Perhaps, it would’ve been more glamorous if I were travelling in business class, staying in 5-star hotels and had time to explore all these cities. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Due to my schedule, I often can’t attend or participate in local events that I would have loved to be part of. Sometimes, I also get the feeling that I have not yet settled properly in Dubai, even though I have been here for over two years…”
Still, he says, he also understands the need for all the travel. “Living off a suitcase on a permanent basis is obviously not ideal. However, as we always try to keep our products fresh and unique to the region, I need to be constantly on the lookout for new releases, and discovering niche brands that I wouldn’t otherwise find by simply sitting in front of your laptop and browsing. Also in my line of business, the relationships you make with your supplier are crucial to the long-term success of the company. So while I do have the option to source products without the constant travel, that’s definitely not the way to go if you want to stay at the top of your game.”
It depends on the duration of the trip, but Imad says he never takes longer than 15 minutes to pack now. “With time, packing has become second nature — not much thought needed and very little effort.”
In His Suitcase: I use the Flight 001 Spacepak (a system of compression bags that maximise luggage space; available on Wamli) in order to organise my clothes and fully optimise the space in my suitcase. The main contents would include the necessary clothes for the duration of the trip plus two extra days of clothes in case of mishap. I tend to take the essentials and not overdo it, and always keep enough free space/weight for catalogues from fairs. I guess my Blackberry is the one thing I absolutely cannot do without in order to be able to work even on the go. But for in-flight comfort, I also make sure to carry noise-cancelling headphones, as hearing the same noise over many hours is not really ideal.
His Travel Tips: Always have the suitcases within reach (I suggest hard cases for heavy travellers). Travel light — pack only the essentials. It will help you to move swiftly and conveniently around airports, avoid any back pain from rolling around with your suitcase, as well as leave space for any unplanned purchases. Dress comfy for flights; wear sneakers. No watch, no belt and nothing in your pockets — leave everything in your backpack or trolley and you will go through security quickly and smoothly.
Who: Michelle Karam
What: Travel writer, luxury travel and social media consultant
As a travel writer, zipping from place to place is never about work alone for Dubai-based Michelle Karam. There’s also the sheer pleasure of being on the move. The Lebanese expat grew up wanting to be many things: journalist, lawyer, anthropologist, astronomer, archaeologist and, above all, a dancer. “I was never good at dancing, so I just practise that when no one is watching,” she jokes. “But I kept taking up jobs that allowed me to explore. As the years went by, I started to want bigger things, and travel allowed me to use my stubborn needs to grow professionally and spiritually. Today, I travel for business and pleasure as I have since I was 18… Some invest in dining, others in bags — I put everything I have in travel. It’s my investment in myself.”
The author of the Travel Junkie Diary blog, Michelle travels once a month out of Dubai and once a month out of the region. All that travelling really opens you up, she enthuses. “Especially travelling alone — it forces you to question what you do not understand; maybe even allow you to turn to a stranger for direction, advice or even, for a moment, exchange a smile.”
Those are not experiences she’d ever want to give up, though she admits having a family of her own did change up the equation a bit. “Both my parents and sisters live right next door. We are the Everybody Loves Raymond à la Arabia version, so that’s great. My daughter Chloe is almost three years old and my wonderful husband has known me this way ever since we met. The thing that has changed the most now is that I work for myself, writing for different magazines, doing social media consultancy and no longer punch in office hours. I work 24 hours a day with my job and I am a full-time mom. Since I gave birth, I’ve decided to work from home (or on a plane) for the sake of Chloe.”
Having said that, she hopes she never gets to a point where she’d want to stay ‘grounded’ more: “What’s the point of having such a massive earth if you can’t live and explore every bit of it?” she asks.
In Her Suitcase: My cameras (Canon Powershot X1 and Canon underwater Powershot D30), my powerbank charger for my iPhone, almonds, sunglasses, Wind X-treme from Urban Peak (to protect my face against the elements during more adventurous journeys), Bobby Brown travel kit, a diary, earphones (or Beats headphones), cardigan, jewellery travel case, Purell sanitiser, address book and dictionary.
Her Travel Tips: Pack only what you need. Always, always be on time; keep room for error. Don’t carry all your money in one place. Always keep a phone charger with you. And always keep perfumes or any liquids well away from your clothes; tape the caps in a zipped bag and in another thick bag. You do not want the only clothes you have smelling of exploded toothpaste mixed with Elie Saab perfume and melted chocolate.