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How to Pack for Happier Flying of the Friendly Skies

In my old life, I travelled constantly—and I’m not talking short trips. I’m talking Europe, Asia, and parts beyond.  An eight-city, seven-day trip through Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Indonesia stands out as one of the more memorable marathons, er, I mean work trips.  Planes, trains, automobiles, and tuk tuks . . .

Townscout Tuk Tuk

Memories from one of my favorite road trips . . .

All of which is to say, I can pack.  As in, I consider my packing skills to be Olympic-level.  Two-weeks of meetings all over Asia?  I can fit that in a carry-on with room to spare. Overnight to NYC?  Child’s play.  Multiple climates?  More of a challenge, true, but I did recently pack for a trip to the Middle East and Scotland with both of my daughters and I still only had to check one bag.  Abayas, hijabs, winter scarves and boots, a Barbour jacket, and one checked bag . . . that’s gold-medal-worthy packing right there.

Townscout Travel in Middle East

Definitely not a pic from the UK.  Hello, Red Sea!

 

Right now, I am busy packing for a trip to Edinburgh and London to see some girl friends and celebrate birthdays, babies, and being friends for almost half our lives.  Where did the time go???  PS:  Keep an eye on townscout’s Instagram and Snapchat (@townscouttravels).  When I’m not busy laughing so hard I’m crying, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite spots in two of my favorite cities.  I just got distracted thinking about Ottolenghi and Dishoom and Valvona & Crolla.  So much food, so little time . . .

But first, I have to get there!  And, as you may have guessed, I have some tips for packing light and surviving long flights.

Five Essential Items for a Happy Traveler 

First Up: A great bag

I’m not talking about your carry-on, I’m talking about that other bag—the one that’s not luggage.  Choose wisely: this bag will hold your laptop, all the magazines you haven’t had time to read (New Yorker, I’m looking at you), your ziploc full of 3 oz. liquids, and everything else you will need for the next seven hours. My go-to is a tote bag, and I am IN LOVE with this roomy and smart tote from Neely and Chloe.

neely & chloe tote bag

Action shot of my new favorite tote from Neely & Chloe.   There’s a laptop and half my life in there!  It’s the 💣 . . .

 

The No. 2 Large Tote has a detachable zipper pocket to keep valuables handy (and safe!) and two pockets for easy access to things like your phone and boarding pass.  It’s big enough for my laptop and other essentials and, when I don’t need all that room, it has an inner toggle clasp to make it a bit smaller.  Did I mention it’s also gorgeous?  Perfect for the plane, the airport lounge, and a stroll around London!

Make Yourself Comfortable

Get comfortable?  On a seven-hour flight?  It’s possible, I promise.  Even in coach! (Full disclosure: I’m short, which is a positive in only a few situations . . . like not needing leg room when there’s not much to be had.  Gotta look for the silver lining, friends.)

So how do I get comfortable on a long flight?  Aisle seat, socks, a scarf or comfy wrap, and my own tea.  Do I sound like my grandmother carrying my own tea around?  Honestly, my grandmother met my grandfather in the 1920s at a costume party when she was dressed as a man.  Mama Lena probably wouldn’t be traveling with her own teabags.  But I do and I’m okay with it.

My grandmother, Mama Lena.

My grandmother, Mama Lena.

Now, back to getting comfortable . . . I am always cold, especially on planes.  If you’re lucky enough to turn left when you board, you don’t need to pack your own socks and blanket. If you’re sitting in coach, it’s best to follow the Boy Scouts’ lead and be prepared.  I pack socks to keep my toes warm and a wrap or a scarf that’s large enough to double as a blanket.

Townscout Scarves

A few scarves for color and some clutches for going out on the town:)

Oh, and the tea. Sleep can be hard to come by on over-night flights; drinking something warm tells my body it’s time to rest. While it’s easy to get hot water on a plane, it’s pretty near impossible to get a mint tea.  So, I make things easy and put a few teabags in my tote: ginger to tame a bad tummy, mint to help me sleep, rose to make me happy, and a black tea to wake me up in the “morning.”  My favorite mint tea is from Charleston tea maker, Oliver Pluff & Co.  I love the stories for each of the teas and the beautiful tins, and they also happens to taste AMAZING.  Mint was also rumored to “quicken the brain” and help with absentmindedness, not that anyone I know would be needing that 😳

Oliver Pluff Tea

Colonial Remedy No. 3 from Oliver Pluff & Co. for the “occasional absent minde”

Look Good When You Get There

We all know that long flights dry out your skin.  I drink tons of water (and tea!), but nothing feels better on your face mid-flight than your favorite hydrating spray.  I am a fan of Mario Badescu’s facial spray with rosewater—it’s an instant pick-me-up, it smells amazing, and it comes in a 2oz. size that won’t offend the TSA.

Speaking of the TSA . . . given its limits on the amount of liquids you can take on a flight, I ration the available space in my ziploc bag by opting for solids and packing liquids that do double-duty.  One of my all-time faves (that you will find in my purse every day of the week and twice on Sunday) is Smith’s Rosebud Salve.  It’s been around forever and there’s a reason why—it works.  I use it for everything:  as a lip balm (it smells great and has just a hint of color), to cure dry spots, to protect nicks and cuts.  It costs $6, comes in a pretty tin you’ll never lose, and lasts forever.  What’s not to love?

Travel Essentials

It wasn’t until I took this photo that I realized I may be a tad obsessed with roses . . .

One thing I never leave home without: eye cream.  I know, I know.  Surely I could rely on a good moisturizer and skip the eye cream for a week or so?  Wrong.  There are some things in life I refuse to skimp on and eye cream is one of them.  And let me tell you this:  When it’s three in the morning your time and you’re getting off a long-haul flight, take a look around at your fellow passengers.  You will thank me for telling you to pack eye cream.

I am finishing this up as I sit in the lounge waiting for my flight to Edinburgh.  I can’t wait to share my favorite spots with y’all soon!  You can follow me along my (somewhat edited) UK adventures on IG @townscout and 👻: @townscouttravels.  It’s a girls weekend–some pics will not be suitable for sharing, or that’s my hope anyway 😉

xo, jen

Mad for Madrid: All Things Bright, Beautiful & Charming

I just returned from Madrid and I think it’s fair to say that I have fallen in love. Maybe it’s because my husband and I got to spend a few days together, just the two of us, but I suspect it’s more than that. You know how it is when it comes to love: when you know, you know. And in this case I do. Madrid is the real thing.

What’s to love? A city where shops and offices close in the afternoon and everyone takes their dogs out for a walk and has a real coffee break, complete with café con leche and pastries. A restaurant barely wider than a door frame that serves only champagne, cava, cake, and ham. A sunny neighborhood café playing jazz on a Saturday afternoon. People who smile at my broken Spanish and still know what I am trying say (usually: champagne, cava, cake, or ham). Really, what’s not to love?

Madrid, Spain

If you’re ready to take the plunge, check out the places I scouted below and start planning your trip! You can see more about Madrid on our pinterest board here. And feel free to share your favorites or ask questions in the comments below! #townscouttravels #inlovewithespaña

Stay

When I travel, I like to stay in places that reflect the city’s culture. The Only You Hotel is elegantly beautiful, thoughtfully designed, full of warm people, and totally welcoming. That is Madrid to a T.

Only You is less of a hotel and more of a home, complete with a living room, a library-ish bar, and a blue and white, sun-filled dining room.  I did a little work in the cozy living room, curled up next to the fireplace and resident rhino. Just across the hall is the hotel bar, which specializes in exotic gins and specialty cocktails. If you prefer to stick with wine (like me), you could do worse than the Albarino.  They even have Cliquot by the glass!

Rhino and cozy fire in the living room.

Rhino and cozy fire in the living room.

 

A comfy bed, waterfall shower, and floor-to-ceiling windows make the room a sweet resting spot when you make it home from your 10 p.m. dinner reservations.

Madrid, Spain

Get some sleep in the deep blue bedrooms.

 

 

Only You Hotel; 21 Calle Barquilla; onlyyouhotels.com/en/

Dine

Madrid elevates dining to an art form. From perfectly composed pastries to perfectly cured jambon, the plates at even the smallest cafés are not only delicious, but beautiful. After eating our way through the neighborhood, I pulled together a few of my favorites for your dining pleasure. There are so many more wonderful spots—just explore!

For coffee, pastries, and macarons visit Mama Framboise.   I could have eaten my weight in tartaletas, the two-or-three bite version of Mama Framboise’s famous tartas. You cannot go wrong with lemon or chocolate raspberry.

Mama Framboise; multiple locations (including the airport for last-minute gift shopping!); mamaframboise.com

Tartaletas and Cafe con Leche at Mama Framboise

Tartaletas and Cafe con Leche at Mama Framboise

 

You must have at least one meal at Gastromaquia. Lunch or dinner, it doesn’t matter. Just go there. We spent a leisurely afternoon in this tiny spot and did not want to leave. Gastromaquia is known for its rice dishes, but do not miss out on the goat cheese with a crisp honey shell or the grilled octopus in a creamy foam of sweet potatoes (!!).

Gastromaquia; No. 6 Pelayo near the Chueco metro; open 1:30-4 and 8:30-midnight 

Gastromaquia, Madrid, Spain

Gastromaquia

 

Dinner comes late in Spain. As in, the early-bird special starts at 8:30 p.m.   Fortunately, that gives you plenty of time to have a drink and ease in to the evening. Only You serves drinks in the living room as well as the bar, which means you can curl up beside the fire and sip your drinks. My husband swore by their old-fashioned. For a cozy spot, head to the tiny bar at Dray Martina, a lovely and gracious restaurant just a few years old. The bar seats only five or six and there’s a single table for two. It doesn’t get more romantic.

Dray Martina; 7 Calle Argensola; draymartina.com

Dray Martina

 

From Dray Martina, walk a few blocks to dinner at Taberna La Carmencita, one of Madrid’s oldest restaurants. Pablo Neruda is rumored to have penned poems there, and Lorca is said to have enjoyed a drink or two at its tiny zinc bar. If you visit, you can understand why. It’s beautiful and eccentric and traditional and modern all at once. Dark wooden benches, full-length windows and colorful tiles feel more like your favorite old kitchen than a fancy restaurant. The waiters’ English was on par with my Spanish, but we laughed and ate and had wine and it didn’t matter at all. Oh, and the food. I felt adventurous and took our waiter’s suggestion: bluefish balls. I can assure you that it would never occur to me to order fish “meat balls,” and I am so glad I did. Can’t wait to see you again soon, Carmencita.

Taberna La Carmencita; 16 Calle de la Libertad; tabernalacarmencita.es

 

Carmencita, Madrid, Spain

Dinner at Taberna La Carmencita

See & Do

There’s plenty to do in Madrid: the Prado, the Thyssen, the Royal Palace. If you prefer to get lost and wander, try a few of these spots.

Mercado de San Anton. Don’t be put off by the 1970s, non-descript architecture of this market. The first floor looks like a typical grocery store. Keep going. The second and third floors are filled with food stalls offering everything from tapas, spices, cheese, and ham to wine, coffee, and pastries. There’s a restaurant and bar on the roof and outdoor seating just off a pop-up art gallery. On the weekends, it is packed with locals and full of energy. 24 Calle Augusto de Figueroa; mercadosananton.com.

Jambon at Mercado de San Anton

Jambon at Mercado de San Anton

 

Do Design Concept Store. I stumbled upon this little gem while I was out for a walk. Do is a combination art gallery, housewares, clothing, and all-things-beautiful store. I loved it so much I went back and bought a few gifts for our daughters. I’m still thinking about a certain grey foldover bag in Spanish leather . . . non-buyer’s remorse. 13 Calle Fernando VI; dodesign.es.

Do Design & Concept Store (Photo: Do Design)

Do Design & Concept Store (Photo: Do Design)

 

Take a stroll along Las Huertas (or any street).  Madrid is a city where you can wander, take your time, and spend a whole day doing nothing more than taking it all in. It is a city full of surprises and charms, and full of people willing to be kind to strangers. We spent an afternoon walking up Las Huertas from the Prado. We saw some street art, stopped in shops and galleries, and took a break to listen to jazz and have tapas with a room full of locals. It’s nice to live like a local, if only for a weekend;)

Street Art on Las Huertas

Street Art on Las Huertas:  LOVE WHAT YOU DO

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