Stress-free Travel Tips from an "Economy" Jet-Setter

Waiting to get on my flight to Anchorage
Many of my friends and family have expressed awe or been enamored by the fact that I travel constantly. They think, “Famous dance artist sees the world stays in luxury accommodations all whilst doing what he loves!” Doesn’t get more glamorous than that. Right? Well, unfortunately, I am neither famous, nor a luxury jet-setter. In fact, I like to call myself an economy jet-setter. There is currently a little girl sitting behind me kicking my seat and another young lady, about 3 years older, sitting in front of me curling her feet under her seat to kick my feet. I really lucked out on this flight, though, because out of the three or so seats that didn’t sell, one of those is the middle seat next to me. But to make up for it, I get kiddy kicks and the rank vapors of a raw diaper that clearly has needed changing for about 2 hours. Yes, I am a jet-setter. But not in any sense a la Kardashian.

Traveling stresses people out. I love watching people give one another the stink eye when somebody walks straight up to the horribly organized lines at the gate where every passenger is bottlenecked towards a ticketing agent that is only the beginning setting of your jetting ways. Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter the order that you line up, as we are all going to be on the same plane. Still, for some reason, traveling stirs great fear of being left behind, being left without, or suffering unimaginable discomfort. Out of all of those, the last one is probably the most accurate item.

I care so much about packing
I have developed this really nonchalant habit of packing last second. To be completely honest, I don’t really give a shit if I forget something. If I didn’t pack underwear, I can easily go out and buy some cheap underwear from Target. If I forget sunscreen, I can simply run to the closest convenience store for whichever brand is cheapest and doesn’t look like one of those dangerous tubes of Chinese toothpaste that were being put out years ago. There are very few items that are so strategically pertinent to assuring me the perfect trip that I need to pack it days in advance, all so that I can go back to my luggage and recheck it every day for 3 days before leaving. Once I forgot to pack my make-up bag for performances. I left that performance $15 in the hole and with a backup set of make-up for that performance when I didn’t realize that my foundation was out. In the end, I just consider it an asset.

I would say the most stressful part of traveling for me is making sure that I arrive to the airport on-time. Perhaps, I wait a little too long and have to speed walk to the train. Or maybe my partner and I didn’t plan the hourly Enterprise Rent-A-Car well, and we got stuck in rush-hour traffic. But what I’ve learned is that most of the time, even if I get to the airport with barely over an hour to get to the gate, I always make it.

The next potentially stressful step of traveling would be the weight of my luggage. I have somehow mastered the 50 pound mark in a piece of luggage that could easily hold 100 pounds or more. I can pick up my luggage and guess within a few pounds whether I will be over or not. Some people need to stand on a scale with their luggage and deduct their weight, but I have only misgauged the weight of my luggage once in the past 3 years. Worst comes to worst, I am so close that I can easily pull one or two items out and inconvenience myself a bit by carrying it around the entire trip. I almost always bring two bags brimming with a mixture of regular clothes, dance clothes, toiletries, and equipment to keep my body running properly. I find that I can keep the weight of my luggage down by limiting toiletries and purchasing them once I arrive on location. Whether the company that I am working for pays for my luggage or not, I generally try to check one bag and drag a carry-on and backpack to the gate.

Economy jet-setter < Casual Traveler
The next step of being an economy jet-setter is to go through security. Although I am more expert than most travelers, I still have to stand in the same line as everybody else while watching the elite few who have traveled more, or can afford to pay TSA off, slide through relaxed security measures. This line is the next place that I watch my fellow less-traveled peers start to panic. First things first, before you even get to the line, prepare yourself. Take everything in your pockets and put it in your backpack, purse, or carry-on. That doesn’t mean jewelry, but it does mean your wallet, chapstick, cell phone, change, and any other materials you may keep in your pockets. Put your hat away, take off your jacket, slide your belt off, and don’t forget that hoodie. Just make it as simple as possible. Once you get past the people that verify you have a boarding pass, you are going to wait in line for anywhere from a few minutes to over a half hour. If you’re flight is getting close, tell a TSA agent. But be prepared, most of the time they are going to be short with you. It may feel rude to you because you think your time and flight are more important than anyone else at that moment. Yes, they heard you. Yes, they want to help you. But there are likely about 100-200 other people that they also have to care about at any given moment. Give them a chance to keep order and assess the situation. If a few minutes have passed and they haven’t addressed it, check in again. They are more likely to get you to your plane on time than not. Airports lose money when passengers miss flights, they are set up to get as many people on their flights as possible. Just don’t panic!

Now that you’ve put everything together and you’ve waited in line watching people roll their eyes, huffing and puffing, or on the verge of tears, you will come up to the next TSA agent. They will look at your ID (that you took out before you put your wallet away) and ticket. I never really understand what they are doing up there. Whether profiling, thinking about dinner, or just making sure that you have proper documentation, I don’t know. But what I do know is that you should at least try to look like you don’t have anything to hide. A smile and a, “Hello. How are you,” might not hurt either. After you are either approved or thrown into a holding cell (joking), you will be pushed towards a line to have your bags and body scanned. Grab two containers. Throw your laptop in one and your shoes/jacket/hoodie/other personal items in the other one. Make sure you put your computer bag in the scanner first, followed by your computer, your personal items, then any carry-on luggage. You can then choose to let some random trained personnel in another room who has seen a thousand outlines of people’s body parts each week look at a scan of your body or do a thorough pat down. I’d rather somebody ogle my shadowy goodies than have them pat down with rubber gloves. Once you get the green light to collect your items, rush over to the scanner and hope that you remembered to remove that canister of mace you keep in your bookbag because your boyfriend is paranoid about you walking the streets alone. Now that you see your items, you are ready to quickly throw everything that you meticulously pulled out back together. I always put my book bag in the scanner first because I don’t want to hold onto my computer while I’m waiting for my book bag to come out. If things start to take awhile, I can throw my shoes, hoodie, and hat back on. Your big carry on should be last because you likely haven’t taken anything out of it. Grab and go.

Once you’ve collected your personal belongings, it is now time to dash towards your gate to wait for an hour and a half because you were nervous that you might not make it to your gate in 2 hours. I always opt for a relaxing walk around the airport. Maybe I’ll find a nice view, a store I’ve never heard of, or an outlet to charge my phone or computer before my oft cross-country flight. Every once in awhile, I run into somebody I know. This method usually helps me feel as if I have yet to begin a potentially long travel day. I do my best to feel like I am just going about a normal day, like walking through a mall. In fact, I try to arrive at my gate within minutes of the boarding time for my flight. Sometimes, I’ll even wait until after the called time to arrive. Once you arrive at the gate, you feel like you are committed. And beyond that, there is rarely a good place to sit, other than the floor, during those moments prior to boarding.

Now they have started to make boarding announcements and have slowly crept from calling military, those with children, or those with disabilities to first class, air mile program members, and whomever else they feel like treating better than we economy jet-setters. Airlines usually like to put stowage on the plane first, and believe you me, ballet dancers never fly first-class, business, or economy-preferred. While your boarding number may have been called, you don’t necessarily have to board with your group. You will not be denied access because you didn’t follow the crowd. Anyway, why would you want to be first on a plane only to sit and watch everybody else get on the flight after you. The last thing I want to do is increase the amount of time that I have to sit in, perhaps, the most uncomfortable chair manufactured next to an electric chair? While a majority of my fellow flyers are performing the stink-eyed bottleneck dance that I earlier referred to, I’m sitting in one of those newly emptied seats at the gate shortening the duration of my flight.

When I finally muster up the energy to drag my carry-on to the gate, I execute one of the best tricks an economy jet-setter has. Most people feel like they need to have their carry-on by their sides all the way to their destination. I have seen grown adults act like this is their childhood “blankey.”I have actually seen people in tears over being torn apart from their beloved baggage. But the way I see it is exactly as it sounds. Baggage! I don’t need any extra baggage. Especially, if my dearest employer wanted to save a few pennies and has me connecting at a hub airport with less than 30 minutes for my next departure. While others stomp their feet and act like babies, I always walk up to the counter and offer to check my carry-on to my destination to save their precious overhead space. The truth is, I’ve only had my luggage lost once or twice. And it was never really a crisis. I always got it in the end. And while, maybe I could have more options to occupy myself on my flight in my carry-on, I almost always bring too much entertainment. So, I check my bag at the gate, which is almost always met with a “thank you” from the tired of the same old story airline staff. In the end, what nobody realizes is that I just pulled a fast one on them. I actually packed my carry-on with all of my heavier clothes, like jeans, jackets, sweatshirts, etc. My drag-bag is actually heavier per-capita than my larger checked luggage. My other luggage was under 50 pounds because of this tactic and I only had to pay to check one of my bags. Very sneaky, right?

Now that I have dropped the ball-and-chain of my carry-on, I walk onto the airplane with a light and airy smile upon my face knowing that I won’t have to run to that next terminal with luggage dragging behind me. I calmly sit in my seat, look around at the rest of the flight, finally taking a deep breath, and beg to whatever god I don’t believe in that nobody sits next to me. This rarely happens, but it’s worth having some hope in life. Before everybody sits down, I check my airline magazine to see if the crossword has been done. And if it has, I sneakily check the other seats before my flight companions take their seats. I pop in my earbuds, start playing some music, and think about how much I would rather be home with my hubby right now.

My scarf sleeping trick
The next step of having a comfortable travel experience is to get in a comfortable place to sleep. Whether you are sitting at the window (which I prefer), the aisle, or the “bitch” middle seat, I have a few tips to make life more wonderful. You know those round, 3/4 circle neck pillows that people love to travel with? Well, I think they are being marketed incorrectly. These things don’t really help prevent you from leaving with a neck ache if you fall asleep with one on. But, they do provide amazing lower back support if you throw it under your achey, dance-ridden back. I always make sure I wear the loosest, trendiest pants possible. I also take off my shoes immediately upon sitting. Yes, shoes. My fellow flip-flop wearers usually end up with numb, frozen toes by the time we reach cruising altitude. If you put your backpack or purse in the middle of the storage under your seat, you can put your shoes on the sides of your bag, slip your legs on top of your shoes and around your bag, and stretch your legs out for the entirety of the flight. I always make sure that I wear an oversized hoodie and bring a scarf, as well. When you are ready to fall into your plane slumber, pull your hood up and over your eyes, grab your scarf, shove it inside the hoodie between your neck and shoulder on the side you would like to lean your head, and VOILA you can sleep without your head ever having to hang over the side of the cliff of a pillow. This, I assure you, is the most comfortable way to sleep on a flight.

Now that you’ve fallen asleep comfortably and shortened the strain of a tedious flight, welcome to your glorious jet-setting destination. Take pictures for Instagram. Post jet-setting statuses to Facebook. And be sure to let people know that you are getting paid to live this facade of a glamorous lifestyle. But all kidding aside, traveling isn’t really that stressful. If your flight is delayed or, even, cancelled, you will be fine. If your luggage doesn’t show up, you will make do. If you’re luggage is overweight, you’ll find a way to make it under or pay the extra fee. For those that travel infrequently, even the most minor hiccups can bring a surge of adrenaline and put one on the defense. But in all reality, you are about 99% going to end up where you are supposed to be, around the time you are supposed to be, with all of your belongings. Oh, and that lucky middle seat that is empty next to me? I kindly asked the father behind me to switch seats with his little bundle of joy, as to stop the 3 hour kicking rampage I have incurred. With this post; you win, I win, we all win! Cheers to the jet-setting life!

Safe Travels!


Should Artists be Shamed into Taking "Normal" Jobs?

At the beginning of 2014, I posted an article on Facebook about the hotly debated emergency extension of unemployment benefits. My intention was to use this platform to put a face to a statistic for people who are connected to me through this social media site. Instead of getting the chance to inform some of my friends, an acquaintance I had met only a few times nastily and judgmentally brought an unexpected wave of wrath onto my page. This person, who barely knew me, was judging my use of unemployment without even hearing how I ended up on the assistance program or how I had been desperately searching for a full-time job in my field. I had spent a great deal of time trying to find solid employment in the dance world. But instead of asking for facts, she berated me by stating that I was abusing the system and should just go ahead and get a restaurant job or work as a barista. She felt that it was my duty to take whatever menial job necessary to get off of unemployment. After spending months and months executing well beyond the 3 required weekly work searches (3 being the minimum), I was being reprimanded by someone who wasn't informed in the least about my situation. Little did she know that I was barely collecting benefits as it was because of my freelance work and part-time teaching job with Koresh Dance Company. While it was uncomfortable having this woman awkwardly attack me on a public forum, she also got me thinking about what was considered an appropriate job for not just myself, but all professional dancers and artists.

I wouldn't necessarily say I've ever had a normal job. When I was 14, I would help my mom out at her Dollar Store. But I was so young and dedicated to dance that it didn't last long before I was at the studio daily. In fact, I can't even remember if she paid me. My first full-time job was working as an apprentice with Houston Ballet at the ripe age of 19. I have spent 12 years cultivating my career as a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, and an advocate for the arts. When I found out that the benefit of unemployment (my safety net and right after being unrightfully fired for an on the job injury) wouldn't be extended, I panicked. I was already employed part-time and collecting a small amount of salary each week teaching at Koresh. I had also obtained about 12 weeks of dance work through the end of Spring. I wouldn't end up receiving unemployment during those weeks that I was dancing and received a reduced rate when I was off due to my part-time compensation. Unemployment was just a safety net for me until I could find a regular place to dance and call home. But all of a sudden, I found myself questioning if I was a bad citizen and whether or not I should desperately take any minimum wage job I could find, which I would have had no experience in and probably wouldn't provide anything sufficient enough to pay all of my bills.

I have many freelancing friends that take restaurant, barista, and other random jobs just to make ends meet. They often miss class and stand on their feet for hours before and after working those very feet in a rehearsal studio. Not only is this exhausting, but it can heighten one's chance of injury and accelerate the process of burnout. When I started looking into getting a normal non-dance related job, I found myself living in fear and anxiety. Will I have to give up my dance career? Will I suffer from depression? Will the quality of my dancing go downhill? How can I go from making $1000 per show to minimum wage plus tips? Beyond that, can my eccentric artist personality coexist in a non-artistic workspace? I had so many questions that came up when I considered this as an option.

The woman that chose to publicly criticize me stated that she had to get a restaurant job while trying to make ends meet while striving to make a career for herself as a ballet student going through finishing school. She, unfortunately, never made a professional career as a dancer and moved on to other work. When I read this information, it made a little more sense. At one point in this person's time as a dance student, she had to step outside of her art to make ends meet in order to keep reaching for her goal of dancing professionally. While she had the heart of an artist, it wasn't her career. Since then, she has cultivated a successful career beyond her dancing years. Without experiencing our career, people often assume that a professional artist's art isn't actually a career. When she argued that unemployment wasn't an end to a means for me to continue practicing my art, it all began to make sense to me. It also made me very sad about the way that most people, including a former hopeful dancer, looked at artists. It is so very often that people forget that art is a legitimate job. If you work in marketing, you should look for jobs in the marketing field. Not McDonalds. But if you are an artist, you are expected to look for a job in the field of "what-the-fuck-ever-I-can-get." It is greatly unfortunate that this double-standard exists. But a great percentage of our society feels this way, even those that once aspired to be just like me and my artist friends.

So, the question is, should I have just taken any menial job outside of my profession that seemed below my standards because I am a professional artist? I don't know. But even without one of those jobs, I have found ways to make ends meet (even if, at times, tightly so). And because I held out and resisted the temptation of this localized socio-cultural bullying, I was able to obtain a full-time job in my field that appropriately represents the professional artist that I am and rewards me as such. Yes, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. But professional artists need to remember that art is their job. Not some fun, child-like hobby that we are too stubborn to let go of.

A desperate moment in my new work, Distinct Perceptions (Dancers: Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams - Photo: Dave Friedman)