Posts Tagged ‘flying’


Every December, I pack a big suitcase and travel down to Texas to spend the holidays with my family. (I make this journey two or three times a year, but Christmas is the big one.)

It’s always something of an odyssey, and it’s never without a headache or two. But there are a few things that save my life, every time. Here are the ones from this trip:

  • My refillable water bottle, and water stations/fountains in every airport. These are a money-saver and a welcome antidote to that dry airplane air.
  • Clementines, granola bars and any other healthy snacks I can find in the airport newsstands.
  • The in-flight magazines, which I truly enjoy. I also sometimes treat myself to a magazine from one of those newsstands; this time it was Runner’s World. 
  • Pleasant and helpful gate agents, who helped me tremendously when I mislaid my boarding passes (on the way to Texas) and ran into long flight delays (on the way back).
  • The yoga room at DFW Airport. I’d heard about this newish trend, but this was my first time seeing it in action. It felt so good to dump my stuff and stretch out on a mat for a few minutes.
  • Sweet seat mates, like the woman traveling with her toddler son on my flight to Dallas. We chatted about food and travel and Boston winters, and her wriggly little redhead gave me a few smiles.
  • Layovers long enough to catch my breath.
  • Strategically placed outlets throughout the gate areas.
  • A place to get some decent Earl Grey – whether it’s Starbucks or a local cafe in the airport.

What saves your life when you fly? Any tips? I’m always up for more ways to make it easier.

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papercuts jp bookstore twinkle lights

And just like that, it’s nearly Thanksgiving. Here are the books that have gotten me through the first half of November – including some real gems. (Photo from the lovely Papercuts JP, which I just visited for the first time.)

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship, Katherine Towler
For years, Robert Dunn was a fixture on the streets of Portsmouth, N.H.: a solitary, self-contained wandering poet who nonetheless seemed to know everyone. Towler’s memoir traces her friendship with Dunn, his literary career and later illness, and his effect on her. Moving and poignant and clear; the writing is so good. (Liberty recommended this and I found it for $2 at the Harvard Book Store.)

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker
Humans have long dreamed of flight, and Vanhoenacker’s career as a pilot moves him to reflect on its many aspects. A lovely, well-written, accessible blend of memoir, history, aviation tech, and reflections on globalization, interconnectedness and journeys. So many beautiful lines and interesting facts. Found at the wonderful Bookstore in Lenox this summer.

Circe, Madeline Miller
The least favored child of the sun god Helios, Circe is ignored and eventually exiled to a remote island. But there, she discovers her powers of witchcraft, and builds a life for herself. I grabbed this at the library and I could not put it down: Miller’s writing is gorgeous and compelling, and I loved Circe as a character. She interacts with many of the mortal men (sailors) who visit her island, but I especially loved watching her discover her strength in solitude.

Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy
Before Anne, there was Marilla – whom L.M. Montgomery fans know as Anne’s stern but loving guardian. McCoy gives us a richly imagined account of Marilla’s early life: her teenage years, her budding romance with John Blythe, her deep bond with Matthew and their family farm. Lovely and nourishing. Now I want to go back to Avonlea again.

Greenwitch, Susan Cooper
This third book in Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence brings the heroes of the first two books together: the three Drew children, Will Stanton and Merriman Lyon. They gather in Cornwall to retrieve a grail stolen by the Dark. I find the magic in these books confusing, but I like the characters.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brené Brown
We can’t belong anywhere in the world until we belong to ourselves: this is Brown’s assertion, and she makes a compelling case for it. I have mixed feelings about her work; she articulates some powerful ideas and I admire her commitment to storytelling and nuance. But sometimes, for me, the whole is not quite as great as the sum of its parts. Still worth reading.

A Forgotten Place, Charles Todd
The Great War is (barely) over, but for the wounded, life will never be the same. Bess Crawford, nurse and amateur sleuth, still feels bound to the men she has served. She travels to a bleak, isolated peninsula in Wales to check on a captain she has come to know, but once there, finds herself caught up in a web of local secrets and unable to leave. These are good mysteries, but this book’s real strength is its meditation on adjusting to life after war.

A Study in Honor, Claire O’Dell
This was an impulse grab at the library: a Sherlock Holmes adaptation featuring Holmes and Watson as black queer women in late 21st-century Washington, D.C. Janet Watson has lost an arm in the New Civil War, and meets Sara Holmes through a mutual friend. Together, they work to solve the mystery of several veterans’ deaths, which may be related to big pharma. I love the concept of this one, though the plot and characters didn’t quite work for me.

The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
After her sister’s death, Eva Ward returns to the Cornwall house where she spent many happy childhood summers. There, she finds herself slipping between worlds and falling in love with a man from the past. Engaging historical fiction with a bit of time travel – though that part of this one was a bit odd. Still really fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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keep calm tea

When I lived in Oxford, I did a lot of solo traveling. At least once a month, I packed a small bag or backpack and headed off to explore a new city – Galway, Vienna, Valencia, Cardiff, Paris. Often I was traveling to meet friends, but I spent a lot of time on planes, trains and buses by myself.

These days, I tend to do two kinds of flying. There’s my annual Christmas trip to Texas, with J and at least two big suitcases in tow. We usually go for a week or so, and we make our way through crowded airports filled with tired families and long security lines. Everyone is hauling winter coats and lots of luggage, and the flights are always full. I am always thrilled to spend that time with our families, but the actual airport experience is exhausting.

The other kind of flying is the kind I indulged in recently: a solo trip to West Texas to visit my family, with only a small bag and a carry-on, at a non-crowded time of the week and year. On those mornings, I feel like a character in a Nora Ephron film, rolling my snazzy red suitcase up to the security line, my chic (if heavy) tote bag slung over my shoulder. The airport – especially if the employees are in a good mood – fairly sparkles with possibility.

When I arrived at Boston Logan for my recent trip, the security line was unusually short, and a cheerful TSA worker complimented my outfit. I had time, after I put my shoes back on, to browse the tempting racks of magazines at the newsstand, and buy a snack and a bottle of water. I even had time for a chai latte before boarding (though the nice, friendly lady spelled my name “Ketty” on the cup!). And I had a whole row to myself on the flight to Dallas. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

Air travel is less glamorous than it used to be: security is tighter, lines are longer, and the prices of everything, from checked bags to bottled water, continue to rise. But I still love walking down the terminal concourse toward my gate, pausing to scope out the week’s bestsellers at the airport bookshop or treat myself to a glossy magazine. (On my flight to Texas, I bought Yoga Journal; on the way back, I splurged on the newest InStyle.) I love glancing up at the arrival and departure monitors, which brim with the names of exotic places. Especially at a big airport like Logan, you could hop on a plane and go anywhere. The possibilities are nearly endless (as Serenity noted long ago).

After years of traveling alone regularly (if not frequently), I have a checklist of essentials: tissues, lip balm, hand sanitizer, a scarf, a water bottle, gum for takeoff and landing. I know how to pack efficiently (though I always, always bring too many books). I know my way around a number of airports, and I know where I can enjoy a last Tex-Mex meal before returning to New England (Pappasitos, in DFW Terminal A). And while my husband is an excellent travel companion, I look forward to these solo flights, where I can tailor my time in the airport to my own whims.

With the red suitcase, a yummy snack and a pile of good reading material, it can be magic.

What do you love (or not) about traveling alone?

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