Monday, April 20, 2015

Don’t Leave Home Without It (or, The Adventures of Bun Bun)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Since I’m doing research in England, Julia’s on a writing retreat in Nantucket, and the other Reds are getting ready for Malice, I thought we could talk a little about travel.

When Kiddo heard I was going away for two weeks, he was adamant I take his stuffed animal Bunny, aka Bun Bun. (Now, just for the record, Bun Bun was a gift from the Easter Bunny about five years ago and Kiddo is waaaay too sophisticated for him now, of course. But he wanted me to take Bun Bun, just in case, you know, I got lonely.)

And so here is Bun Bun in my carry-on bag. (What? You think I’d just stick him in my luggage and have travel in the cargo hold?) 

I’m always amused at what the housekeeper will do with Bun Bun — usually I keep him on the bedside table, but often return to find the room made up and Bun Bun on the bed, on the windowsill, or even tucked under the covers. (And I have no idea what they think of a grown woman traveling solo traveling with a stuffed animal companion, but hey — the great thing about getting older is not caring about such things, right?)

So, I’ve been thinking about what I carry that makes traveling more comfortable. Not what sort of suitcase or that kind of thing, but the extras, like Bun Bun. For me it’s:

* a travel candle (I never go to a hotel without one) and matches

* Ole Hendrickson travel wipes (they smell like fresh oranges and are perfect for long plane trips)

* a perfume tester (this trip’s is Comme de Garçon’s Rhubarb — seemed on point for England)

* NARS the Multiple — lipstick, blush and eyeshadow in one product, what’s not to love?

* the perfect mini umbrella (simply bringing it protects against rain — whereas if you travel without an umbrella that will ensure rain, right?)

* an eye mask and ear plugs

Reds, what are your travel luxuries that make life sweeter on the road?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Whatever I take, Susan, is not as cool as those things. I want those lovely-soundings wipes, and as soon as I finish thins I am finding them. I want the Nars thing, too.  (And it's a good thing your list wasn't longer.)  And as for perfume--I found this great thing that's, um, a refillable but unbreakable spray bottle. It works by attaching nozzle to nozzle and pushing... and then the sprayer fills up, magically, and can't drip. Its amazing, and I will try to find a link and put it here.

Also: Almonds. Good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and tea. A black pashmina, which becomes shawl, blanket, and bathrobe.  Also: I have a cosmetics/toiletries bag that I keep packed. I don't have to take stuff from my everyday life and put it all in each time--the bag is just ready to go. It make me feel very jet set. 

Love to BunBun, and safe travels!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, you put me on to almonds, and I must say, they've changed my travel life. You really don't need to tote a lot to keep hunger pangs at bay, and especially when on tour, that saves me from making bad choices because I'm starving. "Why yes, Pop-Tarts for lunch sounds like a wonderful idea!"  I've found eating nutritiously while on the road goes a long way toward keeping me from falling sick. 

A pashmina as well - they're the modern equivalent of the Great Kilt, aren't they? Clothing, protection for the weather and bedding all in one. I always travel with my plush black velvet sleep mask; it enables me to get a decent night's sleep no matter how many glowing clocks, smoke alarms, night lights there are in a hotel room. (Also proof against decorative curtains that don't keep out the light.) 

Finally, I don't leave home without my little Sony Pocket Reader. It's hopelessly outdated by now - all I can do on it is read books! - but it's wonderful to have an entire library in a flat rectangle smaller than a mass market paperback. Flight delay? Long train trip? Just more time to read.

HALLIE EPHRON: NARS? Sign me up! And almonds always. Or cashews. Or trail mix. And I always buy oranges when I arrive where I am now on book tour, Los Angeles.

I always bring my red fleece coat which doubles as a pillow on the plane and extra blanket when I'm chilled. I wish I could sleep with a mask and ear plugs but I cannot. So I hope for the best. And always a few New Yorker magazines - best travel reading ever.

RHYS BOWEN: Susan, my daughter gave me a stuffed duck last year and I took his picture all over Europe last summer. People thought I was so weird to be taking a picture of a duck on Queen Victoria's head in Malta. But he enjoyed the trip and will come with me this year. I agree with so many of all the suggestions:

* I also take a pashmina for freezing airplanes

* A small umbrella

* nuts and those mini gouda cheeses for flight delays

* a small camping towel 

* a tiny hand sanitizer spray 

* my iPad to read/write play

* Luckily the iPhone has eliminated the need for flashlight and alarm clock and Scrabble and camera

* My inflatable pillow to put in my back on the plane.

LUCY BURDETTE: Love the stuffed animals ladies!

We are driving right now from Key West to CT, so my list of things to bring is a little different. Cat, cat carrier, litter box, litter, bags to stash it in, old guy cat food, leash, dog, old guy dog food, bowls, water bowls, glucosamine tablets and pepcid for the old guy dog...

You get the picture : ) .

JULIA: I may have to copy your duck idea, Rhys. A couple years ago one of my nephews was doing a "Flat Stanley" project for school, and sent us his "Flat Xavier" (a ten-inch high paper rendering of Xavi on a popsicle stick.) I had great fun traveling around Maine with Flat Xavier and taking lots of pictures with him. It could be equally amusing to take something along on book tour/conferences/library visits. I wonder what would be on point for a mystery writer?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Susan, I know what you mean about the hotel housekeepers and the stuffed animals. I've done two books tours with stuffed
companions, Leo the Hippo (mascot of Leander Club in No Mark Upon Her) and Bob the Green Elephant (my character Charlotte's elephant.) I would find them in the oddest places.

I love everyone's suggestions. (Going to check out the wipes and NARS!) And like everyone else I always take my tablet/reader, BUT I CANNOT GET ON A PLANE WITHOUT A PAPERBACK BOOK.   What if the tablet's battery failed? Or for some reason they won't allow you to use electronic devices? And mostly, I think, because it's just comforting to hold a real book...

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Thanks for the almonds tip, ladies! I brought along some roasted chick peas (trying to be healthy) and nearly broke a tooth — never again. I'm down with the pashmina idea, but I can never get it to look right — less chic traveler and more burrito....

And Julia, what do you think of a stuffed raven for bringing along on mystery book tours?

Lovely readers, what do you think of the travel tips? 

What do you bring on the road to make yourself feel more comfortable away from home?


  1. I love the travel lists . . . all you ladies are so well-prepared! I need my eReader/tablet, a pencil [and a prayer that no one's done the crossword puzzles in the magazine], and nuts to munch.
    The only other travel thing I usually take is a nightlight for the hotel room since dark and I do not get along at all.

    Julia, my granddaughter did the Flat Stanley project a couple of years ago and we toted her Flat Raylah around and took a bunch of pictures. Flat Raylah is now standing watch over the books on our bookcase . . . .

  2. Good morning! Joan, that's fabulous about Flat Rayleh. What a great idea.

  3. Susan, I love Bun Bun. I think I need a Bun Bun on trips.

    Must bring iPad mini for reading and everything else.

    Also have a get away kit bag like Hank. I started it in school when I was possessed by the what-if-there's-a-fire demon. I had it ready and sitting by the door with my most important documents, candy, nuts, drinks in those little bag thingies, cosmetics.

    I've made changes over the years. Instead of a good crossword book, I have a great crossword app, WWFs, and solitaire.

    In the States I take my laptop but have gone more to using my iPad. In fact my last trip to visit Auntie-Mom in Rancho Mirage I didn't open the laptop once. Instead of carrying cell and iPad, I will be switching to the large screen iPhone the next time I have to buy a cell.

    Kendall has his saddlebag kit with water, first aid, and a days worth of food and snacks for himself. He brings his floppy puppy toy called Baby.


  4. Bun Bun! I am smitten with Bun Bun!

    I am such a "nester" that I tend to feel the need to take way too much with me when traveling.

    I have a reversible cashmere shawl (black on one side, red on the other) that is beginning to show its wear, but I can't leave home without it.

    My camera, my iPad, and a bag that has needlework projects in it - one knitting, one needlepoint and one counted cross stitch. (Don't even ask how long I've been working on them).

    Must look for your travel wipes, Susan, AND NARS!

  5. Reine, I love that Kendall has his "Baby"! Kaye, I have a needlepoint project, too, but I'm afraid of elbowing people on planes. On the way over, I sat next to a woman knitter and she kept bumping me with her elbows....

  6. I am a grown woman without children and I travel with my own little teddy bear, Boo Too. Such a comfort.

    Love your lists...and your books and blog. Thank you!

  7. Standard always packed and ready to go cosmetic bag with necessities of life. Aka, lipstick.

    Almonds or cashews.
    Jane Austen finger puppet (for luck)
    Two plastic hair curlers for when my hair needs oomph but I want to have a nap instead of dealing with a curling iron

  8. The bunny and duck are both adorable! Love how creative housekeeping personnel can be. Sort of like the towel animals they create. Who thinks this stuff up?

    I also have an always-packed cosmetics bag, with sample-sized stuff in it, or packed into smaller, leakproof containers.

    A pashmina is a must and of course my e-reader (which doubles as a computer), as is a reusable water bottle, that I fill as soon as I get through security. We were stuck on the tarmac in Salt Lake City once for three hours, in blistering summer sun, with nothing to eat or drink. In addition to the water, I also have dark chocolate and nuts, and sometimes dried apricots.

    And finally, instead of a million different outfits, I bring a couple basic bottoms, just a few tops, and several scarves, ideally ones that go with multiple tops. For a two-week trip I can get by with wearing a pair of pants, taking another and a skirt, five tops, and two outer layers, depending on time of year. And five to seven scarves.

  9. I don't travel that much. But the one necessity is a pillow - my own, memory foam pillow. Absolutely cannot sleep without it.

  10. The nightlight is good, but we found ourselves forgetting them here and there, so bring more than one. A spring clothespin or two also come in handy for many things including closing those curtains.

  11. Funny, I carted a small bear (a gift from my then boyfriend) all across Europe the summer after law school. (No idea where it is now, nor where he is.)

    What I take with me now in my carry-on or handbag, ALWAYS, is a plain white t-shirt. If luggage is lost, it is a change of clothes or something to sleep in, even something to wear in the hot tub (over decent panties); you can even dress it up with a necklace or scarf and wear it out to dinner.

    I have a keychain flashlight that I like to have around, and being a writer, I always try to have a writing implement (usually more than one, including a pencil with an eraser for crossword puzzles) and a notepad. And I try to remember to bring my business cards (for some reason, I always forget them).

    And my inflatable neck pillow, now that they don't give you a pillow on the plane. (Although you can buy a nice airplane style pillow at Walgreen's for about $5, and it can be worth having with you.) I usually have a cardigan sweater, too-- I started bringing them to wear in cathedrals, and find they are nice if dinner out is chilly, or the plane is freezing, or for layering (with that t-shirt) if it gets colder than you expected.

  12. Shopping list noted, packing list started! Thanks. I HAVE to pack crossword puzzles.

  13. Oh, these are all such great suggestions! Dried apricots -- check! Pillow, check! Clothespin, check!

  14. Small flat change purse filled with: band-aids, safety pins, bobby pins, a few packets of sweetener, travel-sized emery board, nail clipper, and a few crayons (for me or kiddo).

  15. Decades ago when I was a newly minted medical writer, I was excited about going on my first official business trip-a conference in California. My then-7 year old daughter insisted that I take her bunny with me so I wouldn't be lonely. (I didn't have the heart to tell her I was relishing the idea of freshly made beds and room-service meals--solo!)

    However, although I did appreciate having bunny's company, in the rush to pack and catch an early flight back to Atlanta, I somehow lost bunny in the room. I only realized that I'd abandoned him when I met up with my boss at check-out. And felt horribly embarrassed explaining to him that I had to rush back to my room to find my stuffed bunny! So much for professional dignity.

    Alas, I never found bunny and felt dreadful confessing to my daughter once I got home. She handled the loss with more equanimity than I did. All these years later, I still feel awful about being a bad bunny mother.

  16. Oh, yeah, I forgot-- plastic bags, all sizes, the kind that zip closed. For wet swimsuits, for leftover breakfast muffins, for half a cookie left at my bedside at a Doubletree, for a piece of fruit from the fruit basket in my room that might otherwise mush all over my purse or suitcase, for a handful of freebies given away at the convention I attended, etc. Stuff several bags of different sizes into the larger one and drop it in bottom or pocket of the suitcase. And it doesn't hurt to have some paper napkins and a plastic knife, spoon, and fork in the suitcase, either.

  17. I love the ida of Bun-Bu, sorry, I am so taken with it--and traveling with a cute thing is such a fun idea.

    (Susan, what are you researching? I know it's not today's blog topic..but can you give us a clue?)

    And you might be there for the royal birth! Is everyone going crazy?

    Kaye, a reversible pashmina. GREAT idea!

    Did you all read about the almond/water problem in CA? Sigh.

  18. Oh, Katie Baer...that is such a terrible/hilarious/touching story! In SO many ways. I keep thinking about you telling your boss you had to go back for the bunny. Oh, gosh..

    Plastic bags! Brilliant!

  19. Bandaids. Very important. Safety pins, yes. SO good!

  20. Susan, I love that you are traveling with Bun Bun, and I'm intrigued by the housekeeping staffs' consideration of it. I think I'll have to get my five-year-old granddaughter to suggest a travel companion for me. I'm sure that she'll have some interesting ideas.

    Everyone here has such great items that they pack. For me, I take the plastic baggies, large and small sizes. I put dirty underwear in the large size as I go along. I also use plastic bags for large liquid items I pack in my checked baggage, so I want to have plenty of extra if I lose one. Oh, and I put items like bookmarks, business cards, brochures, and such in a plastic bag to bring home. Susan, I used to always take a travel candle with me, and I'm not sure why I stopped, but I will start again. I have to include in my carry-on items my Kindle, at least two paperbacks, a magazine (usually pick up a New Yorker at the airport, as I don't subscribe like Hallie must), a few Zone strawberry yogurt bars and maybe another snack item (seriously going to consider almonds now), a small umbrella, always carry on my make-up bag (need to fix one that's ready to go like you smart girls), extra pair of underwear and casual outfit (always afraid checked luggage will not arrive with me), sweater or wrap, bandaids, ink pen and paper pad, post-it tabs for my reading, kleenex (must have a small box at least), a camera (even thought I usually end of using my cell phone camera), and hand sanitizer and wipes. I always include medicines in my carry-on, and my husband has now learned his lesson to do so, too.

    I have gotten some wonderful ideas here today. Karen, I envy you with your ability to limit your outfits, and what a brilliant way you have of changing them with scarves. My daughter is a minimalist clothes packer like that. In fact, she takes two pair of underwear along, special travel underwear that dries quickly when washed out. Joan, thank you for the nightlight idea. I usually leave a light on in the bathroom of the hotel room and close the door to a crack. I don't know why I didn't think of taking a nightlight. Susan, I will have to check out NARS, sounds perfect. Oh, and the small raven for mystery convention travel? Well, all I can say is, "Evermore."

  21. Susan, I love the raven for mystery events! Maybe with a tiny red pashmina across it's shoulders...

    Karen, you share your wardrobe trick with my mother. Mom once went on a ten-day trip to Europe with one carry-on bag and her purse. She does neat jeans and one squashable skirt, several plain t-style tops and loads of scarves.

    One travel item I'd love to find and haven't is a conveniently-sized travel mug. I'm a fanatic tea-drinker, as many of you have witnessed in person! - and it's always frustrating to have to rely on grabbing disposable go-cups (or not, and going without.) The usual travel mugs designed for car holders are just too big to tote around in a bag or carry-on. Any suggestions?

  22. Aw, Katie, that's a sad tale.... We left Kiddo's "Snow Bear" at a Disney World hotel once and they actually MAILED HIM BACK TO US! Can you believe?

    Hank, I'm doing research for Maggie Hope #6, titled The Queen's Accomplice, set in London and Beaulieu, England.

  23. Julia, a stuffed raven with a red pashmina — brilliant!

    Yes, and bandaids! Luckily, I had some in my travel bag because as I wore my adorable blue suede oxfords around London (feeling rather fashionable) I developed horrible blisters..........