Illustration by Rovinsky, Vogue, December 1932William Norwich, Vogue
This time of year brings a lot of travel, and where there is travel, there are occasional lapses in etiquette. Here's hoping your return isn't-or wasn't-bumpy, and here are seven simple, often ignored rules for making all your future in-transit travel-be it by plane, train, bus, or automobile- more agreeable.
1. Mind personal space.
With the exception of the outrageous incidents that make the tabloids, what disturbs most when traveling is anything that infringes on our personal space, like the lady piloting the armrest or the gentleman whose bags crowd at your feet, the contents spilling all over the place. There's the woman (sometimes it's a man) who has flipped their long hair over the seat so it hangs in front of you like a hirsute doily, the person reading a broadsheet newspaper, widely opened within a millimeter of your nose, or the seatmate who has fallen fast asleep on your shoulder. And we've all seen those arguments that erupt when someone (at least in the opinion of the person in the row immediately behind them) has reclined too far back, anytime, but especially during the meal service. Solutions? When it comes to the politics of travel, think like a centrist when it comes to personal space: Speak softly, carry on a not-too-big bag, look before you lean, and recline moderately.
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2. Clear the air.
"I've never asked anyone to quiet down because I'm too shy or embarrassed," says model Elettra Wiedemann. "But once I was sitting next to an extremely loud man and in my exasperation I blurted out, 'Hey! Inside voice!' It was rude of me, I know, but it just came out. He made some passive-aggressive comment and it was tense for the rest of the trip, but at least he was quieter." The only way to ask someone to lower the volume is to make sure you've established a condition for communication. If you sound angry, you're going to get anger in return. Instead, why not try something sweet, but straightforward: "Gosh, that's interesting what you're saying/listening to/watching, but would you mind turning the volume down? I've got to get some rest, because when we arrive I'm going straight to work/my parent's house/a bridal shower/whatever." What about the chatty neighbor? The one who will prattle on from here to Beijing if you let him? Apologize for not joining, but explain that you've just got to finish the book you're reading by the time you get to your destination because you are loaning it to a friend or you're hoping to use the trip to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Another expert travel tip? Bring extra magazines you can lend to occupy your seatmate. Or-and how outrageous is this?-I know someone who puts a couple of new, wrapped pacifiers in her purse and, with a big smile and lots of empathy, offers them to frazzled parents with crying babies. And last, you can do what everyone I've spoken with for this column has done: invest in a pair of Bose Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones. This is a far better investment than travel insurance.
3. Travel is not the time to engage in any sort of personal grooming.
I have travel phobias about patchouli, bare feet, and the filing of fingernails. Where exactly does the detritus go in shared air? Or how about this? On a recent flight from Los Angeles, Marra Gad, a Chicago-based film producer and resource development consultant, sat next to someone who, she reports, "removed his false teeth for a good, long cleaning." In first class, at that! It turns out that rude surprises-from hair brushing to nail clipping-come on all price points but regardless of how you travel (whether by private plane or public bus), save your personal grooming for your private time.
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4. Keep it simple.
"My pet peeve is when people push the limits of carry-on baggage, bruising and battering everyone else as they drag themselves on the plane," says designer Peter Som. "I once even saw a woman bring a full-length mirror aboard." Really? The kind that you attach to the back of a door? "I was surprised that something that could be broken into many sharp shards was even allowed. The flight attendant stored it in front where they hang coats." So, word to the wise: Less is the new more. When Coco Chanel famously said "Elegance is refusal," perhaps she was telling her maid what she would like packed for a trip?
"I'm just going to put it out there. I have a lot of airport rage," says Vogue Social Editor Chloe Malle, who grew up traveling between Los Angeles and New York with her mother, Candice Bergen, and France, where her father, Louis Malle, lived. She's laughing but not kidding when she describes her frustration with people who don't prepare their bags properly or dress wisely for the burdens of security screening. "I'm not sure why but something just brings out the angry bird in me when I see a woman only just starting to unlace her knee-high lace-up boots when she is at the front of the line." (Her solution is to prepare for a long line "by being early enough so time is not a stress instigator," wearing a pair of chic and simple flats, and filling the travel-perfect 3.1 Phillip Lim Pashli satchel her mother gave her for Christmas with magazine articles "folded to the right page and in ready reach.")
5. Rise above.
Of course, the alternate to all of the above, and a very nice one if you can get it, would be to travel privately. After all, one of the best things to hear (after "I love you") is "Here's the tail number. I'll see you at Teterboro." But, as Marjorie Gubelmann, CEO of Vie Luxe candles and fragrances, and a frequent guest on friends' jets points out, there's also etiquette for this mode of transport. "If you are lucky enough to get a ride on a private plane go straight to the back with the nannies, the children, and the pets," Marjorie advises. "Wait for the host to invite you to move and, if not, stay back there. Read a magazine, and be quiet unless your hosts instigate conversation."
6. Be the (sartorial) change you want to see in the world.
Isn't it bad manners that people dress so poorly when they travel? There's not much you can do about it except set a good example. The writer Pico Iyer once observed: "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves." Who do you want to find? What and who are you representing if you are flying in flip flops and sweatpants?
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In any shared space, dressing well is like what ecology is to pollution: the antidote. It's civic virtue. "We don't need to bring back hats and gloves when traveling," says Som, "but comfort and chic should not be mutually exclusive."
There is another, very practical reason for dressing in a considered way when you travel. It can help if you encounter any trouble along the way. "A very good family friend, Eleanora Kennedy, instilled in me from a young age that, when traveling, it is important to dress like you are important," Malle told me. "Eleanora always wears pearls and cashmere and her husband, Michael, is encouraged to travel in a suit. This way, she reasons, if there is a problem-a lost suitcase, or worse, passport-people will be more inclined to take you seriously and remedy the situation. I don't quite wear pearls and cashmere but I do think Eleanora has a point."
Which reminds me of a certain flight in August I took a few years ago to Rome en route to Porto Ercole. I was wearing a blue Michael Kors suit I favored for traveling. It never crushed or wrinkled. I was seated in the very last seat in coach-the 44th row, I think. Not a lot of extras there. When we were offered beverages, the attendant poured sparingly, everyone got just half a can of soda or bottled water. But I, by some grace, was poured my paltry portion of Diet Coke, but then given the rest of the can to finish.
"How come he gets the whole can and my wife and I don't?" complained a very annoyed man seated next to me. The attendant smiled. "I like his suit."
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Illustration by Rovinsky, Vogue, December 1932William Norwich, Vogue