How to navigate a complicated world, one near-miss at a time.
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Q: I’m in London for a few weeks and would like to spend a few days in Europe while I’m there. I was thinking of Paris, but can’t decide. Any thoughts?
A: For this one, I’m turning the reins over to our resident expert on all things French, R&K Director of Photography (and native Parisian) Pauline Eiferman:
“A few days in Paris is always a good idea; the city is as gorgeous as ever and has been especially exciting this year with lots happening on the cultural front and an overall sense of optimism that doesn’t usually define it. But beware: France is a country of long summer holidays, so if you’re planning a visit in July or August, prepare to find quiet, empty streets, closed storefronts, and more tourists than locals. Also, good luck finding anywhere with an AC during the dreaded heatwaves.
I would suggest instead taking a quick two-hour flight–or the direct (!) six-hour train–to Marseille, France’s most under-appreciated city. Because of a lingering reputation as a dangerous and dirty place, this seaside metropolis still feels to me like a hidden jewel. It took me 27 years to visit Marseille, and many of my Parisian friends still haven’t stepped foot there despite my constant nagging. Maybe it’s better that way. Local and international tourism has ruined so many of France’s cities, turning them into ridiculous caricatures of European “charm.” Marseille is far from that. It’s messy, it’s loud, it smells of the sea and North African spices. It is unique in so many ways that you’ll feel like you’re in a different country, a sunny and stunning Mediterranean mashup where some women go topless while others wear the hijab. Take a seat at any café on the Vieux Port and order a pastis, and you’ll feel very far from the London you left behind.”
Q: Is it officially bad travel etiquette to recline my airplane seat these days? I have a bad back and being able to shift positions on long-haul flights is really helpful, but I feel like every time I recline, I have to steel myself in case the person complains or starts being passive-aggressive about it.
A: A friend recently told me they worry incessantly about being caught on camera acting like an asshole in public and becoming a disastrous online meme. Perhaps at no time do I feel more at risk of this happening than when navigating an airport. After doing so, even sinking into a cramped, musty airplane seat feels like a relief. At least now I can take my shoes off!
Until you bend over to remove said shoes, and the person in front of you slams their seat backward into your head, wedging you into an undignified, Seussian jumble of limbs. These are the moments you hope no one has their phone out and ready to record.
When you’re in transit, it’s easy to see your fellow travelers more as abstract barriers to your own progress than as, well, fellow travelers; that is, in turn, how they see you. And there is no greater method for escalating a territorial battle than denying the humanity of your opponent. So while deciding whether or not to light the hair of the person in front of you on fire, take a moment to note that they are also dealing with the indignities of modern flight, and are potentially having an even worse experience than you are.
The short answer is, if your seat reclines, you are entitled to recline it. However, if concern about an awkward social interaction outweighs this sense of entitlement, the key is communication. Turn to the person behind you and briefly explain that you have a condition that is ameliorated by reclining during flight. Perhaps offer not to do so the entire time, if that’s possible for you. And if you’re feeling cramped, politely ask the person in front of you if it would be possible to recline partway instead of all the way, or explain if there are extenuating circumstances (bad knees, extreme height) that make the reclining particularly difficult. Or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, offer to buy the person a beer, although that’s 100 percent not necessary.
Remember that the person you’re talking to is not required to accommodate you, so there’s no point in making demands, but politely asking for a favor can go a long way. If you and your neighbor can’t come to an agreement, you can always ask a flight attendant if it’s possible for you to change seats. The important thing is to remember that the best way to combat passive-aggressiveness is direct communication.
Also, while treating your fellow humans as humans, remember that you have a common enemy: the airline. Not the flight attendants doing their best, but the enormous, faceless conglomerate squeezing a few extra cents out of weary travelers by downsizing seats. Fuck those guys.
Q: I cannot sleep without some form of pillow when I travel, but the one I use is bulky and uncomfortable. Can you recommend one?
A: Ah, the neck pillow. So useful during your flight, soooo annoying at every other moment in travel. It’s literally an object designed to take up space. I generally avoid them, but I sometimes fall back on the Kuhi Comfort pillow. If you can get past the fact that you’re strapping a set of giant balls to your head, it’s relatively lightweight and compact, and I find it quite comfortable.
The Muji pillow was recommended as a fan favorite, and I do like their carry-on containers, so that’s worth checking out.
Also, I have not tried the Trtl Pillow, but it is designed to be lighter and less nerdtastic than traditional designs, so there’s that. However, I cannot explain to you how that sorcery works. There’s some sort of brace in it? That sounds uncomfortable. But who am I to stand in the way of progress?