Culture

23 Traveling Bartenders Share Their Best Tips for Smart Packing

Luggage
Noise-canceling headphones, comfortable shoes and a tablet or e-reader all rank pretty highly among our travel experts' must-have lists. Photo: seb_ra via iStock

Next week, thousands of bartenders, brand ambassadors, distillers, and other members of our industry will be packing their bags, dusting off their passports and boarding planes around the world en route to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. Whether you’re coming from a few states away or the other side of the Atlantic, you may have been wondering how exactly to pack for a week filled to the brim with seminars, tastings, dinners, over-the-top parties and (if you’re lucky) a little NOLA-exploring. Perhaps you’re working a few events and wondering how much of your bar equipment to bring in tow, or maybe you’re planning on bringing some liquid souvenirs home and plotting out the best way to ensure they arrive in one piece.

Luckily, we know plenty of industry people who travel so frequently, they have packing and plane-travel down to a science. So, we asked a few of the hardest-working traveling bartenders, reps and consultants we know to share their tips, including the must-have carry-on items, ride-or-die bar tools, and tips for keeping those stowaway bottles safe in your luggage (tube socks, according to one Vegas bartender). Read on to see what they won't leave home without, and the tricks they've picked up along the way:

In general, what are some of the miscellaneous items you can't travel without? (Besides the usual essentials.)

“I love my Mini Jambox—it lets me keep the tunes going in my room.” — Mike Ryan, Director of Bars, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants (on the road at least once a week)

“Traveling to pretty remote hotel destinations can mean pretty bad wifi, so no Netflix or Spotify. I have learned to love podcasts because you can download them in advance and it's more often than not ten times better than the crappy plane movies/radio.” — Liz Furlong, Costa Rica, owner of Maza Bistro, events and consulting in various hotels/restaurants (travels about four times a month)

“Ibuprofen, stomach pills, a nice jacket, challenge coins, sunglasses.” — Robert Jones, head bartender, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis (travels bi-monthly)

“Mini bottles of good whiskey/cognac/rum; you don't always know the drinking hours of other places.” — Chris Hannah, head bartender at French 75 Bar (travels for work about five to ten times a year)

“Sound-proof Bose headphones and my work laptop.” — Heather Yau, Bulleit Brand Ambassador Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden (travels on average about three times a month)

“I can't leave home without my iPod. I like having my entire music catalogue available as who knows what mood you will be in tomorrow and what tunes you'll want to listen to. My mantra is passport, phone, wallet, iPod. Anything else can be purchased on the road.” — Simon Ford, The 86 Co. (on the road approximately 200+ days per year)

“Scented candle; dry cleaning bags, small Buddha figurine, Bluetooth speaker.” — Angus Winchester, VP Training, Barmetrix (flies 15 times per month)

“Facial toner, tube socks and ziplock bags.” — Juyoung Kang - Lead Mixologist at Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian in Las Vegas, NV (travels 4-6 times per year)

“Melatonin, collapsible push-up bars, sleeping mask.” — Chris Lowder, Head Bartender, Four Seasons, Seoul (travels monthly)

“My flatiron, a wine-key, disinfectant wipes, pink pens and sharpies!” — Franky Marshall, Beverage Director, Le Boudoir, Brooklyn, NY (travels on average once a month)


What do you make sure to have on-board when flying?

“Travel blanket and travel-sized Angostura bitters.” — Cari Hah, manager at Big Bar, Los Angeles CA

“Headphones and a hoodie because the AC always is cranked up way too much for me.” — Liz Furlong

“Book, pen and journal, mini cocktail mixer.” — Chris Hannah

“Headphones and Spotify (downloaded playlist) on my iPad. Don't bring movies or books because that would keep you from naps which are very important. I also bring leggings and extra underwear on board to change on long flights.” — Heather Yau

“Layers, noise-cancelling headphones, iPad, the New Yorker.” — Alex Day, Los Angeles / NYC / Las Vegas (takes 2-4 flights per week)

“A bottle of water because it fits in the seat pocket. Airlines give out plastic cups that need to sit on the tray table where you may have your computer out working. I would rather not take the risk.” — Simon Ford

“Beats by Dre, sleeping mask, a massive water bottle, some work to catch up on.” — Chris Lowder

“A deck of cards.” — Lucinda Weed, New Orleans, LA

“An extra layer/scarf/sweater for when they start to crank the AC. My own tea bags—even though certain airlines have tried to improve the quality of their coffee, many still only have basic tea on offer, even in business class. An atomizer to freshen my face on long flights; sunglasses for sleeping. (I don't like the feeling of a mask on my face.) And mini-bottles of bitters to enliven beverages on the go.” — Franky Marshall

“A neck pillow, never realized how essential it was until the long flights started happening.” — Mariangela Urquizo, San Francisco Ca, Bartender, Yerba Buena Dist., The Interval at Long Now (travels internationally every three months and monthly to nearby locations)


How about luggage? Any brands or styles you like, or accessories that make packing easier?

“Hardshell Samsonite check-in cases, hardshell Rimowa carry-on wheeled trollies, and (for in a case) shoe bags, shirts in plastic (so you can use the empty bags for dirty laundry), a clothes brush, a lint roller, a "real" clothes hanger (as opposed to the ones you see in hotels that lock on the rail) and a luggage scale!” — Philip Duff, Liquid Solutions, New York, spirits educator (travels weekly)

“I really like Tumi. It's a little expensive but it's exceptionally well made, functional and stylish. I'll use packing cubes when I've got a multi-stop itinerary.” — Mike Ryan

“I actually started using a hardware store toolbox that has wheels. It's waterproof and breaks down into two parts, it's super handy if I need to carry equipment or bottles that could break or be damp from temperature change.” — Liz Furlong

“For clothes, I use the Timbuk2 copilot and a backpack and for hauling production gear I use two pelican 1620 which is the largest pelican you can take on Delta, as well as a Patagonia duffel.” — Jason Littrell, president of Critical Mass Events (travels about 60 days out of the year)

“Roll your clothes, they don't wrinkle and take up less space. Backpack for carry on, a couple of bubble wrap bottle bags for any great local spirits I might find.” — Robert Jones

“Always bring bubble wrap/bottle protection (Jetbag), you never know what you'll be bringing back.” — Chris Hannah

“Burton. They are lightweight, and fabric shell is more durable than soft shell. Also it's a sporty style so I can stuff as many things in as possible and still be able to fit in the overhead cabin, etc. I don't usually use packing cubes or vacuum bags because even for long trips I still pack very light, but make sure I bring a bigger suitcase so I can bring interesting booze or shoes home.” — Heather Yau

“Hideo Wakamatsu Tarpaulin carry-on, Jack Spade canvas tote, flight 001 packing bags.” — Alex Day

“I usually don't travel for long, so I like a waterproof back pack (with a tinier waterproof bag inside it). I check my bar kit if I need to or ship it ahead of time.” — Christine Jeanine Nielsen, New Orleans, LA

“I always make sure I travel with a dirty laundry bag to keep the clothes I have worn separate from the clean clothes.” — Simon Ford

“Globetrotter and Rimowa are my faves but less practical - Samsonite seems to be generally best for checked; Briggs and Riley for rollaboard.” — Angus Winchester

“Ziplock bags, tube socks and I only trust Samsonite luggage.” — Juyoung Kang

“Traveling with liquor, you can never have enough towels and bags.” — Oron Lerner, owner and bartender at the French57 bar, Tel Aviv, Israel

“I'm a vintage suitcase person, they're super impractical but I love them and they're a dime a dozen for when they break.” — Lucinda Weed

The Meehan bag is good for carry on, but be aware that I have lost a number of Hawthorne strainers checking in, due to the potential danger. The same applies to bar tongs and Hoffman spoons and other more obvious items like bottle openers, knives, etc. When traveling with custom cocktail ingredients, I used to regularly use inflatable bottle protectors like the AirBag, but I have found that it's often easier to put homemade ingredients into Sous Vide bags and decant on arrival. It saves space and weight.” Denzel Heath, MMI Bar Academy, Dubai (travels on average to 1-2 countries a month)

“I like sturdy carry-ons with lots of pockets. I've never invested in expensive luggage because my suitcases have been ruined on so many flights, i don't think it's worth it. That, and Tumi suitcases are just too small.” — Franky Marshall

“I love the brands you can find designed for flight attendants. Those are so light weight and the suitcases can take a beating.” — Mariangela Urquizo


Let's talk bartending supplies. What tools or kits do you always bring with you when traveling for work?

“None, tough to travel with bar tools. You can always find what you need to use in friendly bars.” — Neil Kopplin Imbue/Vinum Owner/Manager Portland, Oregon

“Shaker and strainer, Perlini shaker and smoke device.” — Antonio Lai, Hong Kong (travels 2-3 times per month)

“Same kit for everything with funnel, larger measuring cup for batching, often a batch container and bucket.” — Matt Lanning - Suerte Tequila Brand Ambassador - Aspen, CO (travels weekly)

“I bartend less and less these days on the road; my "must-have" tools now are a measuring tape, tablet, and spare batteries for my phone.” — Mike Ryan

“I just bring my jiggers because I can make everything else work.” — Cari Hah

“A great selection of bitters and my dried spices/herbs kit. Since I work in many remote locations, I can never be 100% sure my order arrives, and maybe they won't have the exact brand of liquor I asked for, but with some great bitters and a homemade syrup, I feel like I can be flexible and work with what is available.” — Liz Furlong

“Depends on the job. I'll do whatever I need to do to not check; however, when the job requires full production, I bring everything but the kitchen sink. Blenders, sous vide, juicers, a chainsaw, the works.” — Jason Littrell

“I used to bring more things, back when a lot of bars had terrible tools. Now I just bring a sharp knife and my smiling face.” — Robert Jones

“Oxo 2 oz mini measuring cup, Bonzer strainer, Cocktail Kingdom julep strainer, Koriko boston tin set, Cocktail Kingdom teardrop spoon, wine key, vegetable peeler, tongs, Jackson Cannon knife.” — Chris Hannah

“No longer needed, but I do bring my barrel stave to show bartenders the process of barrel aging.” — Heather Yau

“I never travel with a bar kit. I borrow bar tools from friends wherever I go. I am not the type of person that needs to make sure I have my favorite bar spoon with me. I can use whatever bar tools I can get my hands on. Why add another bag?” — Simon Ford

“Shaker tins, jigger, strainers, bar spoon, tweezers or tongs, bar rags, knife, cutting board and ice scooper.” — Juyoung Kang

“Two Koriko tins, two jiggers (one 30/45ml, one .5/.75oz), two Hawthorne strainers, two conical fine strainers, one bar spoon, one paring knife. Anything else I'm sure I can find locally or improvise.” — Chris Lowder

“I try to pack lightly and just take my favorites, two spoons, two sets Korikos, a mesh strainer, a julep strainer, a Hawthorne strainer. Y peelers and pint glasses are readily available in most places, and they always take my wine key in the airport!” — Lucinda Weed

“I try to carry the minimal amount of tools possible. Probably the most important for me are the right mixing spoons, strainers, peeler and knife. For the rest, I can usually get by with what's provided. Note to Brands: I have yet to find an all-encompassing, workhorse tool/bar kit. They're either too heavy (when empty), not the right size, unattractive, hard to carry, etc. So, i just use a clear plastic zipper bag i found at a cosmetic store to carry my tools. (In purple, of course.)” — Franky Marshall


Any packing tips for traveling with bottles or special glassware?

“Wrap first in a layer of socks, then in rolled t-Shirts.” — Neil Kopplin

“Liquids in used plastic water bottles, tape the closures, wrap any glass in clothing, cross fingers.” — Philip Duff

“All those brand shirts you got? They are great for cradling your special bottles and glasses on the way home.” — Mike Ryan

“Bubble wrap! And if you are carrying custom liquid ingredients i pack them in the big smart water bottles (totally leak free and unbreakable) and duct tape them just in case for extra insurance!” — Cari Hah

“I try to keep original boxes to transport glassware if possible. Bumpy roads in some places I go make transportation of fragile items difficult. If you won't be handling it or close to supervise the handling, remember to mark it as fragile.” — Liz Furlong

“Pelican 1620 with the foam inserts. Indestructible. Tie it up with zip ties because a pelican case says ‘steal me.’ Be sure to put extra zip ties and a note to the TSA. They'll usually replace the zips for you. Always be nice to TSA!” — Jason Littrell

“I stuff them in socks, then wrap with t-shirts or pieces of garment I don't mind getting roughed up (such as denim). On my way home i will just wrap them in hotel laundry plastic bags first before wrapping them in my used but not so dirty clothes.” — Heather Yau

“203 Brands Jetbags: so useful!” — Alex Day

“Touch wood, I have never had a bottle break on my 15 years of doing this. I place every bottle in a plastic bag in case it breaks and wrap it in my clothing and make sure it’s not close to the bags edges. It has worked so far. My record was 11 bottles of tequila that I brought back from Mexico once.” — Simon Ford

“Tube socks. It holds the pressure together and you can use to stuff hollow items as well.” — Juyoung Kang

“Some places like Astor sell WineSkins - these are bottle-shaped sleeves of bubble wrap. They are insane! For the rest, just make sure to nest everything in the middle of your clothing. Over-pack so that there's as little space as possible for the bottles to bounce around in your luggage. For glassware, hand-carry is always the right move.” — Chris Lowder

“If you have to travel with bottles: A. Find out from the arrival airport how much alcohol you can bring into the city/country. B. Use an AirBag™ when you check the liquids. And be sure to pack them in the middle of all of your clothing.” — Denzel Heath

“I've learned that if they are snug together, and I always bring one heavy jacket just in case the weather at the destination calls for it, you can wrap the bottles in the jacket and put it in the luggage without much worry. So far it’s worked for me. I’ve used the special bottle containers with the heavy duty bubble wrap and it’s a 50/50 chance that one will work. The jacket seems to work the best.” — Mariangela Urquizo


What is your best tip for packing light, especially on longer and/or international trips?

“It's easy to over-pack. Grow accustomed to wearing one pair of jeans/pants for 3-4 days. Two pairs of shoes max, but bring lots of socks.” — Neil Kopplin

“You don't need to bring as much as you think you do! Most of my trips are fairly short: three days, maybe four or five. Anything over 7-10 is a long stretch for me, and when we're opening a new bar I'll usually be on property for two full weeks. That's when I'll find a great local laundromat that does wash and fold same day or next day service. Toiletries: I like shopping for toothpaste, et. al. when I get to my destination if it's international: nothing immerses you in the culture like trying to figure out if something is toothpaste or dandruff shampoo!” — Mike Ryan

“Take shoes that can be worn for all occasions. Shoes are the heaviest and take up the most room. (Example: a flat that looks nice but is super comfy to walk in).” — Cari Hah

“I guess this is more for the ladies, but bring flexible outfits, maybe a pant suit that will be comfortable to prep in with an apron overtop, and I can still wear during an event with a fresh apron.” — Liz Furlong

"Roll, baby, roll! Be realistic about what you need and don't need. If you're going to be moving around a lot, don't be afraid to wear some things again and again! Bring a Tide stick for the inevitable spills. I never travel without a bathing suit or gym shorts and flip flops either. Also, learn to use your smart phone for all its capabilities. I can run 80% of my business from my cell phone, including building entire presentations and complex spreadsheets. And the occasional survey! I use an Android because you can change the input method to 3rd party apps (like SwiftKey). I type really fast, but once you get the hang of it, it predicts pretty well most of the time.” — Jason Littrell

"I usually pack monochrome colors so I don't have to worry about mismatched outfits. I also spend extra on hotel laundry service if I have to stay at one place for more than 5 days. Bringing one jacket that could be dressed up or down, that's usually my leather biker jacket because I'm lucky I don't have to wear suits for my role. I also bring statement jewelries stored in my clutch, and a pair of decent heels to dress up my usual attire for important events. Wear your heaviest or thickest tops on board, and your heaviest shoes (mostly ankle boots without shoelaces for easy security check) if this type of outfit is needed for your trip in cold climates. Also simplifying your beauty regime would help. I use almost all hotel toiletries so I don't have to bring my own. The point is, I utilize everything I bring as packing accessories. I hate buying luggage accessories just for the sake of packing." — Heather Yau

“As Coco Chanel said: before leaving the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory. Lay out everything you think you'll need; remove at least one thing. That extra pair of shoes? You don't need it. If you've packed so much that you need to check a bag, you've failed at being a travel ninja. Except for those poor suckers who lug booze around with them… oh, the horror.” — Alex Day

“Count the days and pre-plan what you are wearing by each day. Items like jeans and jackets will last more than one day so you can cut down on items like that and you should only need 1-2 pairs of shoes. Travel with darker colored clothing. If you spill something on your white jacket you will have to retire it from use for the rest of the trip but you can wipe of the spill of a strawberry daiquiri from your black jacket. If you do bring lighter colors travel with some stain remover just in case.” — Simon Ford

“Always remember that hotels offer laundry and dry cleaning services. Prepare a few killer outfits, and then just be sure to rotate them through the hotel's laundry system. You will probably spend as much on laundry than you would have spent on overweight luggage charges at the airport, and you won't have the hassle.” — Chris Lowder

“Clothes that are easily washed in sinks that dry quickly. If I'm going somewhere that I know I will be shopping, I like to pack clothes in my "to consign" pile and swap them out when I reach my destination.” — Lucinda Weed

“Honestly, I'm not the best at travelling light. I usually pack extra everything so i have options. That said, i think a base of black clothes with a couple of nice jackets, a sexy pair of shoes, work/walking shoes, and a nice scarf or two, and a hat can take you a long way.” — Franky Marshall

“Roll the clothes. Folding takes up space and things get wrinkled. I’ve been able to fit in more by rolling everything. Always take the essentials, one light and one warm jacket, one item of clothing that’s super dressy, one item of clothing for if you need to get dirty and don't want to worry, and the rest of the items can be small pieces here and there that you can mix and match because you will pack layers (think preparing for San Francisco temperatures that fluctuate every 30 minutes, from super cold to incredibly warm).” — Mariangela Urquizo


Anything else you'd like to share?

“Pack all the stuff you need for when you're in your seat in a sleeve or separate bag so you can just toss your carry-on in the overhead compartment, slide into your seat and put the sleeve in the seat-back pocket.” — Philip Duff

“Be flexible. You will miss your connecting flight or arrive later than you expected or be missing something you ordered, but don't let it stress you out, use your creativity to find a solution instead of wishing you had more time to do something different or blaming someone for not getting your order right. And, always remember to enjoy your trips! I don't always have enough time to travel around to sight-see while I'm in a location, but I do take advantage of my time with the locals to learn any local recipes or products, see if I can take a trip to a farmers market, and try to take ten minutes to take a stroll around, get bit of sunshine or catch the sunset while I'm visiting hotels at the beach or the mountains.” — Liz Furlong

“Being friendly goes a long long way. Travel doesn't have to suck, open yourself up to meet people.” — Jason Littrell

“Remember your luggage might not make it when you when you land… dress presentable just in case.” — Chris Hannah

“I always bring my own ‘first aid kit’: bourbon, painkillers, band-aids, scissors and tweezers.” — Heather Yao

“Global Entry (& TSA Pre-Check) is the best thing a frequent traveler can do for themselves. That and sticking to a frequent flyer program.” — Alex Day

“Try to be in totally contact with anyone you are staying with or working for there. If they are not the most responsive, take matters into your own hands and make sure you bring everything you need. At the end of the day, it is all on you. Also, who wants to be running all over town to find a bottle of Laird's the day of the event? I could have had lunch.” — Christine Jeanine Nielsen

“Don't fly drunk or hungover. I know it seems like a great idea at the time, but the more you travel for work, the less time you have to enjoy your life. Try and be intelligent about how you use your travel time, and you will be able to squeeze in some sightseeing or bar hopping on your trips rather than being stuck inside your hotel emailing your weekend away.” — Chris Lowder

“Take a copy of your passport and travel docs and email them to yourself. Take screen shots of maps to your hotel if traveling internationally, you never know when you won't have service. Take a photo of the hotel address and your room number if you are in multiple cities with multiple rooms in one trip, sometimes they all run together. Make friends with the cab drivers.” — Kate Gerwin, General Manager HSL Hospitality, Bismarck ND - Lead Consultant Santa Cruz

“Always leave space in your suitcase or travel with an extra bag to bring goodies home — especially when travelling abroad.” — Franky Marshall

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