Listen to this article
It has been a while since I tapped out this column from the best seat in the travel industry – a taupe, chocolate and orange-flecked reclining lounger on the Nozomi series Shinkansen train from Osaka to Tokyo.
On the final leg of the Asian portion of a two-week world tour (London-Tokyo-HK-Taipei-Osaka-Tokyo-LA-NY-Toronto-Montreal-London), I decided to record all the things that work and don’t work in the business of getting around the world efficiently – and how to get the most from even the briefest stopover:
1. Pack prepared. Modern travellers can save themselves (and fellow passengers) a lot of hassle by venturing out into the world fully prepared. You really can do two weeks with carry-on bags if you know you’re staying at hotels that do a stellar job with their laundry service and you have the wardrobe (more on this in a moment) to match the luggage: one Rimowa case, plus two canvas bags from Kyoto-based Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu – an overnight bag (olive) and a tote (taupe).
2. Less really is more. Fortunately I don’t need to travel with a suit so I can get by with two navy blazers. I pack five dress shirts, two sweatshirts (thick navy and light grey), one navy cotton cardigan, and one navy thin cotton sweater (mine is from Zanone). I have navy cords and navy cotton drill trousers plus a pair of jeans; plus seven T-shirts: four white, two navy, one grey. Add navy Merino wool running shorts (more comfortable than they might sound), five pairs of socks (Tabio), six briefs/boxers, one belt and one navy (Bigi) tie.
Footwear is taken care of with one pair of Paraboot brown Oxfords, my Loro Piana loafers, Nike trainers and a pair of running shoes.
3. Absolute essentials. Never leave home without a rechargeable battery booster for your mobile phone; some strong painkillers; a versatile tenugui – thin Japanese hand towel – as you never know when you might need a handkerchief, headband or arm-sling; two pens; a business-card holder; roughly $500 in cash in various currencies – and a sense of humour.
4. Bring your own cleaning products. You may need to clean up the area you’ll be occupying. On a British Airways flight from Heathrow last week, for example, I found chocolate wrappers shoved down the side of the seat, plus crumbs and hair everywhere. A visit to the bathroom 20 minutes into the flight revealed a toilet that had not been cleaned or restocked.
5. Hit the ground running. I’ve started planning my arrivals to ensure there’s enough time for a morning/midday/late-night run. Not only does a good pounding of the pavement set the tone for the rest of the trip, a good sweat flushes out all the detritus that settled in flight.
6. In Tokyo. Try to secure a table at Beard. With just a handful of seats, it’s a bit of a challenge but well worth the wait or wrangling if you can manage it. If you are in the book or music business and are feeling a bit defeated, then visit the remodelled branch of Tsutaya at Roppongi Hills. This is an inspiring example of how to get people excited about buying print and music in physical formats (look for Ryutaro Makino’s newest CD – a great singer I met on a previous trip). And it’s the perfect place to enjoy shopping round the clock (it’s open 7am-4am).
7. At Hong Kong international airport. At many hubs it’s no longer worth visiting airline lounges as the food and drink is better elsewhere. In Hong Kong, however, Cathay Pacific’s new lounge, The Bridge, is a fine example of how it can be done with ample space, a sensible selection of food and drink, soothing lighting and good design touches.
8. Hong Kong short haul. If you have to take a shuttle northbound from Hong Kong, then it’s hard to fault the short hops serviced by aircraft from Cathay’s long-haul fleet. And very high marks to Cathay’s staff: while airlines can spend a lot on hardware, only a good crew really makes a brand.
9. In Taipei. Taiwan boasts branches of a few powerful international restaurant brands but none serves food as tasty as the homegrown chain Din Tai Fung’s array of dumplings. While the queue can be a bit off-putting, it’s worth the wait.
10. In Osaka. The St Regis is the city’s best bet for lodging and a visit is not complete without an evening of dining and shopping at Bird and Truck respectively and a stop at Graf for ceramics and glassware.
Tyler Brûlé is editor in chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at ft.com/brule