I was determined to make the most of it. So I said yes to everything. Yes to speaking to kids from four different schools in a day. Yes to doing a bookstore event that same night. Yes to flying to a different city after that.
And I had a great time! But I did pick up some tips I’m going to pass along for the next person who wins the tour lottery.
The last time your clothes fit in your carryon is the day you pack it at home. Don’t overpack! If you’re willing to wear the same black polyester (and thus unwrinkle-able and basically indestructible) top in every city you visit, you can save some space in your suitcase. And you need to leave room, because every school will want to give you a coffee mug, T-shirt, and pen emblazoned with the school’s logo. I have also gotten a tea towel, “genuine sand,” a plaster hand missing fingernails like one of my characters, and reusable grocery bags.
And you’ll also end up with treats: chocolate in the shape of the Alamo, pralines so sweet they make your teeth ache, Kind bars, chocolate covered almonds, a package of Oreos, caramel toasted coconut chips, mini Kitkats, homemade cookies, Lindor balls, and occasionally fruit. Those who follow me on social media often give me potato chips. I actually carried a full bag of chips from Milwaukee to Chicago where I ate them at midnight when I finally checked into my hotel. My advice is to avoid the crab-flavored ones.
In fact, for your waistline, dump all the treats into the nearest garbage can as soon as you are out of eyesight. Otherwise you will end up in your hotel room eating a piece of really bad candy that tastes like chocolate-covered perfume, wincing, and then opening another wrapper.
All the candy did come in handy when Alaska ran out of meals on a flight from Chicago to Seattle. For breakfast, I ate a peanut butter cup that had been rattling around in my backpack. Loose. By the time I found it, half the chocolate was missing. But at least it didn’t have anything stuck to it. And I figured the peanut butter counted as protein.
If you’re ever wondering what to get an author, Starbucks cards are small and endlessly useful. Also those grocery bags, especially if they are emblazoned with something local, are a fun gift and pack flat.
My other tip would be figure out the shower while you are still sort of awake. Do you raise the handle, spin it, press it? Is there a separate piece you need to engage first? Otherwise you’ll end up after four hours sleep phoning the front desk and begging them to reveal the secret. And they in turn will send up a maintenance man, who will turn it on with ease, and look at you in your shortie PJs with barely concealed disgust.
And then after you take your shower you will realize you have no idea how to turn it OFF. Resist the urge to leave it running for four hours until housekeeping shows up.
I also stayed in a hotel hosting the a conference for the White Shrine of Jerusalem, a Masonic organization that seemed to be made up of white ladies over the age of 80 and wearing formal polyester gowns with corsages even for the 6 am breakfast buffet.
I visited more than a dozen schools and talked to over 3,000 kids. One girl who wanted to be a writer was shaking so badly it looked like she would fly apart. I held one of her hands with my left hand while I signed her book with my right. One teacher worried that her pizza lunch wouldn’t be “sophisticated enough” for me. I had a wonderful time, and even though I came down with a weird kind of strep normally only seen in cows, I would do it again in a heartbeat!