Don’t get me wrong. Over the last two years, as a foreign affairs portfolio holder in the Gillard Government, my work has been rewarding and exciting. It has been easily the best professional experience of my life.

Travel tip #17: when in floral shirt, expect spontaneous outdoors karaoke

But the extensive travel makes me miss my family… a lot.

In those same two years (and not by choice), airports and aeroplanes have become a lonely home. My aim is to get in and out of them as quickly as possible and mitigate the number of hours they take away from life.

The first rule is never check in luggage. What I can’t fit into carry-on I don’t take. This ensures I get through customs half an hour quicker. And when flights run late and connections are missed there are less moving parts.

In a process where the airline, passport control and security all check you, the idea is to conform. In the case of security this means little things.

I now live in a world of less than 100ml.

As a result I have become an obsessive collector of little toothpastes, shaving creams, and deodorants. I assiduously keep my aeroplane packs, and voraciously raid hotels and flight lounges. With my little toiletries on board, I happily put my case through the x-ray in the satisfying comfort that, without any plastic bags, it will still pass muster.

I have learnt that boarding the earlier flight home always matters. And that when leaving home early in the morning, every extra quarter of an hour sleep counts. Thus I have perfected the art of grooming on the run.

On international flights, when the obligatory two hour wait before boarding is always dead time, I can fill it by falling out of bed, into a tracksuit, into a car and then wake up in the comfort of the Qantas bathrooms. To avoid catching tinea I shower in thongs - a secret I picked up at boarding school.

A plane trip from Los Angeles to Melbourne can last up to 16 hours, so you’d better be comfortable. For me, plane gear is dagging around the house gear. This is fine, except that when I board a plane at the end of a trip I am often dressed in suit and tie.

Of course the solution to this problem is changing on the plane. In the squat quarters of a 737 toilet, I can go from business attire to shorts, t-shirt and thongs in three minutes. All this is done with the ever-present threat of clear air turbulence tossing you around the toilet like a rag doll when the lock on the door is little more than a paper clip. As this thought enters your mind, with all clothes removed, it is hair-raising stuff.

Most airlines offer those who are travelling near the front of the plane a set of pyjamas. They vary in quality. But all of them are long sleeved with long pants. This just makes me hot and uncomfortable at night.

So nowadays I bring my own pyjamas: red shorts and a Geelong premiership t-shirt. Add to this my knee length compression stockings which help to prevent DVT and I am dressed to impress. None of this matters so long as no-one recognises you. But when a constituent happens to be sitting near you (as occurred on one trip to the USA) and strikes up a conversation in the galley as you wait for the loo, the sight of kitsch t-shirt, knee length shorts and knee length stockings suddenly and severely destroys credibility. This ensemble is not a vote winner.

The Mt Everest of plane travel is achieving a good night’s sleep. When travelling through time zones with packed schedules, every minute of shut-eye is gold. This raises the question of sleeping drugs.

Last year, at the foreign ministers dinner at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, a conversation struck up on my table about the merits of sleeping pills when travelling overnight on planes. Amidst as well travelled a cohort as exists on the planet, the issue was more hotly debated than peace in the Middle East.

Personally, I have eschewed artificial sleep induction, preferring instead to go with a couple of glasses of wine over dinner.

Be it sleep, a clean shave, or a well ironed shirt the goal is always to walk off that plane ready for action. As I travel to my work destination, the tribulations of aeroplanes render that goal as untouchable as a hazy mirage. More often than not I arrive looking as ordered as a teenager’s bedroom.

Yet for all the vagaries of the trip which takes me out, they are always compensated by the comfort of the trip which brings me back, to my family, safely home.

Comments on this piece close at 8pm AEDST

Most commented


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    • Ben says:

      06:12am | 27/12/12

      And the fact that you, as a politician, fly first class travel at the taxpayers’ expense when you travel overseas - does that also help ease the pain, Richard?

    • marley says:

      07:33am | 27/12/12

      Having done a fair bit of long-haul travel, I reckon it’s cheaper for the taxpayer to pay for Richard’s business class travel and have him arrive ready for work, than for the taxpayer to stint and force him into economy, then have him need a couple of days at the other end to recover, during which time we pay his hotel bills and also the cost of any negotiating errors he makes.

      Long haul travel is enormously tough on the body and the mind.  No company expects its executives to travel in economy for more than a few hours.  In fact, on my last international flight, 15 hours from Vancouver to Sydney, business class was occupied in large part by a group of Canadian miners (as in miners, not mine executives) being flown to Australia for a project by their company.  I reckon a Parliamentary Secretary deserves at least a good a seat as a driller.

    • Gregg says:

      09:00am | 27/12/12

      I’m starting to think Marley is in fact Richard Marles!

    • marley says:

      09:27am | 27/12/12

      @Gregg - hah! the names are merely coincidence - I would never wear a shirt like that.

    • Ben says:

      09:35am | 27/12/12


      >>Having done a fair bit of long-haul travel, I reckon it’s cheaper for the taxpayer to pay for Richard’s business class travel and have him arrive ready for work…

      I think you’ll find Richard travels overseas first class.

    • marley says:

      11:17am | 27/12/12

      @Ben - a lot of airlines don’t have a first class any more, even on international flights.

    • Greg in Chengdu says:

      12:41pm | 27/12/12

      Unbelievable, yet another story on the Punch by a Labor Polly but not a single mention of Tony Abbott. That has to be a first.

    • Greg in Chengdu says:

      12:41pm | 27/12/12

      Unbelievable, yet another story on the Punch by a Labor Polly but not a single mention of Tony Abbott. That has to be a first.

    • Ben says:

      02:22pm | 27/12/12

      @Marley - don’t kid yourself. If a government politician is going long-haul internationally at our expense, he will make sure he travels on an airline that caters for first class. Richard’s attempt to appear as a regular guy doesn’t wash with me.

    • marley says:

      04:09pm | 27/12/12

      @Ben - sorry, but I think this is making mountains out of molehills.  A lot of places Richard travels to will not have first-class service, and even if they do, the difference between business and first class isn’t anything like the difference between economy and business, yet no one seriously suggests that he travel economy on these long flights. 

      This is a light-hearted article about the travails of travel - and when you’ve done it enough times, getting on long haul flights, no matter how high the class, is still a royal pain in the behind.  My sympathies are with anyone who has to do it for a living.

    • Bris Jack says:

      06:26am | 27/12/12

      You failed to mention,
      Cattle class or Business class

    • nihonin says:

      06:33am | 27/12/12

      Not to worry Richard, come 2013, airports and their lounges, may not be such lonely places, as you may have more time on your hands to spend with your family.  wink

    • Sickemrex says:

      06:38am | 27/12/12

      You had me at Geelong premiership tshirt.

    • BJ says:

      07:16am | 27/12/12

      What about making your overseas travel less annoying for the rest of us by not bragging about it?

    • iansand says:

      12:46pm | 27/12/12

      Speak to anyone who does a lot of business travel.  They don’t brag.  They complain.

    • ibast says:

      02:32pm | 27/12/12

      iansand, I try to make sure I make the most of it.  There are lots of things I hate, however.  What i hate the most is the land of lost time.  This starts fromt he day you wake for the flight until the day you wake the first day of your destination.  Even for interstate trips it’s as thought you’ve been put insome suspendend state of reality. The rest of the world keeps moving and you barely move.

      But I do try to make the most of my travel.  I don’t like being away from the family, but I make sure I do appreciate the quiet time.  Reading a book at a restaurant.  Going for a walk in a new city, etc.

      I also make sure I see the sights if I can.  No point wasting the opportunity by moping around depressed.

    • Scooter says:

      07:18am | 27/12/12

      Never seen that before:  ‘Gillard Government’ and ‘professional’ in the same paragraph

    • Lezza says:

      09:48am | 27/12/12

      A childish comment.

    • Retired Soldier says:

      07:46am | 27/12/12

      If you like to exit the plane wearing a “well ironed shirt” and you only ever use a carry on bag, then please tell me how you achieve this so iI can do the same on my regular self paid travel.

    • marley says:

      08:38am | 27/12/12

      Iron the shirt, then roll it.  It’ll take up very little space and come out in reasonable shape.

    • Anne71 says:

      08:12am | 27/12/12

      Sigh. It was meant to be a light-hearted article and yet all the Gillard-hating, knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers are already lining up to spew their pig-ignorant bile.  Don’t you just love The Punch?

    • ZSRenn says:

      09:10am | 27/12/12

      Anne71 This lightheartedness of the ALP is just more spin to stop us looking at the problems of the ALP as a government and make us feel all fuzzy inside. If you fall for it. That is your rusted on problem but for the rest of us we want a government who governs. A government that doesn’t bring us

      1. ALP staff that started a race riot
      2.Long term unemployed or Underemployed
      3.Broken Pokie reform promises
      4.Grocery Watch
      5. Fuel Watch
      6. Cash for clunkers
      7. The citizens assembly of real Australians to investigate Climate Change
      8.Pink Batt Scheme
      9.Clean Coal Institute
      10.Gillard’s vote against gay marriage
      11. Unmet Promises to slash the homeless rate by 50%
      12.Not wanting a big Australia
      13. Asylum Seekers

      We also appreciate not being insulted because we don’t agree with your views, enjoy our freedom of speech and will not be bullied out of it by the likes of you!

    • Lezza says:

      09:52am | 27/12/12

      Agree. ZSRenn is trolling ratbag spoling a useful read.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      11:34am | 27/12/12

      @ZSRenn- “.....the rest of us we want a government who governs.” Where you going to find that in Australia? Don’t suggest the Coalition or it really will be a lighthearted article. Both major parties are crap and you know it…..

    • Geronimo says:

      08:23am | 27/12/12

      The Mayans warned you Pal, those with self Inflicted wounds deserve no sympathy.

    • Dale says:

      09:53am | 27/12/12

      “I can fill it by falling out of bed, into a tracksuit, into a car and then wake up in the comfort of the Qantas bathrooms.”

      Or to put it another way:
      “Into the chaffeiuered ComCar, and then wake up in the luxury of the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge; away from all those bogan constituents in the Qantas Club”.

      “To avoid catching tinea I shower in thongs”

      Someone had better tell Leigh Clifford that he’s got tinea in his showers.

      ” - a secret I picked up at boarding school.”

      Another ““new”” Labor politician.  John Marlowe was right, Ben Chifley wouldn’t stand a chance in moderm Labor.

    • Steve says:

      03:39pm | 27/12/12

      Sounds about right.

      I also note nothing in his column about what he actually achieved for Australia.

    • Steve says:

      03:39pm | 27/12/12

      Sounds about right.

      I also note nothing in his column about what he actually achieved for Australia.

    • Ben says:

      10:05am | 27/12/12

      >But the extensive travel makes me miss my family… a lot.

      There’s light at the end of the tunnel, Richard. It’s a safe bet that, come the next election, you’ll be spending a lot more time with your family.

    • Stained says:

      11:01am | 27/12/12

      “’ll be spending a lot more time with your family.”

      The sooner the better since your family really needs a person such as yourself, imagine all those future decades in opposition, beaudy!

    • cityboy @ Sydney says:

      11:03am | 27/12/12

      Grrrr! I see red at the likes of Richard taking all his stuff as carry-on luggage. It’s never a shoulder-bag thingy; it’s always a monster on wheels almost impossible to heave into the overhead locker without assistance from crew. And for what? If you deplane in say, LA (especially), or New York, by the time you have got through Immigration to the carosel, your checked-in luggage will have been waiting for you for at least 30 minutes, 1st class or cattle class. Sadly there is no special line at Immigration for 1st class passengers; everyone it treated with equal disdain and contempt.

    • expat says:

      02:42pm | 27/12/12

      “there is no special line at Immigration for 1st class passengers; “

      Yes there is, if you are a high tier ff, business or first you get an express pass, usually at checkin for the departing airport and one on the plane for your arrival.

      Does not always guarantee a fast exit, but 8 times out of 10 you will be out of the airport in half the time or less.

    • cityboy @ Sydney says:

      04:25pm | 27/12/12

      Not in LA or NY. You will get it in Sydney, but barely needed.

    • Alan says:

      11:35am | 27/12/12

      How many trips could you have avoided through using video conferencing? Don’t try and kid the Australian public into believing that you work hard and achieve something useful on your little jaunts!

    • marley says:

      12:21pm | 27/12/12

      You know, most companies with international interests spend a fair bit of money on air travel, because they recognise that some things need to be handled in person, especially when you’re setting up a business relationship with buyers, suppliers, or whatever.  I don’t see why government should be any different.  Video conferencing is a useful tool, but so is being on the spot and having real live contact with the other side.

    • expat says:

      02:53pm | 27/12/12

      I agree with Marley on this.

      It does not matter how fast the internet becomes, business air travel will always be a necessity and successful businesses understand this.

      You would be surprised at how many companies also use private aircraft, the government has a fleet of business aircraft, not just the big one you see flying Julia around in.

    • Stained says:

      03:48pm | 27/12/12

      @ marley says:  “You know, most companies with international interests spend a fair bit of money on air travel…”

      And why wouldn’t they, its all tax detuctable, almost free air travel for them!

    • marley says:

      04:32pm | 27/12/12

      @stained - well what do you suggest?  Travel is a legitimate business expense.  If your employer sends you across town to attend a meeting or see a supplier, you expect him to cough up the taxi fare;  why should businessmen or government officials be any different?

      For crying out loud, they all have to travel - I’ve got a relative who’s in the mining business, and that means he has to visit sites, see what’s going on, sort out problems, and if necessary kick the local manager’s ass.  Video conferencing just can’t do what a site visit can do.

    • Jeannette of Wollstoncraft says:

      12:34pm | 27/12/12

      “wake up in the comfort of the Qantas bathrooms”? Are they providing comfy in-toilet beds now, or are you pretty much at home on a tiled floor?  Sounds like extremely bogan behavior to me.


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