Bring the Kids and Skip the Concierge: Traveling Tips from Hollywood Actor

woman sleeping on plane

(Bloomberg) –Busy Philipps is a writer, actor, and erstwhile talk show host. Philipps, who became a season regular on Dawson’s Creek, has been a prime-time staple for almost 20 years. She recently hosted Busy Tonight, her unique riff on a late-night chat fest, on E!, as well as published her memoir, This Will Only Hurt a Little.

A self-confessed last-minute traveler, Philipps has also teamed up with last-minute booking firm HotelTonight on a new contest. Together with the Airbnb Inc.-owned company, she’s trying to find the most overscheduled, overprepared travelers in America with the aim of introducing them to the joys of spontaneity. Five winners (plus guests) will receive a surprise, three-night getaway, including round-trip airfare. Philipps will also coach each pair on how to loosen up on vacation and forget needing to know every detail in advance. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

For her own last-minute trips, the mother of two is airline agnostic. She’s pickier when traveling for work—and for good reason. “I fly a lot from Los Angeles to New York, and since my contract says I get first class,” she explains, “I’ll always do American, because they still have the three-class planes to New York.” Even so, she never tallies her annual mileage. “My dad is such a huge points person, so maybe this is the way I’m rebelling against him.”

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A location shoot introduced her to one of her all-time favorite places.

I did a television show in Charleston, S.C., almost six years ago—Vice Principals on HBO, Danny McBride’s show. And we just kind of fell in love with the city and have been coming back ever since; one of my daughters has spent five of her six birthdays here. Go to 167 Raw to get the best oysters and lobster rolls. Now you may have to wait on line, because it’s a small space and they don’t take reservations, but it’s really, really worth it, I promise. And there’s an incredible [pan-Asian] place called Xiao Bao Biscuit. For shopping, I always go to Hampben Clothing on King Street. The girl that owns it has the best taste—I end up getting my whole wardrobe there. In fact, I ship clothes back because I buy too many things there and they don’t fit in my suitcase.

Rethink how you treat miles—not as a treat, but as a backstop.

Think of your miles as an emergency fund. We’ve found ourselves in situations where we’re like, “Omigod we have to fly all four of us to the East Coast [at the last minute].” It’s so much easier to know we have those miles saved. Whenever there’s emergency travel around me, I use miles for that. Like if a friend of mine has a situation where they need to go see their family or whatever, I use my miles for that, too. I’m fairly generous with them.

Make a small gesture to sustainability by packing these two items.

It’s always a good thing to try and do better when we travel, find more sustainable options. I appreciate a hotel that seems to be doing more than just paying lip service with the card that says, “Laundry takes a lot of water.” I always pack one of those twisty hair towels that they sell at Bed Bath & Beyond—why? because I hate wasting towels in hotels—and my reusable water bottle. Zero George, which is a great hotel in Charleston, doesn’t have plastic water bottles. They have glass bottles that they refill and put in your room every night. I think a lot of big chain hotels could get rid of the water vending machines filled with plastic bottles and instead install water refill stations for reusable bottles, and then give you one while you’re there. If you want to buy it to take home, like a robe or something, you have to pay $8 or whatever.

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Forget the concierge. There’s a much better, independent source of inside scoop in every town.

In a new place, I look up an area of town and find a bookstore first—an independent bookstore. The people who work there always know the best things about a city: the cool cultural events that are happening in town, or a concert you might be interested in. And you can pick up a book [about the place] that you can read while you’re there. Back in the day, when I was a young actor going to different cities, I would look for independent record stores in the same way, but that’s changed a little bit over the years.

Traveling with kids can be eye-opening—for them, as much as for you.

Sometimes when people have kids, they’re afraid to travel with them. And I understand that, as you hear all kinds of horror stories. But my feeling has always been different. Every time we travel somewhere with our kids, even if it’s just two hours away, they make developmental leaps. Especially when they’re little, in the early years. From age 2 to 8- or 9-years-old, shaking up their routine a little bit is superinteresting. They see different things, learn different stuff, try different foods. You don’t have to go to Europe. You can go a short drive away, and they will have a whole new world exposed to them.

Don’t assume you’re limited to just one hot towel on any flight.

I work with Olay, so I have brand loyalty to that when I travel, and it produces a mask that’s really easy for traveling because it’s a stick—you just stick it on your face like you would sunscreen, then it’s easy to take off. And flight attendants will always give you a hot towel if you ask nicely and aren’t buggy. Don’t be afraid to do it. I rarely ask for anything on flights, even five-hour ones, so they’re more than happy to give me an extra towel or two.

Even road warriors should carve out time to travel for fun.

My friend Ed Droste is the lead singer of the band Grizzly Bear. He’s one of the best travelers I know. He’s traveled all over the world with his band, and he’s accrued so many miles—but he still takes advantage of lulls in his work and life schedule to travel. And I learned from him that sometimes the inclination when you travel so much for work is that when you get home, you just want to be home. But it’s really wonderful to reconnect with traveling for fun with your friends or partner or family. Because you’re not there for work, it takes the pressure off. You can really take your time.

The joys of being a shopaholic while traveling.

When I was a teenager, I took a summer trip to Europe—one of those ones where you went to 10 countries in two and a half weeks, and you come home and sleep for five days straight. This was the ’90s, the height of grunge, so I got two pairs of boots in London. I remember going back to school in Arizona that September, and even though it was 110 degrees, I was wearing those boots. I felt so worldly. My dad tells that story because he had given me his American Express card for emergency purposes only. And I called him from London, and I said, “I had an emergency dad. It was a shoe emergency.”