General Productivity

My Travel Tips

I travel quite a bit for business–typically about 15 to 20 trips each year. I’ve learned a lot about how to make traveling (and especially flying) easier. I’ve been meaning to document my tips for a long time but never have. Finally, here it is.

My general travel philosophy is that there is a careful balance between absolutes (like having to be at a certain place at a certain time), comfort (which is a combination of things that just make travel and work on the road easier in a variety of aspects), and cost (whether it’s cost to my company or directly to me). I’ll often sacrifice on cost to make things more comfortable. Note that comfort isn’t necessarily a plush mattress and large screen TV and a Jacuzzi tub in the hotel room, but may be a standard room that’s a block away from where I’m working–so this is difficult to quantify for others as it changes for each trip.

Booking

  • Always fly direct. I live 30-minutes from the Greensboro, NC airport (GSO) and about 75-minutes from both  the Raleigh. NC airport (RDU) and Charlotte, NC airport (CLT). I prefer to fly from GSO because it’s closest but I’ll fly out of either one if I can get a direct flight. I always look for direct flights and only choose a flight with a connection if I absolutely have to. I’ll even drive an hour or two after I land if I have to avoid a connection. I have no loyalty to a particular airline.
  • Use BOTH Hipmunk.com AND Southwest.com to search for flights. I use Hipmunk because it organizes flights graphically by “agony”. It also uses tabs so I can compare my options from all three airports. I prefer to fly on Southwest when I can, but they don’t allow other sites to aggregate their data, so I always have to check their site directly.
  • On Southwest, pay the $10 for Early Bird CheckIn. If you’ve flown Southwest and been in the B or C boarding zone, you know this is worth every penny.
  • Avoid middle seats at all costs. I’ll pay extra to not be in a middle seat or take an earlier or later flight if only middle seats are available. Yes, I hate it that much.
  • Use Hotels.com to book hotels. They are partnered with almost every business-class hotel so I can find the ones that are closest to where I’ll be working. I also earn a free night for every 10 nights I stay. It’s an easy-peasy rewards program.
  • Book cars through Thrifty.com. I’m loyal to Thrifty as well. I earn a free 1-day rental for every 16 days I rent. Their cars are economical for my company as well. When they see that you rent from them regularly, it’s often easy to get free upgrades too.

Planning

  • Forward confirmation emails to TripIt.com. This free service keeps all my travel arrangements in one convenient place. I can even share plans with friends or coworkers if we’ll be traveling together.
  • Export TripIt information and import it to Google Calendar. Set alerts as needed. After all travel plans are in Tripit, I export the information and then import it to Google Calendar (this syncs with my Outlook calendar at work). I set an alert for 24-hours before flights to remind me to print my boarding pass.
  • Store notes for my trip in Evernote. I’m a heavy Evernote user and I’ll create a single note of things I might need to remember on a trip. It might be events I want to attend, restaurants to eat at, the contact information of the people I’ll be working with, the address where I’ll be working, or anything else I think I might need.
  • Before I leave, I look for things to do and I plan evening activities. With business travel there is a tendency to work all the time or wast time in the hotel room at night. Before I leave, I try to find some activities I want to do while I’m there such as attend a concert, attend a user group meeting, have dinner with a friend, attend a local ADHD support group meeting, attend a Toastmasters meeting, hike some trails, or eat at a particular restaurant. If I don’t plan these things before my trip I’ll often miss the opportunity while I’m on my trip.

Packing

  • Get all clothes and toiletries in a single carry-on. I never pack more than a single carry on. I usually take the same clothes every trip so I can pack in less than 15-minutes.
  • Keep two quart sized zip lock bags for toiletries always packed. One of these contains my 3-ounce or less bottles of liquids and gels (toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, shave foam, and Tide to-go stick). The other one contains my toothbrush, dental floss, hairbrush, razor, and deodorant. Note that these bags stay packed so they contain duplicates of things I use every day at home.
  • Keep a small sewing kit in my suitcase. You never know when you’ll need to sew a button or something back on.
  • Keep a copy of my passport in the top pouch of my suitcase. Even if I’m not leaving the country this associates my luggage with me to the TSA or anyone else. If I am traveling outside the country and I lose my passport, this copy should make it easier to get a replacement.
  • Keep a piece of paper with name, email addresses, and phone numbers in it in the top pouch of my suitcase. If my luggage should get lost, I want it to be really obvious how to contact me. This is printed in a really large font.
  • Keep a few plastic kitchen garbage bags in the top pouch of my suitcase for dirty clothes. One of these is my dirty clothes bag for the trip. It keeps my dirty clothes from stinking up my suitcase on the return flight. I usually put 4 or 5 in there at a time so I don’t have to remember to replace them each time. In a pinch, the dry cleaning bag in your hotel will work too, but you may need a couple of them.
  • All technology is in my backpack and almost all of it stays there all the time. This is where I keep my laptop when I’m not using it.
  • Have duplicates of things I travel with. I don’t want to have to remember to pack things so I have a duplicate of some things I use a lot at home and those duplicates stay in my backpack. Some of these are phone charger, mouse, mouse pad, laptop charging cord, umbrella, prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and spare cell phone battery (that’s always charged).
  • Have a small first aid kit / medicine bag. I keep a few Bandaids, Tylenol or Advil, Pepto Bismol tablets, Imodium AD, Tums, throat lozenges, and a few other things in a zip lock bag that stays in my backpack. Any illness becomes twice as bad when you’re away from home so be prepared to handle them.

At the Departure Airport

  • Park for leaving. Most people park to make it easy to get to the terminal; I park to make it fast to get home. I’ve usually got plenty of extra time when I arrive and I’ve learned where a lot of the best areas are at my local airports in relation to the airline I’m on.
  • Write down exactly where I’m parked or take a picture of the parking signs. On Friday night I may not remember where I parked back on Monday morning. When I write it down (in Evernote) it’s detailed information like Level 2, Row X (on the Y side), 12 spaces up.
  • Put all my pocket stuff in the top pouch of my backpack as soon as I arrive. I have a clip inside my backpack for my truck keys–I won’t need them until I return so I clip them as soon as I arrive. In the small top pouch of my backpack I place my wallet, cell phone, pen, notepad, and anything else that is normally in my pockets. The only thing I keep in my pocket is my drivers license (or passport if I’m leaving the country) and my boarding pass.
  • Check my carry-on. I used to never check my carry-on, but I got tired of babysitting it in the airport and I also got tired of having to keep my backpack at my feet on the plane. Now I always check it unless I’m running late or something. Since I almost always take direct flights, there is a much slimmer chance it will get lost, however, if I have a connector I’ll put a change of underwear and socks in my backpack just in case.
  • On the TSA Conveyor, backpack goes first, then laptop, then shoes and belt. When my backpack comes out of the x-ray machine I stand it up and open the top, when the laptop comes out I grab it and put it in my open backpack, when my shoes and belt come out I grab them and walk to the edge of the security area where I can dress in peace. If I used any other order, this wouldn’t work as smoothly. If I don’t check my carry-on it goes between the laptop and the shoes. This is so that I can set it on the floor and extend the handle while my shoes are coming out.
  • Get a bottled water and head to the gate as soon as I leave security. Pay with cash and get singles for tips. I don’t want to be on a plane without something to drink so this is one of the first things I do. I like to have tip money for hotel maids, valets, and such. This is a good time to go ahead and get some singles so I’ll have them ready.
  • Use the bathroom just before boarding begins–even if I don’t have to. I’ve never regretted doing this.

On the Flight

  • Put backpack in overhead and put Baby Baggu at my seat. I keep a Baby Baggu nylon shopping bag in my backpack. Just before I board, I put everything in it that I want to have at my seat. This contains my tablet computer, phone, pen, notepad, antacid (I sometimes get heartburn when flying), handkerchief (my nose runs a lot in the dry air too), bottled water, and noise cancelling headphones. Some people don’t like me putting my backpack in the overhead, but I don’t like it at my feet. I pay to check my rolling carry-on so my backpack becomes my carry-on and I can store it in the overhead.
  • Plan activities for the flight. If I don’t plan to do something in particular (read something, write something, etc..)  this can easily turn into wasted time.
  • Take print material for reading below 10,000 feet. Most of what I read is electronic and on my tablet, but this is a good opportunity to read mail and print magazines that I put off reading when I’m home.
  • Noise canceling headphones. These are so worth it. I received these as a Christmas gift a couple years ago and they really make a difference, even if I’m not listening to music.

At the Destination Airport

  • Use the bathroom–even if I don’t have to. It may be a while before I get to my hotel room so it’s best to go ahead and do it now while I’m thinking about it. Oh, and I use one near the concourse exit–those are usually not as crowded as the ones close to my arrival gate.
  • Put keys in my pocket while waiting on baggage and look at reminder about where I parked. When I return to my home airport I unclip my truck keys that have been clipped inside my backpack all week and put them in my pocket so they’re ready when I get there. I also check the reminder about where I parked so I can plan my shortest way to get there.

At the Hotel

  • Unpack clothes and toiletries immediately. I don’t want to feel like I’m living out of a suitcase so I put away all my stuff as soon as I arrive.

Checking Out

  • Always get a paper receipt showing a zero balance. Maybe I’m old fashioned about this, but I’m just much more comfortable going to the front desk and personally making sure everything is correct and cleared before I leave. I also want a paper receipt I can scan for my expense report.

Arriving Home

  • Unpack immediately. As soon as I get home I put my dirty clothes in the laundry, put my toiletry bags in the drawer in the bathroom, put my suitcase in the closet, set my work laptop back up on my credenza, and put all my receipts on my desk to file my expense report the next day. This all takes less than 5-minutes but if I don’t do it immediately it can be clutter that sits around for days. It’s easier to do it immediately.
  • Refill toiletry consumables for next trip. It only takes a minute to refill these and put them back in the zip lock bag. If I do it now I won’t have to remember to do it when I’m packing for my next trip. I just grab the bags and put them in my suitcase.

There are probably more tips I could share that I haven’t thought of here. Some of these I’ve learned from other travelers and some of them I’ve developed on my own. I hope you find some things here to help you with your next trip. If you have questions or comments about how I travel, please post them in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Brian
    5/24/2012 at 1:09 am

    It’s very interesting to see that we shared a lot of common “habits” as a “road warrior”. All the essentials always went in the backpack; deodorant, gadgets, contacts, duplicates of identification… When travelling internationally, I always kept letters of introduction handy as well.

    The first thing to do when arriving at a remote location is to make your nest. UNPACK… Get comfortable and arrange your life. When you walk into a hotel suite that you know will be your home for the next 1 to 16 weeks, you have to make it your comfort zone and home. As much as you need to do to settle in; do it. Hang your clothes, layout your bathroom counter, pick your drawers… make it your space.

    When coming home, (always exciting), make the transition as quick as possible. Again, UNPACK. Start laundry, keep the duplicate toiletries in the travel bag for the next trip, and enjoy your time at home again.

    You used some newer technologies, and company preferred practices, that vary by company, but the goal was the same; get the job done, get home, and be productive and efficient with both.

    It is a very dynamic and exciting lifestyle that not everyone can do. We are both in the minority that can manage it successfully, albeit with the support and understanding of our spouses.. 🙂

  • Reply
    rickyspears
    5/24/2012 at 7:00 pm

    Brian – Thanks for stopping by and contributing!

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