I want to take a brief moment away from writing about Windows Azure to discuss my thoughts and feelings on travelling.
WARNING: This is an epically long post. You’ve been warned.
I am not talking about the ‘I fly once a year’ type travelling, this won’t really be for you. This is about people who travel for a living, road warriors as some call them. These are the tips and tricks I have learned over the years (as well as some pet peeves.)
Also note, that in some of these I am an outlier, and that most road warriors might give you the opposite advice. Like all advice, you should throw all of this in your hopper of a brain, spin up the critical thought machine, mix in a bit of your experimentation and come out with your own approach to travelling.
Maybe you just got a new job that will have you travelling around, perhaps as a shiny new consultant, or you already do travel and you are looking to sharpen your game. Hopefully these tips will help you travel a little better.
As a side note, I don’t think everyone travels well. If there is one piece of advice I can give that you should listen the most too is you have to try to stay stay flexible and fluid. Things happen on the road, and the more you can roll with it, the better it will be.
1. Immediately go to all the airlines and hotel chains that you are likely to use and sign up for their frequent flyer / loyalty programs. This will help you to start earning points and status, which is critical if you live on the road.
The down side is you will likely start getting offers for their credit cards, etc. at home. Feel free to chuck that stuff.
2. Start a spreadsheet called “FF.xlsx” and store all of those loyalty program numbers in it. Put the chain/airline name, the number, and any other info you need to keep (for example we have an company wide discount code for Avis that we use). Keep this on your computer, and pin it to your Excel menu so it’s always available. Also, print this out, shrunken to the size of a wallet photo and put it in your wallet. Then throw out ALL of the stupid plastic membership cards they send you, you never need them (except for your airline premium lounge membership card which you have to have to enter).
3. Pick the airline and hotel brands that make sense for your travel habits. The companies that work for me, might not work for you. And as I have told many people:
All airlines suck. They just each suck in their own different ways.
I use Delta, Marriott, Avis, and Hyatt. Look at the routes you will tend to fly, and who fly’s out of your home airport (probably the biggest deciding factor). Also, don’t just look at the airline, but at the alliance they are in. You might want to fly Delta a lot, but you have Alaskan Airlines at your home airport. That is ok, they are in the same alliance, letting you bring your points and status perks with you to any of the airlines in that alliance.
Another factor in picking an airline is if you will fly mostly domestic, or mostly international. Each airline and alliance has different metal, pricing, and service options. So check out the options, maybe try a few different brands to start with, and then settle on someone.
3. Do not deviate, when possible from your selected brands. NEVER. I will not fly anyone but Delta (or someone in their alliance), unless it would just be stupid otherwise. For example, a bit ago I was travelling to Moscow for an event, and then on to Budapest (both great cities). I flew open jaw from Columbus to Moscow, and then from Budapest to Columbus on Delta.
Flying from Moscow to Budapest on Delta just didn’t have a sensible timeline, and it didn’t fit into my event schedule (I would have to fly ALL the way back to Amsterdam for example, which is like flying from Maine to Florida via Seattle).
Instead I flew on Air Baltic, through Latvia. Very cheap, fit my schedule, and it was fun trying out a different airline. I think that is the only time I have flown on someone other than Delta (and Northwest from before the merger) in seven years.
I also never rent from anyone other than Avis. I have always had great service, I usually can walk up to the car and go (any vendor that is setup so I don’t have to talk to a human is awesome in my book), they don’t upsell me on useless insurance programs, and they are everywhere. You will want to pick brands that cater to business travellers, and not consumers/tourists. They will get what your needs are.
I strongly prefer Hyatt and Marriott for hotels, and I tend to stay at both of them. Where the status perks at an airline can make or break your travel, the perks at hotels are nice but not essential to my travel. These are two chains I have come to trust in the quality and CONSISTENCY across the brand. There are other brands that always charge their premium prices, but some of their locations are just repainted old dumps, and I got sick of never knowing if it was going to be a true hotel, or just an old one that was bought and re-badged. Marriott and Hyatt have never let me down (and Hyatt started the trend of super good TV’s and AV breakout boxes in the room, which let me bring my Xbox!)
I am not so super loyal in the hotel department though, and that is because I travel to go to events for the most part. And sometimes events are in hotels, or attached to hotels. I had several bad event experiences where I was at the Marriott down the road instead of at the venue. It was just a pain not being around the event, driving back and forth, etc. So I will usually use the event hotel if it is a good brand.
3. Read FlyerTalk.com religiously. I read it every day. I look at the forums for the airline I fly the most (I am Diamond on Delta) and for the hotels I use the most. They also have forums on Mileage Runs ( a flight you take just to bump your status qualifying miles; we’re travel nerds ), travel safety, travel tools, etc.
4. Never let anyone buy or schedule travel for you, unless they travel more than you do. If they don’t live on the road like you do, they will make stupid decisions. Like booking a flight with an extra stop (2 instead of one) because it is $50 cheaper, never mind that the fact that it would be soul crushing and take four extra hours to get to where you are going. Or that the flight that leaves at 6am on the return leg is cheaper than the one that leaves at 11am. This person doesn’t know that you have to get up, get to the airport, through security, and then board at SIX FREEKING AM IN THE MORNING.
I suggest you read the forums for the airlines you are considering to get a feel for the programs, perks, and how they work the best.
Flying and Airports
Every airport in the world has a code designation. Learn the codes for the airports you will travel to frequently. This will speed up your planning and logistics. There are also a lot of travel terminology that you will want to learn, which will help you understand how this industry works. For example, the difference between and IDB and a IRR can really change what an airline will do to help you.
You will learn the common routes over time. For example, I try not to book that last flight of the day. This last flight becomes my backup if something else happens to the earlier flight. If that doesn’t work out your stuck in an airport hotel until the next morning’s flight. Over time you will learn how many flights leave per day, and what metal they are. This is good to know, because most travellers prefer bigger planes when possible. There is just more room. I don’t mind the ‘Barbie jets’ occasionally, but they get tiring quickly if they are every flight.
With status on most airlines you gain the power of SDC, or ‘same day confirm’. This lets you change your flight from one flight to another that is on the same day, that
is going to the same place. This means you can book that second to last flight, but if your meetings end early, you can go to the airport and rebook to an earlier flight, getting you home sooner.
Each airline handles SDC’s a little differently, and you can only do it if you haven’t checked bags yet. When I need to do it, I ask before I check my bag.
As I mentioned earlier, failure happens, roll with it. Recently, on the way to TechEd, our plane from ATL to MCO had a hardware issue (a hydraulic pressure gauge of some sort). We were on the plane, and waited on the tarmac for about 2.5 hours as they did a variety of tests to determine the cause of the issue. They didn’t want to deplane us because that would mess with lots of things down stream (meal vouchers, cancellations, etc.), so they waited, quite reasonably, until they were sure it wasn’t a quick fix.
Delta handled this very well. The pilot kept us informed constantly, and the FAs kept us comfortable. They eventually found the problem, and deplaned us because the fix was going to take three more hours. As we deplaned they automatically gave us meal vouchers and a $50 credit on our tickets because of the inconvenience.
This was a failure, and if you travel enough it will happen. I just rolled with it, grabbed a bite to eat, sat in the Skyclub, and waited for the plane. They eventually found a different plane, and off we went.
Status is Good
Status is my primary reason for sticking to one airline. By flying Delta, I gain different levels of status. While I love the upgrades, and the FF miles, the perks I was really aiming for include priority boarding, and free bags.
With status I can check two bags for free, which ties into my strategy of never carrying my bags if I can help it. This is counter to most road warrior wisdom, and I will cover it more in this post.
The priority boarding helps to avoid the chaos as 150 kettles board the plane and get settled. Kettles is a nickname for people who don’t fly a lot (from ma and pa Kettle). They aren’t bad people, just flying novices, and it’s best to not be caught up in their chaos. Also, if you are one of those people that carry-on everything, getting on with priority lets you snag overhead space.
The other perks are VERY nice, especially the upgrades to first class. There are times when I will pick my days and times of travelling to maximize my chances of getting upgraded. Some travel days are busier for business travellers than others, and I try to avoid those when I am flying from status flyer heavy airports (SEA, LAX, JFK, etc.).
I do get upgraded quite often, but I don’t get sour when I don’t. Delta has Economy Comfort on most of their domestic flights, which has more room. I can grab those seats for free (normally you have to pay extra for them from a normal coach seat).
Number one rule of upgrades: Be happy when you do, but don’t be sour if you don’t. If you didn’t get upgraded, don’t complain about someone else in first that you think you should have been upgraded ahead of. You never know what they bought for a ticket, etc. Also, if you really want to sit up front, then buy the damn ticket for up front.
What I like about upgrades at Delta is that the computer controls who gets upgraded. On other airlines, and in the old days, you had ask the GA for the upgrade, and they could play favorites, and it mattered how early you got to the airport, etc. etc. etc. Now the rules are applied fairly to everyone.
Really? Your standing there?
This is the one thing that bugs me the most about kettles at airports… They will just stop in the middle of the flow of traffic in the terminal and stare at something (usually a sign or the departure monitors). HEY! There are about a thousand people behind you going places, step out of the way. It drives me nuts. This happens at amusement parks, malls, and other crowded places as well. I hate it. Step out of people’s way, just like you would if you were driving.
I should start carrying wet sponges, and just throw them at people who are blocking the way.
Get the apps for your phone/tablet for the airlines/hotels/cars that you use. This will help you check in, verify details, etc. I love the Delta app for my Windows Phone because I can easily check my details, check the upgrade list, change seats, and even hit the phone icon and it dials me to the Delta customer line for Diamonds.
TripIt is a site that collates all of your trip details, putting them all in one place. It is a great to collect all of your flight, hotel, car and other travel logistics. It will include directions, weather, etc.
What I really like is that their interface is very elegant. Once you have an account you just forward the reservation emails you have from your travel vendor to the tripit email address, and they just parse it and build a trip plan out of it.
I used to use it a lot, several years ago. Now that many sites have caught up, and now I like to store all of that info in my calendar, I don’t use it as much. But you should check it out to see if it works for you. They also have mobile apps so you can store the info on your phone.
Carry on bags
Most road warriors (and this is my biggest departure from ‘standard’ wisdom) have the strategy of packing as light as possible, cram it all into a carry on and then place that in the overhead bin.
If you are going to follow this path then you MUST invest in a good bag. This will run several hundred dollars, but it will be worth it. While an airline will define what their carry on size limits are, that doesn’t mean it will fit in the overhead bin of their jets, especially Barbie jets. So, read FlyerTalk, check out the different jet models you will often fly, and pick one that works.
Be careful though. Many will say they are a 21” bag (which is a common carry on size limit) but they are actually bigger. 21” is the size of the BAG, but the external wheels and handles tack on another inch or two.
Make sure the bag you buy not only FITS, but is durable, and easily pulled. The standard two wheels pull behind your back ones will eventually ruin your shoulders. I love the carry on’s with four spinner wheels, that you gently push beside you on smooth floors, and pull behind when you can’t.
Make sure it has some handy pockets, especially an external pocket for you to easily store your liquids for TSA inspection.
My deviation from the crowd…
I used to always carry on. I optimized my packing, bought special lightweight/compact packing essentials, and decided to stop the game. Here’s why:
- Tired of the TSA liquids game. Not consistently enforced, and it’s a pain. I did for a while minimize liquids (hair product that was a paste, etc.) but it was just one more thing to deal with at checkpoints.
- I hated dragging that bag around airports all the time. I decided I wasn’t a schmuck, and shouldn’t have to carry my own damn bag. My backpack with laptop was heavy enough. Leave the baggage to the bag handlers. It was bulky, hard to navigate through crowds, etc.
- With status I get free checked bags, with priority handling. If I had to pay for bags I would likely go back to carry on.
- Tired of fighting with people and bins to fit the bag in the overhead. And if the bins are full, or you don’t fit, you end up gate checking your bag. I HATED getting off the plane, and then having to wait in the hallway for them to pull the gate checked bags up. You have to do this on every segment, so you have to do this twice on most flights. This cancels out the savings of avoiding the small delay you have to wait for you bag at your destination.
- The time spent waiting at baggage claim isn’t that bad at most airports, especially with the priority handling. I rarely have to sweat the difference of 10 minutes upon arrival, so I don’t mind tak
ing a breather, checking email, and waiting for my bag. At big airports (where you have to take a train to the bag claim) the wait is almost nothing.
- I don’t worry about my bag getting lost. Actually, I CHOOSE not to worry about losing my bag. Again, failure does happen, and you have to be flexible in case it happens. If it is lost, the airline can usually find it and deliver it quickly. In six years, my bag has been lost once. [Knock on wood.] I will take those odds over schlepping my bag for miles through airports, escalators, and security every flight.
If you will be checking a bag, durability of said bag is super important, more than a carry on. Do NOT get that big bag with spinners. They are external wheels, and will get destroyed in the bag management process. How the wheels are attached is important. If they are external and unprotected they won’t last more than a few flights.
I buy all of my bags (laptop, carry on, checked) through ebags. Right now I use the ebags branded bags. Great versatility in format (one or two packing zones), great wheel setups, durable fabrics and zippers. They also do free shipping on returns.
I have three sizes of the same bag; carry on size, medium and large. I pick the bag size that makes sense for the number of days I am travelling. Now that I check my bag I don’t have to super optimize my packing, and can pack provisional clothing. For example, an extra hoodie, just in case the weather goes bad. I have room to stuff all the accessories for traveling so I don’t have to carry them in my backpack. It is also leaves me room for the obvious extra stuff that comes home with you (swag, gifts, etc.)
Only check what you can lose.
Only ever put in your checked bag stuff you don’t mind losing, just in case. Don’t check medicine, or things that are easily stolen and resold like a computer or a camera. Assume your bag will be thrown from the roof of a barn to a pit filled with water and razor blades, and then dowsed in flea powder. Because it will, or something similar.
Rituals – Check in
I have travelled enough that certain motions becomes rituals, or habits. I see this as behavior that has been proven, and then codified into a ritual so I don’t cause myself any problems. The first ritual is the check in at the airport process. This is a process that is optimized to reduce the issues in security/TSA and minimize the friction of getting to the gate.
- My ritual starts 24 hours ahead of the flight, where I check in online. I always do ‘print boarding pass’ but only to see if there is a HOOU coupon. If there isn’t a coupon I don’t actually print, and wait for the kiosk to print the boarding pass at the airport. A HOOU coupon is a Delta thing. If you have status, and didn’t get upgraded they will give you a “Have one on us” coupon that is good for a free drink (beer, wine) or a free snack pack (that are sold for $5 usually).
- The night before I make sure my gadgets are charged, I have enough books downloaded to my Nook to read for the whole trip, and I have podcasts synced to my Windows Phone.
- Make sure my on-board kit bag is complete. I use the bag-of-bags philosophy, where my backpack is filled with small bags. Each small bag has a theme. I have many, and I select and pack them based on my needs for the trip. For example, some of these bags are:
- on-board kit – noise cancelling headphones, spare battery, nook, HOOU and JWD (‘Job well done’) coupons. If needed: disposable tooth brushes, eye mask, and USB recharger (those portable batteries that you can use to recharge your phone).
- portable wifi kit – a small portable wifi AP for hotels or locations that only have wired Internet. I rarely take this anymore now that I have a MiFi, but I used to use it a lot.
- storage kit – Two small portable USB hard drives, and a variety of USB thumb sticks. My drives have ISO’s for software, and other backed up data. I rarely take this anymore with the use of the cloud (Skydrive.live.com) now.
- speaker kit – Good mouse for use in demos, my Logitech clicker, and business cards.
- power kit – small charger and usb cords, international adapter (optional), and friend maker. My usb chargers are from the Nook, they are small, run cool, and light. I bought several for $5 each when they were on sale. I have a variety of cords (all micro USB) that are short, long, and power only. I prefer any color but black, so they are easy to see in your bag, or in a hotel room or airplane.
- doc kit – Passport, photocopies of credit cards and passport (to be stored separately), any important printouts of travel details when travelling internationally. When I am in a country that doesn’t have many English speakers (for example Russia or China) I will prepare and printout travel cards that list my hotel, the office/conference center, and the airport in English and the native language. Worst case is if the taxi driver doesn’t know English I can show the card and get to the hotel to speak to someone. I rarely use this bag for domestic travel.
- Meeting kit – My CodeMash notebook, pens, and a few business cards. When I take notes in meetings I like something small, so it isn’t distracting. And I like to use pen/paper. I LOVE OneNote, but I don’t like hiding behind a computer when meeting with customers.
- My lovely, and super awesome wife goes out of her way to drive me to the airport. It’s the only part of leaving that I like. Sometimes we will have lunch together at the airport. It’s the best way to say goodbye.
- I know the airline says to arrive at the airport two hours before travel. This is st00pid, at least for road warriors. The flight will board 30 minutes (0r 20) before the departure time. For the airports I use a lot I usually need 20 minutes to check in, go through security, and make it to the gate. That is when I plan on arriving to the airport. If it is an airport I am not familiar with I will add time. If it might be one of those busy days at (a holiday of some sort) I will pad that. I was taught early on :
If you haven’t missed a flight you are spending TOO much time in the airport.
- Once entering airport I go into airport mode. I go straight to the kiosk ( I rarely use the Medallion check-in person because there are usually people in line, and I don’t need any additional help anyway ). I use the kiosk to get my boarding passes ( even if I printed them because I like the size, very convenient ), and then do the bag drop. I don’t ever use the electronic/phone boarding passes. I tried several times, they actually slowed me down because the TSA people didn’t know how to do it, and had to wait for a scanner to scan the phone to validate the data. Didn’t save me time.
- While waiting for the bag tag, I put my belt, phone, wallet, and anything else in my pockets in my front pocket of my backpack. I don’t wait until the TSA line. The only thing left to take off in line is my shoes.
- Head to TSA. Have pass and id in hand. Use the priority or expert flyer lane. This is a pet peeve of mine, when non-expert flyers use the expert line instead of the family/normal line. Just slows the whole process down.
- Get to belt scanner. Try to pick a line that has people that look like they know what they are doing. Families? negative. People with several bags? Negative. People who look lost? Negative. Get a bin. Put shoes in bin. Make sure you are wearing slip on shoes. This is another pet peeve, when people have laces, and it takes longer to take them off and then put them on. Put pass and id in one of my shoes. Put backpack on belt, and unclip to filet open. If you travel, your laptop bag really should do the TSA fold out option. This saves a lot of time taking the laptop out, and then replacing it when going through security.
- Go through nude-o-scope. Smile for the camera. Say thank you to
- Go to belt. Grab id and pass. They go in my left pocket of pants of shirt’s BP. Grab shoes and bag. DO NOT REASSEMBLE YOUR LIFE WHILE IN LINE. Move to the benches past the belt and reassemble. I put my shoes on, clip my backpack together, and then retrieve my phone, wallet, etc. from the backpack. Sometimes I put my belt back on, sometimes I leave it off.
- Head to gate. Read until plane. When boarding is starting I take out my on-board kit so I don’t have to mess with getting it out on the plane. Don’t not approach gate line until your zone is called. People who go up early are called gate lice. Medallions who stand there, in the priority lane for 40 minutes before boarding a stupid. Yes, you are are part of the first group, but being the fist of sixteen is optimizing for the wrong thing.
Ritual – International Travel
There have been weeks and months where it feels I have been in every time zone there is. Eastbound travel (LAX to BOS or DTW to CDG) is pretty easy, but jet lag can catch up to you a day or two later. Westbound travel (from Europe to back home) is what kills you.
In both directions I follow these steps:
- The night before a long flight (5+ hours) I carb up on pasta. I don’t know what this does, but it helps to have that extra store of energy when your meal schedule is going to be messed with. Plus, I remember jocks would talk about carbing up before a game ( following by a grunt of two ), and I think it is fun to say with regards to traveling. Be well rested to start with as well.
- As soon as you get on the plane adjust your thinking (and watch if you use one of those 20th century wrist-borne time keeping devices) to your destination time zone.
- Eastbound: Have the onboard meal, take a Tylenol PM, and then get to sleep. Don’t get all exciting and stay up to watch the on-board movies. Get to sleep as soon as possible. Remember, you are moving forward in time faster than normal, and you will miss a night’s sleep.
- Westbound: Have your meal and stay awake as much as possible on your way back. This extra up time will help you fall asleep at the right hour when you get home. This will get hard towards the end of the flight. It’s ok to take a short nap, but nothing longer than 30 minutes. Drink coffee (yuck!), redbull, watch movies, etc.
- Always drink plenty of water the whole time, not just on the plane. Avoid alcohol on the plane.
- When you arrive, do anything you can to make it through the day to your normal bedtime. Do NOT just hunker down in your hotel afraid of some unknown city. That will knock you right out. Shower, get some fresh air, walk around the block, go sightseeing, hang out in the lobby, anything. Keep Red Bull (or any other energy drink you like) with you in case you start dragging. This will likely be around 4pm.
- Your first evening take a sleeping pill of some sort. Tylenol PM works for me but you should try other stuff. Some people use straight up melatonin. You may want to speak with your doctor about Ambien and similar products, but I have heard in rare cases it can cause you to cook and eat barbeque wings while in bed. (Ambien, and similar drugs have instances in a small amount of people where they do really weird things, and don’t remember at all). You want to take this pill because your body will wake up at its normal time (4am local time probably) and you won’t be able to get back to sleep, even though you were likely super tired when you went to bed. This will help you stay asleep all night.
- Red bull through day number 2.
- Returning, again carb up to avoid hunger/energy issues when you have weird mealtimes.
- Westbound on the plane, stay up, stay up, stay up.
- When you get home, stick to the local clock. That means don’t crash when you get home, and go to bed at your normal time.
Ritual – Hotels
For a while I kept losing or forgetting stuff in hotels. This drove me nuts. Now I closely restrict where I put stuff in the hotel. I use the safe for valuables like my passport, laptop, etc. They aren’t perfect, but it is better than leaving them laying about. Pocket stuff like keys, wallet, phone I only ever put on the desk, with the chargers. Clothing I keep in my bag (for 2 nights or less) or unpack into closet for longer. Used clothing always goes to bottom of closet. Toiletries go on sink. I don’t leave stuff anywhere else.
Then when I am ready to check out, I pack as I would. Put my bags by the door and do a sweep. I scan the floor, the edges of the bed, the outlets, etc. The easiest stuff to lose is dark colored items.
I make sure I have a hard copy of the receipt (either already from under the door, or at the front desk). I fold this and put in my doc bag. If your company does expense differently, then this may vary for you.
When going to bed I almost always put the DND door sign on, unless I know I will be up and out by 8am. When the maids come can vary property to property and you don’t want to be bothered by the knocking when you are still in the room. I often work in my room in the mornings, and this keeps them from disturbing me while working.
When in a country that does tipping, like the US, I follow the customs. Since I am American I am more strict home though than when I am abroad. I only tip when I get service. For example, I don’t tip coffee shop people. They are paid to make me the drink. Hotel maids, taxi guys, etc. I tip. $1/person/day for the maid, and $1 per bag if someone helps with a bag (and if I needed/asked for the help). If I didn’t ask for help with the bag, then I don’t tip. Taxis I tip like a restaurant, 10%-20% depending on how nice they were, if I feel I wasn’t led on the longer path, they helps with bags, etc.
To not tip these people is just being cheap and a jerk. Like it or not, it is part of our culture, and it is part of the deal/social contract with certain jobs. Deal with it. By the way, the tipping posts on Flyertalk are some of the most heated; bring popcorn when you read them.
Get a passport, right now. Don’t wait until you have to have one, because by then you might not have enough time to get it. They last a while and it’s not that expensive.
When travelling abroad I bring photocopies of my credit cards and passports. I keep them separate when possible. For example, I will have my credit card on myself to shop, but leave the copy in the safe. Most countries don’t require you to keep your passport on you (Chine and Russia do), so I keep the copy on me, and the real one in the safe. When copying your credit card, make sure it is zoomed up so the text is legible and that you copy both sides. These copies will help you your cards/passport are stolen at any time.
To fly or drive?
I will drive if the trip is three hours, any longer and I will fly. There are some destinations that are six hours to drive and they don’t have good airports, so I might do that.
Many experts will recommend that you search for better fares by looking at airports in nearby cities. Since I live in Columbus, that would mean looking at Dayton, which is about an hour away. I did it once and saved $100. It wasn’t worth it. The extra driving home is not full of awesome when you are returning late in the day after a long trip and your tired. Not worth it. Again, this is something a kettle would do to save money on vacation, and maybe then it would work out, but not if you are flying all the time.
Leverage the Interwebs and Tubes
If I don’t know a flight route that I want because it isn’t a regular route for me, I will use travel.bing.com. It has a great search, and for domestic will tell you if fares are rising or falling. I just immediately filter for Delta flights.
When visiting a city or country I haven’t been to I will use TripAdvisor.com to find things to do, and research the hotels I am looking to stay at.
Leverage the trip
When traveling to someplace new, if I can, I work in an extra day, for sightseeing. I pay the extra fee for the hotel, etc. out of my own pocket. This usually doesn’t impact airfare. This is a great way to leverage the personal cost of the trip ( the time away from family, etc. ). Otherwise, after years of travelling, all you will have seen is conference rooms, and they all look the same.
When abroad, I try to find either a free walking tour (many cities have them) or a private guide. It has always been worth the money. If you have your sightseeing trip before your business (at the beginning of the trip as opposed to at the end) then you can get a feel for a place, and that will help you in your meetings. Also, this is a great way to learn how to navigate the city and the mass transit systems.
Just be nice
It can be really easy to stress out while traveling. It is hectic, crowded, noisy, and full of fail at times. This is when it is most important to say please and thank you, especially when speaking with travel employees (airline agents, etc.).
A thank you goes a lot farther when there is trouble than yelling and throwing a fit. And DYKWIA (people with any level of status that expect miracles and have a “don’t you know who I am” attitude) also never works. It just makes the person want to help you less.
Dress for success
When travelling, wear loose fitting clothes that are layered. This is not the time to strut your stuff, save that for the nightclub and evenings out on the town. Think practical. Use layers because some planes and airport are really cold, and others are really warm.
Always wear loose shoes (no laces). Wear shoes that you can walk several miles in, that come off and on. ALWAYS wear socks. I hate that. People will take off their flip flops and then walk through security with bare feet. Yuck. Or they will put their feet up on chairs, tables, etc. Gross. I do take my shoes off on long flights, but only because I have socks on and when they don’t smell.
Wearing a nice collared shirt, or something that is business casual, is the best way to get taken seriously by airline staff, and other people. I always try to have a shirt with a breast pocket to make it easy to store boarding passes, etc.
Delta calls them Skyclubs, other airlines call them by different names. These are amazing oasis in hectic airports. They cost to be a member, and many will sell day passes. If you fly often, this is for you.
A quiet place, away from the kettles, noise, chaos, and time zone announcements (which happen every seven minutes in DTW which will drive you insane). Free wifi, snacks, drinks and liquor, and dedicated, experienced senior agents to help you with ticket issues.
They usually have very subtle signs, so if you aren’t looking for them you won’t see them. Double check your perks as a frequent flyer for your airline. For example, on Delta, if you are Gold or above, and on a International ticket, you can use the club for free that day. Diamonds get a year of club membership for free. Many airline credit cards will give you a free pass as well. Also, if you are a member you can usually bring in a few guests.
It’s the 21st century. Don’t ever carry cash. Except for a little bit. There are still some places in this country that require cash for taxis or other services. So take a $20, and try to break it so you have some $1’s for tips.
Do not buy foreign currency at a trading booth, or locally before you go. Call your bank, tell them you want to use your debit/atm card in another country. Hit the ATM when you get there and withdraw in local currency. There are of course fees, but these are usually cheaper than the fees you will pay otherwise.
Use your credit card as much as you can overseas, but have cash just in case. Most other countries I have been too aren’t as obsessed with plastic as we are. You will see that the servers won’t take your credit card away in a restaurant, but bring a table device to you. Also, before shopping, check that they will take your card. Even if they say they take Visa, often European stores require a credit card with a chip and pin. We don’t have those in the US, and you will have to use cash.
Where to sleep
Room selection at a hotel is critical. I try to be on the highest floor possible. Why? This isn’t an ego thing (somehow higher floors are more exclusive, I think because of the possibly better views, but I never care about the view). If there aren’t floors above me, I can’t hear kids running up and down the hall all night. When I got this tip from Neeraj at Quick, I thought it was silly. That night it sounded like the Olympic trials were happening. Families tend to be slotted on lower levels, closer to the pool.
Also, I used to prefer to be at the end of the hall away from the elevator. The thinking is to have less traffic come by the door. But I tend to get back to the hotel later in the day, and this hasn’t been an issue. Now I like to be near the elevator so I have a shorter walk.
Always make sure you door is closed before you walk away. Many hotel doors auto close, but they may not latch perfectly.
Where to sit?
Seat selection on a plane is as critical as where your room is. If you aren’t familiar with your plane model and configuration use SeatGuru.com. Pick you flight, and see what their advice is.
Many people, especially tall people, like my good buddy Jim, like emergency row seats. If you do get one, make sure it is the last row, as the other emergency rows won’t recline (so they won’t block an evacuation). I don’t like them because they are usually taken up by the big and tall, which usually invades my space. The seats are usually shorter, and harder. They may be much colder, and they will also have trays in the armrests instead of in the seat in front of them. Again, this is because that tray could block an evac. The thicker arm rest means less room for you butt because the seat will be narrower.
I prefer to be as up front as possible (quicker off when deplaning). Also, families are usually placed in the back. You don’t want to be there. It’s not pretty.
Also, keep in mind where the galley and bathrooms are. On a long flight (red eye, TATL, etc.) you don’t want to be near these because of traffic, light and noise. Being near the galley is a great way to hear gossip from the FA’s though.
Aisle or window? I go back and forth on this. For a long time I liked window so I had something to lean on when sleeping, I never had to get up to let someone out, and I could sit down and nest while others are boarding. In the aisle you have to get up to let people in and out, and you are constantly hit by people with bags because they are too st00pid to understand how to control their backpack or roll-a-board. Being in the aisle means you can get up anytime without bothering anyone.
The cave of solitude
When I sleep, either at home or on the road, I need the room cold and pitch black, like a cave. Since room darkening shades are rarely perfect I like to keep them closed by using the pants clips that are on hangars. I also keep a few small alligator clips in my bag for this. Then you can clip the shades shut to make sure the light doesn’t get through. I will also stuff a towel by the door to keep the light from coming in from under there. Then I unplug the room clock.
Clocks, alarms and time zones
I don’t use the clock alarm in the room. I have been burned too many times with a clock with the wrong time. And clocks at upscale hotels tend to have more buttons than an F-16 for no reason. They are also too bright for me. I plug in my
phone, and set it on a little plastic stand I have. It looks like a bat-a-rang, and is thin plastic that folds in half to make a little picture frame type stand. I have an alarm clock type app on the phone that I can set to the dimmest setting.
If you are travelling abroad, most hotels don’t have alarm clocks. They might have clocks built into the tv, but those are hard to read across the room without your glasses at night. I just make sure I set my time zone manually on my phone to make sure the time is accurate.
Use the miles
As you travel you will build up frequent flyer miles. The great thing about Delta is that they never expire like on other airlines. I only spend them when it’s a great value. For example, I price the tickets normally, and then price them with miles, valuing the miles at $0.02 or $0.03 per mile. I only want to use the miles when I don’t want to pay the ticket. It would be a waste of miles to buy a $150 ticket when the same miles can buy a ticket to a farther/better place that is worth $500+.
Standing in line
If you are standing in line with a ton of other people, you are probably doing something wrong (except with security). For example, I was on a flight that was delayed by six hours. We all deplaned, and everyone immediately got in line at the counter with one gate agent. That’s 200 people in line. The line stretched on like it was the opening of a Star Wars movie. No one went to the little kiosk that was 10 feet away, which can do the same stuff, or walked two gates down the hall to the Delta customer service desk. If you are going to stand in line, call the customer service people on your cell while you are waiting.
So much can be done on your phone, your app, or a kiosk, that standing is line is a waste of time.
These are small, light, power strips. Outlets are rare in airports (except in Skyclubs, see above). Keep one of these with you. It is easy to make friends when people can share the one outlet in the area.
Sorry for this post being so long, it took me hours to write, but I just wanted to get this stuff down. I am sure I will remember more tips later, and I will try to update this post. Again, most of this doesn’t apply to casual flyers, only to people who live on the road. While I travel a lot, there are plenty that travel much more than I do. I met several people in SkyClubs that fly twice a month to Asia. Now that’s a lot of miles.
Whatever you do, keep calm, and enjoy what you are doing.