Monday, March 8, 2010

Oh the Places You’ll Go – Part 5

And how to get there without going nuts

This is the final part of my series of travel tips. They’re hard-won lessons I learned traveling for various companies to distant corporate offices, to customer sites, and to trade shows and similar events. There were long trips, short trips, and even once or twice a trip I actually wanted to make. I can’t remember what they were, but I assume there were at least a couple I didn’t dread. I started with tips for choosing your preferred airline and actually selecting a flight. Then I wrote about choosing a preferred hotel and I finished off with defeating stress at the security checkpoint. Today, I’ll finish off with various tips on packing, dressing and getting in and out of the airport and hotel.

Topic 4: Packing – everything about air travel conspires to make packing as difficult as possible. My policy was always to avoid checking bags if possible because it added so much time and complexity to the trip. Checking bags meant an extra stop on the way into the airport to drop off your bag. It added the possibility that your bag would be stolen, mis-routed or would explode in transit. If you have a tight connection, you may be able to run through the airport and make your flight, but your checked luggage surely won’t. And this is business travel – you’re not lounging around a resort waiting for your bags to show up. You’ve got meetings with executives, customers, employees or business partners and they’re absolutely not going to be impressed with you if you show up in dirty, wrinkled clothes because your luggage didn’t make the trip. They may feel bad for you, but you don’t need to risk the stigma of not looking your best when you’re trying to make an important pitch.

Yet carry-ons can be a major hassle, too. You have to lug or drag them through the airport and you need to stow them somewhere on the plane. And as I mentioned in part 2 of this series, it can be really stressful if your carry-ons end up way behind you on the plane where you can’t get to them easily when it’s time to disembark. And none of this even includes the ever-changing and always increasing rules about fees and allowances for baggage.

On three occasions, I needed to travel with enough stuff that it was worth the extra hassle to ship my extra gear ahead of time so it would be waiting for me when I got to the hotel. For our big Disney World trip a few years ago, my family saved a FORTUNE on food for the kids by shipping down staples like bread, peanut butter and cereal. The kids are picky as hell and weren’t going to eat the “real” food at the restaurants anyway, so why pay for it? Just remember – you need to allow time and materials to ship stuff BACK at the end of your trip.

So if you’re not checking bags, you’ve got to fit all your stuff into a carry-on. And guess what? It’s NOT ok to just take a full-size bag and use it as a carry-on. It won’t fit in the overhead compartments and it will piss off the other passengers. What you need to do instead is to pack carefully and selectively, bringing only those things you absolutely will need for your trip and avoiding everything else. And also – and this is key for Americans who tend to be really uptight about cleanliness – remember that it’s not the end of the world to wear a pair of jeans or slacks two or three times between washings if they don’t get stained or horribly wrinkled. This will save you from having to pack multiple pairs of pants when one pair will do.

Lastly, when you do get all your stuff together, pack smart. If you’re packing shoes (again, minimize these – they’re heavy, take up space, and how many do you really need?), put stuff inside them like socks or rolled ties. They’re stiff, which makes them good for protecting things like an electric razor. Make sure you put the heavy stuff on the bottom so it doesn’t smash down and overly wrinkle lighter stuff like shirts. Remember, you’ll probably pack your bag lying flat, but you’ll cart it around upright and everything will slide to the bottom. And most important, put anything you need to get to – like your baggie of liquids, an in-flight book, maps, etc., - on top where you can get to them without having to unpack your whole bag. The same applies to your carryon or laptop bag – don’t pack stuff you plan to use underneath a bunch of cables and power cords that you won’t need in-flight. Finally, consider carefully what to pack and what to wear to maximize both comfort and packing convenience.

Topic 5: Optimizing your Attire
One way I tried to minimize my packing issues and flight stress at the same time was to choose my travel attire carefully. For instance, if I needed to bring a blazer (I avoided suits at all costs), I wore it on the flight. It got less wrinkled than it would have if I tried to cram it into my carry-on, and it didn’t take up all that space. Likewise, I never wore my jeans on the plane because my belt buckle was just heavy enough to set off the metal detector.

I did tend to always wear a shirt with a pocket, because it gave me one more handy place to put my boarding pass, driver’s license and/or sunglasses when I needed a place to stow stuff quickly. And to get through security as easily as possible, loafers were a must.

Most importantly, though, to enable light packing I almost always wore the same clothes out and back on my trip. I mean, how dirty do you really get sitting on a plane for hours and hours? If my flight had been twelve hours instead of six, it’s not like I’d have gone and changed clothes halfway through. This meant that if I had a Monday through Friday trip, I really only had to pack for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Topic 6: On the Ground
Once I landed at my final destination, I was in good shape. I had my carry-on close at hand because I was one of the first on the plane and I had my key materials close at hand. I’d always keep my paperwork somewhere accessible. This included my car rental info (if any) and my hotel confirmation number. I’d also print out beforehand any maps and driving directions I needed, in extreme detail. I’d determine what routes I’d need to take and in what order, then I’d print maps. For instance, if I was going from the airport straight to the hotel, I’d have a map for that, then another map from my hotel to my business destination (s). I’d often print out reverse directions too, since you couldn’t be sure that the reverse route was truly the same. And all of that went into a folder I’d keep in a slip-pocket of my laptop bag.

Upon getting to the hotel, I had a specific routine. Before I unpacked or even took off my coat, I inspected the room for bedbugs. Specifically, I’d check between the mattress and the box spring, especially in the crevice of the thick piping around the edge of the mattress. The key, if you’re not familiar with bedbugs, is that they sometimes get a good swig of blood, then get squished under the mattress, leaving a little bloody spot (that isn’t likely to be cleaned up). I was VERY lucky never to find any critters, but I did once find a bed that clearly had been used and never changed. I also once found a moldy old pizza in the convenience bar (the little fridge filled with over-priced snacks). That one’s a funny story, actually.

It was my only stay at the Las Vegas Rio hotel, which was, generally, a nice enough place. The Voodoo lounge was a cool place to hang out and had a nice view of the strip’s skyline, even though the Rio itself is a block or so off the strip. I got to my room and during my initial inspection found the moldy pizza. Now, I’m not the sort of guy who looks for the slightest imperfection and then uses it to bully my way into an upgrade or free stuff. I just called the front desk and was put through to… somebody. I forget which department I reached first, but they assured me they’d take care of it right away. Yet the next time I checked (either that night or the next day), it was still there. So I called again and was put through to a different department. Again, they assured me it would be dealt with expeditiously. But then again, there it was. Here’s the problem – there’s a crew who stocks and maintains the convenience bar. They are, apparently, NOT allowed to throw stuff away. They’re not cleaners, they’re stockers. Then you have the cleaning crew. They are NOT allowed into the convenience bar. After all, they might steal stuff and it would get charged to the customer (who would no doubt get really pissed off – that stuff’s outrageously expensive). So who’s job is it to clean something gross out of the convenience bar? NOBODY’s!! I decided that it was time for an object lesson in making sure your customer service trumps your policies and/or union regulations. I complained to the front desk and insisted that they upgrade me, which they did. My new room actually wasn’t all that much nicer, but I’m pretty sure they got the message. I’ll never forget that trip – my return travel day was the Friday that the liquid bombers from the UK tried to blow up a plane. I scrapped all my early-morning plans, ditched my liquids and made a bee-line for the airport because news reports had the security lines taking upwards of two hours at major airports. Sure enough, I was lucky to make my flight on time.

Anyway, back to the travel tips. Here’s a great trick for traveling light with dress shirts: I always bought “wrinkle-free” shirts and packed them as carefully as I could. It didn’t help – they still arrived fairly un-wearable. But when I arrived at my hotel, after inspecting the place, I unpacked them, hung them on hangers, and then hung them in the bathroom with the shower cranked up on hot. Once the room was good and steamy, I turned off the shower and let them hang there until morning. The combination of the steam and the shirts own weight drew most of the wrinkles out of them – at least enough to make them wearable to all but the most ostentatious affairs. Very rarely would I iron anything, mostly because I suck at ironing. I remember once my buddy Warren insisted on re-ironing my shirt because I’d done such a half-assed job of it. Sadly it wasn’t a wrinkle-free, so my shower trick was rendered powerless. Don’t blame me – if I’d been in charge of ordering our department’s logo’d shirts, you can be sure they would have been.

And that’s pretty much all the major travel tips I can think of. There are a few smaller ones, I suppose. When you’re on the plane in the aisle, be aware of the drink cart because they’ll bruise the hell out of your foot and/or shoulder if they’re sticking out. Also, if your laptop is open on the tray table and the guy in front of you reclines his seat, it’s possible that your LCD screen can get caught in the lip of the tray’s storage well (the indentation where the tray folds into the seat back) and crushed. So watch out for that – I usually kept my screen pulled slightly more forward than was most comfortable unless I was positive that the guy in front was fully reclined. Also, most airlines will give you a full can of soda, rather than just a little bitty cupful, if you ask. At least they used to – these days, I can’t be certain.

Some people like business travel. I always hated it, but that’s me. Either way, hopefully these tips will make the trip either more enjoyable or less unbearable. If you’ve got tips of your own, by all means post them in the comments section.

No comments:

Post a Comment