The Tools of My Travel Trade

Have you joined my incredibly non-annoying, once-in-a-while email newsletter?

Every time I go on a business trip and mention it in HARO, (read: almost daily) I get questions about how I survive traveling as much as I do. Good questions, too, since this year alone, it’s looking like I’ll join the very exclusive sad “400,000 actual miles flown” club. Questions range from “How are you getting the HARO out from a forest?” to “How can you actually get work done on those crappy seats on a plane?” to “What are you using to shoot the WHOH?” and tons of others, relating to all aspects of travel. So with that, as I sit here in the Naples Bay Resort, (speaking tomorrow morning at The Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising Professionals of Collier County,) I have a few minutes to answer the majority of those questions. And no, it’s not self-serving – you might actually learn something here that can help you out on your next business trip. And if after reading, you’ve got a better tip, I’ve got a brand new Ogio bag for the best tip left in the comments section.

Pre-flight Checklist

In the past year, I’ve become such a huge fan of Ogio bags and backpacks. Being on the road as much as I am, these are the only bags I’ve found that can truly keep up with me and not break. I currently travel with my Ogio Layover, which no matter how much I stuff into it, always fits in the overhead with room to spare. When I check luggage, well, I don’t check luggage. It’s that simple. For the nightmare of wasting time waiting for luggage to come to you after your flight (never mind hoping it makes it there at all) the cost of FedEx ground, two days in advance, is well worth every penny. Besides, on some flights, waiting for your luggage, whether you’re elite access or not, takes as much time as getting a cab to and arriving at your hotel. And my review of Ogio has nothing to do with them giving a free bag for the best travel tip below. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t recommend it. That goes for everything.

The only other bag I carry is also from Ogio, is the Epic. This holds my laptop securely in its own compartment, plus what feels like thousands of other compartments for everything else, including all my tools. (See the section below on tools.)

Finally, I won’t travel without my Scott-e-Vest – Full disclosure, I sit on Scott Jordan’s advisory board, but I love, love, love this vest. I’ve been using it in some incarnation since 2000. I take all my crap, blackberry, phone, keys, belt, wallet, etc., put all of it in the pockets, and throw the whole vest through x-ray. Easiest thing in the world.

Airports and Transit

Loyalty is key in business travel. The more loyal you are to a specific brand or chain, the better your chances of being recognized as a frequent traveler. In order for loyalty to work, though, it has to be relevant to your needs. Being loyal to an airline that doesn’t have a hub within easy access of your home base is rather pointless. Living on the West Side of Manhattan, Newark Airport is actually easier for me than LaGuardia or Kennedy. Although, to be honest, LaGuardia, with the M-60 bus, is definitely a close second.

Loyalty at Newark Airport means Continental Airlines, end of story. It owns so much of Newark, it’s no exaggeration to call it Newark Continental. Keeping in mind that it is in fact in another state from where I live, there are several ways of getting there. Being a city kid, I tend to avoid car services as much as possible. But there are times, specifically when your 11pm flight lands at 1:30 in the morning, where a car service is the way to go. ($75-140, depending on the company.) The rest of the time, though, I’m a huge fan of the Airtrain from Penn Station NYC to EWR. $15 from midtown to the terminals can’t be beat. Although, for what it’s worth, sometimes it’s a gamble on whether the connecting tram from the Airtrain station to the Terminals is working. This morning, not so much. That added a nice 45 minutes to my trip at 6:30am on a Sunday.

The final option, my “every once in a while” option, is US Helicopter’s eight-minute trip from the 34th St. heliport to the airport. The true beauty of this fun little jaunt is that you clear TSA security on the Manhattan side. Never a line, the TSA actually treats you with respect, and the helipcopter drops you in the secure area of EWR, past the EWR TSA. You’re at your gate about 11 minutes after departing 34th St. in Manhattan. You can’t beat that. ($150ish base, with cheaper specials most of the time) This is video I shot the first time I took the service:

If you can’t avoid the airport TSA, use the Clear Card. They’re adding them to more and more markets, and it really, really makes it easy to get through security. Hardest part is not turning around and looking at the 300 people behind you in line that you just blew past, and going “HA-HA,” in a Nelson-from-the-Simpsons voice.

International? I LOVE my G.O.E.S. pass, saving me hours and hours at immigration coming back into the US. Get through the one-time application and in-person interview, and you’re golden.

Sometimes, you can’t avoid cabs. Problem is, they usually cost a lot, often smell, and if you land in rush hour, can be the absolute worst way to get from the airport to anywhere. Check and see if your arrival city has mass-transit from the airport. If it does, chances are, you’ll save a ton of time, and several tons of money. Some of the best mass-transit enabled airports I’ve ever visited include Tokyo’s Narita, San Francisco, Chicago Midway, The Paddington Express at Heathrow in London, and McCarran Airport in Vegas.

Just kidding about Vegas. All they have are cabs. BUT… Here’s a secret: Traveling with a few friends or business associates? The per person cost of the cab can easily be put towards a limo, which means no waiting, and guaranteed arrival. After a nightmare flight, having a person with a sign with your name on it meet you at baggage claim can instantly improve the rest of your day, without fail. In mass-transitless cities, I primarily use Carey, but there are tons.

Final option, and a personal fave: If the cab line is long and you haven’t made alternate reservations, do what I do sometimes: Go up to the front of the cab line, turn to the line, and shout, “Anyone going to (my hotel name)? I’ll pay for it if I can join you! It’s almost guaranteed that someone will be, usually within the first ten people on line. You were going to pay for the cab anyway, why not avoid the hour on line, and as a bonus, do something good for the environment? And don’t give me crap about how that’s “not fair.” No one is preventing EVERYONE in that cab line from buddying up. I just choose to do it, they all choose to stay in line like business-travel lemmings. Choice. I haz it.

Making the most of your time

I like getting to the airport early and knowing that I’ve cleared security with plenty of time. The downside, of course, is that you’re stuck in an airport for anywhere from an hour to three hours, waiting. The answer here, of course, is to get as much work done as possible.

American Express Platinum cards and higher offer free access to various airline “clubs,” offering a slight respite from the nightmare that is regular business travel. Features in these clubs include free alcohol, various foods and snacks, and my personal favorite, individual personal workstations, complete with wifi access and a desk and rolling chair. Never underestimate how much work you can get done with a desk, a chair, and a good Bloody Mary.

Of course, these clubs are only good if you’re trapped in an airport that actually has them. Sometimes, even with the Priority Pass (it comes as a free perk with my credit card,) I find myself out of luck. That’s when my arsenal of tools comes in.

Finally: 20 minutes before boarding, not enough time to take out your laptop, but still wanna get some work done? Read my post on “Short-burst downtime.” Perhaps there’s one or two useful solutions in there.

The Tools

These tools have saved me countless, countless times. I travel light, so if it’s in my bag, I need it on a regular basis on the road.

In no particular order:

Sprint Broadband Card: You can choose any carrier, but to have relatively fast internet access from anywhere, not just a coffee shop, is a lifesaver. And, at $59 per month for unlimited access, it pays for itself in four hotel stays where they want to charge you $15.95 per day for Internet. Sprint’s software for Mac needs some work, but when it’s stable, it rocks.

My MacBook Pro. I switched from PC to Mac a little over a year ago, after a 10-year romance with PC that ended up in horrible fights, and was essentially an abusive relationship. I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever go back. I love my Mac.

At $3.95 for a pack of ten pairs, Mack’s SafeSound foam earplugs might be the best value on the planet. Roll up a pair, shove them in your ears, and the crying baby whose parents won’t take my suggestion of giving him Vodka quickly becomes a non-issue.

Ever wind up in an airport looking for a plug to charge your gear, and some dumbass has both plugs occupied with his laptop and cell phone? I walk up nicely, unplug them both, replace them with the Monster Power Outlets to Go 4, plug him back in, smile nicely, and accept the accolades that come from all the other travelers who can now charge their gear along with me. This thing rolls up and is the size of six pens. Totally worth having.

I have an external drive from G Technologies – Small, compact, and plugs in via a really fast wire to my Mac. All the files too big for my hard drive fit on here. It’s virtually indestructible, as well. Only downside, it confuses the hell out of the TSA, and almost always gets flagged for a particle detection.

One of the things I usually charge before my flight is the battery to my Bose Quite Comfort 3’s, the best (in my opinion) noise canceling headphones on the planet. Yes, Mack’s earplugs also cancel out the noise, but now I can watch a movie or listen to music in comfort. And the ultimate in sleeping on a red-eye or international flight is simply to put the Mack’s earplugs in, then put the Bose over them. It’s like flying in a sensory deprivation tank. Totally worth it.

Because I’m ADOS, I like to know where I am, whenever I want. I have a Garmin GPSmap 60CX. I hang it on the window when we take off, and look at it from time to time. This is for no other reason than simply because I’m a dork.

Do not underestimate the value of a clean face. I land after six hours in the air and I feel like I’ve sucked up a gallon of plane oil. I used to have Dickinson’s Witch Hazel as a client – They make the greatest facial wipes in the world. I carry a few with me at all times.

I also carry a small medicine chest – Vitamin C tablets, multi-vitamins, Advil Cold and Sinus, some Excedrin, and some regular Advil. You never know.

Drink. Water.

Finally – I figured out I have no less than four cameras on me at any time. My Blackberry Bold, my LG 8350, (both phones) my Flip HD, and a Casio Exilim. I’ve also become a huge fan of the X-shot, a little one-handed monopod that lets me photograph/video myself without it looking like it’s just my chin filling up the frame.


When I’m not working (at least six minutes a day) I do try and devour some good brain candy from time to time. Since I’m never home, I never watch TV, except for CNN when I’m working in my apartment. But TiVo knows this, and works with me. TiVo-To-Go is a bit of software for my Mac (they have a PC version also) that comes free with TiVo. I simply tell it to transfer specific programs to my computer whenever it detects that it’s in range. So I get home, turn on my Mac, and as soon as it finds my wireless network, all my programs automatically download to my Mac. Why is this better, IMHO, than Slingbox? Because they’re on my computer, and I can watch them without a connection – i.e., on a long flight. I’ve caught up on 24, How I Met Your Mother, and the entire lineup on the Science Channel on flights this season. It’s awesome.

I’m also a fan of downloading some shows from iTunes, and watching them as they become available. Look, in the end, I don’t want to wait a week to see Eliza Dushku in Dollhouse. It’s worth the money for me.

Of course, I have an iPod when I work out. Which brings us to…

Staying sane on the road

Look, business travel is hard. I’m not denying that. But I try and do a few things to keep me relatively normal, so no matter where I am, it feels like I’m home. A little bit, anyway.

I’m a runner/triathlete. I’m not fast, but I’m out there. (I don’t finish with the Kenyans… I finish with guys named “Ken.”) But anyway – I carry my sneakers with me always. I keep a specific travel pair in my suitcase. Whenever I’m in a city, I go for a run. It’s a great way to see a city, and I’ll always Tweet asking if anyone wants to join me. Running with a local rocks.

I just started using the training program from TriSmarter to get in shape for the NYC Triathlon this summer. So far, so good – they email you a daily workout, and with the exception of the swimming, I can easily do every workout wherever I am. Swimming most of the time, depending on the hotel.

Gyms abound in hotels. Some are awesome, some are crappy. It doesn’t really matter. If they have a stationary bike and some weights, I’m happy. If they have a pool, I’m really, really happy. I love my SwimP3 waterproof mp3 player. Puts the music through my skull when I’m in the water. Makes swimming laps that much more fun.

Huge, huge fan of Skype. Can call anyone from anywhere, and it’s like I’m there. Video calling rocks.

I always keep the main clock in my Timex Ironman watch on New York time. T2 is for where you are, but I can always look at that. I like looking and knowing what time it is at home, even when I’m not there. Makes me feel closer to home in some way.

Finally, a few websites I can’t live without on the road, and almost all of these have Blackberry enabled versions.

Seat Guru lets me choose the best seat on the plane. Any airline, any plane. On Twitter at @seatguru

Every bank has online banking now. There’s really no need to ever go to a bank again.

Bloglines is one of the oldest blog readers out there, and in my opinion, still the best. Easy, all in one place, and it just works.

Next time you’re at either EWR or IAH, check in for your Continental flight using your Blackberry, and present it to the TSA for check-in. Messes with the heads something fierce. Lots of fun.

So… Your turn. What works for you? What makes your life easier on the road? Favorite tip? Let’s hear it. I’ll throw in a fun prize from Ogio for the best tip left below in the next week.

Leave a Reply