antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

a lot of travel

Over the past month, and through the end of March, I’ve done, and will be doing, a lot of travel for work.

Nothing I haven’t done before, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to be onsite for more than a couple weeks at a time – most customer leap at the chance to do remote work.

Sadly, that has not been possible with one customer, and the other is highly reticent to allow contractors to engage remotely until they’ve put in several weeks of face time.

Face-to-face interactions are certainly important (I even noted so 4.5 years ago), but conference calls, webexes, and the like can most assuredly replace much of that.

traveling consultant cheat sheet

“Join the Navy and See the World!”*

Perhaps one of the most famous recruitment phrases ever established in the United States.

And it’s not at all dissimilar form what a lot of budding consultants think they are going to do when either joining a services organization, or starting their own business.

I have been fortunate in that I have gotten to “see the world” as a professional services engineer – at least a little.

What the recruitment phrase fails to mention is that while you may “see” the world, you [probably] won’t get to do much while you’re “seeing” it. I’ve been to or through nearly 60 airports in the last several years. I “saw” the coast of Japan a few times when going into and out of Narita. I’ve “seen” Las Vegas – from a couplefew thousand feet. I’ve “seen” Houston – from IAD. And so on and so forth.

The far more realistic view of what will happen is something like this:

  • get call Friday afternoon asking you to be onsite in <someplace> Monday morning
  • book flight, hotel, rental car (if appropriate)
  • make sure clothes are clean
  • do as much Saturday and/or Sunday as you can, since you’ll be gone for a week
  • fly out Sunday evening or Monday morning (I’ll talk about this later)
  • get rental car
  • check into hotel
  • go to customer site
    • work
    • eat
    • sleep
    • repeat
  • check out from hotel
  • return car
  • fly home
  • repeat all of above

As someone who has been doing a travel-based job for 7+ years now, let me share some of the things I have learned with you.

Basics

Loyalty programs

Sign up for airline frequent flyer programs. In the US, this means Delta, United, Southwest, and American Airlines.

Sign up for hotel rewards. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham.

Sign up for the car rental programs. Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, National.

Stay “loyal”

So long as you are able, ie costs are reasonable, schedules are good, etc, stick with a single primary chain for each of the travel categories (airline, car, hotel). If you’re going to get status, might as well get it all with one place when possible.

Sign up for every promotion your loyalty partners make available. For example, I’m a United Guy (used to be a Delta Guy – but that’s a different story). I’m also a Hilton Guy (because Marriott hasn’t been as competitive (price, location) in the markets I’ve been to as they used to be). I have my Hilton HHonors Double Dip go to HHonors points and United miles. And I make sure ay time there is a promo to get more points or miles that I sign-up for it. If Hilton wants to give me an extra 5,000 United miles for every stay after the second between now and 31 August, why not take advantage of that?

Choose the best rewards – for you

Maybe you like traveling so much you want to have Avis points so you can get free car rentals on vacation. Personally, I find turning all my reward points into frequent flyer miles is my best option – renting a car for a week is almost always less expensive than paying for a flight – especially when my family goes somewhere on vacation.

Clothes

Every shirt and pair of pants I take when I go onsite are “no iron”. This saves time when you arrive. And you won’t have nearly as much time as you think you will, most of the time.

Get slip-on dress shoes. You will appreciate this most when going through airport security. But also if you have to go through security to get into customer buildings, etc.

Have an arrival and departure change of clothes that are comfortable – I like jeans and either a polo or comfortable t-shirt.

What about jackets? I like the lightest-weight jacket I can carry/wear: there will not be enough space on the plane for it, it’ll get hot in the airport, and you really only normally need it to walk from the airport to the rental car shuttle / counter, form the rental counter to the car, the car to the hotel, the hotel to the office, and all in reverse. You probably won’t need a parka for those types of activities.

Baggage

There’s a big conversation that surrounds this topic, but I’m going to tell you what works for me. First, check your main bag – it’ll accelerate your time to board, your time between flights (if you have one or more connections), and make it easier to get around the airport when you arrive (easier to use the bathroom, get a meal, etc). So save everyone headaches and check your main bag.

In your one carry-on – a laptop bag- you should have the following:

  • single change of clothes
  • snack & water bottle (empty, of course)
  • basic minimal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc)
  • book (or Kindle, but I like a physical book – there’s never anything to have to turn off)
  • all required chargers (laptop, cell phone, mifi, etc)
  • portable battery backup like an EasyAcc Classic

Arriving and Departing

Day-of? Or night before?

This is almost entirely a personal preference: arriving day-of (eg Monday morning) can be good if you have a family, don’t mind getting up hyper early to get to the airport, and can functional well enough on little sleep.

Arriving night before (eg Sunday night) can be good because if you’re bumped or delayed on a flight, you have cushion before your customer expects to see you.

Either way, always try to check-into your hotel before going to your customer – if it’s an early-Monday arrival, change out of your travel clothes at the airport into work clothes, and have the hotel hold your bags for you.

I alternate between which is better for me to do based on how many connections I have, customer expectations (if you have a mandatory 0900 meeting Monday, and you flight won’t arrive til 0930, you have to come in Sunday night), time of year (weather considerations), etc.

What did I miss?

What would you add/change/tweak on this cheat sheet?


* I always though it should read, “Join the Navy and Sea the World”

charge for carry-on luggage

Airlines over the past several years have begun charging for all kinds of things that used to be “free” (they weren’t ever “free”, they just hid the cost in your ticket price).

One of the worst offenders to this list of fees, though, is the inane charge for your first checked bag whereas carry-on baggage is free. Southwest doesn’t charge for your first two checked bags – and other airlines won’t if you have status or book your flight with their branded credit card – which is the model all airlines should use. But they need to add charging for anything for than your FAA-recognized “personal item”.

Why? Because finding overhead bin space for bulky carry-on bags is what slows most boardings to a crawl. And it is what makes most travelers most frustrated when getting on the plane – not in the first or second boarding groups? They’re going to check your bag(s) for you anyway because all the bin space is taken. (Add-in the ridiculous seat pitch, and you can hardly put anything but a small backpack or purse down by your feet anyway.)

My solution: give the first (and maybe second) checked bags away for free. But charge heavily for carry-on baggage that is more than a personal item (ie your laptop case or purse). (I’d allow an exception for items purchased in-airport from the duty-free shops – they can be carried-on free, too.) By “heavily”, I mean at least $50.

And I would eliminate that crazy practice of gate-checking your bag when getting onto a commuter flight: just check the bag and don’t bottleneck the jetway getting on and off for the rest of us who weren’t as narcissistic as to think bringing our roll-aboards onboard was a good idea.

With the TSA  suggesting everyone arrive at least 2 hours before their flight, there is no reason you wouldn’t have time to check your bags. And with the hassle of trying to navigate a crowded terminal dragging your wheelie duffel behind you, everyone should love the idea of just getting it at baggage claim.

“But what about lost bags?” I hear you ask. Lost and misdirected baggage happens. But it’s pretty rare. It’s something that has happened to me the sum total of 3 times in my flying life (the last 18 years, several of which included flying frequently for work). And of those 3 instances, only 1 ended up with the bag going to the wrong airport – each of the other two ended up with the bag arriving before I did.

Frontier Airlines gets it right (almost – on the carry-on aspect they do, but they still charge for checked bags). Mash Southwest’s checked policy with Frontier’s charging for carry-ons, and you would have a worlds-better flight experience.

The other major benefit to this plan: your time going through TSA will be shorter – the fewer bags that have to be scanned, the less time it will take to get through.