Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Flying Professor -Part II: Before you leave home

Part I listed often-overlooked things that when taken along make your trip comfortable, safe, and productive. Part II looks at tasks you’ll find helpful to do before leaving for the airport. As before, I do not get kickbacks from any products mentioned.

Twelve to 24 hours before departing for places exotic:

  • Upload your trip documents (plane, hotel) to There is a security risk in letting LinkedIn colleagues know where you’re going (TripIt is tied to LinkedIn) – you never know who they’ll tell – but TripIt does automatically inform family and co-workers who need to know where you are and will be. It’s also a single-source repository for all your reservations, itineraries, and receipts, making tax and reimbursement tasks easier later on. And alibis too, I guess.
  • I have send a robotic wake-up call to my bedside phone. Voluntarily getting up ‘n’ at ‘em at 3:30 a.m. is something my biorhythms just don’t let me do. Snoozester will repeat the call as many times as I’ve programmed. I generally choose Snoozester’s “pirate” voice; the sultry female voice doesn’t make me want to get out of bed. I can get additional free wakeup calls if you join as a result of my invitation. So if you want me to get this non-monetary kickback, send me your email address. Otherwise feel free to join directly at Snoozester :o(
  • Check the weather at your destination. will tell you if it’s unseasonable, raining, etc. Easier then to avoid showing up with a less-than-useful wardrobe.
  • Check in for your flight using the airline’s web site. Objectively there’s not much point to this (unless it’s your best chance to choose the seat you want). You’ll still have to go through a rigmarole at the airport. But having the boarding pass in hand before leaving home gives a subjective sense of security, and they know you’re coming. If you’ve booked through airline A and your flight is operated by “partner” airline B, A’s web site won’t necessarily recognize your booking code. The sad truth is that airlines are not airlines any more, they’re just travel agents. The “partnerships” like Star Alliance are not truly integrated; they’ve linked tasks that are convenient for them, not for you. However, single bookings for multiple-carrier itineraries are something of an improvement over the past.
  • Charge your cell phones, your computer, and your Kindle. If you’re not first to arrive at your departure gate, early birds will be hogging all the electrical outlets.
  • Alert your credit/debit card issuers (and your credit union) that you’re traveling. Most have “travel alert” links on their sites, though they’re not obvious and you may have to go to the site map to find them. A catch is that the banks haven’t always installed the latest country lists in their drop-down menus. (USAA is a culprit, though they of all companies should know better.) You will have to phone the bank if the country you’re going to doesn’t show on the menu. You’ve got enough to do before you leave for Burundi; why go to all this trouble? If you don’t, the bank may assume a charge requested from Burundi is fraudulent; they’ll refuse the charge and start calling your home number to ask whether the card is stolen.
  • Record “away messages” (your cellular provider boringly calls these “alternative greetings”) on your office and cell phones. Assuming your US cell phone does not work overseas, as mine does not. My message says I’ll be out of cell phone range, won’t be able to answer v-mail for a week, if you’re okay with that then go ahead and leave me a message, otherwise send me an email, or for immediate help call .
  • Dehydration makes everything about traveling so much worse. Unless you enjoy buying bottled water on the concourse (or unless you travel first class, where they’ll bring you liquids at the twitch of your finger), take an empty water bottle and fill it from a drinking fountain or bathroom tap after you’ve passed security. Many airports even in undeveloped countries serve up potable water in their international airports. Caution: Secondary security check agents on US-bound flights may force you to pour out the water before boarding. Always worth a try, though.
  • Use Google maps, Mapquest, or Michelin to get and print out directions from your hotel to every person you have an appointment with during your trip. Once at your destination, you may not have time or facilities* to print them. Printed directions are also a check on the honesty of taxi drivers.

* Alternatively, carry a compact thermal printer. They are convenient but need 15v DC input for charging. This is more than they can draw from your laptop’s USB port, so make sure you also have a converter that turns 110 or 220v into 15v with the right polarity. And a roll of thermal paper.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Flying Professor - Part I: Don't leave home without these

Courses, speeches, and client meetings take me to faraway places, sometimes on short notice. Here are some hard-won tips about this kind of traveling.

Google "packing lists," and you'll find lots of advice about how to fill your entire suitcase. So I won't go there. Instead, this entry, Part I, lists essential items you might not think of. Part II will focus on trip prep – tasks to do before leaving home.

Preliminary note #1: Sometimes the destinations are places with high crime and/or extreme climate.

Preliminary note #2: This list is just from the goodness of my heart (!). I don't know whether the vendors have affiliate programs, and I won't make money if you click through from this blog.

Clothes and shoes

  • Travelsmith clothes, for men and women, are good-looking, breathable, immune from wrinkling, usually machine-washable, and have lots of secret pickpocket-resistant pockets.
  • Rockport walking shoes have steel inserts in the soles, and decent arch support. They are sufficiently rugged for light hiking but clean up well enough for business casual. (Sorry, no walking shoe suggestions for the ladies.)
  • 2-tone dress shoes are da bomb. My black-with-brown-trim slip-ons go with brown suits or black suits (or blue or gray, natch), and save me from carrying an extra pair of shoes - or from having to plan, "This trip only gray suits, 'cause I'm only taking black shoes..." Look for them on or similar sites, or your local shoe store.
  • My Wolf River midweight hiking boots have survived fifteen years of hard use all over the world. Way comfortable. I've only had to replace the laces, though the heel is getting kinda thin now. I've not been able to find these on the web lately :-(
  • My Dad told me, always pack swim trunks, they're light and you never know when or where you'll be able to get in a swim. The advice has served me well. And you never know when your hotel will have a nice hot tub next to its pool.
  • I think you already know to take layers instead of a bulky coat if you're going somewhere (variably) cold.

Software and cloud stuff

  • Don't fail to install Prey on your PC or Mac. If your laptop is stolen, its camera will send a picture of the next user to Prey HQ. Yes, computers have been recovered this way!
  • Of course, put your presentation files on Dropbox. Even if you lose your laptop and all your USB drives, you can still access your file for that important presentation.


  • Going to a country where your US cell phone doesn't work? Buy a Mobal phone. Charges slightly high when you do use the phone, but no monthly charges, nor any other charges, when you do not use the phone. You pay only for calls; this is not one of those deals where you pay for a whole month even if you make only one call. Nice service too, and the phones work in at least 99 countries.
  • A Kindle. Beats shlepping a pile of books! And keeps you from going nuts when you're hurtling through the air at 30,000 feet for 10-hours in one of those overgrown toothpaste tubes they're pleased to call an "airliner." (Yes, I know Amazon has an affiliate program, but I didn't use it in this link.)
  • Take an ethernet cord, and one of those double plugs that lets you splice two ethernet cords together. Hotel rooms without wireless may have Internet access through ethernet. However, if they supply a cord at all, it may be too short for you to work comfortably.
  • Electrical plug converters, natch.

Accounts and financials

  • Get a credit card featuring "no foreign transaction fees." The Marriott Visa card is a good one, and you accumulate generous Marriott points.
  • Carry a folder with all your frequent flyer cards, car rental discount codes, and hotel points program membership cards. Or print out all the numbers on a sheet of paper in your travel file. Reason #1, if your client books your flight, chances are they'll forget to enter your FF#. Reason #2, your travel plans may change - you're re-routed on another airline, or you miss the train and have to rent a car - so have those numbers handy. Oh, yeah, reason #3, if you're a premium member, there's usually a dedicated phone number where you'll get extra good service when you need to change those reservations.

Odds 'n' ends

  • After I got robbed in Peru, I bought a Magellan's VaultPro Max utility bag. Steel mesh in the strap and bag body mean the bad guys cannot cut through it. The secure shoulder strap is supplemented by a belt clip. Way cool.
  • Small USA and hometown gifts. I carry t-shirts, fleeces, ball caps, refrigerator magnets, etc.
  • Carry a spare bag just in case you can't resist shopping. The bag can be ultralight and collapsible, but should have a zipper closure so light-fingered locals can't reach in and snag your souvenirs.
  • Take photocopies of your passport. All kinds of possible uses. Allows you to leave the passport in a hotel room safe.
  • If you intend to participate in sports, take gauze, medical tape, band aids, ointment, and ibuprofen.

Let me know you find this list helpful. Bon voyage!