10 Tips For Life On The Road

This guest post was written by my friend Ben Smithee, who finds himself traveling frequently for work (I am convinced he travels as many miles as airline pilots). Ben, Managing Partner at Spych Research, quite possibly has more energy than any person I have ever met. I’ve had the honor of speaking at a few conferences with Ben and seeing first hand the master multitasking juggling skills that Ben possesses. Speaking of… this post was probably written from an airplane…

So, you just landed the job you have been wanting, and you finally get to be a road warrior for a bit? Well, the truth is that it can be the most glamorous thing, or it can suck an egg in a heartbeat! Hopefully, this will help make life on the road the dream you envision. I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way, and hopefully you will share yours with me as well.

1) Journal

Life on the road means excellent people-watching, random happenings, amazing experiences, and a ton of things you will want to remember…..it’s worth writing down, so buy a moleskin and carry it with you at all times!

2) Frequent Flyer Programs/Hotel Rewards Programs

It’s basically like free money. Even if you are just the casual traveler as of now, it doesn’t hurt to enroll. I keep a running tab of my FF program numbers in my laptop bag so I always have them on-hand. The miles add up quick, and why not take advantage of it. Traveling as much as I do, I really try to keep the majority of my miles on one airline, or airline group e.g. Star Alliance, so the status upgrades happen easier. Getting into the status upgrade level is like going into the “Beyond” section of Bed, Bath and Beyond in the movie Click. Trust me, it’s where the magic happens! I rarely have a flight on US Airways that I don’t get upgraded to first class, for FREE! That means comfier seats, a selection of booze, and chance to talk B-talk with the gent next to me. Hell, most of the time it means a more pleasant nap on that redeye! (For me, sleep is a bonus) I also double-up with credit card points. For my company, I have us on the US Airways credit card, so that means when I book travel using the card (flights, hotels, car service, food, etc.) I get reward miles for everything I use it for, and doubly so for my flights.

3) Tripit/Travel Tracker Pro

If you are going to be on the road a lot, save yourself the time and stress and use Tripit, and use the Travel Tracker Pro application if you have access to it. It is amazing! Once you have your Tripit account set up, every time you receive your confirmation e-mails (flights, hotels, rental cars) you simply forward the e-mail to plans@tripit.com and it automatically puts it neatly categorized into your itinerary, that you can access and manipulate on your phone via Travel Tracker Pro. My good friend Abby (@AbbyLeafe) introduced me to TTP and it rocks! Nothing like being able to have all of your travel info needs at the tap of a finger on your mobile. No more writing down confirmations, no more printing out pages, no more pulling out your laptop or tablet to find the confirmation, it’s simply there and TTP also keeps your flight info very up-to-date. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have seen the flight change/gate change info on my TTP app several minutes before they announce it at the gate or on the screen. I can honestly say it has never failed me either. Very dependable, which matters when you spend more time in airports and hotels than at home.

4) Billing

This one may be something you are already doing for the most part, but it is something people never think about when they ask me about what they need to know for extensive travel. When I first started traveling extensively a few years ago, billing was the biggest logistical hassle for me! I had the cc bills, the banking statements, the cell phone bill, the car insurance, renters insurance, student loan, etc. Some were online billing some were paper. Well, obviously I do all of my billing online now (I think most do), but you have to be organized about it, especially if you do not do auto-billpay. So, find out what works best for you. For me personally, I have just got in the habit of checking my accounts at the first of each month and marking due dates on my calendar in outlook/entourage (I live out of my outlook/entourage calendar and inbox). Mint.com probably has some nifty functionality, or other apps may be able to help with this as well, but this is what works for me, and I know I can rely on it. Maybe I am the only one that found this logistically challenging, but I doubt it! Also, I generally travel with cash in my pocket (not that much, so don’t try to rob me). Cabs in NYC are great because they all take credit cards/debit cards and they don’t b**** about it. Other cities are a pain in terms of paying credit for taxis, and it takes forever if they don’t have the automatic systems. Just carry some cash, it basically is the only time I do carry cash. Plus, when you’re in NYC and want a hotdog or need one of those $2 umbrellas, you’re good to go!

5) Luggage

This brings me to luggage! Luggage is essentially your house/car/security blanket when you are a road-warrior. People see the price tags on nice luggage and throw-up in their mouths a bit, but once you have lived life on the road, you tend to swallow that price tag a bit easier. Now I am not saying go out there and buy a brand new set of LV matching bags, I am talking about spending money on good luggage, because nothing is worse than a huge #luggageFail in the middle of a 2-week b-trip to Europe. I once had my handle on a rolling briefcase break while in NYC for a week, and it sucked like no other suck has ever sucked! Learn from my mistake, and just spend a few extra bucks on luggage.

I will be honest and let you know I use Tumi luggage, and for a couple of reasons. It is solid stuff, it is engineered to make sense, and still look great/professional, is durable, and their service is phenomenal. I buy my luggage at Bag’n Baggage because the main HQ/warehouse is here in the Dallas area and if I ever have any issues I can take it there and get loaners while they fix mine or get a replacement on the spot. If you’re not here in Dallas, just find the best pricing and buy it there (I have also got a really good deal on a Tumi carry-on at Costco). If you’re still not convinced about spending the extra dough, then think about how much money I am putting into that laptop briefcase (Macbook Pro, Digital Camera, Flip Camera, Moleskin, Passport, Portable HD, every dongle known to man, chargers, pens, you get the point) , then think about the money you spend on business clothes and suits and the value of what you are putting in your suitcase. Ladies, just think about your precious shoes that you are putting in there, and you will have a nice set of luggage on this year’s Christmas list.

6) Don’t check luggage!

It is a waste of time and money. I can honestly do two weeks in Europe for business in a carry-on. Nothing is worse than being on the road and having your luggage lost. If you are on a series of trips, it never catches up with you and it is like a race to the finish, only you always lose because you have no clothes! Travel in your outfit that takes up the most space, and the slip on shoes thing is no joke. I pack a suit but travel in jeans and a blazer. Jeans are bulky, and wearing a blazer gives me another jacket option. By the way, traveling carry-on also comes in handy when the flight attendant accidently spills red wine on your shirt, or hot tea. You just grab your bag and change shirts in the bathroom and avoid the embarrassing stains on your shirt when you meet your client upon landing (has happened to me twice).

Those of you who know me can vouch for the fact I am not the typical guy that can live off of t-shirts, jeans and a couple pairs of boxers. I am talking a suit, dress shirts, brown and black shoes (sometimes even tennis shoes), jeans and the rest of the essentials. This is where good luggage comes into play, and smart packing. I‘ve tried individual folding, the rolling method, you name it, but recently what has worked best is the core bundle packing, where you stack all of your stuff unfolded and then fold it in one big bundle. Seems to have less wrinkles and efficient space. I just do this for my shirts only. I put my shoes on the base, then separately fold jeans and stuff socks and underwear, belts etc. in the spaces, then bundle my shirts on top. My suitcase has the fold out valet for my suits and then I leave a space for my toiletries.

7) The Gadgets

So what else is in my luggage you may ask? There are a few things will make your life easier and a few things that I never leave home without. First, buy an extra charger for your laptop and cell phones. Leave them in your briefcase and your cell chargers in your suitcase (I also leave my voltage adapters in my suitcase too). Don’t take them out and leave your home set at home. The cell charger is generally the last thing you remember/first thing you forget as you run out of the door to rush to the airport, and you end up leaving chargers in hotel rooms and at home. Just save yourself the stress and have a dedicated travel set. I used to use the iGo technology too, it has the multi-charger functions and lets you use one charging cable for multiple items. On the road, I just charge my iPhone and Blackberry from my laptop via USB (I also carry a multi-USB port).

Music is essential to my travels and life in general, plus it is much more pleasant to listen to than the cute little baby-turned-demon-spawn crying in seat 13D. Personally, I am very picky about audio and the quality. I used the Shure noise-cancelling earbuds for a long time and recently switched to the Klipsch noise-cancelling earbuds and probably will not go back. I am not a huge fan of Bose, and the over-the-ear are nice sometimes, but I am a fan of the earbuds. Plus a 3-inch square pouch is much more travel-friendly than the big Bose case (I really think the sound is better too). Nice sets of earbuds are expensive, so you have to make the choice there, but for me it’s no contest. Plus the Klipsch have the volume and call controls on the wires that help out when the kind flight attendant asks you if you want another drink.

8 ) Be productive

One of the most productive work times for me is when I am in the air. Unless there is a real reason, I avoid jumping on the in-air wifi as much as possible. It saves me (my clients) money, and the amount of writing and e-mail replies I can jam out on a fe hour flight is phenomenal. Think about it, it’s forced productivity, no phone calls, incoming messages, texts or Facebook? It’s like the 90’s all over again I am sometimes limited in what can be accomplished on the plane. If you have a neighbor with wandering eyes, it is nearly impossible to get any important or confidential reporting done. I have not invested in one of those privacy screens for my laptop, but have thought about it. If anyone has experience with them on a Mac, let me know!

Writing blogs, journals, etc. is a great thing to do on a flight. The trip is still fresh in your mind, and it sort of lets you transition to the next part of your journey. For me, video-blogging on a plane is still too weird. Maybe I am just a spaz and too worried about making the person next to me uncomfortable. Anyone have recommendations to get over that?

9) Meet people!

Use social media for what it was intended. Really, it’s ok to make new friends, and run into random people at the bar, airport or while grabbing lunch. I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people while on the road, and it never would have happened if I just stayed in my room and got room service. I have the benefit of often traveling with colleagues or clients, but I still do my fair share of solo travel. It took me a while to get to the point of being okay with just meeting random people (though it may be a shock to some of you who know me), but I am really glad I got over it.

Try to meet up with your Twitter followers or blogger friends, even if it is for a 10-minute coffee in the morning. I always try to meet up with a person I know in the city I am in, as that is one of the biggest benefits to being a road-warrior. You have the opportunity to not limit your in-person interactions to your own city. You no longer have to wait for #SXSW to meet your friends and fellow SM-addicts in-person. Reach out to people, they will appreciate it and probably want to meet up too.

10) Patience

The absolute most important thing to have on the road is patience. When you travel 100k+ miles a year you can be guaranteed a few things. You will have flight delays, you will have gate changes, your hotel room will not always be ready, and the taxi driver will not always know where they are going! I promise you. You can’t control those things, you only can control the way you respond to them.

A smile goes a long way! The people traveling with you do not need another person grumbling about the delay, or moaning about the gate change, everyone is in the same shape, and everyone is not happy about it. Just accept it and realize it will all work out somehow. It is super easy to get stressed out from travel ordeals, but that just leads to poor sleep and less fun. Travel, even when it is for work, can be a great time, and you can really enjoy it. Let me know what your tips are, and if I forgot anything!

Safe travels, and let me know when we are going to be in the same city!

7 thoughts on “10 Tips For Life On The Road

  1. Great post Ben! I used to travel 5 days a week and typically a different city almost every day. One key tip is to optimize yourself for airline security checkpoints. 1) Slip-on Shoes 2) Empty pockets into computer bag 3) liquid toiletries in ziplock bag are just a few.

    Travel safe my friend. Boy do I miss my Exec Platinum status on American Airlines.


  2. One tip I’d add to Ben’s very great list is – carry snacks. I’ve been stuck on grounded airplanes or podunk airports or running through an airport to catch another flight and found that I was starving. Packing my carry on like I’m traveling with a 5 year old (hello me) has been an important lesson for me.

    Mike – I agree with slip on shoes, I also take my belt off and stick in my laptop bag before getting to the airport.

  3. Ben…I love all the tips in here. Especially the first and last ones. I am addicted to my moleskins. I have over 10 from the past 3 years. What a great way to end the post by encouraging patience. It is tough to remember to smile as your standing in line to check-in, your client is calling you and you’re behind a screaming baby. Having that moment of reflection is essential for a great trip. I always try to remember why I am traveling for business…the end goal for me is FF miles and that means personal vacation! :)

  4. The all important 1-qt ziploc baggie needs to be easy to access. I put mine in top, small, outside compartment of my carry on. Women need to purchase a briefcase that can easily contain their purse. When I needed to get a new briefcase I took my old one with my purse in it and make sure everything easily fit. No time to waste when going through security. And as for all the time spent standing in line, waiting for the late plane, etc. – I practice my Tai Chi and no one really seems to notice. Finding a mind/body practice that can be done anywhere, anytime can exponentially make life on the road more pleasant.

  5. Hand sanitizer.

    But then I’m a little bit of a germ phob. Ok, that makes me sound crazy so let me rephrase…

    I don’t wash my hand obsessively or freak out about touching things in public places, but comeon now. Airports and airplanes are filthy! All that recycled air doesn’t help matters either. So if you want to help your immune system out, pack some hand sanitizer. Because you don’t know for sure if that dude you are sharing an arm rest with on the plane washed his hands after taking a massive dump. Just saying.

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