Last updated 2 April, 2005
My consulting work requires me to spend eight to ten months each year on the road. Thus, I have become something of an unwilling expert on what business travelers need and want. I didn't realize that I was an expert on these mundane matters until 1998, when a Computerworld reporter called, asking to interview me for a feature about traveling IS professionals. I agreed to do the interview, on the understanding that I only had an hour, as I had to catch a flight to St. Louis.
For my fellow road warriors, I would like to address what business travelers really want-and need-to function effectively while on the road. I get a great deal of mail asking questions about travel, life on the road, and the day-to-day realities of working intimately with clients at their sites. So, rather than individually answering all these questions over and over, I'll post an ongoing, informal FAQ here. Check back frequently for updates...and if you have a question that isn't addressed here, please drop me an email.
Why the hell do you live in Montana?
I'm amazed how often I get this question. It is usually followed by "Is it true that you can drive as fast as you want in Montana?"
First, let's dispense with the second question. No. No. No. This is a very unfortunate fallacy about the "basic rule" governing safe driving in Montana. You will not only get stopped for speeding in Montana, you will get saddled with a deservedly heavy fine.
Now back to the first question…isn't Montana very, well, far away? Yes, it is. That's what I like about it. But this is my commute: every week or two, I go to the airport and get on a plane. When I am in a city on business, I make certain that if I'm not right across the street from the office, I will be no more than a few blocks away. At the end of the week, when I am done working, I go back to the airport and get on another plane. My "commute" is rarely more than seven hours each way, and is usually about three or four. So, every two weeks, I have 3-14 hours commuting time. During this time, someone else is always driving or flying; I am working, relaxing or sleeping. That comes down to maybe 30 minutes each day…yet I am inevitably asked about the long flying time by people who fight traffic two or more hours each day.
I subsequently moved to Western Colorado, equidistant from Salt Lake City and Denver. Each of these hub airports is a one-hour flight from Walker Field in Grand Junction. Same story as above. My total weekly commute is generally shorter than people who drive daily in Atlanta, San Jose, or Denver.
Life is simpler and more rewarding if you confine the majority of your business to one or two airlines. The airlines will like you better, too. I have a fistful of frequent flyer club memberships, but try to direct points and perks toward only three. Get familiar with the "partner" lists, and if you are ticketed on an airline you don't use often, put the mileage credit on a "partner" airline. InsideFlyer magazine covers these plans extensively.
Buy an airline club membership. It's an ideal place to work; many provide desks with phone line or Internet access, copy machines, shredders, and faxes. If your employer won't pay for it, pay for it personally and deduct it from your taxes as an un-reimbursed business expense. At an average of $300 per year, it's well worth it. If you are like me, you're a Platinum-level flyer (or equivalent); Delta gives me free club access to their Crown Room clubs.
Hotel chains have frequent guest plans, too, but I find the best plans the ones which allow you to accumulate points which you can exchange for frequent flyer miles rather than free hotel stays. Marriott Rewards and Hilton Honors are two of the best.
Airline "affinity" cards are a big plus for frequent business travelers. Most of the major airlines have these cards, usually rewarding you with one mile for every dollar charged to the card. I use an affinity card to pay for airline tickets, hotel stays, restaurant meals, etc.
Back to Earth: Getting Around on the Ground
Once you are back on the ground, the real hassles start. Ground transportation is often problematic. I prefer to take airport shuttles and taxis wherever possible. It is almost always cheaper than renting a car, additionally you gain the advantage of not having to drive (and get lost) in unfamiliar areas.
Have you ever noticed that it is more complicated to rent a car than buy one? I have rented a car only two times in the last three years. (If a major car rental chain would simplify and really streamline their rental process, they could easily dominate the market. To arrange a consulting engagement chock-full of valuable advice and reasons why I don't rent cars, email me.) Sure, having a car means you are more mobile, but no more mobile than I am with a taxi. Bottom line: before you rent a car next time, think about how often you really need it. Then take taxis, airport shuttles, and hotel limos. It is more efficient, and usually cheaper. You'll appreciate the reduced stress, and you client will appreciate the reduced expenses.
Better yet, retain a car service. Overall, the drivers will be better trained, the cars nicer and cleaner, and you can choose from town cars to limousines. I have a favorite car service in each city that I visit frequently. If you are looking for a car service, Limousines Online has a great on-line directory, and you can request quotes to assure the best price before reserving a car.
How do you pack? What sort of things do you consider essentials?
Packing is an art? While browsing in a bookstore recently, I came across a book with a title to this effect--imagine, an entire book about packing? I browsed through the book, but found nothing that I hadn't learned the hard way. Maybe I would have appreciated such a book 15 years ago.
In any event, packing is at least a valuable skill you can learn. A few simple ideas:
Buy high-quality luggage. I don't mean luggage with designer labels, but instead, refer to rugged, well-made quality luggage. My workhorse luggage used to be made by Targus, including my old favorite, the Sherpa, a rollaboard type, which fits in the overhead compartment of most aircraft. The Sherpa even had a portable laptop case which is secured in its inside compartment with Velcro strips, as well as room for file folders, cables, a cell phone or extra pair of glasses, and ample room for clothes. Unfortunately, Targus "redesigned" the Sherpa and christened it the Shuttle. The Shuttle, though, was inferior in many ways--it was smaller and not nearly as durable, so I chucked my worn-out Shuttle after less than a year. I've since switched to Tumi, which is more expensive, but far more durable.
Pack Lightly! I'm amazed by the quantity of junk many people think they need to pack. I never travel with more than two suits-and no one has ever noticed because I pack 12-15 ties and shirts of various fabrics and colors. Six shirts maximum. After all, hotels have laundry services! (I realize women don't have the luxury of such easily interchangeable outfits.) Sometimes I have to carry so much computer junk and often reference books that clothing is almost an afterthought.
Shoes? Usually just one pair. If I'm going to be at a site over a weekend, I'll pack a casual outfit or two, and wear casual shoes on the plane. Essentials: A tiny, collapsible umbrella. Sometimes I carry a tiny drip coffeemaker. My wife bought me this item in a luggage store; usually I call the hotel in advance to see if they have coffee in the rooms, if not, I pack this little gem. And one of the most important travel accessories: lots of reading material. I stock up on my favorite magazines (Smithsonian, Harpers, The Atlantic) and a few paperbacks. There are inevitable delays in airports, waits too short for working, times when you are too tired to work or times when your laptop batteries are depleted, so better your own choice of reading materials than in-flight magazines.
A couple more travel essentials: a small pair of scissors, nail clippers, a sewing kit. Also I keep small bottles for aspirin and vitamins (for the inevitable skipped meals). Items like these, along with toothpaste, extra razors and toothbrushes stay in my luggage, ready for the next trip. Incidentally, a great gift for a frequent traveler is a toilet kit filled with travel-sized toothpaste, shampoo, etc.
From grueling experience, I have learned to pack essential items in my carry-on. In my computer case or briefcase I have what I refer to as my "ASK," or Airline Survival Kit. The ASK consists of two parts: this first is a tiny airline toilet kit containing shampoo, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. The other is a Ziploc bag with a permanent-press dress shirt, a pair of socks, and a pair of what haberdashers coyly refer to as "men's foundation garments." It doesn’t make up for the inconvenience of an unscheduled overnight layover, but at least I have a change of clothes for the following morning.
What do you do in your free time?
As mentioned above, I read a great deal. While on a consulting visit, there is inevitable downtime, but I rarely have the energy or time to be a tourist. I do, however, bring along some professional reading, as well as notes and outlines for whatever articles, columns or other writing projects I am currently working on.
Where do you stay?
This usually depends on the length of the visit. If the visit is a week or two, I ask the client where they recommend. More often than not, the client has a preferred hotel near their offices, often with direct billing to them, saving us both some paperwork after the engagement is complete. In any event, I always call the hotel before my arrival, to ask key questions about coffeemakers and data ports in the room. Often, with this call and a polite request, I can get a free upgrade to a nicer suite.
If you are going to be in a hotel more than a day or two, be certain to tip the maid! Most people who remember to tip these hardworking, underpaid people do so at the conclusion of the visit. I recommend you tip the maid on your first or second day there. If you need anything later on, you'll be fondly remembered, otherwise you could be viewed as just another demanding guest.
For a longer visit, I try to arrange a corporate apartment rental. This is by far a better arrangement for a longer stay. Corporate apartments are available from many sources, most are rented on a month-by-month or week-by-week basis. Overall, it is slightly cheaper than a hotel, but will be more spacious, with a full kitchen; everything is provided: sheets, towels, dishes and silverware, even housekeeping, concierge and laundry services at some locations. The nicest aspect of a corporate apartment is that it truly becomes a home away from home.
In any event, however, I try to find a location as near the client's office as possible. I prefer to walk to the office each day, saving me from the agony of driving in a strange city or waiting for taxis. Additionally, there is no additional cost of cab fares or rental cars. Sometimes this arrangement isn't always possible, but I recommend that you take advantage of it whenever you can.
Please send any comments to Jeff Gainer.