Road Warrior Tips and Tricks
I have traveled a lot of miles over the years, and have adopted many ways to make it simpler and less stressful. I’d like to share some things that have helped me. Many of these will be familiar to my road warrior friends, but perhaps there will be some new ideas for some of you. I’d like to give a special shout out to my brother John (@uphamj) for some of the tips here. He’s the Road Warriorest traveler I know!
Before You Leave
- Have plenty of spares and keep one of each in your backpack (or daily carry bag). I always keep a computer power cable, USB cord, eyeglasses, sunglasses, universal AC adapter and headphones in my backpack. It’s worth it to have spares everywhere. For example, I have a computer power cord at work, another at home and another in my backpack so I never have to worry about being somewhere without a power cable. I have at least five pairs of earbuds (home, work, car, backpack and gym bag) so I never have to remember to bring them. I don’t carry a phone charger since I can use the USB cable. Getting somewhere and realizing you are missing a cable can ruin a whole trip. The same goes for toiletries. My toilet kit is always stocked with toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush, shaving stuff, etc. so I never have to worry about what might be missing.
- Pack less than you think you need. I used to have a job where I could be gone a few days or a few weeks and would never know how long the trip would be. I could still get on the plane with a backpack and one carry-on. It’s amazing how you few clothes you can need even going away for a week or more. Using hotel laundry is costly, but I’ve been lucky because it’s always been an allowed expense for me. If you can’t expense it, look for another laundry service outside the hotel or do it yourself. If you’ve ever experienced a lost suitcase, you’ll be forever grateful if you can get away with one carry-on bag. If you must check a suitcase, pack a toothbrush and small toothpaste, a clean shirt and underwear in your backpack so you’ll know you can clean up a bit if your checked suitcase gets lost.
- Buy some snacks for the plane ride before you get to the airport. You already know you can’t rely on the airlines to provide a decent meal and sometimes you have to suffer through it, but if your flight sits on the tarmac for an hour or more before taking off, you may appreciate a little nibble. And it might be enough to deter you from paying $8 for a stale turkey sandwich.
- Men, wear a sport coat on the plane. You’ll have more pockets and it won’t get as wrinkled as it would in a suitcase.
- Pack an extra pair of shoes, sneakers if you plan on doing a lot of walking. One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite tips for staying comfortable during a long day was to change shoes. I have found this to be true. Changing your shoes before you go out at night after a full day feels great. Stuff the shoes with belts, socks and anything else that will fit when you pack them in your suitcase.
- Put plastic dry cleaning bags around dress clothes before packing. It will help reduce wrinkles.
- Get to the airport plenty early! I always plan on being there two hours before scheduled departure. This may sound like overkill, but there are just too many variables between home and the gate. I had two experiences recently that confirmed this. One, the long-term parking lot was full and everyone was diverted to another lot even farther away with less frequent shuttle service to the terminal. This added at least 30 minutes to trip. The second was in line at TSA and they were training a new agent (no comment on their training practices) and we waited to clear security an extra 20 minutes by my calculation. International flights take much longer to check in than domestic flights because there are fewer business travelers (road warriors!) so it takes longer at the self-serve kiosks and an agent has to check travel documentation. Since I usually get access to an airline club (I’ll even pay), it doesn’t bother me to sit in one for an hour or two with free snacks and Wi-Fi, knowing I’ll have not stress about getting to the gate on time.
- If you’re traveling internationally, it doesn’t hurt to call your credit card companies and let them know. You’d hate to deal with a declined card when overseas because your purchases triggered a possible fraud warning. Some credit cards let you do this online, which is great.
- Use tech tools and apps to book and plan your trip. I love Kayak for checking airfares, TripAdvisor for hotels and things to do, Lyft and Uber for transportation and foursquare and Yelp for restaurant reviews. If it’s absolutely necessary to get online and there’s no free Wi-Fi, Boingo will provide service, but the price is steep. All the major airlines have smartphone apps, some better than other, but all useful in some way. Make sure you’ve downloaded any smartphone versions of corporate apps you may need (e.g., VPN, salesforce.com, internal apps).
On the Plane
- None, or very limited alcohol. I repeat: none, or very limited alcohol. Being on a plane doesn’t mean you are on vacation. I’ve seen too many people partying on the plane and then regretting it the next day. Those first class upgrades make it very tempting to drink, but it’s not worth it. And with very few exceptions, the wine is usually bargain basement, even in First Class. The dry air on the plane will dehydrate you. Adding alcohol will make it exponentially worse.
- After passing through security, buy bottled water to bring on the plane. (Make sure you can take water on the plane even after security check. Some airports, e.g., Beijing, have a second security check and no containers of water are allowed on the plane.) I bring 1 liter for cross-country, 2L for international flights. Hydrating during the flight and not drinking alcohol are the two best ways to avoid jet lag.
- Etiquette tip: most seasoned travelers will give the middle seat passenger the use of both armrests. It’s only fair since sitting in the middle seat can be brutal. Pay it forward and hope you’ll be granted the same perk next time you’re stuck in the middle.
- Set your watch (old school!) or phone to the new time zone as soon as you get on the plane. This will help trick your mind to adjust to the new time zone.
- On overnight flights, if you want some help sleeping, don’t take a strong prescription pill like Ambien, which will leave you groggy when you wake up. Use something lighter that soothes you just enough help you get some sleep. An over-the-counter anti-histamine like Benadryl, or Dramamine (even if you don’t get motion sickness, it will make you drowsy) or Melatonin will all help you relax. As with any meds, even over-the-counter, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking something new. I’m not a doctor, just a road warrior!
- I try not to be rude, but I’m very judicious about starting or participating in conversation, especially on a long flight. If I need to sleep, or do work, or just watch movies, it’s a challenge if your seatmate won’t stop talking.
- These are expensive accessories for sure, but a great investment if you need to spend a lot of time on a plane: noise-canceling headphones (I have Bose and love them) and a tablet computer. The noise-canceling technology really works. I can’t always sleep listening to music so I sometimes just put the headphones on with no sound playing. I like to watch movies on the plane and the battery life on my iPad is better than the laptop, plus I don’t drain the laptop battery.
- Don’t book the bulkhead seat unless you know you won’t need to keep your bag near you. Most bulkhead seats don’t have space for a bag and the flight attendants are pretty strict about enforcing the rule. Seats near the doors tend to be pretty cold and a lot of airlines don’t give out blankets anymore. Not all exit row seats recline. Usually the first row of seats marked exit won’t recline.
- If you’re on an airline where you don’t have preferred status, consider paying extra to board early. If you’re in the last boarding group, there may be no more room for your carry-on and you’ll have to gate-check your bag.
When You Arrive
- It’s well known, but worth repeating: plan your day as if you have already been in the time zone of your destination. If you arrive in the morning, stay up all day and go to bed at your normal time. If you arrive late at night, try and go to sleep. The quicker your force your body to recognize the new time zone, the better you’ll feel.
- Exercise! One of the best ways to beat jet lag is to go for a jog or good walk. Getting into the sunshine also helps your body adjust to the new time zone. A daily visit to the hotel gym or pool is never a bad idea.
- Remember, you’re not on vacation! Eat healthy food, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol as best you can.
- At the hotel, I always leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. When I leave the room, I keep lights and TV sound on. If I need clean towels, I call housekeeping. Minimizing the traffic into the room reduces the chance of valuables being stolen.
These are the guidelines I try to follow. I’d love to hear from you! If you have your own tips, please leave them in the comments or DM me @uphamb. Have a safe trip!