I travel a little too often these days (just about every two days right now). Because of this, I've developed a lot of ways to make the experience as painless as possible. Some of these are gadget-based. Some of these are just processes that speed up my efforts. I'll share all ten and then, hopefully, you'll add some of yours in the comments.
Ten Tools to Improve Business Travel
- Eagle Creek Tarmac 22" carry-on bag - This suitcase was recommended to me by Mitch Joel, and it has been a godsend. I can fit five or six business shirts, four pairs of business pants, underwear and socks, another pair of shoes, a pair of jeans and two tee shirts, plus all my toiletries, without raising a fuss. Women have reported that it's harder to store 2 or 3 pairs of shoes in it. Having a carry-on bag is saving me 20 extra minutes and as much as $50 for not checking my bags.
- Monster Outlets to Go 3 Power Cord - It's small, fits in my laptop bag, and turns one power outlet into 3 (plus a USB charging slot). I call it my "friend maker" at airports, because we're all usually looking for an oasis. It also helps with the typical hotel experience of not enough plugs by the desk.
- Verizon MiFi Card - I recently switched from using a 3G air card (basically a little cell-phone device that connects a computer to the internet via a USB port), to the more versatile MiFi type device, which allows you to connect to it via Wi-Fi, and then it connects to the web via 3G (or 4G in the case of the new Sprint Overdrive). The cool thing? I can connect up to five devices. So, at conferences, when the Wi-Fi goes down, I'm sometimes using my MiFi as a friend maker there, too. Why work only where there's Wi-Fi? Beach, anyone?
- Apple iPad - You've been waiting for someone to tell you it's for business, right? I'm not 100 percent convinced that you can go without a laptop, as it depends how you use your devices, but if you mostly use web-based applications, it'll do you fairly well. I took mine out on the road for a week, and because I bought the optional external docking keyboard, I felt like I had this super thin, super high tech device that did "most" of what my laptop does. One side-effect / benefit - it forces you to singletask (at least at the time of this writing), which means the more fidgety of us will feel a bit hampered.
- Evernote - I use Evernote as my go-to tool to synchronize much of my travel information. It's a note-taking/storing software that allows you to take notes in text, photo, or audio, and has powerful search features to back it. But what makes it cool is that you can access your notes from your laptop, from your smartphone, from a web browser, and more. I keep my frequent flyer and hotel loyalty program numbers in there, as well as notes on favorite spots people recommend for my upcoming visits, plus much more.
- Google Maps - Okay, it's been around forever, but have you used Google Maps as a way to find what's near the hotel that you need? First, find your hotel (or conference center, or wherever you're staying). Second, once you're anchored there, put in a search and add "near ..." , where the "..." is your address. Suddenly, you can find things like pizza places, office supplies, or whatever else you need to improve your stay. I use these kinds of local searches all the time with Google, and it pays off well. (Bonus round: save the best finds in Evernote for later.
- Checking In - I have great luck at getting wonderful hotel rooms. Here's how. As I approach the desk, I have a big smile on my face. I state that I'm checking in and that my last name is Brogan (your last name may vary). I hand the person my identification and the credit card they may use to authorize incidental purchases. I then make whatever smalltalk I can to indicate that I'm pleasant and wonderful to be around. All these things have added up to countless upgrades to suites and other choice real estate. Why? Because MOST other people approaching the desk are indifferent at best. Just a bit of preparation and a spoonful of sugar goes a long way. Bonus trick: if the view doesn't matter to you, hint about that. You might get a killer room without much window appeal.
- Tipping - Here's my (you probably already know it) secret to tipping: tip MORE up front, and just regular at the end. If I'm going to be somewhere for two days, I tip the doorman when he or she helps me. I tip the housekeeping staff two or more times my normal amount on the first night versus the rest of the stay. Guess who gets great advice and lots of clean towels? Necessary? No. Helpful to my having a VIP-class stay? So far, so good.
- Fitness - I'm just not a fan of many hotel fitness centers. They feel a bit dreary to me most times. Instead, I do bodyweight exercises in my room, and then I might seek out a run. You can ask the front desk or concierge for advice on running routes. Most places have at least one runner who can find you the excellent course. Not good enough? Use Twitter Search and put in "run OR running" and the city name. See if you can find a local to ask.
- Gifts for the Kids - As tips are somehow mandatory these days, so are gifts for your little ones. MOST of us get stuck buying something silly at an airport store, where the cost is four or five times what we'd pay for it in a local shop or a big box store. My wife came up with a great solution for this: she stashes gifts in the back of our car when she's out and about, and I just pick two out of that stash to hand over when I see the kids. That way, we don't wind up with a bunch of stuffed puppies with [your cityname here] shirts.
Add Your Travel Advice
Did I miss your best bit of travel advice? Do you have a can't-live-without-it travel gadget? (For instance, I use my phone for an alarm clock. Do you have a better idea?) Let's talk about it in the comments, shall we?
Chris Brogan is the New York Times bestselling author of the NEW book, Social Media 101. He is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, and blogs at chrisbrogan.com.