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10 Travel Survival Tips for the Traveling Geek

By steve - Posted on 25 March 2011

"Travel is fatal... to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
-- Mark Twain

Business travel isn't what it used to be. Or maybe it is, but just more so.

Here are 10 quick tips to improve your trips...

  1. Dress for travel. Bring a coat. Make sure your shirt pocket will hold your boarding passes. (Avoid the multi-pocketed fishing/camera vest or zip-off pant legs as you'll end up bringing too much junk in your pockets and look like a nerd (and not in a good way)).
  2. Make 3 copies of your itinerary, boarding passes, passport, and country visa pages and put a set of each in your suitcase, your laptop bag, and your pocket.
  3. If you aren't going business class or better, upgrade from coach to "economy premium" or "economy comfort" or at least book an exit row aisle seat. The difference in how you travel and how you'll feel when you get there will be amazing.
  4. Travel light. Carry-on only. Try for one bag and skip the laptop bag, if possible. Skip the laptop, if possible. When you think you've stripped things down as far as they can go, take out another 10%.
  5. Look at your technology and minimize what you have to carry. If you have a good cell phone, you can often leave your camera, e-reader, MP3 player, netbook, etc. at home. If you are bringing a laptop, make sure the device(s) you bring will charge off the USB port and leave the device specific chargers at home.
  6. Sign up for a frequent flyer program that makes sense, even if you don't think you'll get enough miles to do anything. One unexpected international trip and you could be flying "elite" for the next year. Even making the first level of most programs gets you enough benefits to make it worth the minimal effort.
  7. Figure out what it will take for you to be comfortable on the flight and during the inevitable delays. I always have with me:
    • A bottle of water purchased after clearing security. Except in a few international flights that have a second security checkpoint, you'll be able to bring it on board. I also bring the little tiny mix-in flavor packets of drink mixes. I like water, but after 10 days of nothing but bottled water in India, I need a change of pace.
    • Snacks. I like a mix of salty, sweet, and chewy snacks. I bring enough to replace a few meals and enough to make sure I don't have to be hungry. I also bring enough to share with seat mates. If I'm going for a week, my carry on is about 20% snacks. Seriously. I've been stuck on planes, in airports without open restaurants, and hotels without access to any food, so I have no problem at all with bringing more than enough to generously last the entire trip.
    • Whatever OTC or prescriptions drugs it will take to get through the trip. This includes dramamine, tylenol, immodium, charcoal, tums, or whatever. Most of these go in a repurposed drug bottle that I keep in my pocket, not in the carryons that I may not have access to due to airline policy or overcrowding.
    • Something to read, even after my e-devices stop working.
    • Paper and a couple of pens. These are handy anyway, but when you have to fill out an immigration form on the plane has you head into another country (or return), you'll find no one else brought a pen and expect to borrow yours. My nice pen stays with me and the "$1 for 20" Office Depot pens get loaned out.
  8. Get into the airport 2 hours or more ahead of the flight time. You can get through security and settle in, buy your $3 bottle of water for the flight, and get some work done rather than worrying about making the flight. There have been plenty of times where I've gotten to the airport a little earlier and, when my first flight was cancelled, I was the first (and last) to get on an earlier flight and still made all my original connections.
  9. Keep all your expense receipts in one large envelope and write each expense down on the outside of the envelope. One envelope per trip. You'll be a lot more organized when you land and you'll have everything you need, including any non-receipted expenses you wrote down.
  10. Business travel, except at the highest and most expensive levels, is a total pain. However, try and get something out of the experience. Push yourself out of the hotel and check out some of the sites or local points of interest. Learn something. Talk to someone. Make a friend. Encourage the staff where you stay. Be the bright light in someone's day. Be a traveler, not a tourist. Break out of the silent routine that typifies most business travel and take a risk. Help someone that needs it. Make a difference.

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