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Excerpt from A Survial Guide for the Travleing Techie,
from section 1.7, "CRITICAL POINTS"

The gift of anticipation makes a great traveling techie. I've learned to identify a set of critical points in travel when it's easiest for things to go wrong; these are the points where I pay closest attention.

Road Rule:
Slow down for
known hazards.

Here is my list of 34 critical points with commentary:

  1. packing equipment for shipment at the staging area

    Did you get everything? How about screen cleaner and wipes? How about marketing literature? Power cords? All mice and keyboards? Video cables? Recovery disks? Did anything get stuck in a drawer or roll under a desk? What's that unmarked 3-ring notebook on top of that bookcase?

  2. leaving the office for the last time

    Got all your laptop pieces? Got your file for this trip? Anything stuck to your bulletin board that you need? Where's your cell phone?

  3. last internet access

    Have you gotten addresses and directions? Do you have all the contact phone numbers you might need? Have you forwarded a copy of your travel itinerary to your spouse or other family member? How about to coworkers who are meeting you? How about to your boss' administrator, or anybody who might be looking for you? (Growing up in an airline family I have found that if there's a plane crash on the day you fly, it can be important to your family and associates to able to quickly confirm that you weren't on it.)

  4. leaving home for the last time

    Got all your luggage? Did you remember your belt? Your coat? Got the right shoes? Sunglasses? Water bottle? Snack? Still know where your cell phone is? Did you check the weather where you're going? Did you give everybody a hug and a kiss?

  5. departing for the airport

    Have you called the airline or checked the web to make sure your flight is still on time? Got your tickets or itinerary?

  6. arriving at the airport

    If you are taking a shuttle to the airport, make extra sure you get all of your luggage as you depart — getting reunited with luggage lost here can be very time-consuming. If you have driven to the airport, park at an off-airport lot with its own shuttle; that way you will be deposited with your luggage at the curb instead of having to schlep it from the parking lot. (In the old days when traveling in a group we would drop one person with the luggage to check in with the skycap while the another person parked the car — post-9/11 this is impossible.)

  7. waiting to check baggage

    Get your ID ready, and make sure your bags all have tags on them with your name, address and phone number. Give your cell phone number (your cell number should have voicemail included now that we are in the 3rd Millennium) so if they have to call you about lost luggage they get you wherever you are.

  8. before going through airport security

    Are your blades in your checked luggage? If there is a line I find this is a good time to transfer all the metal on my person (keys, coins, sunglasses, cell phone, etc.) to the pockets of my overcoat, which I send through the X-ray machine. Security doesn't care and it saves me time at the metal detector having to empty my pockets into a plastic tub, and then reload them immediately afterwards.

  9. after going through airport security

    At this point, to preserve slack, I like to go directly to my gate first. Along the way I check the electronic board of flight information. Sometimes the web says a flight is on time, the electronic board says it's on time, but when you get to the gate it is delayed or cancelled or had a gate change (to another terminal entirely, of course); only the agents at the gate seem to have the latest information. If you don't have a boarding pass because you didn't check any luggage, now is when you will line up to get it. Be sure to find out what time the flight will begin boarding.

  10. before the flight boards

    Now's when you can attend to your needs: use the restroom, buy bottled water and snacks if you need to (I like the apples, San Francisco sourdough bread and varieties of jerky you can usually find in airports), and shop for a book to read if you didn't bring one (I especially like the airport bookstores at San Francisco International and Minneapolis- St. Paul Airports.) Now is when you still have an advantage if traveling in a group: one at a time can stay with the luggage while others wander.

  11. before leaving your seat on the plane

    Have you got everything? You should never put anything in the seat pocket in front of you, but check there anyway. Check thoroughly under the seat in front of you and under your seat, as well as in the overhead rack. Where's your ticket? Where's your cell phone? Got your coat? Got your water bottle? Where's that book you were reading before you fell asleep? Kinda groggy? Snap out of it! Count your carry on items. Did you also have a shopping bag from the last airport you were in?

  12. before entering a new airport for the first time

    This is a good time to get oriented, as in which way is north, especially if it is dark or cloudy. The danger is that you will become disoriented, and "dead reckon" your way from the airport out into the city, only to wake up in the morning and find the ocean is on the wrong side of you, or whatever the consequences are of your disorientation. (See section 1.8, "NAVIGATION" in this chapter, for more information on getting oriented.)

  13. renting a car

    Make sure you have your confirmation number handy as you get in line to rent a car. Be sure to know your company's policy on insurance coverage and select the right coverage. Pull out your frequent flier cards wallet and see if they accept any of your cards. And get a map if you don't already have one.

  14. before you reach your hotel

    On the way to your hotel, from the airport, dinner, or your last appointment, be on the lookout for a convenience store, like Circle K, 7-Eleven or AM/PM, or a drug store, preferably 24-hour, such as Sav-On, CVS or Walgreen, or a big discount store like K-Mart, Target or Wal-Mart, for those last-minute purchases: grooming items such as toothpaste and mouthwash — I'm always losing my last comb — and what have you. If you don't need it now, you may need it later. Also look for gas stations for that fill-up you'll need to get before you turn in your rental car.

  15. arriving at the hotel lobby

    Park under the porte-cochère; that's why it's there. (Unless you're staying at a valet-controlled facility like the Mirage in Las Vegas or the Marriott Boston Copley Place — then you just tell the valet you're checking in, follow instructions, and give them a dollar. Remember to expense it.) As with renting a car, have your confirmation number and frequent flier card wallet handy while you register.

  16. after getting your room key

    One of my firmest road rules is to go directly to the room without my luggage, with only my room key, for two reasons: to make sure the key works (it's a drag to schlep your bags back down to the lobby for another attempt at a working card-key) and to make sure the room meets with my approval:

    • Is it vacant? (Believe it or not, I have unlocked a room to find another guest already checked into it more than once.)
    • Is it clean?
    • Is it non-smoking?
    • Is the bed the size I asked for?
    • Does the heater or air conditioner — depending on the season — work?
    • Is there an iron, if I requested one?
    • Are there a working phone, TV and clock radio?

    If I have any complaints it is both more convenient and a better bargaining position to get them resolved before I move in.

    Road Rule:
    Don't move
    your bags
    into the room
    until you've
    approved the room.

    Once I've approved the room, I use the restroom (to remove any impatience I may be feeling), and then call my wife to let her know I arrived safely and what my room number is.

    Then I proceed to go back down for my luggage, and be sure to rustle up a luggage cart to help me. (In a valet-controlled facility my luggage will probably already be on its way up with a bellman, who should be tipped $1 a bag — be sure to expense it.)

  17. leaving the rental car

    When you leave the rental car for the last time in the evening, make sure to leave the rental contract in the glove compartment, and take everything else to the room, even the maps. Later, after retrieving a surprise voice mail, you may be looking through the phone book trying to figure out which of two Kinko's is closer to your hotel, and the maps will come in handy.

  18. in the room with the luggage

    At last! You are in your room with your luggage. Now is the time to unpack. Hang your grooming kit in the bathroom. Hang up your clothes on hangers in the closet. I prefer not to use the drawers in a hotel — it's too easy to leave things in them — and I assume that I won't be having any visitors to my room (it's very, very rare) and so I just spread out my non-hanging clothes on the closet shelf. My papers I spread out on the desk or table in categories. Be sure to set up your laptop soon, to verify that you have all of the pieces and it works, and then log into the headquarters network and get your email. Call for voicemail while you're at it, if you didn't already while waiting at baggage claim. Now you know if any emergencies have erupted while you were enroute.

  19. in the evening

    In the evening on a road trip you are usually, finally, done with work, unless there is a coworker dinner planned. (If so, it's part of the job, and you are still on duty, so go ahead and enjoy it but mind your manners, don't over drink, and speak with good purpose. I have more to say on this in section 3.3, "YOUR PROFESSIONAL PRESENCE.") If there is no group dinner, your primary mission then becomes to stay out of trouble. Some suggestions: inventory your grooming kit, and then go to the drug store or discount store you spotted on the way in and refill it. Shop for family gifts or cheap souvenirs for coworkers. If it is still light out, visit a historic district. (See section 3.7, "PREDICTING THE FUTURE," for more on how and why to appreciate historic sites.)

    If you've no errands to run, and no history to see, set up your CD player and listen to music while getting work done. Compose emails, rehearse your demo, code, write specs, work on RFQ responses, or whatever it is you seem to have trouble getting done back at the office because of interruptions. Also, you can make work-related phone calls to people still at their desks in other time zones. If you find you must print something out, you can FAX it from your laptop to your hotel, or if you need high quality or color, put it on a floppy, and drive to Kinko's or a similar copy shop with computers.

    Of course, if your messages revealed an emergency you must handle, that's the work you're doing tonight.

    I also recommend sorting all of your books and papers, etc., every night into piles on the other bed (if there is one):

    • stuff you won't need until you get home (including family gifts, in a special pile)
    • stuff you won't need until you get back to your office
    • stuff you will need to take with you tomorrow (include the maps and the hotel room's phone book in this pile; be sure to bring it back later)

  20. preparing for bed

    Before you get too tired, do your evening grooming regime: tooth care, any skin-care you do, vitamins and/or medicines, putting on your PJs or whatever you wear to bed, setting your alarm clock/watch and/or the hotel alarm clock and/or calling for a wake-up call (I've mentioned I do all three) and while you're at it make sure the hotel clock has the correct time.

    I like to read in bed after I've gotten all ready, usually some history of technology stuff or science fiction. (See section 3.7, "PREDICTING THE FUTURE," for recommended reading.) When I start to doze off I can just mark my place, take off my glasses, turn out the light and fall asleep.

  21. late in the evening

    For eight years I worked out of California field offices for several Boston-area-based companies, and was always flying to Boston four or six times a year for meetings. The Irvine and Seattle offices always had the toughest jet-lag problems at these meetings, unless someone showed up from Japan, Australia or England. The main problem came if we flew in Monday night for a Tuesday morning meeting. The meeting usually started at 8:00 AM Boston (Eastern) time, which was 5:00 AM California (Pacific) time. If I wanted eight hours of sleep I needed to be asleep by 11:00 PM Eastern time, which still seemed like 8:00 PM Pacific time to me. I knew that if I found myself watching the nightly news I was up too late. If I then found myself watching the Letterman or Leno shows, I was up way too late. If I then found myself watching Late Night With Conan O'Brien which came on after Letterman, I was up way, way too late.

    The punishment came the next day, when it was murder getting up after five or six hours of sleep, and I was drowsy all afternoon in a boring meeting after the morning coffee wore off, and then when everybody wanted to go out for beers that evening and I just wanted to collapse I seemed anti-social.

    I finally learned on those nights to turn off the TV and read technical manuals until I passed out, before it was too late.

    Or better yet, I'd fly in a day or two early and spend extra time at headquarters, which was always quite useful. If I flew in with a Saturday stayover (and 3-week advanced purchase) it made the accountants happy because I usually saved the company about a thousand dollars in air fare. I got enough sleep and I got to walk the Freedom Trail or see Walden Pond or some such on Sunday to wear myself out, and slept soundly Sunday night, spent Monday doing extra headquarters stuff (which you never get enough of) and got to retire early Monday night if I wanted, and still was able to show up fresh and ready for the Tuesday morning meeting, and still have energy for Tuesday night beer-bonding and story-swapping.

  22. first thing in the morning

    Getting out of shape is an occupational hazard for traveling techies — we spend so much time seated at screens, and then get to travel and dine on expense account meals. My research convinces me that the most important thing you can do to counteract these tendencies is to get regular aerobic exercise. The book, Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body — And a Better Life (1996, book) [ISBN/ASIN: 0786882980] by Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey, argues that 30 minutes of brisk walking five times a week can be a sufficient regime, provided it is done in the morning. (The goal is not to simply burn off unwanted calories in the exercise, but to raise the level of one's metabolism so that calories are burned at a higher rate all day.) For this reason on business trips I like to do my walking first thing in the morning, before anything else. That way it usually doesn't get postponed or cancelled when other things come up.

    I get up, dress in exercise clothes, take only my room key, exit the hotel and just walk down the road for 15 minutes, then turn around and walk back. After that I shower, dress, and join my colleagues (if any) for breakfast.

  23. in the shower

    This applies if you bathe or shower in the morning, which I prefer because I meet the day fresh. Take a clock or watch into the bathroom, and gauge how long you are taking. I know it feels so good to wash all that road grunge off and just relax, but I've found it easier to lose track of time and get behind schedule here than anywhere else.

  24. leaving the room

    One thing you need to be sure to remember when leaving your hotel room is your room key (although the front desk will gladly give you another with proper ID). It is probably something you aren't used to carrying with you. If you are driving away and you valet parked your car you'll also need the valet receipt, and you may want to call down before you go. Be sure to grab that stack of stuff you need today that you sorted out last night, including the maps and phone book. Also, grab something with your hotel's name, address and number; it's usually on the stationery by the phone. It can be real frustrating later when you realize you don't know the exact name of where you are staying — many cities, including New York, Washington, and San Antonio, have hotels with extremely similar names a few blocks apart — or that you can't give someone the number to call your room, or that you don't know how to retrieve voicemail messages left for you at your hotel.

    Some things you can leave behind are your home key and the key to your own car, the one back in the parking lot of the city you flew out of. (Though if you have a compass and light on a key chain — like I do — you may want to remove them and take them with you.)

  25. before your first appointment

    On road trips, always eat breakfast because you may not get lunch. The techie is the one who is on the spot to make things work, and therefore may have to work through lunch to make sure an installation, demo or deployment is ready on time.

    Breakfast is also a good time to pow-wow with your coworkers and synchronize your plan for prospect and customer visits.

  26. leaving your car parked

    When you park your rental car (what kind of car was it again?), especially in a parking garage, when you are almost out of sight of the vehicle — either going around a bend or at a doorway or elevator — stop and turn around and look back at it. Can you spot it? If you can't find it now, you surely won't be able to later. This one habit has saved me a world of grief.

    Once, an entire half-hour episode of the TV comedy Seinfeld (1990, TV show) [ASIN: B00005JLEX] was devoted to the search for a parked car in a parking garage, and goodness knows I have on occasion searched longer than that myself.

  27. prior to arriving at a prospect or customer site

    Find out the score. If you are going on a pre-sales call, as a Systems Engineer (SE) or one of its synonyms, find who's leading the sales effort, what their goal is for the meeting, and what the pitch they plan to give. What problem are we going to solve for the prospect?

    If you are going for post-sales support, analysis, development or deployment, as a Customer Engineer (CE) or one of its synonyms, found out who in your company sold the product and talk to them, also their pre-sales technical support person, and find out what the customer thought they were buying, and what problem it is supposed to solve for them. On the customer side find out who bought the product, and who approved the purchase, and see if you can meet with them and get them to buy off on your implementation plan. In a perfect world this would already be worked out before you get there, but successful companies are often too busy, and unsuccessful companies often too resource-starved, to have formal mechanisms for getting this information to you. Seek it out proactively and it can save a lot of grief down the road.

  28. 5:00 PM at headquarters

    When is it "quitting time" for the people you count on for support? I spent eight years working in the western US for east Coast companies, and I became acutely aware that at 2:00 PM Pacific Time the customer support and finance folks at headquarters were all but gone. (Some engineers stayed later, but not on Friday before a three-day weekend.)

  29. 5:00 PM where you are

    It may frequently happen while you are visiting a prospect or customer site that your host and you both are quite willing to work as late as necessary to accomplish your goals. But do notice when 5:00 PM, or whatever time most people leave, comes. Is there something you need from someone? A Parking Validation or a Property Pass to get equipment or software out? Make sure you get it handled while you can.

  30. leaving the site

    If you came to solve a problem, talk to the most senior person there before you go, whether you solved the problem or not. Also call your boss, and any sales person you are working with, and report. Of course it's best never to leave a problem unsolved. Is there a work-around, some kind of Band-Aid you can put on the problem to buy time? If you must leave a problem unresolved, explain what the next steps are going to be. Never just say, "I'm stumped," and leave without a plan.

  31. leaving your hotel room for the last time

    See section 1.6.2 above, "Packing Quickly," for detailed notes on evacuating your hotel room.

    Often you must do this in the morning, and then spend another day working before flying out in the evening. Make sure to keep the stuff you need to work separate from the rest of your luggage, which can go in the trunk.

  32. before returning the rental car

    Go back to that gas station you found and fill up. If you have extra time and your bags are in disarray, or you ended up with extra stuff to fit in somehow, stop in a pleasant location such as a shady park and repack.

  33. the pilot says "we're on final approach to Yourtown Airport"

    Resist the temptation to think to yourself, "I'm home!" The true status is that you are probably about 90 minutes from being able to leave the airport grounds, and two hours from home. Stay patient.

  34. arriving home

    When I come in the door, there are hugs and kisses all around, then if I have gifts or trade show chatchkes to give out I do that, then I unpack my clean clothes and dirty laundry, assemble all receipts from my pockets and elsewhere and get them into the receipts baggy for this trip, and gather the stuff I need for my next trip to the office.

    My wife and I have a rule that we don't discuss any household business for one hour after I arrive. If the water heater blew up or our neighbor sued us over a fallen tree, it can wait an hour. I use that time to just be happy to be home.

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