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.
Slow down for
Here is my list of 34 critical points with commentary:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
into the room
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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
- 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.
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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- leaving your hotel room for the last time
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.