Tips for the Frequent Traveler
A bit off topic: I just stumbled on Paul Randal’s blog post about travel tips that he and Kimberly is sharing. I found it very interesting to read the way they travel. I am personally a very frequent traveler (250K miles clocked up on One World last two years) – so I wanted to share my travel tips. Following Paul’s structure:
Preparing for Travel
I generally use my agent to reserve travel. Microsoft kindly provides this service. Talking with a human who knows the plane routes better than me is much preferable to any web interface.
A lot of my travel is last minute, which means that my tickets can get pretty expensive. For planned vacations (which there are very few of) I try to book a 1-2 months in advance, being early saves money. Flying on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday is often cheaper, and this really matters if I am in a hurry to go somewhere within one week. Often it is cheaper to stay at a hotel at the origin or destination to unlock those discount day prices.
When I travel in Europe, I prefer to avoid Schiphol airport (AMS). The gates there are really far apart and they seem to be experts in losing the bagage. I also avoid Charles de Gaulle (CDG), mostly because it is staffed by the French.
I prefer to travel One World Alliance for several reasons: First of all, British Airways are part of that alliance. They are by far the best air service I have found in Europe. They will frequently upgrade me, and their lounges in Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) and Seattle are simply great. I am a gold member there, which means I get a free massage in T5 before long haul flights and good food is served in all their lounges. Secondly, One World also run a great program that allow me to upgrade another person (my girlfriend) to Gold Member when I acquire enough points – which I expect to reach this year. I used to be Star Alliance gold member, but I find their benefits are very small and flying SAS and Lufthansa is just a really poor experience. Thirdly, Marriott will also put points on One World Alliance (doubling my points), Avis will also add points when I rent a car with them.
When I book flights, I book the Premium Economy Class. It is not as comfortable as Business, but it is half the price while still allowing you to arrive with blood in your legs. Because I prefer to fly on the cheap and underbooked days, I nearly always get the upgrade to business on transatlantic.
I am a Diamond Member at the Hilton and Gold Member at Marriott. But I much prefer to use Marriott – especially when I go to places I don’t know. Both chains give me free upgrades – but the quality of Hilton varies too much. The one exception is London, where you can sometimes get a good price at Hilton Park Lane – probably the best hotel in London. Marriott always delivers on quality – I have yet to be disappointed in them. But note that their sister chain: The Courtyard Mariott is slightly different, my experience with those hotels vary. The one in NYC near Times Square is especially annoying.
I am a very lightweight traveller. I use a Rimowa suitcase made of carbon fiber and aluminium. It is everything you would expect from German design: Durable, superbly engineered, and slightly ugly with a mean look of efficiency about it. For travel less than 7 days, I can pack in only carry-on. This saves me the hassle of waiting for luggage at arrival – cutting off at least 30 minutes of most journeys and letting me walk straight to security on departure. I own a bigger Samsonite suitcase for longer distance traveling. I had the shop replace the lock with a mechanism that does not require a key, since the American authorities think it is reasonable to cut open your locked suitcase (and steal from it if you fly out of SEA) when you check in your luggage. All in the name of preventing terror of course.
I own three copies of every toilet article: toothbrush, shaving gear, dental floss etc. One set for home, one for the carry on and one for the bigger suitcase. I never unpack those items. For my deodorant I use a crystal deodorant, it slips neatly through security and my hyper allergic skin does not react to it. For my Eau de Toilette I use this neat little Travalo Rapid-Fill, it is below the 100ml allowed limit of liquids and saves me from carrying glass bottles that may break. It has an added advantage of looking like a vibrator if you get the pink one, which has caused a few funny events at the airport security when I gave one to my girlfriend (The Travalo, not a vibrator). You have to be nice to airport security, spending all day body searching people of all ages, weights and body odours can’t be pleasant.
I own around 50 boxers and 50 pairs of socks. All my socks are black, so I never have to sort them. When I come home and I am in a hurry to get to the next place, I empty all underwear/socks in the laundry basket (handled by my cleaning lady) and just throw a new supply into the suitcase. I get shirts and suits dry-cleaned at hotels. Most hotels will get them back to you on the same day if you deliver them before 9.00 in the morning.
If it is winter, I travel in a 3-piece suit. It has the advantage of having layers, so you can adjust your body temperature to fit the airline cabin and airport. For the summer, I travel in a 2-piece. Travelling in suits is generally a nice idea for a few reasons: 1) It avoids the suit being crumbled up in the suitcase if you need it for customers. 2) If you get a good suit, it will be made of wool, and hence be very comfortable, and not smell bad after a long travel (wool breathes). 3) Suits have lots of pockets, so I can carry my vallet, phone, keys, passport, earphones and membership cards in it.
I sometimes bring the Bose Sound Killer headphones – but as Paul says, they are uncomfortable, especially if you are trying to sleep with them on. For short haul they are great though, and have saved my sanity many times.
I carry a single laptop with me, a Sony VAIO at 1.3Kg with a battery life of about 8 hours. I have bought the Kensington lightweight power supply to shave off even more weight. For my universal travel adaptor I use a smart little gizmo from The Container Store. My laptop bag includes an iPad with an Amazon Kindle subscription for all my books and documents (if you load it with the GoodReader app it will read PDF and DOCX too). My total laptop bag weight is currently around 4kg, but I am planning to bring it down further once I find a decent, lightweight, Sandy Bridge based laptop. Carrying a lot of weight on your shoulder is really bad for the back in the long term.
When I receive my itinerary, I send it to Trip-it. They will scan the details and update my iPad application with information about my journey. This will even include details of the best seat and a map of the destination. Trip-it will also tell me about plane delays and offer alternative routes. I highly recommend this App.
I try to check in online one or two days before, though I often forget it. When I check in, I pick the seat next to the emergency exit. Trip-It will advise me on good choices.
During the journey I generally arrive rather late at the gate. I am not a big fan of queuing, and the One World lounges are very comfortable. In some lounges (notably Seattle) the nice lounge receptionist will even tell you when everyone else has boarded, so you can conveniently walk directly to your seat.
If it is summer, I take an anti histamine (the drowsy ones) to knock me out and prevent my allergies from kicking in. A single glass of alcohol (whiskey) helps too. I try to eat very light and drink a lot (of water) on the journey.
If I travel to another timezone more than 2 hours away, I fit my mealtimes into the target time zone when I board the plane. If that is not possible from the meal times they use on the plane, I either starve or eat very light. This greatly helps me overcome jet lag. After I arrive from a long haul, I will generally book a massage within the first few days to get my back fixed.