Advice from the Road

5969099032_41f95daa47_nEarlier this month Nina Strochlic shared tips from “professional traveler” Andrew Evans of National Geographic. “He’s sailed across the Atlantic twice, summited Kilimanjaro, and (literally) run the length of Liechtenstein.” My travels are neither as exotic nor as taxing as Andrew’s, but since I am on the road often and have been taking mental notes on how to maximize my travel efficiency.


  • Scheduling. I take a lot of early (I had a 5:30 am this week) and late evening (I had a 9:30 pm) flights, allowing me to restrict most trips to only one night away. (The downsides of this is approach is that I woke up at 3:45 am one day and returned home after midnight the other.)

  • Packing. Mobility is my priority. When I land, I want to get straight to work and not mess around with baggage claim or dropping bags at a hotel. This week I inaugurated my new Square bag from Defy and, though a tight fit, it worked. For one night away I carry my always-packed bathroom ziplock, one change of clothes, a Field Notes book, two pens, a magazine, gum and an eyeshade, along with a Macbook Air, iPad and chargers. When I’m traveling to a place with a pool, I save space by bringing a bathing suit instead of gym clothes and shoes. (Swimming has the advantage of giving me a workout in about half the time I’d put in at the gym.) I try to avoid the added burden of a winter coat. If I’m worried about getting stuck in a frigid O’Hare cab line or El train I’ll bring a scarf or a hat, which I can tuck into my bag once I reach the cab.

  • Content. I try to pick my gear the night before, so the day before a trip, I’m extra-conscious to ABC, Always Be Charging. I update my digital content: Pocket, iTunes for TV, podcasts, email and the 2-3 Google Docs that are most pressing. By adding the boarding pass to my phone early I remove one task that I need to remember on the day of travel.

  • Provider role. One of my favorite things to do the day before leaving, particularly if I’m traveling on a weekend, is to make a grocery store run or cook a meal. I walk out the door know that the family is supplied, satisfying some Neanderthal urge.

The cab ride

I rarely journey to, or from, the airport during rush hour so I head for the airport 80- 90 minutes before a flight. (Tripit Pro warns me of delays.) Once I get on the road, I tuck my keys and my wallet away in my bag, keeping only my ID and phone in my pocket. If the hour is decent, and if I have no other calls scheduled, I may pop open Brewster, which lists the contacts with whom I’ve gone the longest without talking, and check in with some work contacts. If it’s late, I may open my iPad for some TV or check in with friends on the West Coast. My road warrior Kryptonite is that I cannot read in a moving car, which motivate me to take public transit when feasible.

The airport


  • TSA: I have TSA Pre which is the greatest thing ever– if I get a green light, I can go through a pre-9/11 style security walkthrough in under a minute. Recently, as more passengers have become approved for the program, morning lines can be long and I may slide into the standard lines when they’re shortest.The TSA  does not require you to take small computers out of your bag, so I don’t. (It’s easiest for the screener if you lay your bag flat.) I don’t put my shoes in a bin– the fact that so many other people do so is gross.

  • Vigilance. Once screened by The Man, I check the airport monitors to confirm my gate number. I also look for earlier flights that might have become delayed– a couple of times a year, I’m able to make hop one. When it happens, it’s a bonus of a couple of free hours.

  • Coffee. If it’s morning and I have time, my next decision is whether to caffeinify or not. Boarding with a hot beverage can complicate things, but more often than not I am the better for it. If I have extra time I browse the newsstand.

  • Anticipating the call to board. This is the most inexact part of my regimen. I travel enough that I’m usually in one of the early boarding groups. However, I haven’t found a way to divine when the call to get on will be made. When I’m not in a meeting or working on something urgent, I aim to be at the gate between 30-40 minutes before the flight time, but more often than not I end up hanging around the gate along with everyone else anticipating a signal from the gods. If you have tips on how to game this better, I’d love to hear them.

The plane


If I board early, I’ll break out my laptop and churn through some email– I can often get in 15-20 minutes of work while waiting for the plane to load. Or, increasingly, I’ll use Mailbox on my phone.

Once the superstitious call to turn off our phones comes, I’ll put on eye shades and zone out until we’re in the air and cleared to use electronics. (I’d give most of my naps if Sen. McCaskill comes through.)

I usually don’t buy wifi access– it’s expensive and I can usually manage to be offline for a few hours without anything breaking. So, while I’m in the clouds I can’t access anything from the cloud. If I forget to download that draft memo, I can sketch out a new project or do email. If I’m doing email, I’ll usually double up with TV on an iPad.

Seven concluding tips:

  1. Every second can count. I’ve had the door closed in my face– and then cursed myself for buying that coffee or for not evading the family walking four-abreast in the terminal.

  2. Don’t be that guy. Air travel is generally not fun, but we’re all in this together. On about every third trip there’s one traveler who rushes to be the first one off the plane on or complains loudly to the flight staff about something trivial. You don’t want to be that guy– though we all have our moments. (This can conflict with #1, above.)

  3. Perspective. Your main goal is to get to where you’re going safely, and the workers at the TSA, the airports and on the airlines succeed at that 99.999% of the time. They deserve more thanks and less grief.

  4. Release your inner mysophobe. I avoid touching anything in the bathrooms, make detours to hit every hand sanitizer and wash my hands every chance I get.

  5. Hydrate. Lotion (see #4), water and nasal spray are great friends.

  6. Snacks. You don’t need a lot, but bring enough to get by.

  7. Don’t get stuck without a place to sleep. If a late flight gets canceled, Hotel Tonight has good deals, and a great sign-in process.

  8. Traveling with a child is a whole other thing– none of the above may apply. It deserves a separate post.

(Also, check out these travel tips from Elise Hu and Ben Huh.)

[fixed a couple of tyops– thanks @divideby0!

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