A few mornings back, I boarded a plane after about 5 days at home. I’ve been on the road every week except for one over the course of the last 4-5 months.
This isn’t meant to be bragging, because for anyone who has spent more time tossing and turning in an unpredictably hot hotel room for multiple weeks at a time, traveling is sometimes overrated.
But as I stood in line for approximately 3 mins this morning before grabbing a bottle water inside the gate and sitting one of the comfy chairs that everyone oogles from the Southwest terminal of Kansas City International, I was amazed by the march of the armature travelers.
They spend about 30 mins in line just to get their boarding passes, surrendering their luggage to the TSA agents (not thinking of the extra 20 mins they’re costing themselves on the other end of the flight), all before even waiting in a long line to get through security.
I can’t blame them all, some of them are heading out on vacation and they don’t know better.
But if you travel for work, there’s no excuse to wade through the monotony of BS that the airlines and government make you go through to fly.
As I sat there in my thrown of frequent flyer glory, slowly sipping on my cold water, I watched the parade of passengers entering the terminal and exiting the security checkpoint. It was at that point that I first realized the dance of the business traveler.
Their luggage merely an additional appendage that they’ve lived with so long that being without it feels much like the absent longing everyone feels when they notice they forgot their cell phone at home.
It’s just one of the many things that separates the novice from the experienced inside the airport.
I wasn’t always a world-class business traveler. I have, and still do make a ton of mistakes from day to day. But I think I’ve got a good portion of it figured out… and today I’m hear to help you avoid some of many mistakes that I made and still make while growing my wings.
So let’s step into our way-way back machine and see what my first trip for work looked like…
Let me tell you about intern Skye’s first business trip
It was a hot summer, and I was spending my time doing various drafting and design work for a small engineering firm in Overland Park.
Utah was becoming a destination spot for skiing after the 2002 Olympics put them on the map, the Utes football team was vying for relevancy after finishing 4-4, and Andrew Bogut was just selected number 1 in the draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Sure I’d gotten to throw a backpack into the back of the company truck and drive to job sites as far reaching as Greenwood and Nevada Missouri, but this was my first real trip. I was getting on a plane and heading out for a multi-day adventure some 1073 miles away from KC.
I was so excited, but my excitement was quickly replaced with frustration.
It will soon became very obvious that I knew nothing about traveling for work, and I was going to pay dearly for it.
Thank god my mentor was nice enough to let me in on a few tips, otherwise I’m sure that this would have been even messier than it ended up being. At his counsel, before I ever bought my flight I signed up for the Southwest rewards program.
Cheapest flight booked.
For the hotel, I found the cheapest place close to the jobsite, and reserved two rooms on Expedia. The only thing that concerned me was price, and location… fortunately the job site was next to the local college, or that could have been a disaster.
The car was a similar experiment, I believe (give me a break, it’s been 10 years) reserved through the same Expedia transaction.
Reservations were complete, and I thought nothing more about it until the day to travel.
The night before my flight I grabbed my trusty duffle bag off the shelve and figured a way to carefully position my work boots and hardhat into it. Then followed several pairs of jeans, a couple of polos, shirts and underwear.
Morning of, after my shower at the ungodly hour of 4 am, I quickly grabbed my still wet toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant and stuffed them into the side of the duffle.
My laptop bag was still packed from work the night before, so I quickly threw that over one sholder, my duffle over the other, and headed out to the car by 4:30am for a 7 am flight. Now before your chastising begins, I live 30 mins away and ever since September 11th, you were supposed to get to the airport 2 hours early… right?
As I pulled into the long-term parking wildly at 5:07 am, quickly speeding to the first open spot I saw and throwing my car into park. My bags slammed against the back of my seat, jarring my laptop between the worthless little space between the back seat and my seat.
After yanking at it for what seemed like 2 mins, I finally cleared my luggage from its newfound grave and threw it onto my shoulder.
I dashed towards the closest parking structure. Waiving my arms frantically for the bus that was now pulling away to hopefully see and stop so I can get aboard. Not that I could see it, but I imagine the driver looking into his rearview mirror with madness in his eyes and a chuckle on his breath as he saw me chasing him down.
After about 20 yards I figured out that he wasn’t going to stop for me, so I acceded to my fate and went back to the parking hut to await my chariot to take me to my flight.
By the time I made it the airport, it was nearly 5:30.
If you’ve never had the privilege of seeing it before, the Monday morning line for service at Southwest Airlines at Kansas City International Airport’s Terminal B often stretches long past the rope lines and well into the entry of the terminal.
This day was no different.
After some 45 mins of waiting, I was finally allowed to hand over my luggage and receive my line placement for the flight (C 14, woot woot), it was finally time to pass through security.
Another long line. Shoes off, computer removed from the laptop bag, and pockets empty and turned out.
By the time this excursion was completed, I made it into the boarding area just as the A group was boarding the plane. I arrived just in time to see my mentor handing his ticket over to the attendant and walking down the boarding bridge.
I can’t really recall after all of these years, but I have to imagine that as I was cramped between two rather large gentlemen for my entire flight that this thought flashed through my mind…
“I’m doing something wrong.”
It wasn’t until I got to Utah that I realized I forgot my cell phone charger, nothing like dolling out $30 for something you have sitting on the counter at home.
As you can tell my amateur mistakes started long before I left for the trip, continued on my jaunt through the airport, and didn’t finish until I was safely back in KC and finally found my car after some 15 mins of wandering aimlessly through long-term parking.
All in all, I figure my novice actions cost me over 3 hours of wasted time. For a 48 hour work trip (or any work trip really), that’s way too much.
Compare that to seasoned (read: old) Skye’s current trip
Leaving town for multiple projects in a single city over the course of three days (with a little vacation thrown in on the end for good measure), I packed my bags in under 10 mins. Forgetting essentials like toothpaste and chargers are things of the past as they’re pre-packed and ready to go whenever I am.
My shoulders are much lighter these days. They’re now evenly balanced from my backpack, with most of my travel load carried by the floor and two sturdy rollers.
Despite the 6:50 am flight time, my alarm didn’t jar me awake until 4:30.
The leisurely drive to the airport takes about the same amount of time, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to getting to the airport. In the car by 5, I even estimate I have time to stop for the artery clogging goodness that is an egg and cheese biscuit from Hardees.
By the time my biscuit is gone, I’m pulling into long term parking. I work my way through two crowded aisles and find myself a spot some 100 yards from the first bus stop.
Inside the terminal, I leave behind my bus mates. Pulling out my cell phone with one hand opening the Southwest Airlines app, my other hand effortlessly wheeling my luggage around the suckers headed to the kiosks.
Smiling at the TSA agent, I simply state “pre-check” and show her my boarding pass. She moves out of the way and allows me to join 15 other of my frequently travelers in a relatively long line.
Approximately 3 mins later I’m wheeling my way to one of the few comfy padded chairs that decorate the lounges of Southwest terminals all across the nation. I drop my luggage in the seat, and head over to grab a water before settling in to type this to you all.
My fellow bus companions are just now trickling into the post-security area. All of the comfy chairs are long gone, and in less than 5 mins the boarding process will begin.
I’ll have to pause this here, as my number will soon be called… A 21.
Ah, the extra leg room of the exit row. Luckily this flight isn’t totally full, there’s a little extra room to spread out.
Upon reaching my destination there will be no waiting for luggage. As effortlessly as I breezed through security I’ll do the same upon exiting the terminal at LAX.
After a quick bathroom break I’ll be one of the first to board the Avis bus.
I won’t even talk to someone from the rental company until I’m exiting the lot, turning to drive my full size car onto the crowded lanes of Century Boulevard. I’ll be plenty early for my first meeting of the day, and may stop for what the Hobbits call “second breakfast”.
There’s no stress. No worry.
I’ve done this trip before, and hundreds of others like it in the 10 years since that first fateful work trip.
In fact I just checked into a hotel a few blocks from Hollywood for the weekend, completely free. I’ll be enjoying myself a little Toi on Sunset soon… I can almost taste the pad thai right now. Mmmm.
So which Skye would you rather be?
There’s a lot of mistakes made, and I had so many more over the course of the last couple of years. But I’m pretty sure I’ve got most of it figured out these days. Thought I’m not going to lie, I still forget some of these things from time to time as you shall soon see.
Let’s distill this down for those who didn’t pull them out when reading the agonizing tales above.
Here’s a few of my tips that I stick to, and preach to anyone I’m traveling with. It’s not always possible, but I do my best to not stray from them.
Tip # 1 – Good luggage is worth the cost.
My current two favorite traveling companions, my backpack and carry-on cost around $200 a piece. I bought them some 6 years ago, and I never leave home without them.
During an extended stay on a recent project I happened to buy a few extra clothes, necessitating the need for some extra luggage. I made the disasterous mistake of thinking the bag I found at Gordman’s would suffice as a second bag, and it came with only a $50 price tag. Score.
I just sent it packing to Goodwill as the wheels didn’t work right being pulled once loaded down with my work boots and some clothes.
A pain in the ass, and a remember to not stray from my own rules.
Tip # 2 – Extra supplies = never forgetting anything.
I never worry about my headphones, phone charger, or deodorant anymore. I’ve got a spare set that I keep in my luggage so I never worry about it.
It’s too expensive to buy at a hotel or airport, so just hit-up amazon once and be done.
Tip # 3 – Loyalty is rewarded.
I have been upgraded to first class on flights all over the US and even to places as far as Europe and Hawaii. I’ve stayed at 5 star hotels that were sold out long before I decided I wanted to stay there that specific weekend.
Figure out what airlines and hotel chains work for your work, and they’ll pay you back when it’s vacation time.
Tip # 4 – Put your smartphone to work.
Download the apps of whatever you choose as your favorite companies, and use them. The uses are endless, from checking in on the road to being your ticket to board the plane. You’re carrying it anyways, why not use it as intended.
Plus, the trees will thank you.
Tip # 5 – TSA Precheck. Nuf said.
If you hate lines as much I do, then the $90 every 5 years is worth the cost. Keeping my shoes on and laptop in my bag saves me upwards of 5 mins every flight… before even taking into account the line-cutting benefits.
Here’s a pic from my return trip at LAX. I’m 3rd in line at the TSA Precheck line, and this is only a small fraction of those who still have 30-40 mins before they’ll join me at the gate.
Oh, and if your job takes you frequently abroad, I’ve heard good things about the Global Entry program.
Tip # 6 – Vacations get tacked-on to the end of trips, not vise-versa.
A seasoned associate of mine learned this not too long ago. He decided that he’d take the free flight to Diego Garcia (crazy ass little island in the Indian Ocean – check it out) to stop over in Malaysia and visit some family before the work trip began.
He planned on meeting up with everyone in Korea and catch the transport to the island after a week off with family. Unfortunately the work portion got re-scheduled…
I’m still not sure how the whole thing played out for him, and if he ended up having to pay for the $4000 return trip to the States. But that hardly matters, aside from to point out that it’s not worth the risk, your vacation happens at the end of your trip.
Tip # 7 – Luggage doesn’t belong in the belly of the plane.
Not only will it cost you money on most airlines (I see what you’re doing there Southwest… but I will NOT fall victim to your schenanagans… again), but it’s a giant time suck.
You don’t just wait in lines on the front end to drop the luggage, but then you also get to stand around a carrosell at the end with stupid people who don’t seem to understand that if you take two steps back then everyone could see the luggage and things would go really smooth. But I digress.
Hey, if you really want to check your bags, then maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get a new wardrobe when eventually the airline loses your luggage. That’s always fun.
Tip # 8 – If you can hold it, find a window seat… in the exit row.
The other day I was flipping through facebook when I saw this story by Mike Rowe.
I’ve never really thought of it much, but having to get up and down for people who apparently have bladders the size of the mini-drinks handed out by the stewardesses is a giant pain in the ass. Especially if you find yourself responding to e-mails mid-flight like I often do.
Oh, but if you’re the one with the miniscule bladder, then the opposite applies. Aisle seat for you.
As for the exit row thing, that’s a little bonus for anyone like me blessed with longer than normal legs. The extra 2 inches actually means a lot when it comes to comfort.
Oh, but if there’s two rows of exit seats… the first row doesn’t go back. Just a word of warning.
Tip #9 – You’ll always need more power.
Let’s face it, we feel naked without our cell phones. Our tablets are our windows into the world, and I’m fairly certain that life would be pretty dull without them.
While there’s still a few flights stuck in the stone ages, like this one on my return flight to KC, that don’t have WiFi on them (get your act together Southwest), it’s a rarity. And what’s the point of being unconnected this day and age?
Despite my months on the road this year I’ve stayed close to my family and friends with the help of a few trusty electronic gadgets.
Unless you’re headed somewhere in the elusive, luxurious seats that adorn the first class cabins of some airlines planes, chances are your gadgets will be running low on juice. You know you don’t really care to talk to the person sitting next to you on the plane, so bring your own power to keep your head firmly in your fake instragramed world.
Perhaps the best gift I’ve ever received from a vendor is my handy flashlight / batter pack.
It always makes me sad when I forget it at home, like I did this trip. So much so that I just bought an extra two on Amazon with some of the last remaining percent left on my iPad prior to boarding.
Tip # 10 – Always park in the same spot.
The last thing that I want to do after a long trip is waste my time dragging my luggage up and down endless rows constantly pressing the lock button on my fab hoping to catch the sound of my car honking.
There’s only one objective at the end of a business trip, get home to my own bed as quickly as possible.
This is best solved by always knowing where you park and what stop you get off on. For me, it’s the first stop at whichever lot I happen to be parking in. I follow the same route every time I enter, and normally find a spot within the first 3 rows.
So, did I solve all of the world’s travel problems? Probably not.
But I did give you a leg up on where I was prior to the multi-destination trips that have become my norm these days. From these tips, there’s surely an extra hour or two that you’ve just gained (congrats). Enjoy it.
Am I still doing something wrong though? Did I leave something out?
Tell me in the comments. I’m always up for learning a new trick or two from a fellow flight jockey, new or old.