Better Travel for the Road Warrior – Easing the Agony
In the past year, many of us have had to restrict our travel, but it still is a fact of life for many of us. It’s hard to accomplish everything over Zoom, so I found business travel to be a necessity. Even in the worst of the epidemic, I did have to make one trip to deal with construction issues. I’ve done another trip since then once I was vaccinated, and hopefully we’ll be able to travel more as time goes on. Business travel is a fact of life for many of us. With that in mind, I’m putting up my own tips for travel based on my experience:
It’s generally not worth it to fly if the distance is less than 8 hours by driving:
This may not be true for all places, but here in the Atlanta area I have to be at the airport no less than 2 hours before my flight leaves. They board a half hour before scheduled departure, it takes a long time to get through security, and takes quite a bit of time to get to the gates. On top of that, I have to allow 2 hours to drive to the airport from where I live. So, before the plane has even left the ground, I’ve been traveling 4 hours.
Once you get where you are going, add another hour to get your luggage and rental car. So, now you’ve got 5 hours. Even if it’s only an hour flight, you are going to burn 6 hours. So, in my case, to save 2 hours, I get to expose myself to all the hassles of the airport, sit on an airplane that is a little bit more comfortable than a city bus, and deal with all the lines and crowds.
Red Eye flights aren’t worth it:
Not too many years ago, I could save a night of staying away from home by taking an early flight to a city, doing what I have to do, and catching an evening flight home. It was exhausting, but I got to sleep in my own bed. Those days are gone. Today I would have to leave the house at 2AM, and probably not get home until 1 AM at the best the next day. Almost 24 hours worth of straight traveling. How good will I look to my clients if I left home at 2 AM (and probably didn’t sleep at all)? Once I get home, how good will I be the next day? It’s better to fly out the afternoon before, and get some rest in a hotel.
When driving, plan your stops in advance:
It is pretty bad when you are running out of gas, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t get much better when you stop at some dark exit and end up at a nasty convenience store and hope you can fill up before you get robbed or carjacked (I’ve had many experiences like this). Before leaving, it’s good to check out Google maps. Find out where you can get gas and food and put that as a waypoint. Use Street View to see what the place looks like. Also, if you are staying at a hotel on the way, make your reservation in advance. Then you don’t have to search around at midnight for a place with vacancies and find yourself lodging in a room in some run down motel.
Avoid budget HOTELS:
Not all low cost hotels are bad, but generally they aren’t good. I stayed in one in Binghamton, NY that was nice, that was it. I also stayed in one where there was a fight in the next room. They broke the plate glass in front of the room. There was also a lot of other fighting. I slept between the beds on the floor in case people started shooting at each other. I got bitten by bed bugs in another. Another one was used by the local prostitutes. It was noisy all night long. Those are just a few examples, it just isn’t worth it. Even in the best cases, the budget hotels just don’t have the facilities for business travel. I stay at the mid-priced places, Hampton Inn is my favorite. I can get a decent room, and a good breakfast in the morning.
You are kind of out of luck if you are traveling late at night on the road. Generally, you should never ever eat fast food after 9 or 10 at night. They often screw up your order, and the food tastes like it’s been sitting for hours. Also, if the food tastes odd, DON’T EAT IT! I ate eggs one morning from a place that tasted a kind of bad. I had horrible food poisoning all day. Another time I had fish that tasted weird, and same thing. Sit down chains like Denny’s that are open 24 hours are generally OK, Having decent food at all hours is part of their brand.
A good way to determine if a restaurant is good is to look at its parking lot to see if it’s full. You can also look inside the restaurant. I was surprised to find a really good restaurant at a bus station of all places. I noticed it was crowded, so I gave it a try – it was really good. Hotel restaurants are often really bad for lunch and dinner. The food is generally overpriced, the service is poor, and what you get is often a disappointment. Breakfast is usually OK.
If travel by plane a lot, you want to an airline that gives you decent frequent flyer miles and you can handle riding on all the time. Years ago when I worked for a large firm, I flew Delta for that reason. Today, it’s not a big deal for me. I have flown the ultra low cost airlines like Spirit, and I’ve been OK with it. However, flying the low cost airlines can mean stops on the way, and that sucks up time. Also, they aren’t the most comfortable to make an understatement. Generally, it’s best to find a direct flight, which lowers your chance of loosing your luggage, and does not cause you to waste time between flights.
Low cost airlines like Spirit can save you a lot of money if you aren’t carrying much in baggage or a stowed carry on bag. I generally haven’t used them because a lot of the places I go to require long layovers in their flights. Sprint does work for me to fly to Phoenix, and it’s not bad. I bring on food and drinks with me that I purchase in the terminal. I also make sure my electronic devices are fully charged before boarding.
- Bring noise canceling headphones. They really help if there are people talking or a crying baby.
- Bring clean socks with you on the plane. Put them on when you take your shoes off so you don’t gag the people around you with your smelly feet.
- Buy your snacks or meals in the terminal before you board. Airlines don’t give out a lot of food with their snacks.
- Travel light, avoid having to check bags. I do laundry when I travel, which means I don’t have to carry so much. A good hotel has washing machines.
- I found that if I wait until close to the flight time, I can upgrade my ticket inexpensively.
- If you go business or first class, you can get on and off faster. It’s less uncomfortable, and usually the people around you are less annoying. If you fly economy, it’s worth it to pay for a premium seat. That way you can have more leg room and get on and off faster.
Consider alternate forms of business travel:
When I travel to Washington, DC or New York City, I take Amtrak. The train leaves late at night here. It arrives in DC in the morning, and New York in the afternoon. The time it takes is about the same as driving, but it’s productive time. I can work, sleep, or relax. I usually get a sleeper, so the trip is very comfortable. Even coach isn’t bad for me, but I did learn in my time in the military how to sleep anywhere. It may be different from you. Wifi can be spotty, so you probably will have to access the Internet from your phone in many areas between cities.
Amtrak is great to travel between cities in its Northeast Corridor, like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. However, if you are traveling between the Washington DC area, like Bethesda, MD to New York, consider the Vamoose bus. They are very comfortable buses that leave from convenient locations. The time is longer than Amtrak, but the cost is much less. I found taking CoachUSA from New York City to Binghamton works out well too. The Port Authority bus station in New York is kind a nightmare. However the bus trip isn’t bad and is reasonably priced.
Things not to do:
- Avoid traveling at night. I’ve done this too much and it was stupid. It is exhausting. It can be dangerous. I found limited chances to eat or use restrooms. When I travel at night, I’m exhausted and worthless the next day.
- Do not drive when tired. The CDC says that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. If you start getting sleepy, pull over to a safe place and sleep. The tiredness won’t go away by itself.
- Don’t drink and drive. I shouldn’t have to say this.
- If you wouldn’t do something at home, don’t do it while you are away from home. So many things can happen if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you stay out of the wrong places, you don’t have to worry about it being the wrong time.
I hope you find these tips helpful, and that your next trip will be a good one. While business travel is a fact of life, it doesn’t have to be agonizing.