New Road Warrior Needs Advice
August 30, 2010 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Calling all you seasoned road warriors. I'm starting a new job where I'll be traveling at least 40% of the time.

I've done plenty of traveling but not on a consistent weekly basis. So I'd like your tips on how to make my trips easier and little things I can do to improve life on the road. I may have to carry equipment to setup training labs on occasion, but primarily just me and my stuff. This will be mostly US but some international trips.
posted by white_devil to Travel & Transportation (44 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't signed up for a hotel points program, do so. One chain is pretty much like another, but the familiarity is comforting (for me, anyway) and using the accrued points for free stays during leisure trips is a nice perk.

Otherwise travel light and try to eat well. :)
posted by jquinby at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2010

Menu planning would be helpful. I had a job until recently where I traveled about twice a month, not counting weekly day trips by helicopter and seaplane to head office. I ate out a lot and gained a lot of weight, so maybe figuring out some strategies beforehand for eating healthily would have been helpful.

I also took pride in never getting stopped at the metal detector in the airport. I had a little system for making sure my carry-on and laptop would just sail through the process.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:47 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Congratulations at taking my job. I'm getting tired of it.

Make a permanent 'generic' packing list for trips of (x) and (y) days, whatever your common lengths will be. Fill it with even the 'obvious' stuff (socks x 3, toothbrush) and amend it after each trip to make it better... and you will thank me when, sooner or later, you have to pack in a *furious rush*. After many revisions, you will have the *perfect* packing list for any trip. Mine took a couple of dozen trial-and-error events, but now I can toss my bag together without thinking (bonus) and never be missing anything I need at the other end.

Your goal is to have the smallest/lightest possible bag that contains exactly everything you need, and nothing else.
posted by rokusan at 7:49 AM on August 30, 2010

The things that I most routinely forgot in my rush to get out of the house were underwear and dress socks. And my laptop power cord. And my Blackberry charger.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:52 AM on August 30, 2010

Hotel and airline points aren't worth a whole lot unless you can really focus on one or two brands per category (e.g. always fly Delta, stay only at Hiltons, etc.) but they can add up in the long run. Don't forget to tell them not to send you promotional material; I get 2 credit card offers a day from all the crap I signed up for.

Never check bags if you can avoid it. If you don't already have a carry-on suitcase, buy a good one (Tumi, Travelpro, etc.).

I gained almost 15 pounds in the first 6 months of traveling full-time for work; it's really easy to lose control of your weight when you're always eating out. The easiest way to cut down on this is to stay some place where you have your own kitchenette and can shop for groceries. That way you not only have cheaper meals, but you have a lot more control over your diet.

Create a method for packing your bag; I mentally check off all my supplies by starting at my feet and working up (e.g. "dress shoes, casual shoes, socks, trousers, undies, belt, undershirt, overshirt, deodorant, razor, done!"). Roll your clothes to preserve space and avoid wrinkles. It doesn't take long to realize that you pretty much pack the same thing every week.

If you aren't already a patron of your local library, now's the time to start. Check out a book each week to keep you busy on the plane if you don't want to work during the flight.
posted by Lifeson at 7:53 AM on August 30, 2010

Are you mostly flying, or are you driving and taking the train/bus as well? What sort of distances are you doing? Is it all pretty close, as in day trips, or mostly week and sometimes longer trips?

If you are flying, make sure you are maximizing your miles through credit cards/rewards programs. You will NOT want to fly on your time off, but you will use those miles eventually, and you will probably have family members that like to take trips.
posted by TheBones at 7:53 AM on August 30, 2010

Oh, also, noise-dampening earbuds. A good pair will run you $100 or more, but you'll actually be able to hear your music on the plane if you carry and MP3 player.
posted by Lifeson at 7:55 AM on August 30, 2010

I was a long distance commuter (Philly to NYC by subway, train, train and subway) for a while which is different than what you're doing.

I found that a good set of noise blocking or just ear-muff style headphones were a life saver. Making a bunch of play lists for various moods and occasions helped (quiet music for enjoying the scenery, loud music for blocking out loud people, energetic music to get me up and moving). Take part in a Mefi CD swap or two. Also good podcasts or books online are worth spending some time researching. If I were to go back to commuting now, I might consider a Kindle or something like it; at the time I paid for alumni membership at a good university library with an extensive fiction collection.

Bringing snacks was key - I found a powerbar-like bar that I liked and got a case of them.

To keep up with exercise, because travel tends to make you more sedentary than you'd like, I'd suggest taking up running because it uses almost no equipment and can be done almost anyplace.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:55 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're carrying a laptop, cell phone, ipod, kindle, etc., I recommend getting some kind of power source that charges them all. I have one from Radio Shack that I can swap out the ends on.

If you don't get a single source, at least buy cheaper duplicates that you take on your trip. Last time I traveled for work, I forgot my iphone charger in the hotel room. Eventually I got it back, but in part of that process the desk worker pulled out a crate FULL of charges people had forgotten. There must have been 150 different chargers. So obviously it isn't just me.

Rolling your clothes is often more efficient and causes less wrinkles than folding.

Gather up all the hotel's free soaps and donate them to the firestation (or charity of your choice) nearest you.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:57 AM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: I enjoy the universal packing list. I turned it into my own personal packing list as rokusan suggest. I have doubles of all important toiletries and a toiletry bag that is always full and basically ready to go into my backpack [including stupid TSA-required plastic baggie of liquids]. I have doubles of all my chargers and I have a mesh bag of all my chargers, card readers and other tech nonsense [spare ethernet cable, dongles for laptop-to-projector, spare headphones] that is ready to go into my backpack. I have slots where the don't-forget stuff goes [camera, wallet, phone, other phone] so I can tell if I have it. Have a few outfits you always wear on the road [on-the-plane, sporty, casual, more-formal, formal] so that you can pack the outfit and know you'll be set. No one cares if you're always dressed the same.

If you're staying in hotel rooms, get into a habit of where you put your stuff in the room so that you can pack from the hotel room quickly and easily as well. I keep a selection of public transportation cards from various cities. Have an envelope where you put all your receipts for each trip, if you need to do an expense report or use software like tripit or expensr. Pare down your wallet for stuff you need for each trip [ditch supermarket cards and whatever]. Pack some nice slippers or something for the hotel room. make use of the hotel gym and/or get walking. I always pack some snack stuff so that I'm not chowing down on candy bars when I'm feeling peckish. Set your phone to let you know when you need to print boarding passes the day before. Only carry as much stuff as you can fit under a seat so you're not stuck in "finding a place for your bag" hell. Carry paperback books for when you're stuck places. Bring postcard stamps with you and write people when you're waiting for stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: TheBones - Flying 95% of the time. I've already signed up with my company's preferred providers for air travel, car rentals, and lodging. Thanks everyone for all the great info so far and keep it coming.
posted by white_devil at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2010

Have two sets of toiletries: the one that lives at home, and the one that travels. Items from the one that travels never leave the kit while at home. They should just live in your regular travel bag. Prepare a packing list as rokusan recommends, and keep it in your travel documents folder while you're away so you can take notes on what you needed that you didn't have, what has run out and needs to be replaced, what you had but didn't use, etc.

Other things you should have travel duplicates of: chargers, razor (whether electric or regular), coffee. (Assuming the place you stay in will have its own coffeemaker, of course. It is so nice to have one's coffee routine uninterrupted while traveling.)
posted by ocherdraco at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: * get a backpack whatever is comfy and works for you, 2 strap, sling, etc. - this will be for most of your essential documents, laptop, reading material, things to keep you occupied as you wait for your bus/plane/car/etc.

* rolling carry-on sized luggage - this should hold all of your clothes for travel (4-5 days)

* with those two pieces you should never have to check luggage when flying

* all of your toiletries can usually be acquired at your hotel -

* that said, bring your own razor, toothbrush - these are the only two items I've ever found to be very lacking - the hotel will give you a $.02 bic razor and a toothbrush that might be good for cleaning bathroom tile ... at boot camp.

* As mentioned by jquinby - pick a hotel chain and stick with them (I'd recommend Hilton or Marriott as it'll give you the most options for personal travel perks down the road, domestic and internationally)

* (Optional, but highly recommended) Open the rewards credit card for whichever hotel you pick, Hilton and Marriott have their own, this essentially turbo boosts your rewards point accumulation even if you only use it to pay for your hotel stay, which is reimbursed anyways. A "travel" credit card isn't a bad plan either that way your expenses can always be tracked easily and you don't need to sift through business expenses between your own personal life expenses.

* Whatever you're doing travelwise, everyone has loyalty points or a rewards program, sign up for them, with 40% travel you'll get to reap the benefits within 6 months whether it's air travel, hotels, rental cars, or even amtrak.

* Get together your personal travel items, you're travelling for work, but you'll want some things to keep you sane for those long stretches away from home, for me it's: mp3 player, external hard drive for connecting bits of my home pc, portal entertainment (book, magazine, iphone, etc)

* Eat well, indulge that your meals are free, but remember that frequent travelers may end up with a pear shaped figure. While the ribeye is on company dime, the salad some nights is also free.
posted by a11an at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Food. When I go on business trips, I always bring the same food with me, stuff that's easily made or eaten in any hotel room--instant oatmeal, larabars, a few packets of sugar, a few packets of my favorite brand of tea, a few packets of instant coffee, a ziptop bag of my favorite crackers, a ziptop bag of nuts or homemade trail mix. It takes up surprisingly little space in my suitcase, but has saved me from both skipping breakfast and spending a crapload of money on shitty airport/train station/rest area food many a time.

I also carry Emergen-C around in my bag and try to drink one per day while I'm traveling--both to make sure I'm getting enough B vitamins, and also to try to stave off travel crud. It seems to work, although, of course, it could just be a placebo.

Oh, I also recommend a reusable water bottle. Keep it empty when you're entering an airport and fill it up at a water fountain on the other side of security instead of buying $5 bottles of Poland Spring. I also tend to find hotels dehydrating, and like to keep my water bottle with me. Don't put the Emergen-C into the water bottle, though!
posted by shamash at 8:07 AM on August 30, 2010

posted by mdonley at 8:14 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you are staying at the same hotel week after week, here is a trick several of the regulars at my hotel use. Store a small bag of toiletries etc at the hotel. We have two or three small duffel bags in the back office that our weekly regulars pick up. I have no idea what exactly is in them, but I know one of our guests leaves a pair of gym shoes and a BIKE (!) at our property. Now, they're all long-term regulars (weekly visits for the past two years or so), so ymmv.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2010

Many people have mentioned the various airline and hotel rewards programs. But the main advantage of them is not the things you can exchange the points for eventually. It's the privileges they will earn you with the respective airline/hotel. If they know you bring them a lot of business, they want to make sure you are a satisfied customer. Free upgrades, free access to the airport business class lounges even on economy tickets, higher priority on stand-by or wait-lists. These are the true fruits of the miles programs.

Also, like many people have said, it's all about traveling light. When your flights are delayed/canceled, you get a lot more flexibility in making changes if you don't have any checked luggage. Plus it will be the best feeling you have all day when you arrive at your destination airport after a long, uncomfortable flight, to walk straight through the baggage claim area stopping to wait for another half-hour.
posted by dodecapus at 8:37 AM on August 30, 2010

Don't assume you can stay at a Hilton.

I travel extensively for work, but I work for a NGO so I travel on a shoestring: way back in economy and oftentimes the hotels I stay in are very, very basic. After time I find the only three things I really need are hot water, a good lock on the door, and a good pillow.

The most important thing you can pack is a good attitude. There will be days when you are delayed, or things don't go so great, and you don't have anyone to complain to at night. You have to be be flexible and just go with the flow. I was in a hotel last month that had no water (at all) for two days. Frustrating, but no choice but to deal.

I pack everything in cubes. This makes it easier to get all my stuff together, to deal with random inspections at security checkpoints, and to check off each section of stuff when I am leaving a hotel. I don't keep a list, because I really do pack pretty much the same thing every time. I keep a bag half packed all the time. I travel with carry on where I can, and I'm a woman - everything in my bag is multipurpose.

I love Muji for little travel doodads - zippable liquids bags, soap boxes, small containers for shampoo and conditioner etc.

Many places I go, there are no gyms, and it's not safe to run in the dark outside. So when I am at home, I work just that little bit harder to eat well and exercise. Don't get sucked into the trap of bad food and too much alcohol on the road, it's very easy.

And yes, Flyertalk. But don't take many of the random complaint threads too seriously.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:55 AM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: I'm down to about 25% travel these days, but here are a few things I learned back in my 75% days:

Get the best quality suitcase you can afford. My personal recommendation is Travelpro. Mine has seen duty on better than 300 trips, and it's still as good as new. Tumi, on the other hand, has an undeservedly great reputation - they used to be the best on the market, but the company was sold a few years back and their quality has profoundly declined since. They're about a half-step up from Walmart quality these days, but with super-premium prices based on their past reputation.

Keep your toiletry and liquids bags packed all the time. When you're packing for a trip, the goal should be to just grab that bag and go, without futzing with the contents. In particular, you should buy and keep a second toothbrush, shaver/razor/hair trimmer, etc in that bag. It's worth the extra expense of keeping two of everything.

You should be able to do your job as well on the road as in the office - which means that your laptop case should be completely self-contained. Everything you need should be in that bag. I've found that it helps immensely to forego a separate desktop computer, and use your laptop for everything.

As others have said, don't check a bag if you can avoid it. However, there are times when checking a bag can be a good thing. I've found that checking a bag can be a good thing on cross-country or international redeye flights. If you check your full-size carryon, you can put your laptop bag in the overhead and you get that extra footroom under your seat - every little bit helps when trying to sleep on a plane.

Good earplugs are your best friend on long flights. Noise-cancelling headphones are great for eliminating engine noise on planes, but engine noise isn't your biggest problem, screaming children are - and noise cancelling headphones don't do SQUAT to help with that.

If you're going to be on a long-term assignment in the same city for more than a month or two, getting a furnished apartment is MORE than worth it in terms of your personal sanity. It's usually a breakeven in terms of price when compared to a business-class hotel.

When flying, try to wear a shirt with a pocket. It's great for keeping your boarding pass and ID handy and your hands free.

Go out of your way to be nice to flight staff. There's no real benefit to you to doing so, except for the fact that they have a tough job and it's just good karma.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:06 AM on August 30, 2010

To avoid the notorious travel crud: Wash your hands! A lot! LUSH has some solid moisturizer bars you can carry with you to keep your skin from cracking. In fact, LUSH has a lot of solid products like shampoo bars that are great for travelers.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:10 AM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: Here's what works for me. I'm usually gone 1 or 2 nights.

I never take my rolling luggage unless I'm going to be out for a full week. Otherwise it's just a backpack and laptop bag. This is the backpack I use, and they have a great price on it right now. I don't use the laptop storage though, I cracked my bezel in there once. That bag, if it's not expanded, will fit in the overhead of almost any RJ, so you don't have to queue on the ramp for your gate-checked bags.

I carry one Eagle Creek folder (holds 2-4 dress shirts and pants) and one 'cube' for whatever doesn't fit in the folder. I'll often take a plastic laundry bag from the hotel room to keep my dirty clothes in; I also always turn dirty clothes inside-out so I can be sure. I wear one pair of slip-off dress shoes and keep a pair of vibram five-fingers in my bag for use on the treadmill at the hotel (this also means I don't need to bring another pair of gym socks!). I take gym shorts but rely on my previous day's undershirt for exercise. 90% of my dress wardrobe will match any other item, which is boring but makes packing easy. The first thing I do when I get to my room is hang up my shirts and pants, usually I won't need to iron them.

Like other people above, I have a complete travel toiletries kit that doesn't mingle with my home stuff. I stopped carrying hair product and if I need it just use some hotel conditioner. The only thing I carry that TSA could conceivably call a liquid is a trial size toothpaste; I never take it out when I put my bag thru x-ray and have only been hassled once. I don't always bring toothpaste, anyway, hotels have a single-use packet they will give you. Here's the simplest lifesaver ever: lay out a clean towel on the vanity in the bathroom, and put your razor, toothbrush, etc, on that. Keeps things neat and avoids toothbrush cooties from direct contact with the sink surface.

I also have a dedicated travel charger set: a wall wart that can charge anything USB (blackberry or ipod), a car version of the same, and a 1/8th to 1/8th inch headphone cable to plug my ipod into my rental car. 90% of the rental cars I've had in the last two years have a headphone input jack. I also have a tiny LED flashlight, a network cable, and a dedicated travel laptop power supply. I have a digital watch which supports two time zones, surprisingly useful, and I obsessively use a stopwatch to track flight times, so I can tell how much time is left in the flight.

Here's something minor: a GPS. Most of my coworkers buy their own, then carry it around and risk breaking or losing it. I always get one from the rental car company. It's expensive, but the company hasn't complained. I almost always rent from the same car company, so the GPS is always the same interface. (If I could procure my own phone I'd probably just use turn-by-turn navigation on that, though.)

Depending on the autonomy you have over your travels, it's so worth it to try to be 'brand loyal' to airlines (and to a lesser extent car and hotel lines). Last year I made no effort to stick to a particular carrier, simply going for the most direct and convenient routing. This year every single flight I've taken except for 2 have been on Delta. Because of that I almost always get upgraded, which has material benefit because it means I can comfortably work with my laptop on the plane. It is true that first class isn't "what it used to be", I never get a meal, just the chintzy 'snack basket'.

Hotel breakfasts are always overpriced and undersatisfying, if you're in an area where you can duck out for something else I always do it. And I try to always keep a clif bar in my laptop bag. It's a struggle not to gain weight, I typically have a light breakfast, skip lunch, and go for the bigger, post-workout dinner.

I have an HP netbook for use on the plane, the battery lasts forever and it's almost usable in coach. I use Dropbox to make sure all docs can get back to my company-issued system (which might violate your security policies; I keep things generic until the doc is back on company systems). I always carry a paperback(almost always from PaperBackSwap) and the most recent New Yorker. I don't use a Kindle or iPad, because you still have at least 45 minutes (after the plane door is closed until you hit 10k ft, and then from 20 minutes out of landing until you are at the gate) where electronics aren't allowed. That's my guaranteed pleasure reading time. I also always try to pick up a local newspaper if possible, even if I look at it on the flight out.

Here's problems I have yet to solve: I'm still looking for the best website, forum or combination of search terms that will always point me at a locally-owned, unique and innovative restaurant. Obviously I ask the locals when possible, but often I come to town the night before and don't have that opportunity. I'm still looking for ways to humanize my interactions with employees of giant travel companies: Delta, Avis, Marriott. I'm not trying for something cheesy, but I want to be mindful that there's a person across the counter. And, as I mentioned on a previous AskMe, it really isn't a lifestyle compatible with having small kids, so when you're doing it now, think about how you can do your job from one location in the future.

About once every second or third trip I assess what I'm carrying and wonder if I can do without it. I hate that I carry two phones plus an iPod, but that's out of my control. I love photography but gave up carrying a camera because of the bulk.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I travel regularly for work as well as for personal reasons. Regardless these are my best tips:

- Nth the notion of having a dedicated toiletries bag for the road that never gets unpacked. Make sure all items in it are under the 3oz. limit and that the bag you keep the liquids in is in good repair so if anything should break or come open it's not all over the rest of your things.

- Buy the best quality roll aboard you can afford but do not get one that is super thick - there will be times when you're on old 767s with much smaller than (now) normal bins and you'll curse yourself for buying the bulkier bag. I agree with deadmessenger - my TravelPro bag (which I bought for $8 at Goodwill almost ten years ago) has seen over 300k miles in just the last two years and it's still in great shape.

- I love a good salad, but when I'm traveling it's often not quite enough to satisfy me after a long day. I look for some decent, lightly prepared, fish to balance the tasty with the light necessity of travel related eating. Also worth considering... just order an appetizer and a side salad to get a little of everything.

- One of the reasons many road warriors gain weight is their workout schedule is thrown out the window. I loathe packing clothes to go to the gym in a hotel but if your trips are short enough and you don't mind recycling you may want to consider thinking about doing so.

- My productivity on the road really improved once I started traveling with a mouse. This too is something I'm considering buying an extra of so I can just leave it in my bag and not worry about it.

- When shopping for a laptop bag be sure to balance the protection it offers your computer with the weight you'll be lugging around. For years I carried a Timbuk2 laptop bag that was great at cradling my computer, but was heavier than hell when empty! I decided earlier this year to ditch it in lieu of a super small bag with no added padding. I'm still able to bring everything I need on a trip, but I've dropped five pounds from around my neck.

- I try to fly one airline and one airline only - or at least their alliance partners. I had to switch airlines this year as a result of a job change which made my previous choice no longer tenable. Check out the places you're most likely to fly and figure out what airline best serves the majority of those routes - try to use that airlines as often as possible. I care much less about the miles and using them for free flights as I do about getting "Status" and all that offers, including free upgrades (my red-eye flight tonight from LAX to BOS just confirmed my upgrade - which means I'll arrive for my training and event relatively fresh and well rested versus draggin' arse and cranky), priority boarding and better service when the inevitable delay or cancellation happens.

- If you're a reader pick up a Kindle or other e-reader. I used to curse after finishing a good book in the middle of a trip only to have to make do with the limited selection in the airport bookshop. With a Kindle I can queue up hundreds of books and never have to worry about this.

- Get in the habit of dedicating a particular zippered pocket in one of your bags (always a carry on, just in case) as the place where you put receipts. At the end of every day gather up your receipts and shove them there. You'll thank yourself for keeping them all together when it comes time to fill out your expense report.

- If the company isn't providing you a CC directly I would recommend having a separate CC for work related expenses. I'm not advocating opening a new line of credit though - so balance those two options to find what's right for you.

- Multi-purpose shoes. Depending on what you do for a living you may be able to get away with a pair of shoes that can do double duty as work shoes and walkabout shoes. If you can get away with it - do it. Your feet and your back will thank you.

- If you have someone at home waiting for you be sure to bring them a little something once in a while. Doesn't have to be fancy/spendy or every time, but they are keeping the home fires burning while you're on the road. It's nice to be thought of.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:32 AM on August 30, 2010

I had a job with near 100% travel a while back. Never again. I guess finding a new job isn't an option for you?

A good packing list will save you. If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone, get GroceryIQ, and build your list there. It works like HandyShopper used to on the old Palms with a master list and a need list that shrinks as you check things off.

Duplicates of everything like toiletries, meds, notebook/gadget power cables, socks, underwear that have permanent residence in your suitcase will keep you from leaving home without them.

Pick a color scheme, and stick to it. That will minimize the number of clothing items you have to take with you. Make as much as you can do dual duty. Mix and match.

Get your regular sleep and exercise. Stay hydrated.
posted by JaneL at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2010

There's a link to Flyertalk there without explaining why you NEED this. Sure, you signed up for your company's preferred travel providers, but Flyertalk will tell you how to leverage that to the nth advantage. They will help you buy a suitcase, navigate an airport, pick the best seat. They will also help you with status, which you think is not a big deal now, but after you've been doing this for six months, you will care very much about that upgrade to business or first class so you're not sitting next to yet another family with screaming children. Plus, the community is full of people who are road warriors and have been for some time. They're funny and they're international.

If you're a woman, make sure you have some kind of flats or sandals as an emergency change and always make sure to have nuts and/or a power bar for when you get stuck.
posted by micawber at 10:10 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Wow! Tons of great advice. Thanks so much everyone!
posted by white_devil at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2010

Get access to the airline club rooms, either directly through the airline you're flying, via Priority Pass or one of the credit cards. Not only will you have a place to decompress during a layover, but the agents in the club rooms are generally better able to serve you when (not if) your flight plans go boink.

Pack all the critical things (chargers, mp3 player, cables, etc) in *exactly the same pocket everytime* in your laptop bag. That way it's a quick check to see if you've packed it as you're checking out of the hotel.

Get a travel router like an Airport Express or WTR54GS. You'd be amazed how many hotels still have wired-only networks.

I used to swear by Travelpro rollaboards too but their recent redesigns have made them less efficient in packing and they seem not to fit as well in overheads anymore.
posted by Runes at 11:03 AM on August 30, 2010

Bring your own powdered coffee. A lot of hotels aren't providing in-room coffee makers, because people used them to make meth. You can buy Starbucks Via if you're feeling fancy and spendy, but Folgers Crystals is just as good.
posted by ErikaB at 11:10 AM on August 30, 2010

Try as hard as you can to book non-stop flights. Your flight might be late or have issues, but at least you won't miss a connection.
posted by CathyG at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: Pack a small squid so you can share electrical outlets with other people and/or charge all your stuff without being a hog.

If you have an iPhone, Tripit is a nice, free app that keeps track of all of your reservations. You simply forward the e-mail with the info to it and the app pulls off the pertinent data and organizes it.

Many hotels don't have a list of TV stations/channels. What's on? is an app that tells you what's on all of the television stations and the applicable channel You'll need to know what service (e.g., DISH, cable, etc.) the hotel uses to avoid guessing, so ask at the front desk. You can save the data associated with places you visit.

Make a point of noticing your rental car's make/model/color you have so you can avoid wandering around the giant parking lot ISO where you parked in a big rush.

Don't put your laptop in the trunk if you'll be taking it with you... better for temperature control and in case you're rear-ended. If, however, you'll be leaving it in the car, put it in the trunk before you arrive at the destination so the bad guys don't see your valuable stuff.

Be clear on whether you need rental car insurance or if it's included as a benefit to your credit card.

Use the flippy room lock, not because you're paranoid about bad guys but so the housekeepers don't barge in while you're in the shower.
posted by carmicha at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2010

Something else: Get a separate credit card just for work expenses. If you know what airline you're going to fly mostly, get their credit card. With Delta, if you have their amex, you get extra miles, but you also don't have to pay to check your first bag. (And who knows what other perks will be coming while all the other ones are going!)
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:09 PM on August 30, 2010

I don't travel but my father does, spending 4-5 days a week on the road. He ONLY stays at Holiday Inns, Crowne Plazas, or any other Intercontentinal Group Hotel because they have the best (in terms of quickest point accrual) loyalty program called Priority Club.
posted by wcfields at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2010

Re exercise - a bathing suit, goggles, and a swim cap take up much less space in your luggage than workout clothes and shoes, so if you're a swimmer at all it's worth checking whether your hotel will have a pool for laps. Early morning or later evening they tend to be pretty peaceful.
posted by yarrow at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2010

little things I can do to improve life on the road.

Tip. Be a good tipper at your regular hotels, it's good for everybody.

coming from someone who lived in hotels for years and was all platinummized and insane
posted by okbye at 1:55 PM on August 30, 2010

Tons of great advice in here. Two things I picked up on this summer:

1. Find the effort to start laundry as soon as you get home. At least pull stuff out of the bag and sort it. Not having enough dress socks on Sunday night while packing is a pain in the ass. Better yet, buy more dress socks.

2. Phone chargers: hands down, this has been my most forgotten item. But you know who has a ton of them? Your friendly hotel desk operator. Often they have an entire box in the lost and found (heck, they probably collect a dozen a week), and will let you have one if you know to ask. Great save when you've just hit your location and realize you're on your final bar of battery life.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:30 PM on August 30, 2010

For God's sake make sure your luggage actually fits in the bins or under the seat in front of you. The one mark of the professional vs. the amateur in the Roll-Aboard Rodeo is the size of their bag. Amateurs think any bag with wheels is okay for carrying-on and they try to bring on bags that are far, far too big. Your carry-on bag should be able to go into the bins of a 737 with the handle facing the aisle.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:44 PM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: From someone who has been doing this for six or so years:

1. Download the KVS Availability tool, or get a subscription to ExpertFlyer, and understand how to use these things. It will be crucially to your advantage to have insight into airline inventory.

2. Get some seriously good luggage. When I bought crap luggage, I was going through one suitcase every 8 months or so. Invest $500 or so in something from Hartmann, Briggs & Riley, etc.

3. Don't carry your laptop around in an over-the-shoulder soft briefcase - this will kill your shoulders, back, etc, after a while. Get either a small rolling laptop case, or a backpack-style one.

4. When you fly out Sunday night, you'll usually be in your civvies, with your work clothes neatly packed away. When you fly home Thursday night, you'll be sweating it out walking through security, passport control, waiting in aircraft before the AC is turned on, etc, in your dress shirt and slacks. Do yourself a favor - get to the airport ten minutes early, duck into a restroom (handicapped restroom has a little more space), chuck your work clothes that you're wearing into your suitcase, and change into something a little more comfortable for the flight home.

5. Speaking of your work clothes, if you're traveling to the same place weeks in a row, find a dry cleaner there to do your laundry (at least your suits, jackets, shirts, etc) for you. This makes your luggage lighter and your clothes neater on arrival.

6. Weather and mechanical delays, diversions, cancellations, etc, will happen. I do about 120 flights a year and count on 3-4 of them per year. There ain't a damned thing you can do about it, so no sense flipping out about it, it's just part of the game. ESPECIALLY, though, do not take it out on the ticket agents, gate agents, flight attendants, etc, who are likely not particularly empowered, and as stressed out as you are. Being nice to them, in fact, will get you much further than being a dick.

7. It was said above, but seriously, watch what you eat and take care of yourself. Restaurant meals five days a week, plus a lot of drinking and not a lot of exercise made a lot of my consulting peers fat, and gave one of them a heart attack.
posted by PeaSouper at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2010

A lot of good suggestions in this thread... I'll add a couple:
- iPhone or other smartphone -- maps, phone, internet, books (Kindle app syncs across platforms), games (if you're so inclined), music, white noise and/or "nature sounds", weather reports, e-mail, etc...
- For sleeping, an inflatable neck pillow and eye mask. Add noise cancelling or in-ear headphones and white noise/nature sounds and you're about as set as you can be.

When I was traveling a lot (50% of the nights in a month in a hotel room), I found the hardest thing was keeping up with household chores: laundry, bills, etc... Try to get a system for those things.

If you drive to the airport, always always always keep track of where you have parked your car.

As others have said, one computer for in-the-office and out-of-the-office work. Unless you're writing code or designing circuits, a laptop ought to have enough power for you to do your job.
posted by elmay at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2010

Here's problems I have yet to solve: I'm still looking for the best website, forum or combination of search terms that will always point me at a locally-owned, unique and innovative restaurant

Look no further than ChowHound
posted by seawallrunner at 5:53 PM on August 30, 2010

PeaSouper just reminded me: If you're flying to and from the same places over and over, especially if you're going in and out of a smaller airport, you'll likely see the same faces over and over again behind the desk at the ticketing counter and the gate. Learn their names, and call them "Mr/Ms. <Last Name>". Shake hands with them and smile. Sometime when it's not busy, chat them up and get to know them. If they or you are in a rush, at least wave and say hello. Cultivate a relationship with the people you meet over and over at every opportunity. This also applies to the in-flight crew, though you're less likely to meet the same people every week. If you fly the same routes often, you'll eventually start to see the same faces.

You do this not because you want to get special treatment or free upgrades or to feel like a big shot, but because it's more pleasant to travel when you've got that kind of relationship with the people you meet along the way twice a week, every week.

There is a practical reason as well, of course. If it happens that the one time you get to the airport two hours early and decide to eat at the overpriced T.G.I.Fridays down the way instead of the pizza place next to your gate that you've eaten at the last 20 weeks in a row because you're hungry and why not, and then the plane unexpectedly boards early, and because it's so loud in the restaurant you don't hear the five public address announcements with your name in it trying to get you to the gate, and when you finally get there the plane hasn't left yet, but the door is closed, maybe, just maybe, the gate agent might halt the departure, open the door and let you get on the plane. Understand that they never, ever do this.

Thanks again, Mr. Ambrose!
posted by ob1quixote at 6:57 PM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: I'm trying to hit the stuff that hasn't been already listed.

Join Tripit. Free. Now every single confirmation email can be forwarded to tripit and it automatically builds an itinerary. Better yet: add the app to your mobile device. This single thing has made travel easier to handle - everything is in one place. For $50/year they'll track what goes wrong (and right!) as you travel - and frequent points.

AwardWallet will track your points for free.
PointMaven tells you to earn the most Hotel points.

Buy a Checkpoint Friendly Laptop case. Some examples. You don't know the joy of sailing through security.

Get bumped? Sometimes its a good think: Bumptracker.

As long as we're talking about security - I put an extra clear bag hidden in my bag...just in case.

And yes - second toiletries bag. I try to avoid liquids when possible when I travel; most hotel chains have a missing item - like toothpaste (or I buy a sample in a given city). Add some 'nutrient bars' - just in case. Having two in your bag means that if you're doing and there's no food when you arrive...

Every ounce you carry counts. I think this guy is a bit extreme....but...
Let's start with onebag.
Get everything down to a single bag makes flying way easier.

Similarly here's a NYTimes photo bit of how a flight attendant gets 10 days into a single bag. Worth for just the 'how to' on how to pack.

Yelp. MenuPages. Where the Locals eat.

Generic from my bookmarks:
From Mashable: every fare/travel web2.0 site.
Seven travel secrets
posted by filmgeek at 8:08 PM on August 30, 2010

Watch the George Clooney movie Up In the Air before your first trip then again in one year
posted by Fiat124 at 7:33 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, one more thing: In my shaving kit, I carry a few (2-3) doses of the following:

Zantac (for heartburn, substitute rolaids or tums as needed)

This after a particularly heinous bit of food poisoning while on the road several years ago. I showed up the next day for work looking like death warmed over and the seasoned salesmen all opened their bags to show me their little portable pharmacies. Yes, many of the hotels now carry sundries like this in the lobby. I still don't travel without them.
posted by jquinby at 8:50 AM on September 2, 2010

In my shaving kit, I carry a few (2-3) doses of the following...

Oh yeah, I keep a film canister with a few doses of

- benadryl [good for allergies, good for sleeping]
- lorazepam [if I Just Can't Sleep, I almost never take this]
- Nyquil capsules
- vitamins
- ibuprofen
- dramamine [I get occasional vertigo]
- Zantac [I make bad food choices occasionally]

I also carry

- basic first aid stuff [hotels will have it, but if you've really injured yourself, you may not want to talk to anyone and just handle it]
- moisturizer/solid scent stuff [I like being able to smell like home and make my skin feel/smell good after a ton of travelling]
- a few hair ties
- a few qtips [actually w-tips, i think they're funtak on a stick, but whatever]
- ear plugs
- safety pin, small duct tape roll
- matches
- a few jewlery options in an altoids tin. In fact all my toiletry stuff is mostly in altoids tins, easy to sort

The thing I should bring and never do: some colorful hair tie thing that I can put on my completely anonymous rental car's antenna so that I can find it in a giant parking lot.
posted by jessamyn at 9:30 AM on September 2, 2010

Best answer: One thing that has worried me about traveling so much is picking up bedbugs in hotel rooms. I've actually started keeping my suitcase and my garment bag, and all dirty clothes in the bathroom.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:42 AM on September 3, 2010

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