Work travel advice, hard learned lessons?
April 27, 2005 9:26 AM   Subscribe

i'm starting to travel a little bit for work soon after many years of only jumping on a plane for holidays to see the family and wondering if the AskMe community has any hard learned lessons they can bestow on the young padawan learner (sp?) that is me? How best to fly with a laptop and a digital slr? Suit case for clothes that won't make me look like i just picked my clothes off the floor (per a normal day)?
posted by joshgray to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My boyfriend travels regularly for work, and he uses an LL Bean bag that he really likes. I think it's this one. It's nice because it's carry on (which is essential for business travel), and has a garment bag that fits inside for pants, suits etc. And the monogramming helps in terms of keeping track of your bag.

Other tips I've picked up from him, stock up on non-iron shirts and pants, they'll save you loads of time and trouble. If you have things that wrinkle, roll them around something else, like t-shirts. That way they won't have folding creases.

Get a good laptop case that has easy access to the laptop, as you'll need to pull it out every time you go through airport security. Tumi makes some really great ones, but they're rather expensive. You can get good ones at a department store, or a place that sells luggage, look for one that has structure to protect your computer. A toiletry bag designed for travel is probably a good idea too, as it'll save space and keep everything together.
posted by orangskye at 9:54 AM on April 27, 2005

I hate to say this, but I always just iron my shirts in the hotel room when I get in the first night. Most hotels either have the ironing board in the room or at the front desk for the asking. The benefit is you can save a bunch of time packing cuz you don't have to be careful. The downside, obviously, is that you have to spend time in the hotel room ironing shirts.

And agreed: A well-stocked toiletries bag is a must. I have one, complete with everything I need (toothbrush and all) ready to travel at a moment's notice.
posted by Doohickie at 10:03 AM on April 27, 2005

Good info here.
posted by smcniven at 10:09 AM on April 27, 2005

I got a really sweet Tamrac Photo Messenger Bag from my father in law last xmas. It is really sweet and keeps my camera gear and laptop well protected. Tamrac has some pretty sweet bags and I've been happy with this one. If you're only rocking one or two lenses you could probably go a little smaller than this bag though.
posted by trbrts at 10:30 AM on April 27, 2005

I hate to suggest this, but don't carry on anything on the plane beyond what you're going to use to keep you busy during the flight. My typical carryons: Game system (Gameboy and the like), Book, iPod, etc. A laptop is just asking for extra time at security, and extra hassle storing during those non-electronics time periods, and extra hassle with your personal space while you have it open.

Wear cargo pants (the pants with the pockets) to carry your carryons (at least those mentioned above).

If it's cold, wear a sweater/sweatshirts and pack your coat.

Having flown a lot in the last year, and at regular intervals, I can't tell you how much stress this has saved me in security and getting on and off the plane.

Oh, one final thing: Unless you're going first class, or you're taking an extra long flight, most airlines will forgo serving you any free food beyond their standard fare munchies and a soda. If you figure you'll be hungry, buy something at the airport that can be easily carried (like wrapped sandwiches, or my favorite: Pretzel-Town hot dogs). Once on the plane, you'll have good food, while the other people will be stuck paying 10.00 for extra lame foodstuffs.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:45 AM on April 27, 2005

Depending on the usual length of travel, it is best to bring a bag/suitcase that is only as large as it needs to be. Also, it pays to invest in some good baggage if you will use it a lot. My own preference to many long trips to China was a large wheeled roller duffel (Swiss Army, as it is basically one large compartment and not a lot of external pockets), and then an O'GIO backpack. The nice thing about the OGIO pack I have is that the computer pouch is set in a vertical pocket along the back panel. Easy to get to for checking through airports. Use the backpack for stuff you need to get to on the plane - laptop, toiletry kit, books, etc. I also keep a pair of socks, underwear and another shirt in my backpack in case my suitcase gets lost. At least I have a minimal change of clothes. Don't bring more shoes than you need. I always brought one dress pair and one set of sneakers.

Have a box set aside where you keep your toiletry kit, related travel gizmos (for me an extra battery and charger, digital camera, assorted cords and chargers, adapters). Put everything in the box when you get back and take everything with you when you go.

Keep several trash bags in your suitcase to keep dirty laundry or shoes separate from everything else.

I actually prefer checking my suitcase if possible, as it allows me to go onto the plane just as boarding is ending. I'd rather sit in the comfort of the lounge than crammed in my seat while being shoved around by everyone else stowing luggage, getting in and out of seats.

If you have an iPod look to use it to also store any important files you have on your computer, in case something happens to your laptop. You can also use USB flashdrives, but I tended to have lots of design drawings that took up lots of space. You can also back up to the iPod on a regular basis during your trip.

I have a Mac, so I bought an iSight web cam to use to 'call home'. This had the added benefit of not having to use the expensive hotel phones and I could see my wife while we talked. This is especially nice if you tend to have trips that last many weeks.

Another trick my wife taught me was to fold your dress shirts by taking hold of each corner of the shoulders and bringing them together towards the back. This creates what looks like half a shirt. Then take the sleeves and bring them together and lay them on top of the half shirt. Fold the shirt again in half by bringing the tail up to the collar. For whatever reason this produces the least wrinkled shirt after sitting in a crushed bag for several hours. Doesn't work as well with knits or anything where you can't open the front buttons all the way down, as it leaves a nice pleat down the front on those.

If you need to wear a suit to an important meeting, fly early enough that you can change when you get to your destination. Don't wear the suit or suit pants on the plane.

If you can get away with it, only bring shoes that you can slip on and off easily and don't have any metal in them. Makes getting through security much easier/quicker.
posted by qwip at 10:48 AM on April 27, 2005

1) For your clothes, make sure you've got a rolling suitcase--even a "light" bag can become a real pain to carry when you're running between terminals to make connections. Absolutely find one that fits as a carry-on, and preferably get one with a folding garment add-in. (I've got a Samsonite, but any decent luggage maker will have something like this.) Also, roll your clothes--it saves space and minimizes wrinkles.

2) For your bathroom stuff, stock a travel kit ahead of time with duplicates of everything you need--including a few pills of any meds you take, cold pills, antacids, etc. You want to just be able to grab it and go, and you definitely don't want to be wandering around some strange suburb on foot at 11:00PM trying to find a hairbrush. (Trust me.)

3) For your laptop, make sure it's got one of those side straps that allow you can slide over the handle of your rolling bag, so you can roll them both around easily together. I've gone to the Kensington Saddlebag Pro, which I really, really like--it's about $80, but while you normally wear it like a messenger bag, it's got the side strap I mentioned, and it's also got hidden backpack straps that you pull out when that's easier. (The only downside is that it's a bit more casual than a "regular" laptop bag, and because you tend to wear it slung across your chest, it can wrinkle up a sport jacket more than a normal bag.) You're going to need to pull out your laptop and pop it back in a lot, so make sure you're can do that easily.

4) Since most security lines make you take your shoes on and off a million times, while dealing with your bags, get comfortable dress loafers. Rockports, that basically have a sneaker sole but nice leather tops, are great. Also, dump all your pocket stuff like keys, cell phones, etc. into your bag while before you get to security, so that way they'll just go through the machine, and unless your pants are really loose, pack your belt into a bag pocket, and put it on after you clear security.
posted by LairBob at 10:52 AM on April 27, 2005

Josh -- Welcome to the world of the weary business traveller!

For travelling with a laptop and other electronics, I'd get a large laptop bag that's perfectly sized to fit under seat-backs. I've got one, but it's a huge old Port bag... I don't even know where to look for 'em these days.

Second, I'd never, EVER check baggage. Even when travelling with suits, I don't... I put shirts, shoes, and slacks in a folding, hanging suit carrier bag (which the stewardesses will kindly hang by the door of the plane for you if you ask) and carry underwear and socks in my laptop bag. For a week, I'll pack six ties, two pairs of pants and three sportcoats. My whole wardrobe matches the rest of my wardrobe, which makes mixing and matching easy. Otherwise, get a roller bag that will fit easily in an overhead. If you have to take more with you than you can pack in a rollaway and carry-on (In other words, if you're staying more than about a week and a half), check a SMALL bag with things you don't consider essential and that you can purchase there like extra underwear and leisure-time clothes and shoes.

Third, watch what the other serious business travellers do. The first thing is anticipate and be prepared. For instance, you'll see them in line at the airport, even if they don't have their frequent flier cards, with shoes already off and in one hand, laptop out and ready to go through security, and with their wallet, keys, change, belt, and rest of their metal stowed in their carry-on baggage. They take about twenty seconds to get through security, and the TSA people know them, can spot them, and think the absolutely rock, because they never need to check anything on them. So know the rules, don't argue, and do things that make everyone's life easier. These days, even if your shoes don't contain metal, many airports require you to remove them.

Fourth, re-do your wardrobe. For suits and slacks, you want to replace whatever you can as soon as you can with Super 100's Wool. Accept no imitations! The Super 100's is a particular weave with a high thread count of fine threads that constitutionally can not wrinkle; it's natural permanent press. You get to your destination, it's got some wrinkles in it, shake the slacks out and watch them disappear! Stubborn wrinkles? Hang it in the shower and turn the hot shower on. Voila! I usually shop at Nordstrom Rack, which is our local department store's off-season discount outlet, but I didn't check your location to see what would be near you. I usually wear nice cotton shirts with light starch, that way they're easy to iron out when you get to your destination. If I'm not travelling with a folding, hanging suit-case, I usually button the front if the shirts and then roll them into a loose tube like a newspaper; this limits the creasing and wrinkling that you'll have to iron out later and packs them into the smallest space possible. You don't want to compress them, so pack them in the top front of your rollaway bag.

For shoes, you'll see that some shoes come with holder bags from the store. (usually the expensive ones...) you can easily make these yourself by buying a few yards of soft cotton flannel and sewing them with the softest side inside... you don't even have to make a drawstring. Buy some of the wooden shoe size-keepers, and then pack your shoes individually with the size-keepers and inside the felt bags. This keeps your dress shoes from getting skooshed, and the flannel actually helps polish them as they shift inside your bag.

Last, but not least ... don't overpack, never ever stuff your bags. Looks horrible and provides a sloppy image for whoever's picking you up from the airport. You can get stuff laundered there if you plan ahead and pack things appropriately.

I'm sure I'll think of more later... I learned at the knee of my dad, who travelled 75% of the time for several years.
posted by SpecialK at 11:04 AM on April 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

For laptop and slr I just picked up a crumpler shrinkle.

It's a great camera and laptop combo bag that doesn't LOOK like a camera bag. Very tamper proof, sturdy as all hell.

Check crumpler

They've got a new product line incoming so for the next week or so they'll be tough to get ahold of.
posted by Lord_Pall at 11:25 AM on April 27, 2005

Yet more hints:

- I pack a pretty thorough carry-on, and I bring a sturdy plastic bag within my carry-on bag. Before boarding, I put in the plastic bag the items I'll access during the flight--reading, music, snacks--and on the plane I stow my carry-on overhead. This leaves me with convenient access to my important stuff while preserving my legroom.

- Shoe trees (noted above) are wise but heavy. I fill my shoes with socks to maintain shape and minimize packing space.

- Roll your ties if you have somewhere sturdy to keep them. My garment bag has two stable pockets where they won't get crushed.

- Ditto the comments on bags and cargo pants (or at the least pants with deep pockets). I love my Kensington Saddle Bag for travel; it has lots of pockets for assorted items, plenty of room for a fat 14" laptop, and three strap/handle options for easy towing.

Finally, do give yourself time between arrival and your first meeting to wash up, even if it's just an hour or so. You'll appreciate it every time.
posted by werty at 11:32 AM on April 27, 2005

Buy some nice noise-cancelling headphones (I have the Bose brand). They will make every flight FAR less tiring.

Now that I wear them I get off a plane just as rested as when I got on, not worn out and fatigued like I used to be.
posted by Four Flavors at 11:49 AM on April 27, 2005

Save the plastic from the shirt launderer or dry cleaner and put your shirts in it. It really cuts down on wrinkles. That dry cleaning/laundry bag in the hotel closet? Fill it with your dirty clothes for the trip home. Pack light, but make sure you have enough clothing so that getting food spilled on you on the plane out will not leave you without clean clothes to wear when you get there. Never check you bags if you can help it.

As for the laptop and digital SLR, get one bag that will comfortably hold both. You are limited to one carry-on bag plus one personal item such as a briefcase. A laptop bag counts as a briefcase. Do not stow the camera in the carry-on bag (garment bag or small rolling suitcase). You may have to check it every once in awhile when there is no room for it in the overhead compartment and you never want to put electronics into checked bags. They get stolen frequently.

No room for your laptop bag in the overhead? Put it under the seat in front of you and then after take-off pull it toward you so that you can stretch you legs over it and under the seat in front of you.
posted by caddis at 11:50 AM on April 27, 2005

I stumbled upon this website and couldn't stop reading it for an hour. THere is a ton of good information here about how to effectively pack, what clothes to bring, etc. It is somewhat aimed more at the tourist, but much of the principles can be applied to business travel. The guy who wrote the site was even asked to help design the perfect suitcase - and he recommends getting one that doesn't have wheels, because they add weight, take space, and are more likely to break. And if you pack well, your bag won't be too heavy anyhow.
posted by clgregor at 12:26 PM on April 27, 2005

Got a few things to add here as a seasoned biz traveller:

-if you have a choice, buy light laptop. 15" laptops don't always work out on seat trays, depending on the plane. 12" and 10" are better.

-Buy a Juice unit from Igo and the necessary tips to power your stuff. One AC adapter is all you need.

-Clothes - Orvis makes a navy blue "hopsack" blazer that is a must. Doesn't wrinkle, stain resistant, goes with everything. Dresses up or down depending on needs.

-If you check your laptop, high odds it will be stolen. Don't do that.

-I do check bags on point-to-point flights. During the summer, if I have to change planes, I often will not check bags unless I'm flying at weird hours. Peak times, like Friday nights, your odds are higher to not connect with your bags.

-Make damn sure the bag you pick up at claim is yours. I have picked up someone else's bag before, gotten to the hotel, and then discovered that these were not my clothes. I felt horrible about that.

-Eagle Creek shirt packers are nice. So are the small zip bags for small things.

-the 99 cent sample aisle for toiletries is a godsend. You can find a target or walmart anywhere in the US.

Finally, and this is the most important:

Be nice to airline employees, baggage handlers, pilots and everyone else who can somehow affect your travel. Being nice makes the difference, and sometimes gets you free upgrades. Be polite, flexible, and learn the Zen of biz travel - shit will happen to you and there is nothing you can do about it. Embrace it.
posted by TeamBilly at 12:51 PM on April 27, 2005

Ooh. TeamBilly touched on something that's important: The zen state of confidence that you will get there, everything WILL be OK, and no problem or roadblock is worth getting your mad on about it. The airline employees really don't want to be mean to you, they really are just doing their jobs. If you make their jobs easy, you'll get better service, have better karma, and might get the occasional pony. Otherwise, you're just asking for bunnies with pancakes on their heads to show up and the airline employee goes running after them.

That being said, the reason you can have that zen is because you've planned ahead, and even if your flight is four hours late and all your checked baggage gets lost or doused in jet fuel, you're still going to be able to show up tomorrow AM completely relaxed and ready to take on whatever's thrown at you.

Some say 'check your bags, only take on what you need.' I have personally had checked baggage lost twice out of 8 times in my life that I have checked it. Those odds, to me, are horrible, and I will never check baggage again unless it's something that I can lose and can be replaced easily at my destination, because your baggage will always get lost when it's important. My parents once lost their baggage on their honeymoon. If you have an emergency plane change due to an equipment malfunction, you can almost bet your baggage won't be waiting for you at your destination. Shit happens, and a small convenience in not having to lug a roller bag is not worth having to show up to an important business meeting in cargo pants or an ill-fitting suit you bought off the rack five minutes before the store closed the night before. Don't risk it.

If you're flying to a formal country, (i.e. most of the rest of the world, esp. Japan) or to a formal part of the US, (i.e. New York or another major city where people dress) and will be met by an employee or business associate at the airport, you should wear a suit or at very least a shirt and tie. They will report back to their supervisor your state when you got off of the flight, and they will mention if you were dressed improperly. If you're simply being met by a limo driver and checking into the hotel yourself, by all means travel in relaxed clothes ... just remember that employees that you meet will unconsciously judge you along the way by your dress, so "grunge punk rocker" will probably not fly that well. (pun intended.)
posted by SpecialK at 1:16 PM on April 27, 2005

There are these great tri-fold soft suitcases that when you open them up, are basically a clothes hanger, you hang your shirts and pants in them, then fold the suitcase. It helps keep the clothes looking good.

As previously mentioned, just don't ever buy clothes that need ironing. As well as the wool weave mentioned, a lot synthetics these days can look good and be un-wrinklable. Anything with cotton in it will most likely wrinkle, but when shopping, if the shirt has no wrinkles, and you can't make it wrinkle, then it's good. :)

For security, get a routine going. While waiting in line I put all my metal (including belt) in my jacket pockets, zip them up, take off my jacket and put it in the machine. That way I can just grab the jacket and leave when I'm on the other side. Know ahead of time whether you'll need to take off your shoes too - if they have metal in them, that's always, whether they ask or not. I also second the suggestion of making sure your laptop bag will slide over the hande of your hand-luggage.

Bring food. It's hard to get good food in the airport, and impossible on the plane. Plus, you'll save on their 300% inflated prices. But if you bring anything that isn't highly processed, remember to eat it or ditch it in an amnesty bin if you're flying internationally, as many foodstuffs are prohibited imports in many countries.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:07 PM on April 27, 2005

An earbud for your cell phone. And a backup for when you lose it. I try not to talk on the cell phone when I'm driving, in general, but when I was traveling every week for business, away from everyone I wanted to talk to, it became essential.
posted by gurple at 5:05 PM on April 27, 2005

Response by poster: thanks for the detailed responses everyone, that helps a lot!

Does anyone know any national/regional chains that sells crumpler bags in store?
posted by joshgray at 5:22 PM on April 27, 2005

I believe Brookstone might, and you can find them in the more well-appointed airports.
posted by TeamBilly at 7:08 PM on April 27, 2005

Always make sure you can carry all your luggage and still walk around anywhere you may have to go, including up and down stairs. - if you count on having a trolley available, you will suffer badly.

The airline employees really don't want to be mean to you, they really are just doing their jobs. If you make their jobs easy, you'll get better service, have better karma, and might get the occasional pony.
If that fails, simply holding your ground can work wonders as well. Airlines need to get people moving through the system and, while being nice is always the first choice and usually works best, when that fails, just refuse to budge and you can sometimes get your own way. An example was once when I was asked to pay USD750 in excess baggage in Vietnam - I made the guy take me out to the tarmac, found my bag and started to throw things out, saying that I would just dump them. He was so embarrased that he let me off. I felt like an arsehole, but it worked.
posted by dg at 7:54 PM on April 27, 2005

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