Away from home for a month for work - what should I be thinking about?
November 18, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in Washington DC from late November and most of December, training for a new job. They're putting me up in an extended stay hotel, but it's doubtful that I'll have a car unless I rent one myself for weekends. First time in DC! I've never been away from home for for such a long period; I guess I'll turn off everything in my apartment except the fridge, have a friend pick up mail and help me deal with that kind of stuff, pay bills online. What should (and shouldn't) I take? This comes after a lengthy bout of unemployment, so cash reserves are very very low. How do I get a bunch of stuff there without paying exorbitant airline fees? What else do I need to be thinking about?
posted by DandyRandy to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Limit that "bunch of stuff" to one big bag you can check for $25. I spent about 5 weeks in Chicago last summer and did that. People who came with cars to our work-thingy brought way, way too much stuff. Don't bring a bunch of books--there are libraries--or other hobby stuff since you'll probably be tired from your training, and if you're not tired you'll probably want to be walking around seeing new things. Bring clothes for about a week plus one or two extra outfits you might need (dressier for a work occasion, perhaps?). Limit the number of shoes you bring (1 workout/walking around pair, 1 work pair).

See if your hotel has basic kitchen stuff. Is there a kitchenette? Does it have some stuff there or will you need to bring your own? If you need your own, you can probably get by with just a few things--1 each of plate, bowl, spoon, fork, decent knife, mug, pot with lid, skillet, maybe a tiny cutting board depending on what you like to cook.

Take just enough toiletries to get you through the first day or so until you can get to a store and get regular-sized ones. No need to cart those kinds of things across the country.

But really, if you pack like you're going for a week + kitchen stuff, you should be fine with just a carry on and 1 checked bag.
posted by BlooPen at 3:02 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can have the post office hold your mail. You can ship a box of stuff via ups. That's probably cheaper than paying extra baggage fees and safer too!
posted by snowjoe at 3:18 PM on November 18, 2011

argonauta suggested that I let you all know that the office is located just where I-395 crosses the Potomac in Arlington, and that the hotel will probably be within walking distance, hence no need for a car.
posted by DandyRandy at 3:22 PM on November 18, 2011

Ach, I screwed that location up royally - here it is.
posted by DandyRandy at 3:27 PM on November 18, 2011

I agree with BlooPen that you should pack for a week and do your laundry on the weekends. Extended stay hotels will have coin-op laundry. (Expense it.) No one cares that you're in the same clothes every week. I did a 3 week work trip a few years ago and this worked well for me. If you pack smart, you could fit everything in a carryon, but I say spring for the checked bag fee if you can. (Expense it.)

My experience with these kinds of hotels is that if there is a kitchenette, there will be cookware and dishes. If it's not advertised as having a kitchenette then it's likely to have a microwave and mini-fridge only, which don't normally come with any kind of dishes or silverware. Read the reviews, people will usually mention such things.

These kinds of hotels also usually have a "pantry" where you can buy toiletries, laundry detergent, a bag of chips, or a bottle of beer if you just need something one night and you don't want to go out. (Expense it.)

Oh, and my experience with suburban DC extended-stay hotels is that they are popular with tourist families and with school trips, because they are cheaper than the traditional hotels, and with the foldout sofa you can fit 6 to a room. There always seems to be a swim meet or something going on at the one I stay at. I usually request a room on the top floor to minimize the noise of stamping feet.

Also, as you might get the hint from above, expense everything that's reasonable and get it put on the hotel bill if you can. Assuming that work is paying for the hotel, that limits your out-of-pocket expense. This could mean sending your laundry out instead of doing coin-op, for example.
posted by cabingirl at 4:15 PM on November 18, 2011

Be sure to sign up for the hotel's member rewards program before you get there.

Also, I do extended-stays a lot and I absolutely hate buying drugstore type items that I know I already own at home...So I always pack a small bag with Advil, Nyquil tabs, foot cream, etc. Those things can be surprisingly expensive (and can make a big difference when you’re trying to impress at a new job).

And always, always ask for a room on a high floor away from the elevators.
posted by jicinabox at 4:41 PM on November 18, 2011

Before you get too expense-happy, carefully examine your company's policy. Mine, for example, does not cover laundry or room service.

Since you will certainly incur reimbursable expenses, make a plan in advance for how you will manage your receipts. I usually bring a half-size manila envelope and throw everything in there immediately. Losing receipts = no bueno. Keep your boarding passes if your company requires them to substantiate per diem.

If cash is really low, you can ask about a travel advance. If you can possibly swing it without an advance, don't get one-- you'll be tempted to spend too much upfront and lose out on the nice per diem payment when you get back.

That area of Northern Virginia is not super walkable, as you can see from the map. Get a SmarTrip (Metro swipe card) immediately so you can easily use the bus to connect to the Metro, which links you to everything.

DC is great for cheap fun, especially this time of year as it's not too crowded or hot-- in fact, it's starting to get cold and a little icky, so bring warm clothes and a rain coat. Even if you do a few museums a weekend, you won't even be able to make a dent :)
posted by charmcityblues at 4:43 PM on November 18, 2011

Before you get too expense-happy, carefully examine your company's policy. Mine, for example, does not cover laundry or room service.

Yea, I should have said that more clearly. Mine does cover laundry but only after 7 days.
posted by cabingirl at 5:02 PM on November 18, 2011

That area of Northern Virginia is not super walkable, as you can see from the map.

Actually, it looks like you're a block or so away from downtown Shirlington--no metro stop, but that strip is very walkable with lots of (somewhat mediocre) restaurants, a movie theater, and a huge enclosed bus depot that will probably have a bus headed wherever you're going. If I were staying that close to Shirlington I'd probably forgo the car rental as an unneeded expense--the bus system in DC and Northern Virginia is pretty decent and parking is a nightmare. If you're really worried, pay $25 to sign up for FlexCar or ZipCar in case you need to get somewhere not accessible by bus.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:27 PM on November 18, 2011

for the record, you're within walking distance of a grocery store and a library, too. and it's a very easy bus ride to the metro from the shirlington buses. so you probably won't need a car at all, unless you plan on taking any long trips.
posted by kerning at 8:32 PM on November 18, 2011

I've spent many months in extended stay apartments and the two biggest issues are laundry and the long periods of free time away from friends and family. Every extended stay place I've been to has had some sort of basic kitchen kit, at least enough to make pasta or a stir fry. The only things you really need to bring are clothes and distractions. What clothes you bring depends on the dress code during training. I've always managed to get away with just a carry on, even though I usually need a suit and tie during business hours. That said, it's probably going to be cold and wet during the time you are in DC. Additionally, laundry will probably be $1.00-$1.50 in quarters per load for the washer and dryer each and you'll likely need to do 2 loads at each washing. It can be a real pain to come up with $6.00 in quarters, so plan ahead. Depending on how busy the apartments are, you might have to wait for a free machine. You can minimize the amount of laundry you need to do by making sure every item you pack matches every other item. A couple of items that you can layer will take up less room than a bulky sweater and give you more options to stretch out your wardrobe. Wear a heavier sweater on the plane, that way you'll have it if you need it, but it won't take up room in your luggage.

For distractions, bring a Skype ready laptop, if you have one. It really helps if you can see and talk with your friends back home without running up a big phone bill. I'd also recommend bringing a good book. While there is a library close to the apartments, you won't be able to check out books and it will be closed at night. Hang out with your fellow trainees as much as possible and walk around DC proper as much as possible. That said, at some point, you will find yourself alone on an evening when all those places in the strip next to the apartments are closed, there is no good way to get into DC, and there is nothing on TV. Having a good book or a laptop with a good game or movie is a life saver at that point.
posted by chrisulonic at 2:22 AM on November 19, 2011

On the weekends, try to keep a balance between "catching up" on domestic chores (laundry, tidying up) and leisure. If you can get to the Metro, you have all sorts of places to explore in DC on the weekends. There's also some semi-decent parks in Shirlington, so you've got the exercise thing down. I know it's easy to say, but concentrate on finding that balance between work and downtime. I've found it helpful to keep in mind that you're somewhere completely new and exciting on someone else's dime.
posted by kuanes at 4:53 AM on November 19, 2011

Closing up your apt: unplug everything, toss/give away any perishable food in fridge, take out trash, stop mail (po will only hold it for one month), turn heat down to minimum, lock windows, put utilities ie cable on hiatus.

Bring a baggie of laundry soap to start so you can wash out underwear and socks. If using the coin-op, buy a roll of quarters at a bank. Any toiletries you buy at the hotel will be over-priced so weigh bringing them with you vs the effort of buying replacements when you arrive.

I travel with a bunch of old New Yorkers that friends pass on to me, rather than a book. They're lightweight, have lengthy articles and then I can just toss them when I'm finished.

Casual slip-on shoes/sandals/flip flops for when you just need to go down to the laundry or the lobby or the pool and you don't want to have to put on shoes.

I start tossing things into a bag weeks ahead of time as soon as I think of something I'll need. It helps with stuff that I don't use everyday but that I will need on my trip, ie compass or clothes pins.

Folding umbrella if you're going to be doing a lot of walking.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:55 AM on November 19, 2011

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