Over the past decade, I have gone from being an aggressive domestic traveler to being an aggressive global traveler, constantly visiting our various foreign locations and opening up new operations. I travel so much that I can relate to George Clooney’s character in the movie “Up In the Air.” (Last year, I traveled more than half a million miles!)
Rather than moan about having to go to an airport three times a week, I’ll share some of the tips I have picked up along the way.
By far, my most important rule — and one that too few people follow — is to pack lightly, in fact as ridiculously lightly as possible. After careful consideration, I have been able to get my baggage for any length of business trip down to one medium-sized backpack small enough to put under the seat in front of me. Not only does this free me from checking baggage (of course!), it also frees me from the overhead-compartment scramble — which can be especially important if you arrive late. If I have samples or something that I will need to support my presentation or meeting, I generally send it to my hotel ahead of time.
Here are my suggestions for getting everything into a backpack (along with a laptop):
- Take one pair of pants, one pair of shoes (black running shoes, comfort is key), one sweater (which, according to our general manager in Europe, Chris Baker, is a great way to hide an unironed shirt) and one jacket. None of these have to be packed since you just wear them.
- Take a week’s worth of T-shirts, socks and underwear. A week is all you need since every city in the world has laundry facilities. Throw in a few dress shirts.
- Other random items that I have found useful: sunglasses, international power converters, first-aid kit, gloves, hat, swimsuit, a few USB drives and toiletries.
- Hiking clothes are great because they are easy to clean, they’re classy enough to wear to most meetings, and they can work in almost any weather situation — from a Mediterranean beach to a Canadian snow storm.
Most important, of course, is to take only things that are critical and to remember that you can always buy things that you forget. Of course, this is much easier for men than for women and it also requires a certain disdain for fashion — but you’ll thank me if you can pull it off, as will your back.
A few other travel secrets that I have found useful:
- If the plane is not packed, look at the back and see if you can find an empty row. It’s a gamble, but if the plane is light you can often get the entire row. It’s one way of getting the “flat seat” comfort you’d be enjoying in business class for a fraction of the cost.
- Don’t rush getting on and off the plane. How many times does everyone jump up as the plane gets to the gate — only to wait in line for 30 minutes or more before the door actually opens.
- If you’re on the red-eye or dealing with time-zone changes, consider handling the time change on the plane versus on the ground when you need to be productive. That may mean sleeping right away or forcing yourself to stay awake – whatever the time change requires.
- I have become a fan of using Skype when traveling abroad. The program allows you to connect to various Wi-Fi hot spots without signing up and paying the typical hot-spot fee. Instead you pay a few cents per minute to Skype and you can upload and download e-mails quickly. Wireless modems are great, too. In the United States, my AT&T iPhone serves as a mobile hot spot. My Verizon-using colleagues use a Mifi, which lets up to five devices go wireless in hotels or on trains and taxis. If you require your staff to be on Skype throughout the day, you’ll be amazed at how effective you can be, connecting with people instantaneously — even when you are in remote locations.
- If you’re late to the airport and the check-in agent says that you’ve missed the 30-minute cut-off, don’t bother yelling. Instead, ask for a gate pass (the agents will usually give that to you) and if you can get to the gate within 15 minutes of take-off, the gate person will often get you on the flight. This has saved me more times than I’d like to recall. Of course, check in before you get to the airport, so that you already have your boarding pass.
- Book your tickets using Kayak and your rooms with Hotwire. You can save a lot of money if you explore the various options. Choose an airline alliance (Star Alliance, SkyTeam or One World), and try to stick with it. Ultimately, it will save you money and it sure helps to have clout with an airline when you need to request an accommodation. (Here are some other tech tips for power travelers.)
Please share any travel secrets you have.
Tom Szaky is the chief executive of TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton, N.J.