Welcome to Part 2 in my short series on Tips for International Business travel. And once again, (as if there were any doubt), I’m no expert here. But I do have some hard learned lessons to share, so here you go… (oh, by the way, if you like to do things in order, check out Part 1: Getting Ready.)
Terminals, Missing Flights, Customer Service
There’s apps out there like GateGuru that can help you figure out what might be available at various terminals in terms of snacks and services. Unfortunately, you really can’t fully trust these things. They’re really good. And useful. But things do change and as much as they may try to stay up to date through buying syndicated data sources, doing their own research and crowdsourcing, they don’t always keep up with all changes. So you want to have some idea of maps of terminals and where things are before you go. This includes Customer Service because if you travel enough, you will likely miss connections. And you want to get to Customer Service as soon as possible to sort things out. If you get stuck in London and you’re headed to New York, that’s not a big deal. Tons of flights all the time; weather issues aside. Worst case, usually plenty of places to stay. But if you’re going from a secondary airport in a small country to another uncommon area, working out the next leg of your journey may be a challenge. The one other flight that will take you to some other city to then get to your destination city may be leaving in 10 minutes. And be creative. Is it possible to get within a couple hundred miles of your destination and take car or a train? How bad do you have to be there? If you’re just several hundred miles short, maybe you can even charter a small plane. Yes, this is expensive, but it might be in the thousands, not tens of thousands. Still, you have to be thinking about alternatives to even ask the questions or do the research.
When I get on board, I try to get my stuff together quickly. I think of my little seating area as a miniature campground where I’ll be spending the night; or longer. And I wish I’d taken a picture of my little setup for writing this, but I had no idea at the time I’d want to do that. Next trip maybe.
- My under seat bag is set up for easy access to stuff I want. Note that even apps like SeatGuru don’t always get all the seats right. That is, you may be in a seat that does have storage under the seat in front of you, but on some planes the attachment brackets prohibit a full size backpack from fitting well. Typically, an app or seat map might tell you if you have no storage, (e.g. bulkhead row, entertainment gear under seat, etc.), but it might not be clear about amount of space. (Still, there’s a lot of value in checking apps like this.) Anyway, you can mitigate these issues by at least two means:
- Be ready to shed some stuff from your backpack into your carry on such that it fits under the seat. This might mean putting stuff like a full size laptop or 8 1/2″ x 11″ work type folders up top. You weren’t expecting this, so be sure not to just throw your stuff up there. Ideally, YOUR carry-on is right above you and you can make sure your additional stuff is safely on top of, below, or in it as opposed to at risk of getting smashed around by others who check something in flight. (Obviously, especially important for laptops.)
- Have a ‘bag in bag’ method. That is, see if you can put your backpack up top, but pull from it the mini-bag(s) of critical items; your snacks, your iPad/Tablet/Whatever, maybe your earplugs and eyeshades/blow up pillow… whatever your key seat camping gear is.
- Unless I’ve got a business meeting to go to straight away, I’ll typically fly in cargo pants, with at least one zippered pocket. And that’s for my passport. Boarding passes on other side. Losing either is a problem, (worse on the passport of course), so you have to choose: single point of failure or probability of losing documents from both sides being lower.
- Wallet in one pocket with some cash, but most cash in another pocket. I’m – hopefully – unlikely to lose both. (This isn’t so much for the plane as in general of course.)
- In one cargo pocket, my earplugs/earphones. (NOT in the same pocket as either passport or boarding passes. The only time you go into those pockets is when you need those particular documents. Other than that, they stay zippered closed. (Or in worst case, velcro. But closed.)
- Whatever I think I want to read first, magazines, iPad, etc. are in the seat back immediately so I don’t have to fish for them later.
- In my backpack is my mini first aid kit; a few bandaids, benedryl, antacid, etc.
- If I’m traveling with just carry on baggage, that’s one thing. But chances are if I’m flying long distance, I’m gone for a week or more and I’m checking a bag. In this case, I either a) also keep a small additional bag in the overhead or b) put some essentials in my under seat bag. Such as a least a spare pair of underwear, a toothbrush/paste, etc. The idea is that if I am separated from my main checked in bag, (which has happened), I’m ok for a day or two without needing to scramble for basics. But this small bag is still very light weight if I have to haul it around. I try to make this bag such that it will fit in my main bag when I get to destination.
- Depending on my travel needs, I may also use my ScotteVest jacket. It’s not a ScotteVest because my name is Scott, it’s because it’s from a company called ScotteVest, (which is run by a guy named Scott), and they produce clothing designed with all kinds of extensive and clever pocket/storage options.
- Water: I bring my own Nalgene bottle of water on the plane. It’s of course empty through security, but as soon as I clear though I’ll fill it at a fountain or if I have to, but expensive purchased water. Basically, if I’m thirsty, I don’t have to wait for cabin service. And if the plane has a late departure, that comes in handy. There’s a small carabiner on the bottle so I can just hook it on to the seat back if I want to.
- Snacks: I overdo this. Badly. But there’s a reason. I just assume I’m going to be stuck somewhere for up to 24 hours. This means, I get my junk food snacks, but also in my bag are a few granola bars and beef jerky, etc. In short, something where I’m not feeing like I’m dying from hunger if I’m on that flight from hell that ends up stuck on a runway for hours. I actually try to bring enough so I could share some with row mates if one of them is struggling. Or maybe is just a kid. Of course, if it’s someone who’s a pure d-bag… well… too bad. Plan better.
- Aisle vs. Window: Aisle is easier to get up and walk around, obviously. The middle you avoid at all costs. The window has a few benefits… Sometimes there’s a little space in between the wall and the seat where you can stuff some things like your pillow and blanket. And maybe you can comfortably rest against the wall. Maybe. It’s a personal choice. Pros and cons to each.
Flight attendants may hate it when you’re stretching out – without shoes – in their galley area. But the thing is, however you do it you should try to get up and move about a bit on longer haul flights. You’ve probably heard that there’s some concerns about the possibility of blood clots potentially forming when confined in a tight space for too long. This is a real thing. Even though the chances of you developing this may be really small, it does happen sometimes. In any case, it’s not like it’s a bad thing to move around a little. You probably need to go to the bathroom anyway at some point. Make the time a little more worthwhile with at least a bit of stretching.
As you should know, the water in the SkyPooper isn’t potable. I wouldn’t even brush my teeth with it. Or even splash any on my face. I bring my own water bottle with me and use that to splash some on my face and brush teeth to feel a bit more refreshed. I’ll wash my hands in that little sink with soap and that’s it. I will, however, have a hot cup of tea on board. And though that water maybe comes from a different system, supposedly even this water is nasty on board aircraft.
If you need something, ask. Flight attendants really do have a challenging job. Some of them are total jerks, that’s true. But in my experience it’s actually a really, really small percentage. If you’re not being a drunk, or otherwise a total ass, they’ll try to do whatever they can for you if you need something. In fact, they’ll try to help you even if you are an ass, but ideally you won’t be. Just one example of going a bit beyond… My flight was late into my connecting airport. Just barely late. That is, just past the time the airport went to curfew for outgoing flights. I was exhausted and knew I was going to be sleeping in the terminal, and I had foolishly gone very low on resources. Most had gotten off the plane and I went to the attendant and said, “Hey, listen… I’m totally wiped and I’m going to be stuck here until morning, can I raid any leftovers back here?” We went to the galley and it was like Halloween. She dumped a bunch of snacks in my bag and then grabbed me a couple of blankets and a pillow and said, “just take them; dump them at a gate desk when you’re done.” I’m not sure this was ok or allowed, but also not a big deal in terms of “stuff,” but it was a generous gesture. And as uncomfortable as I was trying to nap under the bright fluorescent lights in the terminal, (with seats designed to dis-allow lying down), at least I had some snacks and little blanket. It was actually kind of a weird overnight. From maybe midnight through four or five AM I was totally alone in this terminal area. No security or cleaning people, no one Maybe there were cameras, but absolutely zero people. Anyway… I’m way off track here. The point is, ask for what you need on board. And especially if you think you may have a medical issue. They’ve got some gear on board. They might not know how to use it, but often they’ve got extra stuff because 90% of the time there’s a doc or nurse or medic on board that can help.
Trains and Buses
Sorry. I’ve got very little here. In this area, I’m a little spoiled; I generally go for the car service here unless it’s just egregiously expensive or would be much longer. All I can suggest here having been on the metro in a bunch of cities is that you really think twice about not just going ahead and spending extra for the car service. There’s places without elevators or even escalators and there’s other obstacles making it challenging to navigate with lots of heavy gear. If you’re headed out for fun with your backpack, great. Been there, done that. I’ve slept on a grassy field on a Greek island, under the ruins of some kind of ancient archway after hopping the fence in a French park, and on the cold deck of a ship in the Mediterranean. And many more spots I maybe shouldn’t have been. But that was adventure travel on the cheap. As a business traveler? I’m wherever I need to be because stuff needs to get done. I don’t need to be overly spoiled and I don’t want to waste anyone’s money. But I also need to not be dealing with crap that might make my trip less effective. And that includes being overly exhausted from effort I didn’t need to expend for want of a few $$$ that don’t amount to but a tiny percentage of the overall trip.
I’m sure there’s tons more, but this is more than enough for now. Hopefully even if you knew most of this there was something new and useful in here for you. If not, you probably didn’t get to this last paragraph anyway! Enjoy your trip.