THE BUSINESS-TRAVEL SURVIVAL KIT
By Joe Brancatelli
October 7, 2009 -- Here's a dirty little secret: I don't fly in Seat 2B very much.
Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to plop myself down in the universally recognized power chair in the sky when the opportunity arises, but I'm not particularly picky about seating assignments. If I've got an aisle seat in coach, I can survive. 2B or not 2B, anywhere in business class is plush enough for me. I don't even need a seat that folds down into a bed because I sleep just fine in any decent "cradle" style chair.
My geographic equanimity notwithstanding, I do have some nearly nonnegotiable preferences about travel. I'd call them "tips"—if I thought everyone shared my predilections and biases. Just think of them as suggestions for better travel from a guy who doesn't believe you should sweat your seat number.
A Clear Path Through Security
Ziplock sandwich bags have their place in a savvy business traveler's repertoire, but I won't use one as my Dopp kit. Instead, I stash carry-on toiletries in the Clear Bag, created by a business traveler who had one too many run-ins with the 3-1-1 system imposed at TSA security checkpoints. The Clear Bag is made from a sufficiently stout grade of transparent plastic and has a good-quality, hand-sewn zipper. For less than $40, the bag includes several clear-plastic bottles with pump or spray tops. It's also capacious enough to allow me to toss in some personal extras. The ziplocks you get at the grocery store? I throw a couple in the outside pocket of my carry-on bag. Just before the security checkpoint, I toss my coins, pen, BlackBerry, and keys into a bag and then stuff it back into my carry-on. That's one mess I don't have to throw into a TSA bin and remember to collect after passing through the magnetometer. By the way, on travel days I wear a black plastic $50 Swatch so my watch won't set off the metal detector.
Lighting the Way on the Road
Over the years, I've been caught in the hallways of a cliff-hugging resort on the Amalfi Coast during a blackout, stuck in an elevator in an economy hotel in Orange County, and searched for more unfamiliar rental cars in more dark parking lots than I can remember. Now I'm never without an ASP Elite micro flashlight. They're cheap enough—as little as $10 from Amazon.com—that I've bought units to hook onto my key fob, jacket zippers, the strap of my carry-on bag, and inside my garment bags and luggage. The lights are small and light, solidly made, and the batteries last forever. And they throw a bright beam of light in a wide arc for several dozen feet.
A Proper Pitch for Your Laptop
I've never successfully used my laptop in coach. There just isn't enough real estate on those seatback tray tables, and the available space between rows isn't large enough anyway. But when I work my laptop in business class or on a hotel-room desk, I always break out my $20 Aviator Laptop Stand. The stand is three cleverly designed pieces of sturdy plastic that lie flat in my carry-on bag, and it weighs only an ounce or two. It does a surprisingly efficient job of pitching the keyboard at a comfortable typing angle, and it doesn't block any laptop ports or connectors.
Another benefit: The stand raises the laptop and allows it to stay cool without using one of those heavy, pricey chill pads. Meanwhile, I've given up on netbooks, those very small, very light, and somewhat limited mini-laptops. They do fit on a tray table in coach; unfortunately, I find the keyboards hopelessly small, the trackpads atrocious, and the memory too low for heavyweight computing tasks. It's Goldilocks for computer-dependent business travelers in coach: What works is too big, what fits doesn't work.
Joe for Joe
One of the few remaining joys of business travel is that it still permits you to experience everything from a different type of breakfast food to a unique local regimen of mores and customs. But I draw the line at my personal jet fuel: strong, dark coffee. Most decent hotels now have in-room coffeemakers; no hotel seems to offer decent ground coffee to go with them. So I carry my own. I grind enough beans (Green Mountain French Roast, if it matters) to make several pots on the road. Then I pop the ground coffee into a ziplock bag. Just be sure to carry along several standard coffee filters too—the No. 2 size is nearly universal for in-room coffeemakers. Just make sure to rinse out those in-room coffee mugs. There have been more than a few reports about unsanitary conditions to make you wary.
I Want My MTV (Sorta)
I am a television freak: 24/7 news and business, old movies, sports, odd documentaries on obscure cable channels, you name it. The TV in my office is never off. But television systems in hotels are always inferior. There are never enough news or business channels and lots of luck finding your favorite team's game in a hotel room halfway around the world. Women business travelers have even more to complain about since specialty channels aimed at a female audience (Food Network, HGTV) rarely find their way into hotels. The solution: Slingbox. For as little as $150, Slingbox puts your home's cable or satellite feed on a password-protected private Internet portal that you can access on your laptop. It even brings up a working, on-screen replica of your remote control. There's no monthly fee after the one-time purchase price, the Slingbox is easy to install and the software is a breeze to set up. There's even a Slingbox option for BlackBerrys and iPhones.
The Fine Print …
My entire business life is now stored on a few high-capacity thumb drives, which I carry with me wherever I go. The perfect travel case for thumb drives: an empty Altoids tin. Six fit comfortable into one tin and there's enough room left over for a spare set of earbuds for your music player or mobile device. Just make sure to clean out the mint dust first.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2009 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.