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TOOLS OF THE TRAVEL TRADE
By Joe Brancatelli
November 4, 2009 -- I've been on the road so long that I recall being labeled a "high-tech business traveler" because I owned a dual-time-zone watch and a carried a phone card rather than a pocketful of coins to feed a public phone.

To say that the tools of business travel have come a long, long way in the last 30 years is an insane understatement. In fact, now we suffer from high-tech overload. There's a temptation to adopt every new gadget or software gimmick, stuff it in our carry-on bag, and take it one the road—just in case.

Worst of all, high technology has robbed us of control of our own schedules. Back in the day, the only way our offices could reach us was when we chose to call in from our hotel room or a pay phone. We were able to go about our business on the road while someone else worried about what was going on back in the office. But with email, texting, cell phones, BlackBerries, and iPhones, it's never acceptable to be out of touch. So we end up having to balance the work we're doing on the road and all the minutiae back in the office. Even for experienced multitaskers, that's a lot to manage while battling airline delays, snarky hotel clerks, and the occasional crazed cabbie.

Yet retreat is impossible. We're all high-tech travelers now, and we might as well make peace with the cornucopia of options in front of us. And if the following choices seems sparse—almost a Luddite's list—remember that it's not the amount of stuff you use, it's the time you save using what you choose to carry.

One Great Flight Tracker
Whether you prefer the online or the mobile version, FlightStats is the killer app for keeping track of flights and delays. It's easy and intuitive to use and offers the best array of useful historical data.

One Great Computer Manager
To keep abreast of what's stored where on my various computers—home and office machines, laptop and netbook—I rely on LogMeIn. I think it's the best of commercial services that offer Web-based remote computer access, support, and management. There are several versions at several price points, and each offers plenty of flexibility. The free version suits my needs just fine, but your mileage may vary.

One Great VOIP System
Voice calls over the Internet (VOIP) are, needless to say, a remarkable innovation. And for those of us who travel internationally, it obliterates the high cost of calling, either from traditional landlines or from mobile phones. Skype works just fine for me, and there's a version for any laptop or netbook and most cell phones. There's an iPhone app too. Unfortunately, Skype for WiFi-enabled BlackBerry devices has yet to materialize, although a third-party bit of software called iSkoot is available. And if you've graduated to using Internet-based videoconferencing, a service called ooVoo allows as many as to six participants per session for a reasonable monthly fee ($17.95).

One Great WiFi Roaming Service
The world is full of WiFi hotspots, but most of them are behind a confusing array of high-priced firewalls. Boingo vaults you over most of those walls at a fair price: $9.95 a month for unlimited access in North America or $59 a month for unlimited global access. More than 125,000 hotspots accept Boingo, including the WiFi systems at more than 500 airports and 20,000 hotels.

One Great Portable Power System
After you've owned six or seven laptops and purchased a pricey extra AC adapter for each, you realize that the computer industry is long past due for a universal power adapter. Until they come up with one, I carry the $90 everywhereMax Laptop Charger. It has swappable "tips" so it can power a wide array of laptops. It also charges mobile and smartphones, MP3 players, digital cameras, and other portable devices. I leave all my device-specific chargers home and travel with everywhereMax. If you can't bring yourself to buy a universal power supply, at least invest in a Zip-Linq. It's a retractable cable that saves space and eliminates clutter in your carry-on bag.

One Great Plug Adapter
The world is full of great universal plug adapters, but I still see far too many business travelers carrying around a bag of adapters that look like they were purchased around 1980. It's the 21st century, folks. Adapt your adapters already. The one I carry costs $14 and is a marvel of design: Most of the world's plugs in a 2-by-2.5-by-3-inch block. It even has a USB power port. And even though most electronic devices now have built-in voltage converters for multinational use, some travelers still prefer to carry an external converter too. The $60 Travelon from Magellan bundles a current and voltage adapter, a universal plug adapter system, and a USB power port in one five-ounce package.

One Great External Drive
I'm an electronic generation behind because I'm still using thumb drives for my external data-storage needs on the road. But the world now belongs to huge-capacity external hard drives that fit in your pocket. The OWC Mercury doesn't even require an AC adapter. Its 3.5-by-5.5-by-1-inch drives, which store up to one terabyte of data, can be powered by FireWire and USB ports. The eGo Portable hard drives come in stylish colors (red, silver, blue, and black), are even smaller than the OWC Mercury, and look vaguely like hip flasks. Prices for external hard drives start at about $75 depending on storage capacity.

The Fine Print…
See some obvious omissions on my list? I don't carry noise-canceling headsets (David Rowell, the Travel Insider, reviews them all); use online travel-organizing sites (try TripIt or Traxo); or travel with an MP3 player (I use my BlackBerry's more-than-adequate built-in music system). And I gave up my dual-time watch years ago since my BlackBerry and my laptop each have a clock that I can set as needed.
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.