SANTA'S BRAND-NEW TRAVEL BAG
By Joe Brancatelli
December 16, 2009 -- Stuck for a gift for a frequent-flying friend? Fear not. Your last-minute business-travel gift consultant is here to help. Sit on my metaphoric knee, and I’ll tell you what Santa can bring you or a traveling loved one for Christmas.
And, no, kiddies, the white beard isn't fake. I just haven't shaved this week. And, sadly, it's not padding. Business travel is fattening.
Business travelers consume vast amounts of media: books, music, video, magazines, you name it. Anything and everything that helps pass the time is grist for our metaphoric mills.
Regardless of the music your particular frequent flyer loves, I think they'll adore Twelve Nights in Hollywood, an epic collection of 73 songs (and between-song patter) from Ella Fitzgerald's 10-night gig at a small Los Angeles club in 1961. Released for the first time just last month, the tracks capture Ella at the pinnacle of her career and the very top of her vocal game, singing and scatting so well and so rapidly that the audiences had trouble keeping up. The sound quality of the recordings is spectacular too. (Amazon.com sells the 4-CD box set as a MP3 download.)
The best $20 gift you'll ever buy a frequent traveler is The Complete New Yorker. It is just what it says: Every page of every issue of the New Yorker magazine from February 1925 through February 2005, collected on eight DVDs. Even the advertisements—every one is reproduced along with the thousands of weekly issues—are compelling. If your traveler does nothing but look at the cartoons, it'll take months of reading in an airport club to plow through it all. A ninth disc (available separately for $20) includes all of the issues published from February 2005 to April 2008. (By the way, Portfolio and the New Yorker are part of the same big media company, Advance Publications. But my copy was a gift from a family member who bought it before I ever began writing this column.)
Cozies for the Current Century
Tea cozies were probably the perfect gift for Victorian-era train travelers, but 21st century road warriors will be better served by gadgets that keep their smartphones and laptops safe and secure.
The Izel Viewing Stand costs $25, folds down for easy storage, and weighs just 1.3 ounces. It cradles BlackBerrys, iPhones, Zunes, and a wide range of other smartphones at the proper angle for viewing in either portrait or landscape mode. And with more of us using our smartphone for viewing video, a stand that makes it stable on an airline seat-back tray is suddenly a must-have item.
The Aviator Laptop Stand is composed of three sturdy, but lightweight, struts of black plastic that snap together and prop up a notebook's keyboard at an ergonomically sane angle. The stand doesn't interfere with wires, plugs, thumb drives, or external modem sticks, and it also raises the laptop so it runs cooler, thus eliminating the need for a chill mat. It then disassembles and lies flat in a laptop bag. All this for $20—and it'll fit in a Christmas stocking too.
Luggage Worth Lugging
Business travelers have blind faith: They're confident that the next bag they buy will solve all of their problems. I won't suggest that you can find the perfect bag as a gift, but a gift of luggage is a perfect sign that you understand your business traveler's obsession.
My frequent-flying wife came back from a trip to Beijing earlier this year with a big, cheap, orange rolling bag. It weighed less than a nylon bag, yet was almost as rigid as those old hard-sided plastic pieces from the 1970s. It seems indestructible, and it's now her go-to checked piece. It also led me to investigate the emerging category of polycarbonate luggage. One of the best I've seen here is the Heys Crown Edition. The 26-inch model has a 100-percent polycarbonate shell, an aluminum telescoping handle, four sturdy spinning wheels—and it weighs just 10 pounds. Expect to pay between $300 and $400. Less expensive versions made of polycarbonate composites (and sporting leopard spots, polka dots, and zebra stripes) are available too.
Business travelers tend to be unhealthily attached to whatever carry-on bag they've chosen to travel with, so approach any gift in this area with extra caution. But most travelers I meet tend to fall in love with my carry-on, a hand-burnished leather Transaction Bag from Glaser Designs. It ain't cheap at $1,050, but it's seen me through a decade of life on the road, and it still looks as snappy as the day I bought it from Myron Glaser's San Francisco atelier. He also makes a clever range of organizers for clothing, paperwork, and electronics gear that nestle inside the bag.
Gadgets and Gizmos
I was surprised by how many readers contacted me last month after I plugged a small global plug adapter. It's a sign that business travelers are still slightly flummoxed by the global electrical-plug game. The model I use costs $22 and accommodates most of world's plugs in a 2-by-2.5-by-3-inch block. It also has a USB port for recharging music players and smartphones. It makes a nice stocking stuffer. A similar model from Hammacher Schlemmer sells for $35 and has two USB recharging ports. That's not a bad upgrade for the times.
My friend Phil Baker invents smart stuff like portable folding keyboards, so I pay attention when he recommends travel gear. Last week he pointed me (and the readers of his blog) to a rechargeable battery and power stand for iPods and iPhones. It not only provides up to eight additional hours of talk time and 72 extra hours of music, it doubles as a stand to allow easier viewing of videos on your Apple device. It's $70 from Brookstone.
About the only given for business travelers these days is that hotels and airports haven't kept up with our insatiable need for power outlets and other charging ports. To the rescue comes the $20 Outlets to Go, a compact, lightweight, portable power strip. It offers three three-pronged power outlets and a USB port, and it all fits in the corner of a carry-on bag. It another terrifically thoughtful stocking stuffer for the business traveler who's crawled under one too many desks looking for unused power outlets.
Finally, a Flight of Fancy
JetSuite is one of about a million (I counted) companies offering corporate jet-rental services. But JetSuite has two advantages over its competitors. It exclusively uses the new Embraer Phenom 100, a four-seat jet that hits the sweet spot of most private-aircraft missions. And it sells its services by the day for prices as low as $999 a hour. If you want to give the gift of a private-jet experience, JetSuite has created the $1,995 gift card. It's valid for a one-way flight between four California or Nevada airports, and the price includes landing fees and champagne.
The Fine Print…
Here's a little "Bah! Humbug!" for your holiday travel. British Airways and its cabin staff are engaged in an untimely game of chicken. BA has imposed new work rules and concessions, and the union for the airline's 12,500 cabin crewmembers has called a 12-day strike for December 22 to January 2. If the work stoppage occurs, nearly a million flyers could be stranded, and travel between the United States and Europe, especially London, will be thrown into chaos. BA says it will permit passengers booked to travel between December 20 and January 4 to change tickets without charge.
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.