I travel a lot in my job. Last year I had over 70 flight segments, made dozens of long-distance train trips and slept on average once per week in a hotel. In this blog post, I want to share my tips for making good use of travel time. Sometimes I use it for working, sometimes I just relax, but I always try to not waste the time.
Get the Right Attitude: Relax
When travelling, unexpected things happen, always. Flights get cancelled, hotels forget your reservation, trains are late, no internet connection, etc. Don’t expect that everything runs smoothly. Problems are the rule, not the exception. If you prepare properly, time isn’t lost. You will get work done. You will be able to relax. Sometimes your travel plans might work out as expected. See that as a pleasant surprise.
Get Data Roaming
My primary phone (Google Nexus 5) and my tablet (iPad Mini) are my most important travel companions on business trips. However, many apps and websites simply don’t work nicely without internet. Having to constantly look for and struggle with free Wi-Fi is stressful and time consuming. Therefore, get an international roaming plan (I use A1’s “roam like at home” option) or buy prepaid SIM cards for the country you are traveling to.
If you regularly need the SIM card option, get a dual-SIM phone or have a second phone available (this is my solution). Additionally, buy the SIM card upfront over the internet. This is possible for many countries and relieves you from wasting hours searching for a phone shop.
Prepare for Being Offline
Your travel must not depend on online content. I always have booking reference numbers, flight/train numbers, and important addresses (customer and hotel) synced in Outlook on phone, laptop and iPad. I avoid paper because I tend to lose it.
I like using travel time for working. Here are some tools I use to be productive and offline-ready on the road:
- Windows 10 Bash Shell, Hyper-V, and Docker for Windows so that I can run any machine (Windows and Linux) locally for development and testing
- Dropbox for my personal files and pictures
- OneDrive for Business in combination with Office 365 for my business files (I know it has some flaws but I haven’t found a better solution yet)
- Git in combination with GitHub and VSTS for source code and technical documents
- Microsoft Office in general and Outlook in particular with its awesome offline capabilities
- Our own product time cockpit which also works offline with auto-sync as soon as you get an Internet connection
- KeePass for securely saving passwords (it can also sync changes you make while being offline)
- Avoid the Car
I try to avoid travelling by car (self-driving) as much as possible. You cannot sleep, you can hardly get serious work done. If I have to travel by car, I try to make it enjoyable and reduce stress by:
- Using Google Maps to navigate
My phone (Nexus 5) isn’t the newest one but it has a great GPS. Combine that with Google Maps and you know that you will nearly never get lost (at least in Europe and the US).
- Forget built-in devices in rental cars
I dislike built-in navigation system, entertainment solutions, etc. in rental cars. Even in business-class rental cars, I often struggle with strange Bluetooth settings, out-of-date maps, disturbing user interfaces, etc. It is a waste of time. All I need for navigation and entertainment is on my phone and I know that it works.
- I listen to audio books
I have an Audible subscription so I get one audio book per month. Travelling some hours by car is an opportunity to listen to books you always wanted to read but never found the time for.
Prepare to Free Your Mind
Preparing for your travel makes it much less stressful.
- Preparing early reduces stress a lot.
As soon as you have fixed an appointment with a customer, book tickets and hotels. Booking early (weeks or even months before your travel) can save you a lot of money. I typically book low-cost, non-refundable tickets. Even if I cannot use a ticket or reservation because of changing plans, the overall balance is positive compared to high prices for flexible options.
- Have apps available
For cases in which you have to travel on short notice, make sure you have all the necessary ticket apps (e.g. Lufthansa, Austrian and German railways) and websites (e.g. hotel.de) available.
- Always prefer digital tickets over paper.
Use ticket apps whenever available. Be careful with PDF tickets as you might forget to print them.
- Make tickets available offline
Never rely solely on online services for your tickets. Most ticket apps allow to save tickets for offline use. I use synced Outlook as my fallback.
- Always charge your mobile devices
Make charging your mobile devices overnight (at home and in hotels) a daily routine. Nothing is more stressful than standing at a railway station abroad with digital tickets and empty batteries. Did that, don’t want to repeat it…
Store travel date and times in your calendar
Always add travels to your calendar so you do not have to search through your emails to find travel arrangements. This includes:
- One calendar entry per flight or flight segment including detailed flight data (e.g. flight numbers, boarding times, times for takeoff and landing, etc.)
- One calendar entry per long-range train travel including detailed train data (e.g. train numbers, exact travel and change times, platform numbers)
- One calendar entry per long-range car travel including destination addresses (you can click on it and directly jump into routing in Google Maps on your phone)
- Don’t forget to deal with time zones correctly (Outlook can handle that for you)
- Add detailed addresses of customers (including room numbers for meetings) and names of relevant persons (including contact data) to calendar items.
Nearly all websites of airlines, railway companies, hotel booking websites, etc. offer you .ics files that you can import in e.g. Outlook with a single click. Having your travel arrangements (dates and times) in your calendar has lots of advantages:
- You reduce stress because you never have to wonder whether travel arrangements have been properly made for a specific customer appointment.
- No wasting of time searching for emails to find out when your plane or train leaves.
- If you use time cockpit like me, booking travel time becomes a piece of cake because I just have to display Outlook appointments in my time sheet calendar and double-click the appointments.
- By sharing your calendar, your colleagues and maybe even your family always know where you are and whether you can be reached.
- Use a password keeper
When travelling, you often need access to travel-related websites and apps. You have to make sure to have your user names and password easily available. The only way of doing that in a safe and secure way is by using a password keeper that is installed on all your devices. I use built-in features of various apps (“remember me”), password storage in Chrome, and KeePass for that.
- Delegate arranging travels
If you are too busy to properly prepare for travels and you have the luxury of having an assistant, let her prepare or do the travel arrangements. Exploring travel options, coordinating with the customer, finding hotels, etc. is a time-consuming task. Don’t underestimate it.
- Ask your customer for help
If you customer is covering travel expenses, ask them if they can book for you. This will save time during travel preparation and during billing as you don’t have to include travel expenses on your invoice. Additionally, you will never have discussions about the height of travel expenses because your customer did the bookings.
Sitting in a regional train for hours in the night in the middle of nowhere can be super boring. For such cases I always carry my personal entertainment program with me. This includes:
- TV shows and movies made available for offline viewing on my iPad mini (I use Amazon Prime)
- Downloaded Music on my Android phone (I use Deezer)
- TED talks on my iPad mini (I use TED’s own app, supports offline viewing)
- Channel9 talks on my iPad mini (I use Channel9’s own app, supports offline viewing)
- As mentioned before I have audio books on my Android phone (I use Audible)
- Library of Kindle books (private and business-related) that I read on my iPad mini
- Collection of blogs I like to follow (read online using Feedly)
A few months I invested in a high-quality, noise-cancelling Bose headphone and I have not regretted it. Music and videos are much more fun with them. Additionally, the headphone has a mic so that I can use it for phone calls, too.
I also always carry a small, cable-bound, in-ear headset (I use a Beats headset for that). In contrast to my large Bose headset, I can also wear it under a hat or a hood (winter, rain) and during workout sessions (running, hotel fitness center).
Years ago, I switched from a trolley to a backpack (airport control-friendly Dakine backpack) plus a smallmessenger bag (Timbuk2). The backpack is large enough for three-day trips and it is small enough to be taken into a plane’s cabin. The combination of backpack and messenger bag works perfectly for me especially because of the following reasons:
- Backpack means my hands are free
- I carry everything over my shoulders, therefore its harder for me to forget a bag
- The small messenger bag keeps important items (passport, keys, phone, iPad, pen, paper, money, etc.) immediately available to me.
Granted, this is a question of style. I have stopped wearing suits and ties many years ago. I am a technical consultant and my customers are fine with business casual clothes. It can easily be carried in a backpack.
It regularly happens that I have unplanned hotel nights (e.g. cancelled flights). For that, I always have one additional pair of socks, additional underwear and an extra t-shirt with me.
I typically wear totally black sport shoes that are fine for a meeting with a CTO but also work in the fitness studio of a hotel or for a short run. It wasn’t easy to find such shoes (I don’t wear leather which makes finding proper shoes especially difficult) but I finally found one made by the German shoe manufacturer Lunge.
Eating and Drinking
My mood really drops when I get hungry or thirsty. To prevent that, I formed some habits:
- When travelling by train, I typically carry two reusable bottles (e.g. from klean canteen and EPiCO) with water and coffee with me. Coffee shops are typically fine to fill them, so you can reduce waste.
- I also often carry my Swiss Army Knife with me in the train. It’s a valuable tool if you are in a hurry and need to “build” e.g. your breakfast in the train. Tip: Don’t forget to remove it before your next flight. Security personnel does not like such knifes in your backpack ;-)
- Sometimes, unforeseeable things happen and you don’t have access to food for a whole day. For such cases, I always have one or two snack bars (raw bars without chocolate) in my backpack.
This is easier said than done. I am lucky because I can sleep everywhere. I have done 10 hour flights on which I fell asleep before taking off and wake up just before landing. To support sleeping during long travels, I always carry some earplugs (Hansaplast) with me.
In my home country Austria, we currently have a discussion going on about working time regulations. Travel time is part of the discussion. Currently, the Austrian working time regulation distinguish between active and passive travel time. We have written about that topic and its implementation in time cockpit in our blog post Active and Passive Travel Time for Working Time Limits.
In my opinion, it is up to you whether you can enjoy or productively use travel time or whether you waste it. I hope you find something valuable in my travel tips and I am looking forward to your feedback.
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