It happened to me. What was your worst travel mistake?

I'm sure you have heard those travel stories … Like the executive who missed an important client meeting in Japan because he didn't realize his passport had to be good for six months after his trip. Or the sales person who booked tickets to the wrong city and had to rent a car and drive all night. Or the guy that forgot to book a hotel and the only free room for miles around was the $600 penthouse suite. (These are all true stories. I know the people they happened to.) Depending on your personality either you think "I'd never do that!" or "I hope that never happens to me!"

Well, it happened to me. I always figured if I was going to goof on my travel plans, I'd book a ticket for the wrong city. But no. I just booked a ticket to Brazil and didn't apply for a visa. The airline kindly informed me of my mistake the day of the flight.

What was your worst travel mistake?

What airlines should really do about carry-ons

Now that most airlines charge for checked bags, I think they should charge for carryons or do away with them all together.

Charge for carryons

I'd divvy up the overhead into small compartments that would hold one rollaboard. Then I'd sell each compartment. You could buy an overhead compartment at the same time you buy your ticket, or when you check-in or at the gate. But not on the airplane. The idea is to make it faster to board – letting people buy space on the plane would make it slower.

I'd also give the IT staff the budget to put a little LED screen on each overhead compartment that would show the seat number of the person that "owned" it.

If there were unpurchased overhead bins, they'd stay closed and empty. The idea is to board quickly and smoothly.

Do away with overhead compartments

I think the best solution would be to remove the overhead compartments. I personally wouldn't like this one as I never check a bag and always take a rollaboard on the airplane. However, I think this would really speed up boarding. People wouldn't rush to board and then stand in the middle of the aisle looking for a place for their bag. They wouldn't walk all the way to the back of the airplane to put their suitcase up and then walk back to their seat while everyone is trying to walk the other way to get to their seat.

You'd have the space underneath the seat in front of you and that's it. In exchange, your flight would board quickly and smoothly. And theoretically the airlines would pay for less gate time so your ticket would get cheaper, but I wouldn't hold your breath for that.

To keep your frequent fliers happy, you'd have to improve your baggage handling process at the same time. You should never have to stand around for half an hour waiting for your bag to come out.

Doing away with carryons, like charging for food and baggage, would really only be a bandaid. The whole airline industry needs to change if it's going to succeed. But charging for checked baggage and not carryons is creating a mess and making air travel even less pleasant.

Photo credits: / CC BY 2.0

I’m not superstitious but …

I'm not superstitious but if I thought it'd help, I'd throw some salt over my shoulder.

  • During my trip two weeks ago, I got a sinus infection, my plane got hit by lightening, and we diverted to Wyoming.
  • During my trip this week, I got a stomach flu, my plane was late and I had a flat tire at 1:00 am.

It's been exciting but I think I'm going to stay home for a bit.

How do you decide if business travel is worth it?

Deciding where to spend my time and money is never easy. I struggle with a number of things when deciding to go on a business trip:

First Air 727-100
Originally uploaded by caribb
  • Face-to-face meetings. In today’s online, ever connected world, when is face time worth it? It’s really hard to measure the importance of meeting face-to-face – it’s invaluable. While I have in the past (reluctantly) flown somewhere for a one hour meeting, I tend to try to schedule face-to-face meetings around conferences. The right conferences can allow for lots of planned and impromptu meetings. Actually, at most conferences I go to very few talks – every time I try to go to a talk, I run into someone and next thing I know, the talk is half over.
  • Attending talks. Some conferences have tons of great speakers and between the ideas they present and the discussions that happen around them in twitter and on blogs, I learn lots and end up with new ways of thinking about things. But I never travel just to attend talks.
  • Giving talks. Being asked to speak at a conference is a tremendous privilege. It’s a chance to explain your perspective, your ideas and your thoughts to 20-700 people. That’s a huge responsibility, an excellent opportunity and a great privilege.
  • Time away from family. I miss the family when I’m gone and I know it’s hard on them when I’m on the road. It’s especially hard on Frank, my boyfriend, but luckily he’s a superdad! Not only does Frank have to do both his household work as well as mine, but the kids are tired because they have to be up extra early. (Frank has an hour commute and starts work at 7:30.)
  • Frank’s schedule. Frank only travels a few times a year (without me) but those trips are very important to him. Since I travel so much, I try to work around his travel schedule.
  • Support. If you are known for something (supporting a project or idea), your presence at a conference or event can help support the event itself. Imagine a Linux event with Linus Torvalds as a keynote. Just the fact that he’s there lends support to the conference.
  • Costs. To me costs are time – time away from home – as well as the actual money cost of travel.

So while there’s no nice formula to apply to any request for travel, conference I want to go to or meeting I want to attend, those are some of the things I consider.

I worked out my travel plans for the rest of the year and here are the events I’ll be attending.

  • OSiM. GNOME Mobile is an important initiative for GNOME right now.
  • Maemo Summit. Right after OSiM – I’m looking forward to learning more about what Nokia and the Maemo community are working on.
  • GNOME.Asia. GNOME’s first large event in Asia.
  • I also have money set aside for one other inter-US trip that I will save for any necessary meetings with existing or potential sponsors.

Here are the events I really wanted to go to, that I won’t be able to go to this year. They would have been great opportunities to meet up with people.

  • Boston Summit – a GNOME hackfest.
  • Encuentro Linux – they are having a GNOME day.
  • Latinoware – where there will be a Fórum do Gnome.
  • OSAC – HP’s open source advisory council meeting.
  • … and numerous other conferences!

How do you decide if a particular trip is worth it?

The business traveler’s secret to traveling with a baby

I am so getting one of these. Before you laugh, imagine me carrying a bookbag, suitcase, carseat and baby. Or how about the time that I put all the suitcases on a cart and let the 8 year old to push the stroller. As I pushed the cart out of the elevator, the strap broke, all the suitcases fell off and the 8 year old jumped out to help me … leaving the baby in the stroller in the elevator.

Yep, I’m getting one of these.

Another way to find a cheaper ticket

I’m pretty good at finding cheaper or better airfare online but when friends or family ask me to help, I just groan because it takes a LOT of time.

I thought I’d share this tidbit. I was recently looking for airfare for a pretty expensive short notice trip to Europe. Orbitz told me the cheapest fare was $1806. FareCompare told me the cheapest ticket was $1650. When I clicked on the "purchase this airfare" on FareCompare, it opened a window to Orbitz! So I bought a ticket on Orbitz for cheaper than Orbitz had listed. One of two things is at work:

  • Either FareCompare has a deal with Orbitz where they get something off the ticket and they pass some of that on to me.
  • Or Orbitz’s search engine isn’t working well enough to find me the cheapest fare.

So knowing where to look can save you money – the cheapest fare one travel site shows isn’t always the cheapest fare.

Traveling alone – no big deal

After the question of "who’s taking care of the baby?" the most common questions I get about travel are all about traveling alone. I usually just shrug and say it’s no big deal – it’s not. But last week my grandma (who’s 91) was asking me lots of questions about my trip to Istanbul. Are you flying by yourself? How do you get to your hotel? Will you know anybody there? Will you be eating alone all the time? She wasn’t worried about me, she was just very curious. Her whole life she’s wanted to go see her "cousins in Holland" and she’s never gone. (I’ve always regretted I didn’t just book tickets and take her. It would be hard to take her now for health reasons.)

So this trip I paid attention to how I do things and I realized I’m always thinking about logistics and safety. For example, here are some of the things I do:

  • Money.
    • Before I clear customs I get cash from an ATM machine. This trip was one of those interesting times – the machine only displayed Turkish. The last screen stumped me for a minute. I was pretty sure one option was something like "do another transaction" and the other was "I’m done." But they were both one word, same color, same number of letters, … I picked the bottom one and my card came back out. (And once again I forgot to check the exchange rate ahead of time so I just guessed at how many Turkish lira I needed. My usual approach is to withdraw the maximum option – only in Norway that turned out to be more than my bank would let me take out in any 24 hour period. Norway turned out to be expensive.)
    • I also always make sure that I have a backup id and a credit card – one in my wallet and another set in my rollaboard. If I lose my briefcase or misplace my wallet I want something to fall back on. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people far from home that suddenly have nothing. I think it’s far more likely I would lose my wallet than I’d get robbed, but either would be a major pain.
  • Transportation.
    • Leaving customs I looked for a guy with a sign with my name on it. The hotel had included my ride. This always makes me (unjustifiably) nervous. What if they take you somewhere else? What if they knocked out the real guy and this is some bad guy holding the sign. Too many movies! The guy holding the sign turned out to be a very polite young man who was a very cautious driver and he didn’t speak any English. So I wasn’t able to do my normal cab ride conversation – my Turkish wasn’t quite up for it. (Usually I do public transportation or a cab.)
    • When I get to the hotel I ask about public transportation to the conference venue. If it’s less than a couple of miles, I usually walk. (Dan Frye from IBM actually gave me that tip – he said he always picks a hotel he can walk from. It’s his exercise in days full of meetings.)
  • Lodging. I found the hotel on Tripadvisor – I searched for cheap, top ranking hotels and then I used Google maps to see how far they were from the conference venue. (Actually, first I checked the conference hotels and then I started looking for other ones.) The hotel must have internet access and positive reviews. I used to look for a gym too – a hotel with a gym is very hard to find in Europe. I also like hotels with restaurants or room service or near lots of restaurants in case I end up eating alone late at night.
  • Eating. The one thing I don’t like about traveling alone is eating out alone all the time so I’ll try to arrange dinner with different folks if I’m in a city or at a conference where I know a lot of people. Eating out alone bothers me less now than it used to but I always remember the Denny’s guy who said "You’re eating alone? How sad!" If I’m eating alone, I usually end up eating with a book or my laptop open. Or I find a good people watching place – I love sitting at an outdoor restaurant watching people.

So as you can see, other than eating, traveling alone is a lot like traveling with friends and family. Just a little more quiet time to read or work on the airplane and in the hotel!

Maybe I can cash in on silly travel policies

I figured out how I can get free vacations. If friends buy me a ticket, they can check their bags for free!

to eight people traveling on the same reservation as someone with
premium status will be exempt from the first and second bag fees.

And hey, I can even get you extra leg room!

There are some parts about having "premium status" with United that I really appreciate, like shorter lines at check-in and security. But this whole baggage thing is a mess. Charge everyone or charge no one. Charge for all baggage, including carry-ons, or don’t charge for any.

I’m dreading my next flight … how much stuff do you think people are going to try to carry on if they have to pay $15 to check it?

Beat jetlag … by not eating for 12 hours before breakfast

Beat jetlag by not eating for 12-16 hours before breakfast (in the time zone you want to be in). According to ParentingSquad, this works because most mammals need to forage for food during daylight hours. So your body will quickly adjust to sleeping when there’s no food so that it can search for food during the day.

I wonder if this is why I never have much trouble with jetlag … Let me know if you try it and it works for you. (Skipping airplane food doesn’t sound like such a bad idea anyway …)

[UPDATE] Science Friday had a good segment on this, Circadian Clock Sets at Lunchtime. They explain that your body has two clocks, one based on external light and one based on food. While the external light one can only shift about two hours a day, the food one will override it in times of necessity. So starve yourself for 16 hours and then eat breakfast and your food clock will take over to make sure you are awake when there’s food.

Why do you travel?

I like Dustin Wax’s reason:

I think traveling should be about something more than doing what the locals do.

I mean, don’t even think about doing what the tourists do.
I’m not advocating that horror. But traveling is about experiencing
things new and fresh — something the locals simply can’t do. After all,
you are a local, when you’re at home. How exciting is that?

And really, going well beyond what the locals do is not only
valuable for you, the traveler, it’s valuable for the locals
themselves. Travelers — real travelers, travelers with a sense of
derring-do and adventure, and a bit of the Tao of Travel about them —
give people a chance to show off, to experience their everyday
surroundings as if they were fresh and new. You can easily
take that old ruin on the side of the hill for granted — it is, after
all, just a place where teenagers go to drink and make out — until some
traveler passing through asks you what it is. Ah, there’s a story to be told…

Traveling is about discovering how delightful something different is. And you can share that. (That said, as a teenager in Barcelona, there is only so many times you can show off the Picasso museum.)