Normally when I blog on the first day of a conference, well, there hasn’t been a first day yet. So I talk about the value of a conference or some other facet. And normally in my (non-conference) blogs, I show you how I have learned to be a data professional – things I’ve learned how to do over the years. But in all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about a big part of my job – traveling. I’ve traveled a lot throughout the years, when I’ve taught, gone to conferences, consulted and in my current role assisting Microsoft customers with large-scale database system designs.
So I’ll share a few thoughts about what I do. Keep in mind that I travel for short durations, just a day or so, and sometimes I travel internationally. For those I prepare differently – what I’m talking about here is what I do for a multi-day, same-country trip. Hopefully you find it useful. I’ll tag a few other travelers I know to add their thoughts.
Preparing for Travel
When I’m notified of a trip, I begin researching the location. I find the flights, hotel and (if I have to) a car to use while I’m away. We have an in-house system we use to book the travel, but when I travel not-for-Microsoft I use Expedia and Kayak to find what I need.
Traveling on Sunday and Friday is the worst. I have to do it sometimes (like this week) and it’s always a bad idea. But you can blunt the impact by booking as early as you can stand it. That means I have to be up super-early, but the flights are normally on time. I stay flexible, and always have a backup plan in case the flights are delayed or canceled.
For the hotel, I tend to go on the cheaper side, and I look for older hotels that have been renovated, or quirky ones. For instance, in Boise, ID recently I stayed at a 60’s-themed (think Mad-Men) hotel that was very cool. Always I go on the less expensive side – I find the “luxury” hotels nail me for Internet, food, everything. The cheaper places include all kinds of things, and even have breakfasts, shuttles and all kinds of things that start to add up. I even call ahead to make sure there’s an iron and ironing board available, since I’ll need those when I get there.
I find any way I can not to get a car. I use mass-transit wherever possible, and try to make friends and pay their gas to take me places. In a pinch, I’ll use a taxi. It ends up being cheaper, faster, and less stressful all around.
Over the years I’ve learned never to check luggage whenever I can. To do that, I lay out everything I want to take with me on the bed, and then try and make sure I’m really going to use it. I wear a dark wool set of pants, which I can clean and wear in hot and cold climates. I bring undies and socks of course, and for most places I have to wear “dress up” shirts. I bring at least two print T-Shirts in case I want to dress down for something while I’m gone, but I only bring one set of shoes. All the clothes are rolled as tightly as possible as I learned in the military. Then I use those to cushion the electronics I take.
For toiletries I bring a shaver, toothpaste and toothbrush, D/O and a small brush. Everything else the hotel will provide.
For entertainment, I take a small Zune, a full PC-Headset (so I can make IP calls on the road) and my laptop. I don’t take books or anything else – everything is electronic. I use E-books (downloaded from our Library), Audio-Books (on the Zune) and I also bring along a Kaossilator (more here) to play music in the hotel room or even on the plane without being heard.
If I can, I pack into one roll-on bag. There’s not a lot better than this one, but I also have a Bag I was given as a prize for something or other here at Microsoft. Either way, I like something with less pockets and more big, open compartments. Everything gets rolled up and packed in, with all of the wires and charges in small bags my wife made for me. The laptop (and anything I don’t want gate-checked) goes on top or in an outside pouch so I can grab it quickly if I have to gate-check the bag. As much as I can, I try to go in one bag. When I can’t (like this week) I use this bag since it can expand, roll up, crush and even be put away later. It’s super-heavy canvas and worth the price. This allows me to not check a bag.
The day of the trip, I have everything ready since I’m getting up early. I pack a few small snacks inside a plastic large-mouth water bottle, which protects the snacks and lets me get water in the terminal. I bring along those little powdered drink mixes to add to the water.
At the airport, I make a beeline for the power-outlets. I charge up my laptop and phone, and download all my e-mails so I can work on them off-line in the air. I don’t travel as often as I used to – just every month or so now, so I don’t have a membership to an airline club. If I travel much more, I’ll invest in one again – they are WELL worth the money, for the wifi, food and quiet if for nothing else.
I print out my logistics on paper and put that in my pocket – flight numbers, hotel addresses and phones for everything. That way if I have to make a change, I don’t have to boot up anything or even have power to be able to roll with the punches if things change.
Working While Away
While I’m away I realize I’m going to be swamped with things at the conference or with my clients. So I turn on Out-Of-Office notifications to let people know I won’t be as responsive, and I keep my Outlook calendar up to date so my co-workers know what I’m up to. I even update it with hotel and phone info in case they really need to reach me. I share my calendar with my wife so my family knows what I’m doing as well.
I check my e-mail during breaks, but I only respond to them in the evening or early morning at the hotel. I tweet during conferences. The point is to be as present as possible during the event or when I’m at the clients. Both deserve it.
So those are my initial thoughts. I’ll tag Brent Ozar, Brad McGeHee and Paul Randal, and they can tag whomever they wish.