I’m usually not one to travel. It’s been hard with my wife’s career. Now that we have kids in school, we can travel only during certain times of the year.
This year is shaping up to be a little different. It looks like we’re going to be Orlando twice… once for a family vacation and another that’s a business blogging trip with the family tagging along. In addition we’ll go to two of our favorite islands: Aruba and Block Island. It feels strange to go to another island when you live in an island. However, if its one thing I’ve learned, it’s that vacation doesn’t feel the same if it’s your home all year.
Whenever I go away, I have this sinking feeling that I’m going to forget something. I tell myself that I can always buy whatever it is at the destination, but it’s not always so easy. It’s not always to find a custom computer charger. Phone chargers are a lot easier as the standards seem more clear-cut there.
So even though I’m an amateur at-best travler, here are my seven best tips for improving productivity when I travel. I’d love it if more experienced travelers (i.e. almost any breathing person) can add their top tip in the comments.
1. Plan Ahead
So far my traveling has plans have worked out well. I think that’s more of a factor of the small sample size of trips rather than strong planning.
One thing I’ve found is that this great travel checklist from Eagle Creek helps a lot. We have a box in our office that includes typical travel stuff: neck pillows, travel luggage weight scale, ninja stars*, spare chargers.
2. Make Yourself Comfortable
I have never been able to make myself comfortable on a plane. I don’t blame myself, I blame the system. The business model isn’t for airlines to compete on how much comfort to each person. It’s getting as many people from point A to point B. It’s also about creating tiers of comfort from the big spacious chairs and free food and drink in first class to the ever-shrinking spaces and leg-room in the regular class of seats. When was the last time you read about them increasing the leg room?
My wife seems to have much more success than I do at making herself comfortable. The aforementioned neck pillow is her comfort item.
As for technology, I find my 13-inch laptop is still capable on an airplane. If I went back to the 15-inchers I had in the past, I certainly could do work without encroaching on my neighbors’ space.
Some people may find that a Bluetooth travel keyboard can turn their tablet into a practical work computer. I have some problems with that, which I’ll cover right now…
3. Be Ready to Work in Varying Environments
I have an old Nexus 7 (also 7-inch) tablet and an Amazon Fire. They are both best just for watching media. The Nexus operating system is around 4 years old now. The Fire seems to be designed NOT to be a business machine. My phone is 5.5 inches, but I’m not sure I’m getting a lot work done on that. It’s great for phone things, but I’ve found my time is best used reading articles that I’ve saved in Chrome tabs… but they often don’t load without an internet connection.
Getting an Android OS to sync with my Windows computer is not easy. I typically can’t be productive working in the cloud, so getting access to all the updated documents I need is a difficult exercise.
I do have a Windows tablet, which you might think could work. However, I swear that the processor is run by an ant-farm… in the Artic buried in 20 feet of ice. It’s just a theory that I’m working on. I can’t believe real electrons flow through real wires.
In-flight Wifi is expensive and slow. Sometimes it may be worth it. However, as a blogger, I can probably get more work done by reading a book like Your Money or Your Life. By the way, I appear to be the only person not in love with this book. I think the bar was set a little too high and I have some nit-picks that drag it down in my view. I’m hoping to finish it and write a review… but that might have to wait until my next flight.
If you are not flying and driving a long distance, maybe you can listen to an audio-book or schedule some calls. Being a blogger, I don’t have a lot of calls. Also, my kids greatly prefer the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie CD to any calls I can schedule. That’s why environment matters.
Consider NOT working. Part of being productive is knowing when to stop working. You can’t work all the time.
If you push yourself past its limits, it’s just going to ruin your productivity when you finally arrive.
I almost sleep for an hour on any plane trip. That might be more because I fly at crazy times to save money, but I think it’s just a good use of time. Fortunately, I don’t need to be that comfortable to fall asleep.
5. Get to the Airport in Advance
You might be tempted to leave for the airport at the last minute so that you can get more done beforehand, but this is actually counterproductive. If you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to concentrate when you know that you need to leave in a couple of hours. You could end up spending your time double and triple checking that you packed everything like I do.
I find there’s always a lot of stress of driving to the airport, dealing with the parking, shuttle bus, security… all while lugging around a few suitcases. (Packing light isn’t always an option with a couple of kids.)
We usually travel very early in the morning (it’s not unusual for us to get up at 3AM). I look forward to the Dunkin Donuts breakfast. I don’t mind splurging, because it’s just a couple of extra dollars… and it’s hard to save a lot of money on airport food anyway. (Though this is one area that I’m willing to explore… bringing my own food.)
6. Grow Your Skills
I covered a lot of this in #3 above. One of the great things about flying is that you often have uninterrupted time. If you don’t pay for an internet connection, there are no emails or text messages coming through.
I used to have an application called Blinkist. It was like a Netflix subscription of book summaries… usually great non-fiction books. It was great when I had time to use it. It probably does need an internet connection, but that kind of thing can go a long way.
It might be better to do a deep dive into an area that you feel can really help. As I look at my bookshelf, I see Getting Things Done and Stephen King’s On Writing gathering dust as if to say, “We’ve been here for years. What are you waiting for?”
7. Check in to an Airport Lounge
This is actually one area I CAN talk about with some experience. Because my wife is active duty, we get two big perks when it comes to airport lounges. One of them is the USO. It’s an organization (non-profit I believe) that exists to give a little comfort to the military when traveling. (That’s probably an over-simplification, but this is a long article). We are always sure to donate $20 when we spend time there.
The other big perk we get is that my wife has access to some premium credit cards… the kinds that charge hundreds per year in annual fees. Her active duty status allows us to avoid those fees (thank you credit card companies). It’s free airport lounges for us… at least some of the time, depending on the airport lounge itself.
Stepping through the doors of an airport lounge cuts off most of the noise and distractions of crying kids and frazzled parents. Comfortable chairs, high-speed WiFi, and ergonomic workstations help create an environment where I can be far more productive. Free coffee (well soda for me) helps, too! I also take advantage of the charging stations to make sure that all of my devices are on full power before I take off.
You are probably not military, so you probably don’t get the same benefits for free. Nonetheless, they are worth exploring, especially if you travel a lot.
Some frequent travelers pay an annual fee to join a chain of airport lounges. I explained some of the travel hacking benefits I got last year. They were all using a travel rewards credit card.
Those are my top seven ideas. What’s your favorite tip that I have forgotten?
* Just making sure you are paying attention. Nunchucks are much easier to get through security, anyway.