Yesterday morning I was tagged in a blog post by my very good friend Buck Woody (twitter|blog), wondering how I travel (and by extension, how *we* travel, as I'm almost 100% of the time traveling with Kimberly). I think it might make for interesting reading for some of you who travel a lot too.

Buck's way of traveling is very different from ours, I'm guessing for a number of reasons:

  • There's usually two of us as we travel together, and just one of Buck
  • Buck's trips are usually 1-2 days, and hardly ever international, whereas our trips are usually 1-2+ weeks and commonly international (we're about to go on a 4-week trip to Europe)
  • Buck has to live within the Microsoft travel rules, whereas we own our own company so have a lot more flexibility

Before 2006 I didn't travel much at all, and most of the air-travel rules and tips I've learned from Kimberly. She's fabulous.

Most of our travel is for business, but occasionally we go on vacation, mostly diving. When we travel for diving, we get stared at a lot as we travel with 6 very large checked bags (about 400lb total) and our 4 carry-on bags – and yet we *never* pay baggage fees.

The amount of analysis of planes, routes etc is going to sound like Up In The Air, which incidentally I haven't seen (I don't watch in-flight TV), and Kimberly's seen 3 times, all while flying :-) This may all sound insane, but when you're away more than 50% of the year, and fly as much as we do, you have to get routines sorted out.

Read on…

I'll follow Buck's headings for more in-depth descriptions.

Preparing for travel

Kimberly usually books everything. She loves organizing things. I'm very lucky. I hate organizing travel. Really. My input will be on flight times, route costs, hotel rooms, and what we're going to tack on to the trip (we usually add in a few days here and there wherever we're going internationally for some R&R). If I'm traveling on my own (rarely) I'll book everything myself.

We try to fly United as much as humanly possible, even eschewing direct flights sometimes to rack up United miles. We're both 1K (United's top non-invite-only elite travelers), which means we both fly way more than 100000 miles/year on United or Star Alliance airlines (including US Airways, Continental, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airlines). By being 1K we get enormous amounts of free upgrades, and *superb* treatment by airline staff (e.g. automatic rebooking, even on non-partner airlines, if there's a delay or cancellation). But we have to make sure we hit the magic 100000 miles/year – so we're locked in. It's a win-win for United and for us, especially as there are two of us at 1K. 1K also means we get 3 checked bags each for free, up to 70lbs each bag when flying internationally, and on Star Alliance partners. Plus we always get to go through the elite flyer lines at security.

Given that we have so many miles and free upgrades, we nearly always fly first class (domestic) and business class (international). We're both over 6-ft tall and we fly too much to put up with cramped, noisy conditions with crappy refreshments and no power. Usually we upgrade, and occasionally we buy, depending on why we're traveling and who's paying the bills.

When we do travel economy, we always get the exit row. If we go A-C or D-F, as we're both 1K they try to leave the middle seat open between us. Sometimes it's just not worth using a regional upgrade – e.g. flying SEA-LAX on a CRJ-700. We almost never travel economy when flying internationally, as you don't get a good rest on the flight in economy. Many of our European clients pay for business class specifically so that we're rested when we arrive. On the last flight Kimberly was on, she chatted to a gentleman whose (large) company always buys international first class, to ensure the best possible rest – nice!

Most of the time we're booking flights 3-4 months in advance, sometimes as much as 6 months early to make sure we get good routes, good seats, and good prices. For seats, we know the domestic configurations that United flies really well, but for international, we tend to use Seat Guru to make sure we have good seats. Here are some examples of what we usually fly on United:

  • Airbus A320: seats 2A-B (full recline, no bulkhead)
  • Boeing 757: seats 5A-B (as near to the door as possible, with full recline)
  • Boeing 747: seats 17J-K (in the upper cabin, facing aft by the galley – best service with no-one walking past except crew)
  • Boeing 767 or 777: seats in the little mini-cabin right behind international first class (own crew, plus usually nice and quiet)

As far as hotels go, we tend to stay with Hyatt, Hilton, or Marriott – as we're in the elite programs of each and get room upgrades for free. In major cities outside the US, we might hit a Grand Hyatt (Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Melbourne are all particularly good) for a central location and great services, but sometimes if we're purely onsite with a US client we'll do a Hilton Garden Inn or Homewood Suites – plenty of space and economical for the client. Occasionally we'll do something different, like a boutique hotel in Zurich, or the Novotel in Hyderabad – just depends what there is and what has good locations and rates. We almost always get a suite of some kind (many times through free upgrades) – there's two of us, with multiple laptops, usually for at least week or two so we want some space and don't like feeling cramped.

If we're in the US or UK we get a car – usually an SUV (to accommodate luggage, and I don't like being low-down in a car). Anywhere else we either rely on cabs or we have a driver (e.g. in India).

Packing

I have a long list of things to consider packing (e.g. local currency, binoculars, local bird book, spare XYZ, all paraphenalia for presenting). I'd always recommend a pack list. I always pack the day before, Kimberly's more of a day-of-travel packer – which works out well so we're not in each other's way.

We always have checked baggage. Always. We also always have two carry-on bags each. One is a laptop bag (we both have Tumi Alpha wheeled laptop bags – at almost $700 each they're expensive, but they're fabulous and can hold 3 laptops) and one a 'stuff' bag. I've usually got 4 books, travel wallet (passports, tickets, airline/club cards), sunglasses, iPhone, Dramamine, tissues, mirror, sewing kit, etc in my stuff bag.

Given that we don't pay for checked bags, neither of us pack particularly light. For domestic travel, I have a big blue giant Samsonite hard-case with everything in. Everything's folded nicely and packed neatly, with a pillow on top to hold everything in place (I need a thin pillow to sleep well so bring my own always). I've had the same case since I bought it in Vienna in 1998 – it's fabulous – and easily spotted on the luggage belt. For international I spread out to two bags, more books, workout gear, and more clothes. I use a Victorinox WT-27 as my second bag, and when it breaks I buy another one. It's also bright blue so easily spotted.

I've always got a bunch of books with me, more than I could read on the trip I'm on. I gave up bringing Bose noise-cancelling headphones as they're uncomfortable. I try not to take a coat on the plane – if we're going somewhere cold, I'll pack the coat and bring it out when we collect our luggage. If we're hiring a car in the US, I'll bring a dash-mount GPS – buying one worked out cheaper than renting one each trip.

Journey logistics

On the day of the trip, we compromise and leave for the airport 120-90 minutes before the first flight.  I always take Dramamine to prevent any possibility of feeling crappy from turbulence. I always strive to make us first (or near first) to board so we don't have problems with carry-on luggage. Even in domestic first class, if everyone brings on a laptop back and a rollaboard, there's no space left for late arrivals. Our 4 carry-on bags fit in the space of two rollaboards, so we're not being bad in any way. It's also fun to watch everyone else getting on the plane – traveling is great for people-watching :-)

I alway carry a spare laptop battery and make sure both are charged to 100% – that gives me about 6 hours without needing power. I work maybe 10% of flights I'm on – it's just too much hassle. I much prefer to have a glass of wine and read a book. Kimberly usually has at least two laptops, plus a spare battery.

We are now both trusted travellers as far as the US is concerned which means that was long as we fly back into the correct airport (happily, all of United and Continental's US hubs) we skip the immigration and customs lines. I strongly recommend it if you qualify and can pass all the (pretty stringent I was told this morning) background checks - it's called the Global Entry program.

Working while away

Always. One reason we need a suite is that we both have to setup a laptop. If we're in the US, we both have USB 3MB/s 3G wireless through AT&T. If we're outside the US, I take a LinkSys WR54G hub in checked luggage so we only pay for one internet connection in the hotel and all our laptops can be online. As per usual, we're online almost all the time when we're awake, unless we're specifically on vacation and not answering email. This may sound extreme, but comes with owning your own business, and who needs sleep anyway? Kimberly jokes that I get up when she's asleep and do email and blog posts :-)

We set OOFs to let people know what's going on, and email all current clients in advance so they know when we're contactable – or not.

Summary

This might all sounds glamorous – flying all over the world and staying in nice hotels – but it's not really. We travel a lot because we work a lot, we have to fly business/first so we're not a frazzled mess when we arrive in Asia or Europe, and we need a big room in a decent hotel so we can feel comfortable and concentrate on the client. We're also away 50% or more of the year, so again, we want to be comfortable.

The best thing about all the travel is that we're almost always traveling together, and we both like traveling – most people we know travel on their own.

So there you have it – the Paul & Kimberly travel guide.