Starting the Travel Tips Meme

‘Tis the season for travel!  With the PASS Summit just around the corner and lots of other interesting events waiting in the wings, such as TechEd Europe, lots of IT people will finally be allowed to stretch their wings (and budgets) to get in some first class training.

I’ve been a very frequent flier for a long time and seldom get surprised by much these days – exasperated, yes – but surprised, no.  And I’ve certainly seem my share of fellow travelers doing it all wrong.  The one thing they all share in common is that they’re not experienced and, usually, haven’t thought much about the upcoming trip.  You know the type – they’ve packed an eighty pound carry-on and are then surprised that it neither fits in the overhead space nor is light enough to get past their waist line without a herniated disk.  They’re the type who stands at the security line, backing it up fifty deep, because they’re trying to get a 2 liter of soda or, even worse, $50 worth of hair care products past the checkpoint despite the prominently displayed signs and constantly playing recorded reminders that you can’t take any liquids or gels of more the three fluid ounces in a single quart-sized Ziploc bag.

I’ve got a few tips to share, and I know many of my fellow blogomaniacs do too.  So I thought I’d start a meme asking my colleagues to chip in their three favorite tips for successful air travel.  Just to pad the results a bit, everyone can provide three beginner tips for the infrequent traveler and three expert tips for those who might have travel a lot.  Here are my tips:

Beginner Tips

Here are some useful tips if you travel three or less times per year and aren’t too familiar with the ins and outs of air travel:

1. You’re at risk to forget some of your stuff in those bins at the X-Ray machine at the security checkpoints, especially if you’re hurrying to make a flight.  An easy way to make sure that never happens is to put everything first (keys, mobile phone, belt, laptop, carry-on bag) and send your shoes in the very last bin.  You might run off in a hurry without your laptop (I certainly have – once), but you WON’T run off without your shoes.  Putting your shoes last means you won’t forget anything else in your kit.

2. Expect annoyances and plan accordingly:

  • There’s always a chance of delays on the tarmac, sometimes a really long delay, so stock a bag or two of mixed nuts or another hearty snack.  I recommend unsalted nuts since they’re filling, fend off hunger for a long time, and won’t make you thirsty.
  • Plenty of time on the flight is “no electronics” time.  Bring magazines or books to read.  I, personally, enjoy writing letters (yes, using a real pen and real paper) especially to my older relatives who think computers are “of the Devil”.
  • There will always be screaming babies and obnoxious youngsters to make a nap just so much wishful thinking.  So get one of those nice sets of foam ear plugs (a dozen for two bucks!) and a nice sleep visor.  You’ll never see these people again, so don’t worry about how you look.

3. Packing is the novice traveler’s mine field. Don’t pack more than you need – one more shirt and pants than days you’ll be gone (in case of stains) and no more than one pair of shoes (over and above what you wear onto the plane).  Unless you’re traveling to a place without electricity and indoor plumbing, you can buy anything your lack.

Expert Tips

Here are some useful tips if you travel, or plan to travel a lot during the year and know all of the regular things to do:

1. American Airlines is the only airlines with standard “cigarette lighter” adapters under the seats.  There’s one per row in coach on their standard mid-range MD-80’s and one per seat in first class.  An adapter is one $20-30 at your standard drug store.  I prefer unlimited power, especially for long flights, which is on reason that I’m a platinum frequent flier on AA.  Delta and United have proprietary adapters that cost nearly $100.

2. Prepacking with redundancy.  It sounds a little like a level of RAID, but it’s really just a better way to travel if you have to do it often.  First, get redundant computer equipment, such as power adapters and mice for your laptop, and toiletries so that you don’t have to pack up your regular office gear for the trip.  If you don’t plan to do this, you will after a year or two of frequent travel because you’ll simply forget each of these things enough times that you’ll wind up buying doubles of most of them anyway.

3. The airline clubs are nice, really nice.  But each airline has their own club and they’re expensive, in the $500 range, even for high-level frequent fliers.  I recommend instead that you pay the $450/yr membership fee for a Platinum Card from American Express.  One of the many benefits of the card is free club access to several different airline clubs, which means there’s never an airport where you can’t relax between flights.  Another less well-known perk is that if you book travel with AmEx, they’re often able to give you a “buy one get one” free deal.  It’s always unwritten and not posted on any website.  But if you call and ask, there’s a 30/70 chance that a flight between two major cities will have the deal.  (Note that this is unsolicited advice and I’m not getting any sort of remuneration in any way for this recommendation.)


From here, I’m tagging a handful of buddies who are some of the hardest travelin’ folks I know – Paul Randal & Kimberly Tripp, Dr. Greg Low, Brent Ozar, and Brad McGehee.

I hope to see you at the PASS Summit in two weeks!



  1. Good tips, Kev. I would add one more to the novice category; if you’re checking any luggage, assume it will get lost – especially if you have any connections. Twice now I’ve been stranded in a city (once for two days) while my checked bags went on their merry way to my final destination. The first time, my phone charger and toiletries, and clean clothes (ahem, underwear) were in it. Now, I make sure that my carry on has the essentials I need for one night in case I’m stranded.

  2. Good advice…The one thing I would add is to prepare you carryon for inspection. I carry lots of electronics, 2 zunes, 2 laptops, several pairs of headphones, several cameras, etc (too much to list) and backup batteries and chargers for much of it.

    All of this goes in a wheeled carryon bag with a laptop compartment (with toiletries and enough clothes if my luggage decides it doesn’t want to go to PASS.) Some security checkpoints are fine with just removing the laptops, but the ones that aren’t are never nice about it and make me unload everything. Having everthing in bags to quickly break it down to reasonable elements for the travel bins will save you being selected for “special” treatment.

  3. Great list. Some more thoughts:

    – Air Canada has *regular* plugs at every seat on most equipment. The exception is tiny Dash8 planes. No special adapter required.

    – You will never, ever regret packing an extra pair or 2 of underwear.

    – Consider hand washing in the hotel room sink a shirt or two early in your trip. Having spares means you won’t have to pack an extra shirt.

    – These days, worry about the weight of your luggage, not space. Most airlines limit you to about 50 pounds per item. You want to pack so that you are well under that limit so that you can bring back swag from your conference.

    – Pack an extra lightweight, foldable bag just in case you need to check another bag. You will probably have to pay for it, but $15-25 for the extra checking is better than price you’ll pay at the airport or the hotel for a new piece of luggage.

    – In the US consider mailing books, DVDs, and other media that are heavy and bulky via USPS Media Rate. Very, very inexpensive.

    – If you are an infrequent traveller, leave yourself lots of time to deal with the unexpected. Don’t try to get to the airport 10 minutes before your flight. Plan on being at the airport 2 hours before a flight.

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