Sunday, June 26, 2011

Business Travel

A lot of us take business trips from time to time, and some more than others.  Unless I'm on a 2 day business trip on a mundane trip to Atlanta, Minneapolis or Binghamton, I really like to get out and visit the city or the area I'm visiting (ok in Binghamton, I'm going to be on the town, because I used to live there).  Let's face it, having all your meals at the Holiday Inn or Hilton where your company's travel department stuck you, or at a nearby chain restaurant is boring and often crappy, when there is usually a lot of local food to try.  A bit of research can give you a real local experience, and usually save a few bucks.  Also, unless I'm in a city that's really boring and where I've been a lot, there is always a reason to get out and at least have a look around. 

I know people who are scared to death about venturing to downtown Memphis after dark.  That's baseless unless you are stoned drunk or wander into remote alleys.  On the other hand I've been to Karachi, where there is no way I'd wander out of my hotel without an armed escort.  But I've traveled all over the world and mostly have been left unmolested.  I travel to the Philippines often, and although Manila can be dangerous (or at least daunting) to the uninitiated, a bit of research and a local guide can give you a good evening even on a short trip of a day or 2. Try to get to know a bit about your destination before you go, and ask your business contact for advice.

Travel really does broaden your horizons, so long as you let it.  If you travel to Taipei two times a year, eat your meals at the Hyatt, or seek out the nearest Chili's or Outback, and try  nothing local, it is your loss.  Nothing ticks me off more than people traveling abroad and either expecting everything to be just like home, and when it is not, gets upset that it is not.  Foreign travel is eye opening only if you want to see, and I urge all who travel on business to go to your destination with open eyes, if not an open wallet.

My bottom line here is that very few of us get to travel that is paid by our employer, and when you can, it can be a good value to attach some vacation to the tail end of a nice international trip, bring your spouse or significant other along with you, and enjoy the unique place you are visiting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ain't Airline Travel Grand?

Well no, even if you are flying first class.  Back in the day, airlines rarely canceled flights, unless it was a real mechanical or weather issue.  But now all the airlines use cancellations as a tactical move.  Weather can always be blamed.  The weasel way out is that it does not have to be weather at the origin or destination.  All it takes is bad weather anywhere in the airline's system to blame your flight for delays and cancellations because they move planes around early and often.

My friend Ed Morrissey is having a lot of fun getting stuck in transit tonight, but hopefully will sleep in his own bed tonight.  So what to do when you plan one trip, but the airlines deliver you much less?

Basically, unless you are proactive, they will do nothing and I mean NOTHING.

First, if you are delayed more than 2 hours, ask the gate agent if they will issue a meal voucher.  The answer is usually hell no, unless you are an "Elite member" but it doesn't hurt to ask.  If the connecting flight is canceled, and the airline tells you anything other than "weather delays/cancellations" you have rights.  The airline is on the hook for at least giving you vouchers for lodging and meals, although. the lodging voucher might not be of much use if there are no rooms available for whatever reasons. Hold the airline's CSR's feet to the fire.  The squeaky wheel gets greased.

Ok, lets say you get stuck in Vienna connecting on a flight from Tel Aviv.  Dude!  Bonus.  Quit crying in your scotch and take the opportunity to enjoy one of the great places in Europe.  However, if you get stuck in Karachi, or Allentown, ok shed a few tears, but buck up and just go with the flow.  Be proactive and get as much from the airline as possible.

If you are an elite member of an airline's frequent flier program or a Club member, you may get a lot better treatment.  But it never hurts to make some noise.  I've made a career of making Northwest (now Delta) CSRs' lives miserable when I'm detained and they try to blow me off.  You don't have to be obnoxious, and that really is wrong way to approach them.  Be professional, know your rights under the conditions of contract, and be firm.  Don't raise your voice or be threatening at anytime, unless you want to meet Mr. Crotch Grabber.   Knowing what the airline owes you for failure to perform is paramount on you.  The airlines will offer as little as they can get away with.

Air travel is no fun anymore, but knowing what your rights under the law and conditions of contract, along with an assertive attitude when needed, can often help.

Bon Voyage.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Travel Advice

I've been absent here lately, for a lot of reasons, laziness being one of them. But I thought it was time to do something decidedly non-political.

Ed Morrissey from and I had quite an exchange prior his excursion to Rome with his lovely wife last month, and we discussed safety and security issues. This brought me to decide to discuss safety and security when traveling away from home, be it domestically or abroad. We need to be aware of our surroundings no matter where we go. I'm going to address this in 2 sections here. First, domestic travel.

Domestic travel

Where are you going, and where are you staying?  These are both important, because being at the Fairmont in San Francisco, and being at the Motel 6 in Memphis are very different places.  Know where you are going to be, know the neighborhood, and understand what safety measures you need to take.

1. Don't carry a lot of cash

2. Carry just a few credit/debit cards

3. Don't carry a wallet in your hip pocket, men; and ladies don't carry a loaded purse.

Try to fit in in the local scenery as much as possible.  Looking like a tourist puts a bullseye on your back.

4. Keep your valuables in the hotel safe, not that box in your room with the digital combination.  It isn't secure and every maid and maintenance man has the codes that override yours.

International Travel

This gets complicated, depending on where in the world you are traveling.  The rules for Canada are far different than those from Syria.

First off, prepare for the trip.  You are not going to be home, under out laws and protections, and your medical insurance may not be valid where you are going.  Buy additional travel insurance if needed.  It's pretty cheap.  Read up on the countries you will visit.  Try to learn some basics of the language.  Many people abroad can speak English but it is not guaranteed, and in small towns, you really do need to know a bit of the local lingo.  Don't expect things to be like "back home",  if that's a problem, stay home.  We travel abroad to expand our scope of knowledge about the world around us.  If you need Chik-Fil-A in Cebu, don't go there.

Now a few safety and security tips.

You figured out where to stay, and the neighborhood where you will be in.  That's good.  Get a good local map, or get one on Google.  Know where you are at all times, and be aware of your surroundings.

1. Do not carry a wallet or purse anywhere outside the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.  I highly recommend carrying a hidden wallet that hides behind your pants.  There are many types available, but i strongly recommend an underneath the pants hidden wallet like this one

2. Never share a taxi.  It's a mugging waiting to happen.

3.  Leave your passport, most of your money and credit cards in the hotel safe, not in the room box, but take photocopies of your passport with you.  The exception is if the country you are visiting requires you to keep your passport and visa on you at all times,  but not many of us are going to Syria.

4. Know that, Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore.  You are in a foreign country, don't expect things to be like back home, and don't bitch when they aren't.  Electricity, hot water, and air conditioning may be a sometimes thing, especially in the 3rd world.  Deal with it. 

5.  Read the State Department Briefings on the countries you will visit.  They have important and vital information if you ever get in trouble.

Finally just use common sense and have a great safe trip