Travel for the consultant is almost sport; and like any sport of late, the market is there for gadgets to fit every need. Travel eats up such a huge percentage of our time that anything that can help reduce stress, better utilize time or entertain is a welcome addition to the consultant arsenal. With an hour ride to the airport, being there an hour ahead of the flight, actual flight time, and driving to the client site, you're looking at five hours each way minimum, 10 hours a week, not counting delays from weather, Air Force One and/or the emergency flotation slide deploying (both seriously happened to me the other week).
Checking a bag is like playing Russian roulette—I advise never doing so unless you are bringing back liquids that are worth risking, like a 30-year-old bottle of Ron Zacapa Centenario. I don't mind gate checks on the small regional jets either, as long as they bring the bag back to you promptly planeside. I rarely go against my own advice, but did so last week … even with my bag landing not too long after me, and repeated calls to United only this morning at 5am when I am no longer in the same state, did I get a call from the baggage delivery service.
With that in mind, a good carry-on roller is an absolute must—a 21 or 22 inch with integrated garment bag. Make sure its length, width and height are below the maximum set by the FAA. The pilot and flight attendant favorite is the inexpensive Travelpro. The consultant standby (and my choice) is the Tumi. If the retail price shocks you, remember that this is a long-term purchase; they also have website sales on occasion, and the lifetime warranty is clutch. One option which has me about ready to trade in the Tumi in is a Zuca Pro, unique in its packing system, strength and customization, and you can actually sit on it. I already use packing cubes from Ebags.com so I can chuck them in a drawer in 10 seconds instead of unpacking, and when TSA is rifling through my business, they spend minimal time. For the truly lazy, there's also the first power-assisted luggage.
For laptop bags; there are two popular choices, backpacks or messenger/briefcase style. You will find the backpack on those of us younger and/or those of us with back problems. A tip for this economy: if you can't spring for one of the below, look for a shoulder strap replacement that's more comfortable to swap out on the standard issue bag your company may provide. I found a Jansport Air Lift that fit and significantly distributed the weight much more comfortably.
I'm replacing my typical North Face backpack this week for an Ogio Mastermind, with side laptop entry and many more easy-access pockets to store accessories and gadgets. The other option is the briefcase/messenger style, and I traded the corporate embroidered standard issue version for a Cocoon Innovations CPS400. It carries your accessories and cables in a grid rubber strap system—organization nerds rejoice. However, its primary feature is that it is checkpoint-friendly for your TSA because it folds open, leaving the laptop free to be penetrated by x-rays, unencumbered by cable flotsam. TSA increasingly understands this option because sometimes their employees read the signs in front of them, but not all do. Recently, a mean lady at JFK held up the line, forcing me to get a bin and put the computer in separately. I ended up using a few choice words, finding the TSA supervisor and asking him to communicate the policy to his employees. He patiently and kindly said that she was misinformed (and did not send me to airport prison, YAY!); you can thank me, your foolhardy travel hero, later.
Once you finally make it onto the plane, in-flight, noise cancelling headphones are great. The popular Bose Quiet Comfort series has new competition with the Sony Digital MDR-NC500Ds. They're impressive, reducing noise by up to 20db, but I'm not wearing those gigantic ear muffs unless I'm in a helicopter, gun range or recording studio with Dr. Dre. Instead, I opted for the inexpensive and foldable Sony MDR-NC7s. Plugging into Jet Blue's 35 channels of live DirectTV never sounded better.
Now all you need is a window (or new friend) to lean on and a pillow (I prefer the Clean Rest I bought inflight for $7)...
--Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.
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