A Traveler’s Recurring Nightmare – Literally

2393382468_919d6491c0_zIt used to be the dreaded final exam dream that would have me waking in a cold sweat a few times a year. You probably know it, too: That recurring dream where you’re headed to the final exam in a class but you’re not prepared. There are variations on this classic. For some, in the dream they didn’t study for the test. For others, they also forgot to attend the class. For still others, they then arrive for the test naked or in their pajamas. I’ve had the first two of those flavors many times, and in my case it’s always, always, always a math test. (No surprise there. Though I did study for math deciduously, because it wasn’t a strength of mine.)

In the last year I’ve noticed I’m no longer haunted by this final exam dream, probably because school is a distant memory. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve moved on to a new type of frustration dream that reflects my current life.

It’s the travel nightmare.

In this dream, I can’t get to where I need to be on time. Something out of my control is always holding me back. Sometimes it’s the airport gate, and I can’t seem to get out of security. Or sometimes I can’t figure out which is my hotel room because I lost the key sleeve—and, of course, I’m in a huge hurry, trying to make a deadline or to pack for a flight.

Strangely enough, I’m not a stressed traveler. I allow plenty of time. (My husband says, too much. Which reminds me of an observation of a friend. He says there are two types of travelers: those who get to the airport early, and those who get to the airport late. And they’re all married to each other.) I’ve never missed a flight. And I always find my hotel room.

Perhaps I need to acknowledge the underlying stress in travel and try to process this more overtly. No, I think I’ll just let my deepest psyche work that one out in my dreams.

 Do you ever experience travel-related frustration dreams?

Photo: Flickr/belen becker

Pack Like a Pro–or Be Packed by a Pro

16561168929_07b86aff3a_z (1)If you travel a lot, packing gets routine. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s still not fun—just elevated slightly from pain to annoyance. What if you could leave packing to a professional, a virtual valet?

A new company called Dufl promises to automate packing for the frequent traveler. Let’s say you know you always need certain business “uniform” items like cotton shirts, dress pants and jacket, khakis, etc. You ship your business travel wardrobe to Dufl in a Dufl-issued bag, where your travel wardrobe then resides in your “virtual closet.” For each trip, you use the company’s app to select the items you’ll need. Then Dufl sends the professionally packed bag to your destination hotel, to await your arrival (you hope). When you check out, leave the bag at the hotel front desk and it’s returned to Dufl, where your wardrobe is professionally cleaned, ironed and stored—ready for your next trip. The cost is not inexpensive, nor is it prohibitive if you consider the alternative of bag fees or the hassle of lugging a suitcase–$10 a month, plus $100 per round trip.

I will be curious to see how much uptake Dufl gets. I’m skeptical. It’s perhaps only slightly more foolproof than self-packing, though I’d love speeding through the airport without hauling my rollaboard behind. I do have a Dufl-like packing hack, though–one that I suspect most frequent travelers abide by.

My hack is to keep some items pre-packed in my carry-on, the most important of these being a toiletries kit. The rest is relatively easy and rather rote: I throw in x number of days work “uniforms,” add some accessories to dress them up for evening, then layer on my customary workout clothes. At that point I consider exceptions–if there’s an event that requires extra-dressy evening attire, or weather-related gear. Finally, I double-check shoe needs and conduct a day-by-day review of every piece of attire, to be sure I’m not missing half an ensemble. (What have you forgotten to pack? My worst omission was a pair of tights, and I learned that you can buy anything in New York at 6 a.m.) But all this takes very little time—maybe twenty minutes for a three-day trip.

I’ve also noticed that I gravitate towards wearing the same outfit (or a variation) every travel day, a guise based on comfort (stretch is good), TSA requirements (nothing complicated) and practicality (white pants tempt fate with turbulence spills). I’ve also used packing checklists in my more compulsive past—particularly when traveling with kids before they packed themselves.

Alas, Dufl and my hack only address packing clothing. I find more stressful the packing of tech gear, chargers, converters, power strips, and flash drives loaded with files. Throw in a paper file or two and a Moleskin notebook. Then there are snack essentials: I never leave home without a Kind bar, an apple and some premium tea bags in my tote. Forget any of these, and I’m heartbroken.

What are your packing hacks—or blunders? Would you pay for a packing service?

Photo: Flickr/Craig Sunter

Fun with Virgin

Branson with frausHow important is fun to your hotel stay? Yesterday I attended the much-anticipated opening of the first Virgin Hotel, in Chicago, and the operative word for both the event and the property is fun. As you would expect from any Virgin brand, cheekiness abounds and the unexpected is expected.

Design rules, from the lobby–where the large art piece facing the elevators is actually a video collage–to the halls–where you might see a life-size, white porcelain dog chained to a red wall–to the room–where the minibar is a bright red retro fridge. Technology comes a close second, with an app that enables you to control everything in the room from your phone, and Wi-Fi is fast and FREE! (Plus, an added bonus that addresses one of my pet peeves: no need to log in as a guest!)

IMG_1454IMG_1444Virgin targets the millennial generation with its on-brand fun and tech, but despite being squarely not in this demographic, I felt very comfortable with it all. This is something I believe brands like W have failed to accomplish. Business travelers will appreciate many of these features, too, but especially the very, very convenient location bridging the Loop and Michigan Avenue. Speaking of location, next up for Virgin Hotels are Nashville and New York.

True to brand, the opening event was full of surprises and offbeat offerings. Richard Branson made a very Bransonesque appearance during a big hoopla on the street outside the hotel that recreated the parade scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Branson impersonating Matthew Broderick on a float, surrounded by busty fraus, and lip-sinking to Twist and Shout. Great fun. A huge party in the evening spanned all the public venues with all sorts of crazy cocktails, food and music (including Haim). And for the “morning after,” guests could receive IV treatments and injections concocted for specific maladies like jet lag and hangovers.  Yes, this is for-real, and I hesitantly let myself be shot up with B12 by a nurse outfitted in trendy black–a particularly surreal experience because it occurred in the round Shag Room, outfitted like a ’60s love nest.

How important is fun in a frequent traveler’s hotel choice? Probably not the top of the list. But if fun comes in the package, too, why not go for it?

Photos: Nancy Branka

 

Tipping 2.0: What to Do When a Tip Is Tricky

1323128287_80a43fb232_z (1)Have you ever had tipping shame? I define this as a situation in which you had good intentions but because of a lack of knowledge or resources you did not leave an appropriate tip—and regret it? I have. Check out my recent post on TravelSkills.com where I confess to six travel tipping situations that have tripped me up. There you’ll also find my thoughts on how to handle a few of those situations—but not all, because answers are rarely clear-cut when it comes to tipping.

I’d love to hear about any awkward tipping situations you’ve encountered, too. Travel so often puts us in unanticipated and confounding circumstances. But that’s what keeps it interesting, right?

In the meantime, when in doubt, I’m erring on the generous side.

Photo: Flickr/Shawn Rossi

Travel Tip: Build a Time-Pocket Habit

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  • On each flight, a business traveler jots an entry into his journal while he waits for the plane to finish boarding.
  • A mother gets her two kids ready for day care 10 minutes before they need to get in the car each morning, so all three can play together for those 10 minutes before embarking.

These scenarios were mentioned on two different podcasts I listened to this week about productivity and time (I may need to lighten up on my podcast consumption!). They struck me as brilliant. Both examples have triggers to remember and repeat the habit (boarding a plane and the start of the commute). I’m a huge believer in the cumulative effect of habitually repeated actions: Results, long-term can be astounding.

Tiny things are so much easier to do and to keep up with than big, hairy, audacious goals. And they fit so nicely into these little, previously wasted, time pockets.

You and I are in luck, because business travel includes so many of these time pockets, time otherwise known as waiting.

Is there something you wish you could do but don’t because you don’t think you have the time? Start with a baby-step action and fit it to a travel time-pocket.

Some baby-step actions towards something bigger:

  • If you’ve been wanting to start a blog: Add one post idea to a running list of topics you want to write about. (Sometimes the hardest part of blogging is to figure out what you want to write.)
  • Research links increased happiness with gratitude cultivation, so you’ve been meaning to keep a gratitude journal: Jot down three things that went well on each trip.
  • You’d like to up your professionalism: Hand-write a quick note of thanks to someone you met with on the trip.
  • If you’ve been wanting to organize your photos: Move 10 recent photos into folders you’ve created. (Or one that I’d like to incorporate is to delete duplicate, poor or useless photos recently taken.)
  • If you’ve been meaning to become more active in social media: Send one tweet.

Now pick a trigger, depending on whether your action requires 30 seconds or five minutes. Aside from plane boarding time, others might be:

  • The wait for a hotel elevator. (Come on, we know you’re spending that time checking yourself out in that big mirror.)
  • After dinner, when you return to your hotel room. (Who doesn’t have five minutes here?)
  • Taxi time or waiting for the valet to bring your car. (Valets take forever, or at least it seems that way.)
  • If you’re not at the front of the plane, the wait in line to deplane. (I’ve never ever seen anyone use this time productively except for checking email.)

These things can add up to boost your travel productivity! I want to begin a habit of always tweeting a photo from the airport gate, a place with endless photo ops. Closer to home, I’ve been taking advantage of a little time pocket: When I heat water for tea (which I do at least a few times a day), I put the cup in the microwave, punch in two minutes, and while I wait, I swing a kettlebell I keep nearby. A painless way to build a little exercise into the day…and surprisingly effective.

The glorification of busy-ness concerns me. We have more time than we think, and I’m working on having clear priorities and intentionality in how I spend it. How about you?

Photo: Flickr/Switchology