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

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


Travel Tip: Build a Time-Pocket Habit


  • 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

How – and Why – to Add a Ritual to Your Travel

15546530359_4f0d1da9f4_zHabits and rituals are trending. Or so it seems. There’s a whole body of literature on the subject now, and it’s a market that does not yet seem saturated. (A book I’ve particularly enjoyed on the subject is Daily Rituals, How Artists Work.) The theory is that habits, particularly morning habits, reduce cognitive load, preserving our limited decision-making capacity for later in the day when it’s really needed.

I have a morning ritual. I awake before the rest of the household, check email, do 10 minutes of spiritual reading, then head outside to exercise (usually a run). After breakfast and getting the kids off to school, I meditate and then write a little strictly for fun. Then I buckle down to work. I’ve been doing this, in the same order, for a few years.

After a while, I noticed I threw these habits out the window when I traveled. Maybe I figured the ritual would be disrupted because my travel days were disruptive. Or maybe I thought I needed a break, because travel is harsh. Or maybe I was just being lazy. Who knows. But one day, it occurred to me that I really had no excuse.

There was no reason NOT to do this when traveling. Especially without the “getting the kids off to school” part, I could pretty easily get up at the same time as at home, do it all and be ready for a breakfast meeting at 7:30. By now, I’m pretty devoted to my routine even when I travel, because I’ve felt the payoff. The ritual anchors my day.

By no means am I perfect. Sometimes if I’m out very late at a dinner the night before (which never happens at home), I’ll skip. Or if I’m getting sick, I’ll sometimes take the extra sleep. But I’ve found that a ritual makes my whole trip go better.

Travel rituals don’t have to be grand mirrors of your at-home rituals either. Even small gestures, done routinely, can bring on a sense of stability and home when you travel. (I used to buy a bag of M&Ms at the airport before every trip, and there was something satisfying about the tradition of this treat. Then I discovered the “240 Calories” in big type on the front of the package forgot to mention that’s per serving, with two servings per bag. My new snack ritual is a Kind bar.) Some people tap the plane’s fuselage as they step into the aircraft. One of my friends puts a framed photo of her family beside her hotel room bed. These little things can really ground you, even on a trip.

Whether it’s big or small, think about adding a ritual to your travel life. I guarantee you’ll be more at home, wherever you are in the world.

Photo: Flickr/Diana Nguyen

What Does Your Hotel Say About You?

Where are you staying? It’s a question that comes up in conversation during almost every trip, often posed by a client or colleague. Your answer conveys something about you, your work and your business.

Imagine one of those Facebook quizzes that promises to analyze you: What hotel are you? Maybe those quiz results would say, You’re a Four Seasons. Or, You’re a W.

This got me thinking about some hotels I’ve adored and why they appealed to me. A few favorites come to mind.

Killer view from a room’s transformed balcony at the Andaz West Hollywood (Courtesy of Hyatt)

Andaz West Hollywood – I love the Andaz brand: cool enough to be interesting but not so over-the-top hip that I feel ancient. This hotel has such a colorful rock-and-roll history that they successfully play up, but I particularly appreciated the clever way the rooms have been updated, with former balconies transformed into incredible sitting areas that look out on the bright lights of the city. I dug it!

Mira Moon's Secret Garden bar offers a respite from Hong Kong's frenetic energy (Courtesy of Mira Moon)

Mira Moon’s Secret Garden bar is an oasis from Hong Kong’s frenetic energy. (Courtesy of Mira Moon)

Mira Moon, Hong Kong – I fell head-over-heels in love with the design of this hotel and wished I could take it home with me to transform my house with its aesthetic: brightly colored, bold, playful, and clean. Bonus points, especially for a writer: There’s a storyline, a folktale that involves a rabbit and the moon, that ties the decor together thematically. More bonus points: The Secret Garden bar is one of the loveliest and most surprising alcoves I’ve ever seen, tucked away on the third floor.

Stunning sculpture, Rising by Zang Huan, welcomes guests to the Shangri-La Toronto (Photo: Flickr/Joseph Morris)

A stunning sculpture, Rising by Zhang Huan, welcomes guests to the Shangri-La Toronto. (Photo: Flickr/Joseph Morris)

Shangri-La, Toronto – Something about this hotel really made clear to me the subtleties of the highest levels of service. Every single human interaction I had was sublime, whether it was with the engineer who fixed the Nespresso machine or the concierge who summoned a black car–conversations that were friendly but sophisticated, caring but professional. The hotel is also filled with incredible art, something I care about and that usually signals that fifth star. The hotel is oddly placed, but once you’re ensconced, it doesn’t seem to matter because within the Shangri-La’s confines, life is happy.

The airport/harbor location is what sets the Hyatt Boston Harbor apart. (Courtesy of Hyatt)

The airport/harbor location is what sets the Hyatt Boston Harbor apart. (Courtesy of Hyatt)

Hyatt Boston Harbor – Now, in great contrast to the Shangri-La, this hotel is quite basic and just what you’d expect from Hyatt. Which is fine. Service is friendly but inattentive. As I said, fine. But it makes my list because I was totally tickled by the hotel’s location. If your room is on one side of the hall, you have a straight-on airport view, right down a runway at Logan, with no sense of being close to the city center. If your room is on the other side of the hallway, you have a magnificent view of Boston Harbor and the city skyline, with no sense of being near the airport. And how cool is it to take a 10-minute water taxi ride to your meeting–from an airport hotel?

Who knows what these hotels say about me, except that I’m all over the place and every trip is different. But this I do know: When a hotel surprises and delights (because that’s a relatively rare experience), it’s something to celebrate.

What is your very favorite hotel?