Travel Tip: Take a Photo of Your Hotel Door

4455716138_5093fa541e_zToo many hotel stays in too many weeks? Even for the most “present” business traveler, it can all become a blur. You get in the hotel elevator and rack your brain to try to recall which floor you’re on…in this hotel.

Problem solved: on your phone. A hotel executive told me one of her best travel tips is to take a quick photo of the room door–and number–when checking in. Then, when you find yourself in the elevator drawing a big blank, just pull out your phone’s camera roll, murmur, “Oh, that’s right,” and punch the elevator button.

I tend to keep the paper key sleeve on which the front desk clerk has written the room number, for just this purpose. But my friend points out that, especially for women traveling alone, it’s a safer bet to throw away the sleeve and use the photo instead.

Photo: Flickr/Xavez

My Moment of Regret in Chengdu

6820126149_17b6fc745c_zI stood at my 38th floor hotel room window, looking out on the very bright lights of Chengdu’s high-rises. “I should go out,” I thought. “But it’s raining. And I need a little time to myself.” So I closed the drapes and opened my computer. I’m not proud of that moment, but it was at the intersection of idealism and reality. So I would spend the free hour in my hotel room.

I’m just back from a trip to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province in southwest China, and I have a little regret about that moment. Yes, I did see the sights of the city over the course of four days. And there were other moments when I did explore on my own. But that particular fulcrum of decision-making got me to thinking that when you travel for business to an unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating city, the inclination may be not to explore. After all, you probably already accomplished what you went there for—the business. You’re exhausted. And you’re alone. Not the best of conditions for striking out on an adventure.

Since then, I’ve thought about a few tactics I’m going to try on my next trip:

1. Take a humble walk. It doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary. One night in Chengdu, the group I was with was bused a short distance to another hotel for an event. After the dinner, someone suggested we walk back to our hotel instead of waiting for the bus. As we did, we meandered through a large but informal group of Chinese doing aerobics together in a stadium parking lot. This turned out to be one of my favorite Chengdu memories. A colleague on the trip said you’re most impressionable on the first night in a place, so it’s especially important to walk then.

2. Overcome tour shame. There was a time I was too proud to take a tour, but I no longer let that stop me. It’s the fastest way to become acquainted with the high points of a city. And it’s easy and nonthreatening—no worrying about logistics or language, no decision-making. You can just concentrate on seeing, really seeing, the city. The same concept but on a smaller scale: Your concierge can help you hire a guide for a day. In Hong Kong, when my guide and I decided to stop for coffee, he asked whether I’d prefer Starbucks or Chinese. The answer was obvious, and I was the only foreigner in the place as we drank coffee and Fred ate a fried egg sandwich.

3. Open up your rolodex. (Or, to update the phrase: Search your contacts.) If you have any local connections, they would probably be very happy to recommend an authentic restaurant and maybe even share the meal with you. It’s one of the few ways you will find restaurants locals frequent. Plan B for this concept is to consult the hotel concierge, who may be able to make an off-the-beaten-path recommendation. In Chengdu I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, and the hotel’s general manager, Chris Clark, described two situations in which his employees went above-and-beyond. It struck me that both stories (which were impressive!) involved guests who felt nervous about venturing out, and the employees accompanied them.

Hearing of such reticence (even from Chinese guests), reassured me that my regrettable moment at the window was natural. But I’m committed to low-key but more adventurous exploration on my next visit to China.

Do you explore intimidating cities when you’re traveling for business, or do you tend to stick close to your hotel? If you’re an explorer, I’d love to hear your tips for getting out there.

(Photo: Flickr/Glenn Jystad)

5 New Hong Kong Hotels and Guestroom Envy

Touring business hotels can be a challenge to the quest for contentment: I tend to suffer from guestroom envy. (Sometimes, though, it’s spa envy…or lobby envy…or, well, you get the idea.) My day touring five new hotels in Hong Kong was no exception. Read my post at The Bay Area Traveler blog here, to take the tour along with me. See if you get guestroom envy, too.

When the Company Pays, How Do You Spend?

Traveling on an expense account can shed some light on your relationship with money.

During a recent #travelskills Twitter chat (most Fridays, 12 noon EST), this question was posed: What’s one thing you struggle with or want to do better when traveling for biz? One of the participants answered: “I would spend more.” Another participant related that after his first business trip, his boss chided him for holding back. Counter-intuitive answers, right?

I am by nature a saver, not a spender. (Confession: I have an irrational aversion to ordering the priciest item on a menu. I simply cannot do it.) My money sensibility carries through to my work travel life. Even when it’s not my money, I will seriously consider the value of most purchases–whether I really need that bottle of juice or if I will select the slightly less convenient flight for a better fare.

Others I know are confident spenders in their personal life and that carries through to expense account travel–not going overboard, but valuing convenience and comfort over price. Perfectly reasonable, and I wish I were more like this.

Then there are those who spend more on travel expenses than they would or could with their own money. In particular, twenty-somethings who travel a lot for work (management consultants come to mind) live a lifestyle on the road they could never afford on their salaries. This in part compensates for the negatives of the always-away lifestyle.

Finally, for an entitled few, pulling out the company credit card means “Go for it.” It’s an excuse to pull out all the stops. The most expensive bottle of wine on the list, please. Well, let’s make that two. And how about another? Once 2008 hit, plenty of these escapades came to light.

Most corporations have travel policies in place. Want that bottle of water? Not if it’s not lunch time. Like to be a big tipper? Sorry: 15% max on taxis. Doesn’t that five-star property look divine? Well, here are the four-stars we’ve selected for you. Being “parented” can be annoying, but these policies level the playing field between the various spending psychologies. Which is not always unwelcome. What kind of spender are you?

Fire!

Travel tip: Request the seventh floor or lower in a hotel for fire safety.

Unless you’re obsessed with a view (and plan to spend enough time in your hotel room to enjoy it), ask for a room on a lower floor of your hotel. Fire truck ladders generally reach 100 feet, which is approximately seven floors. Even if you do not require a window rescue, you’ll be glad about your choice when your escape is a short trip down the stairs from the sixth floor instead of the twenty-sixth.

What are the chances you’ll be in a hotel fire? Unlikely, perhaps. But then the chances are actually quite high, if you’re a business traveler, that you’ll experience a fire alarm on a trip and need to evacuate. In which case, you’ll also appreciate your low floor. I love this pilot’s first-hand account of the irritation of multiple hotel fire alarms.

Unfortunately, this tip isn’t fool-proof. On a recent stay in Seattle, I opened my sixth-floor room’s curtains and looked down. Beneath me there was no street, just the roof of the hotel’s giant ballroom. Oh well. I didn’t lose any sleep over it.