Podcast #87 — Sick on the Road; What’s in My Briefcase?

Warning in a St Louis Taxi

Warning in a St Louis Taxi

I skipped the Midwest’s “snow-pocalypse” by flying to Phoenix where it was unseasonably cold — in the 20’s and 30’s F — but without snow. It’s been a cold winter and I came down with some nasty bug while visiting Dallas, which reminded me how miserable it is to be sick while traveling. Before my whining, though, I give a quick status on my New Year’s travel resolutions, my observations on the status of the TSA’s full body scanning program, and my struggles trying to use Avatron’s Air Display app to turn my iPad into a second display for my MacBook Air.  Gary Learned suggests a headset that can defeat overhead PA announcements at airports, and I go through my briefcase — how I’ve changed what I carry for business travel over the past 5 years. Here’s a direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

[audio:travelcommons_87.mp3]


Here are the transcript from TravelCommons podcast #87:

 

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL.  I managed to skip this week’s “snopocalypse” — the 20+ inches of snow that fell here Tuesday and Wednesday.  Instead, I flew down to Phoenix on Tuesday morning – though not without a couple of glitches courtesy of American Airlines – and came back Friday evening.  And yes, I did feel a bit guilty skipping out on the shoveling in the wind and cold, but that’s what kids are for.
  • It has been a cold winter so far.  I was in Dallas a couple of weeks ago where it was rainy, in the low 30’s and the wind was blowing a steady 20 mph – OK, no snow, but not any better than Chicago.  And then even this week in Phoenix – the temperatures were in the 30’s, getting into the 20’s at night.  Yes it was colder in Chicago and elsewhere, but still – where’s that global warming when you really need it.
  • Earlier in January, Phoenix was much nicer – sunny and in the 60’s.  The first couple of days I was there, I was running on autopilot a bit – for lunch, I’d dash out of the office, hop in my rental car and drive the quarter-mile north to the shopping area with the sandwich shops and a Whole Foods.  Driving back the second day, I thought, “What the hell am I doing?  It’s 20 degrees back home!”  The next day, I took an hour for lunch, walked to the Whole Foods, bought myself a cup of soup, sat outside in the sun and ate it, and then walked back to the office.
  • Which kind of reminds me of the New Years resolutions I posted on the TravelCommons site on the first of the year.  #3 was “Take More Quick Breaks” – along the lines of “take advantage of the travel because it sure takes advantage of you…” In the post, I mentioned the afternoons I took to hike up Squaw Peak in Phoenix or walk along the beach in Naples, FL.  Walking along a road to lunch seems a bit of a pathetic reach, but the spirit is there – if you’re traveling from snow to sun for work, don’t forget to grab a couple of rays for yourself.
  • Actually, I did a bit better than that – I went to the BCS college football championship game while in Phoenix, and to a Mavs-Lakers basketball game while in Dallas – something for each week.
  • As for my other resolutions?  “Plan Further Ahead” because airline load factors/seat utilization is moving up again?  I’m doing OK with that – I’m booking out 2-3 weeks in advance, which is a huge improvement for me.
  • “Repack My Briefcase?” – check out the “What’s in my bag” segment a bit later.
  • “Take More Pictures?” – just a marginal improvement – I don’t count taking pictures with my iPhone of bullet points on whiteboards
  • And the toughest one – “Be nicer to TSA agents?”  I was doing better because, at least over the past few trips, they’ve been nicer to me.  I hadn’t been groped or irradiated on my first couple of trips, which will tend to have a positive impact on anyone’s disposition.
  • Bridge Music — Shine by Hungry Lucy

Following Up

  • The TSA full body scan controversy that was white-hot during the Thanksgiving weekend seems to have cooled quite a bit.  The TSA will say that this is proof the American public supports its program of full body scans or AIT – Advanced Imaging Technology – as they like to call it, and the “enhanced pat-down” as the TSA likes to call it, or the full body grope as the rest of us experience it.
  • I think instead it’s that the TSA has pulled way back on their use of these invasive techniques.  I hadn’t been hit with a full-body scanner or a grope-down from the beginning of December until last week.  When the TSA dropped the scanners into ORD in July, they had everyone go through them, which doubled the screening time – at least.  Then through the Christmas travel season, it seemed that the machines were off more than they were on, and even when they were on, they weren’t not on every security lane, so it was pretty easy to avoid them unless you’re going thru a small security checkpoint – which is how they last caught me in DFW.
  • They also seem to be have slowed the rollout.  I haven’t seen them crop up in any new places.  Terminal 2 in PHX, for example, is still a TSA porn-free zone.  Not that I’m complaining.  Nice to be able to just move through security without having to hold my hands above my head.  And remember when we used to complain about taking our shoes off…
  • However, on my last two trips out of ORD, I was fully irradiated.  Again, it was going through a small checkpoint – the status-only checkpoint in Terminal 3, where American lives.
  • Though the TSA will say that the full-body scan doesn’t take much longer than the metal detector, they’re just flat wrong.  The actual scan – the amount of time you have your arms above your head – is only a few seconds longer than walking through the metal detector, the entire screening process takes much longer.
  • I’m beginning to consider the locations of these full-body scanners when I book flights.  In ORD, it seems easier to avoid them in Terminal 1 than Terminal 3, so my next flight down to Florida I’ve switched over to United. Not completely driven by full-body scanners, but it’s definitely a factor.
  • And continuing my thread about my MacBook Air.  You’ll remember that one of the reasons I chose the 11-inch model was the TSA said it could stay in your briefcase – kinda like a bit iPad.  However, when you briefcase – or backpack – stacks your iPad on top of your MacBook Air, be prepared to pull one of them out.  Talking to a very pleasant TSA X-ray machine operator in ORD, he told me that when they stack up, they get too thick to properly scan.  Makes sense.  I’ve since moved my iPad to a difference section in my backpack – put some papers and magazines between the iPad and the MBA to provide a bit more separation and haven’t had a problem since.
  • A number of folks have asked me why I carry both the iPad and a laptop – and I haven’t been able to come up with a real compelling reason.  As I’ve said before, I like reading on an iPad and writing on a laptop, but does that justify the extra weight and re-packing hassle of the iPad?  I was wishy-washy on that right up to last week when I thought I’d found my killer app for the iPad – Avatron’s Air Display, which turns the iPad into a secondary display for the MacBook when they’re on the same WiFi network.
  • Now here’s a reason.  While I can work on the smaller screen of my 11-inch MBA (or the 10.6-inch HP netbook before that), having a second display certainly makes it easier to “spread out”.  I have two 22-inch monitors on my Windows desktop box at home and love it.  I eagerly dropped the $10 for the Air Display app and fired it up…
  • And was disappointed.  It didn’t work in the office.  OK, our network guys must have it locked down.  Not surprised.  I get back to the Hilton and fire it up – again, no luck.  At home, doesn’t work when associated with my Apple Airport Express, but does – just once – when associated with the access point that’s built into the big AT&T U-verse modem/router thing in the basement.  The only access point I can get Air Display to regularly work on is when I use my Verizon Droid 2 as a 3G hot spot.  That’s a bit of a kludge.
  • When it does work, it’s great – the few times that’s happened.  I’ve been hanging around Avatron’s support forums for about a week now, but haven’t found a solution yet.  Great concept; real spotty execution.  If they can get this to work, my iPad is no longer a heavy Kindle – it’s a real productivity tool.
  • And following up on my thoughts in the last episode about some of the hassles of the “digital nomad” work style when it comes to finding a quiet place for a conference call, Gary Learned sent in some thoughts…
  • Gary Learned audio clip
  • Gary, thanks for that suggestion.  I’m hitting Amazon looking for that earpiece right now,
  • And finally, the Gogo in-flight wireless guys have got a new giveaway as they continue to push awareness of their product.  For February, Gogo is adding Facebook to their set of free sites. After the plane gets above 10,000 ft, fire up your laptop or smartphone and associate with the “gogoinflight” wireless network.  Open your browser and you’ll get the GoGo sign-on page.  On the bottom of the page, you’ll see a set of free web sites – typically the dot com site for the airline you’re flying, a weather site, ….  And now, Facebook.  Nice to know that you can stay socially connected at 35,000 feet.
  • If you have a question, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along.  The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — use the Voice Memo app on your iPhone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the Facebook page with GoGo’s free service — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at T/C.com
  • Bridge Music — Beggarstown by Hollow Horse

Sick on the Road

  • No, that’s not sick of the road – though that happens at times too.
  • As I mentioned earlier, I was in Dallas a couple weeks ago – when it was just cold and windy; no snow or ice – and scored an invite to a vendor’s suite at the Mavs-Lakers basketball game.  Definitely a premiere game.  I went with a couple of guys from the office.
  • It was a good game – Mavs were down at halftime but came back to beat the Lakers by 10.  During the second half, though, I started to feel a tickle in the back of my throat.  I couldn’t stop coughing – couldn’t seem to “finish up” a cough – and the beer and salsa were beginning to feel a little rough going down.
  • Back in the hotel room, I just couldn’t get warm.  I went to bed, but soon started shivering. The thermostat was just above my head.  I kept pushing the Up button until I heard the heater kick in.  After a while, I finally got warm enough to sleep comfortably.  The next morning I looked at the temperature setting – it was at 78°.
  • It didn’t get much better the rest of the day.  I drug myself through a full day of meetings and got on a United Express regional jet for my flight home that night.  Again, I couldn’t get warm.  Since United Express seems to have followed American in pulling blankets and pillows from its planes, I swaddled myself in my tweed jacket and overcoat, and tried not to cough on the person in the window seat.
  • Now, as being sick on the road goes, this wasn’t that bad.  I’ve gotten food poisoning a couple of times, severely pulled muscles, flown with sinus infections that made my head feel like it was going to split in two during descent…
  • But it did remind me how miserable it is to be sick on the road.  For the most part, you’re alone.  Though you may have co-workers who will try to help you a bit, when they go home to their families, you’re going home to an empty hotel room and are going to have to fend for yourself.
  • And it’s not just that you’re lacking a spouse or child to help you out – bring you a blanket or a cup of tea.  You need to find a pharmacy, perhaps a doctor.  But even then, it can still be a struggle. When I was last in Paris, I tweaked my knee pretty bad and needed some ibuprofen for the pain and swelling.  The hotel concierge pointed me in the direction of a pharmacy a couple of blocks away.  Walking/limping in, I knew I couldn’t ask for Advil or Motrin – those US name brands don’t exist in France.  So I asked for ibuprofen – the generic name of the active ingredient.  Ibuprofen is ibuprofen, I thought.
  • “Ibuprofen, s’il vous plaît” I asked.  The pharmacist cocked an eyebrow and looked at me.  “Ibuprofen, s’il vous plaît”, I said again.  Now the other eyebrow arched.  I fought the urge to say it again, only louder.  What was I missing?  Perhaps my throbbing knee was effecting my pronunciation.  I looked around on the counter; grabbed a pen and flipped over some advertising flyer.  I-b-u-p-r-o-f-e-n, I wrote.
  • “Oh, EE-bu-pro-fen” the pharmacist said, and gave me the container of tablets I had needed since I got up that morning.  Flipping French, I thought, and limped back to my hotel.
  • So what do you do?  Certainly “not getting sick” is the best approach – get enough sleep on the road – often tough to do in strange beds and with full schedules.  I find that the old saw – wash your hands for a full 20 seconds and do it often – has significantly reduced the number of colds I pick up, even when I’m flying a lot.
  • Packing a well-stocked medicine cabinet helps a bit – allergy medicine, cold tablets, throat lozenges, ee-buprofen tablets, ….  For domestic travel, at least, you’re not trying to cure the sickness; just stave off the symptoms long enough so that you can get home and into the hands of your regular care-givers.
  • International travel is a bit dicier.  I know some travelers who have medical jet/air ambulance insurance so that they have a quick way to get back home if something catastrophic happens.
  • While I haven’t done that yet, I am looking for a medical phrase book before my next trip to Europe, complete with pronunciation guides for common drugs.  Ibuprofen, ee-buprofen – geez…
  • Bridge Music — Love Survives by Lovespirals

What’s in My Bag?

  • One of the New Year’s Travel Resolutions that I posted on the TravelCommons site on Jan 1st was to “unpack and repack my briefcase”.
  • Steve Frick, a long time TravelCommons listener, wrote the next day “did that this weekend. 3 pairs of headphones, approx 2 lbs of loose change, 50+ business cards and at least 15 hotel room keys. No wonder my laptop bag was so heavy.”
  • Five years ago – February 2006 – in episode #33, I did a bit of an audio tour through my briefcase
  • <audio clip>
  • The picture of this de-constructed travel kit is the first picture of the TravelCommons Flickr photostream
  • Five years later, some (and surprisingly only some) of the contents have changed, but the goal is the same – optimizing the trade-off between weight and having everything I need.  There’s always that desire to have everything you could possibly need – to make your briefcase into the road warrior version of Batman’s utility belt, letting you amaze your traveling companions by pulling out just the right thing to solve any travel problem.
  • So you’re always prepared, but you’re always trailing up the rear – either because you’ve got the heaviest bag or because the TSA is always pulling your bag for secondary screening because all that stuff makes them suspicious.
  • And so back to that balancing act – what do I need all the time (and so would be a pain to be without) vs. what can I buy or borrow for the one or two times I need it?
  • The technology has changed quite a bit, as you would guess, in 5 years.  It’s kinda fun looking back.  I’ve traded an IBM ThinkPad for a MacBook Air; a Motorola flip phone and U2-themed iPod Classic replaced by an iPhone; and an Aliph Jawbone 2 Bluetooth headset bumping the Motorola H710.  No need for the Microsoft travel mouse or Bluetooth dongle with the MacBook. Also, my vendor-supplied thumb drives have been upgraded – from 512 MB to 4 GB.
  • I replaced the Swiss Army briefcase – I called it a “poor man’s Tumi” in the podcast – with a backpack. And, of course, the TSA’s liquid ban stopped me from carrying on little bottles of hand lotion. I now grab them from every hotel and leave them scattered around conference rooms and rental cars
  • What’s stayed the same?  The Moleskine notebook, the selection of pens, the pink semi-transparent folder for expense receipts, a bottle with ibuprofen and zyrtec tablets, the iRiver MP3 player and recorder that I use to record these podcasts, and, most importantly, a tin of wintergreen Altoids to counter dry mouth when I fall asleep in flight – a pretty common occurrence.
  • What’s new?  An iPad, an extra battery for my iPhone, an AT&T USB cellular modem which lets me skip paying for slow hotel WiFi, a set of Motorola Bluetooth stereo headphones that I use when I work out, a couple of Tazo green tea bags because in-flight coffee is just horrid, an inhaler to make it easier to breathe when I catch a cold (good advice from a “doc in the box” in San Mateo after being laid low in the SFO Marriott by bronchitis), and a Verizon Droid 2 for the too many times that AT&T’s coverage sucks.
  • The iPad let me ditch the printed reports I used to carry – I hated reading them on a computer screen, but don’t mind it on the iPad.  The iBooks and Kindle apps also let me leave physical books at home.  I also tossed the 3 business card holders I’d accumulated – my backpack has a pocket just for business cards.  And do we really need business cards anymore?  Unless you’re regularly meeting with Asian businessmen, business card exchanges are getting rarer and rarer.
  • So I think I’m traveling lighter.  But it might be a push – what I’ve dropped in paper I think I’ve made up in device chargers.

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to iconPictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #87
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • Bridge music from Music Alley
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or MP3 file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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  • Direct link to the show
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3 Comments.

  1. In discussing the contents of your briefcase, you mentioned a Moleskine notebook. Which do you use and what is its primary purpose?

    I have recently begun using them and love the quality but am not pleased with the high price point.

  2. John –

    Moleskine notebooks are definitely a luxury. I use the pocket notebook (http://www.moleskine.com/catalogue/classic/hard_black_cover/ruled__notebook__pocket.php) as my travel notebook — fits in my camera bag or jacket pocket. I use a larger squared/quadrille notebook (http://www.moleskine.com/catalogue/classic/hard_black_cover/squared_notebook__large.php) for work. There are definitely cheaper notebooks, but I do enjoy writing in Moleskines — especially with a fountain pen.

    Mark

  3. Have you taken a look at Notetaker HD on the iPad? Pair it with a good stylus and it replaces the Moleskine. It was developed by Dan Brinker, the inventor of VisiCalc.