While I mostly write on library-specific products and technologies, in this month's column I will pass on some tips related to travel. There are incredible tools and resources available these days that make travel more convenient than ever before. Most of the tools and tips that I will mention do not involve specialized gadgets, but they are available through the smartphones or tablets that have become almost ubiquitous among those in libraries who are likely to be involved in professional travel.
Smartphones or tablets provide enormous benefits when traveling. It's hard to imagine life on the road without one these days. But it wasn't that long ago when printouts from MapQuest were considered a high-tech travel aid. While I happen to use an iPhone, Android-based devices offer equivalent capabilities. Except for making calls, tablets can perform all the same travel-related tasks as a smartphone. The larger size of tablets makes them a bit easier to use, but also less likely that youll keep them with you throughout the day. While I also travel with a laptop, it's more for productivity when I'm in the hotel or at meetings. I find that any serious writing requires a full keyboard and word processing and other software. Smartphones and tablets, however, are much more effective for providing convenient and effective means for dealing with the vagaries, contingencies, and complications of travel.
Keeping the aforementioned devices charged can be a quite a challenge. When traveling, I burn through the charge on my devices much more rapidly than at home. Naturally, youll want to plug them in at night to start the day with a full tank. But don't miss any opportunity to top off during the course of your day. Life on the road often means plenty of time waiting around airports. The demand for power outlets at airports far exceeds supply these days. While some airports offer charging stations or kiosks in the waiting areas, good luck battling other desperate travelers to get an outlet or port for your device. I also take advantage of alternatives.
Almost any USB port can charge a phone, although there are variations in the power levels relative to the version of the USB standard implemented. These power levels impact how fast your smartphone might charge or whether a tablet will charge at all. These days, more planes offer a USB port on their entertainment systems. I observe considerable inconsistency in whether these USB ports work at all or if they deliver standard power levels. On a recent flight, I found that the USB port had extremely low power, giving off just a trickle of current, barely enough to let me use the device without further draining the battery, but not enough to increase the battery level.
Standard power outlets can be found on some airplane seats, usually in places hard to see and reach, typically mounted between the seats just below cushion level. Rows toward the front of the plane are much more likely to include power options than those toward the rear. Sometimes, the seating map shown while you are picking your seat when you book travel will show which rows offer power. I also travel with an extra battery for my laptop, which doubles the time that I can work when power isn't available.
When traveling internationally, be sure to bring the appropriate adapter. Fortunately, almost all computer equipment can handle both the 110-volts AC current in the U.S. and the 220-volts used in many other countries, so that you only have to worry about the physical configuration of the jack without the need to use a transformer. A small power strip is handy if you have multiple devices. Note that not all equipment can handle both power modes, so review a device's specifications before plugging into it a 220-volt outlet.
Finding your way around has become so much easier with the advent of mobile mapping applications. I tend to use the Google Maps app, but mapping apps from Apple and others offer similar functionality. When driving, the app's turn-by-turn directions entirely replace the need for a dedicated GPS device. A portable mounting bracket and a cigarette lighter power adapter complete the package. I also make extensive use of the walking directions and those for public transportation.
When traveling internationally, I usually don't purchase a local data plan, but rather depend on Wi-Fi. Depending on your calling plan, you might want to switch cellular data off. Even without cellular data service or Wi-Fi, you can continue to use the mapping apps, because even when cellular service is not activated, the phone will continue to triangulate signals from cell towers to track your current position. While connected to Wi-Fi, you can pan around the area that you plan to explore later at multiple zoom levels. The map images will remain in the cache of the app, which will give you the ability to make use of the maps including your current position, when you no longer have an active Wi-Fi connection. You won't be able to ask for directions or use other features that require live internet access. I find this technique extremely helpful navigating my way around in an unfamiliar city.
Staying in Touch
Travel doesn't usually allow a respite from scheduled conference calls and other business matters that need to be conducted by phone. And, of course, you want to stay in touch with family and friends. Such phone contact isn't a problem for trips within your home country or other defined areas of local service, but international rates can be inordinately expensive. These charges can be avoided through some type of video or voice over IP (VoIP) service. While there are many competing services, I find Skype to be an exceptionally rehable one. Skype-toSkype sessions can be a nice way to have a video session with other Skype users, which is my preferred method for my daily call home.
Many times, however, the person that you want to call may not be a Skype user or may not be near his computer. Skype, as well as other services, offers the ability to place calls to landlines or cellphones. This capability isn't free, but I currently pay $2.99 a month to call any phone number in the U.S. and Canada. This subscription provides a very affordable way to place calls to the U.S. when I am outside of the country, since it applies regardless of the location where the call originated.
If you use Skype or another VoIP system, you will want to invest in a good headset. USB-attached digital headsets offer excellent voice quality and keep your hands free for taking notes, navigating the web, or other types of multitasking. Such a headset is also essential for giving presentations via webinars. Using a cellphone, landline, or the builtin microphone on your phone or laptop will usually result in low-quality sound and echoes. I also travel with a highquality headset for my smartphone, which also enables hands-free convenience when I have to make business calls with my phone instead of laptop. Headsets, at least for me, work better and are more comfortable than the ear buds that come with phones.
I also find the Skype-to-phone option to be a nice way to handle long conference calls even at home. These calls can really eat into the minutes allocated each month in my cellphone plan. By placing most of my conference calls via Skype, I have been able to downsize my cellphone plan for substantial savings.
Managing Air travel
If you travel frequently by air, you will want to install the mobile apps for each of the airlines you are likely to use. These apps are by far the best way to manage the details of your flights on the days you travel. Helpful features include the ability to check in and receive mobile boarding passes, check the current status of a flight, and look at flight schedules. It is my experience that the flight status shown online through the mobile app or on the airline's website is more accurate and up-to-date than what is shown on airport monitors or even what is available to gate personnel.
I find mobile boarding passes to be quite convenient, though not universally supported. When I check in for a flight at home, I will usually request a mobile boarding pass, but I will also print one as a backup. Almost all domestic airports are equipped to handle mobile boarding passes, and the check-in process will not offer the option for those airports that don't have the scanners. When checking in, you will be asked to specify the email address or mobile number to send the boarding pass. With the iPhone, you will be able to transfer the boarding pass to the PassBook, which stores and manages it so that you do not have to be connected to the internet to use it when boarding the flight.
While these mobile apps provide some essential features, they offer only a subset of what's available through the airline's full website, especially for booking flights. Ill use the full version for planning and booking a trip, managing my account, and other tasks typically done from home or in the hotel.
It's also important to keep a detailed itinerary of your trip. I post all these details in my calendar, but there are lots of other approaches. There are several details that youll want to be sure to include in the entry for each flight, including obvious things such as the departure and arrival times-but also be sure to include flight numbers and record locater strings. When ready to check-in online, it's easy to grab the record locator from the calendar entry. I also note the arriving and departing terminal numbers, when available, for connecting flights, which is especially useful if a flight is late and I might need to make a quick dash to the gate. Also, be sure to put your hotel info into your calendar, including a confirmation number, hotel name, and address. Youll want this information handy when arranging ground transportation from the airport.
Flight delays and cancellations result in enormous frustration when traveling. Despite these inevitable disruptions, I'm almost always able to make it to my destination or back home reasonably close to the planned schedule. Once you become aware that there will be a delay, the first step is to figure out the consequences and alternatives. Is the delay likely to cause a missed connection? If so, check schedules to see if there is a later flight that will get you to your destination or an alternate route. In some cases, the airline might perform the needed rescheduling or rerouting automatically, but usually you will need to deal with the airline directly. It is almost always better to contact the airline by phone than to wait in the long line at the counter. If you are a frequent flyer for that airline, there may be a number that you can call for expedited service. If you call prepared with the flights that will meet your schedule, you will have a better chance than if you depend on the call center to figure one out. I find that a clear, firm, and polite approach almost always works to get the issue resolved satisfactorily.
More than any technology, it's the human dimension that will make the biggest difference to your travel experience. Diplomacy solves problems much more effectively than confrontation. All the personnel that I interact with when traveling-though often overwhelmed and harried-generally want to help you get along your way. Airline personnel, for example, often are bound by rules and procedures outside of their control, but when they have any discretion, I find that they can be convinced to exercise it if you are calm and firm. It's also important to be considerate of fellow travelers. Difficult travel situations don't always bring out the best in people, but it's important to be tolerant and to even lend a hand when possible. While the best part of travel relates to the people that I meet at the conferences and meetings, I also enjoy and appreciate all the many individuals that I interact with in transit.
If you are interested in following my travel adventures, you can connect with me on Facebook (facebook.com/mar shall.breeding). While I use Twitter (@m breeding) for industry announcements and related information, I find Facebook more well-suited for sharing information related to the interesting places that I am fortunate to be able to visit. I hope these tips help reduce the stress and increase tiie productivity of your next professional travel adventure. *