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The Travelling Programmer

November 4, 1998
by Alex Zavatone

Sooner or later, the situation arises where we have to do a bit of travelling to get our jobs done. The past 3 months have put me smack dab in the middle of living a traveller's life. In any week of the past 3 months, I've been in either San Francisco, San Diego, Auckland or Dallas. My apartment and Visa account definately bear the brunt of this flying lifestyle but it also can take a toll on the one who is doing all the travelling.

With this in mind, I only thought it fair to share what I've learned to make travelling a lot less troubling.

Your credit card(s)

It pays to have a credit card that is totally devoted to travelling expenses. When you get your monthly bill, you can take care of all your expenses just by paying one card off. Keep the bill for your records too. If you are self employed, these are business expenses that can come off of your taxable income or so my tax guy tells me.

Time

The flight from San Francisco to San Diego is a quick hour and 15 minutes. So one would think that is the amount of time it takes for me to get from my home office to work in San Diego. Actually, it's more like 4 hours. The schedule goes like this: 30 - 45 minutes to get from my house to the United Shuttle gate at SFO, wait till the flight is ready, fly the 1:15 hours, walk to the shuttle to the rental agency, take the rental shuttle to the agency, rent the car and drive north through traffic to Carlsbad. Viola! 4 to 4:15 hours on a good day. Wouldn't it be nice if you could bill for the time you spend travelling? Budget your time REALISTICALLY, not optimistically. This will allow you to avoid the fever pitch of the traveller's rush.

Reservations: plane, car and hotel.

Call ahead when making reservations. In fact, as soon as you know that you are definately going to travel, call and make the reservations. With plane fair, the retes go up drasticly for each week you wait. If you can, make your reservations more than 3 weeks in advance.

When making reservations for a hotel that you frequent, it pays to get to know some of the staff. I had trouble getting a room at the hotel that is 5 minutes away from work in San Diego but then got to know some of the staff and it became easier to get that room when things looked full. It also helps to ask if there is a corporate rate for business travellers. Sometimes the hotel may not have a corporate rate for the company you are working for. In that case, try using the names of large companies in the area. Heck, try Oracle if it will work for you.

Always negotiate when arrainging a car rental. You can even create set up a corporate account with many agencies. That corporation can be Zav incorporated or "insert your name here" consulting services. By setting up a corporate account, you will get a better rate on the rentals that "do not drive like crap" or that mustang convertable that you love so much.

Crossing Time Zones & Long Flights

You may find this strange coming from me but I almost never drink alcohol on the plane unless it's a short flight. The long flights dry you out so much you basically have a hangover without even touching alcohol. Drinking lots of OJ and not breathing from your nose (hint: use mouth or suffocation will follow) can help you avoid getting your sinuses all dried out and that oogy feeling. For long flights, such as the memorable "12 hours to New Zealand with 2 screaming children right behind me", I recommend that you do the following:

spend a dollar on earplugs.

Or if the parents allow, you may use duct tape and staples to make sure the delightful little angels keep their mouths shut.

Since long flights and imply changing time zones, it is best to end the flight rather refreshed. I usually have to take my arthritic neck along with me and it is not friendly with long flights. Fly business class if you can or get some medication from your doctor that will let you sleep through the flight. I tried this approach when flying to Italy with my father. It worked so well that I ended up rollerblading around Gallarate, Italy while Dad slept off the jet lag in a hotel. Vicaden (painkiller) and flexaril (muscle relaxant) were my medicines of choice but check with your doctor for something to take the edge off your flight.

Crossing time zones has wierd effects on people. When changing your waking or sleeping times by several hours, be very careful about any pills you will take to help you fall asleep better. When flying to New York to work several years ago, I could NOT fall asleep so I took some over the counter sleep aids purchased from the local drugstore. The next day, I was still fighting the sleeping pill so I could stay awake and code. Not the most pleasant situation. In the past few years, new "natural" (whatever that means) sleep aids have come on the market in the way of Melatonin and Valerian root. Melatonin really helped my establish normal sleeping patterns when swiching several time zones and does not have any side effects that I've noticed. I definately recommend it over all the other speeling aids I've tried. Other friends prefer Valerian root but I've never used it.

Finally, when crossing time zones, the direction you travel can have a very disrupting effect. When going east to west, I have little trouble reestablishing my sleep patterns. West to East can leave me waking up at 4 am or 2 pm even with sleeping aids. You may be different but it's nice to give yourself an extra day or two when you find out which direction gives you more trouble.

Spending money.

When travelling, save and date all your receipts. When you get home, put them in a special box or folder with the name and dates of your trip. You'll thank me at tax time.

Stress

Absolutely do NOT stress out when travelling. Just turn it off. Stress does not help you get there any faster and you will feel all worn out when you arrive. Just relax because there is little you can do to get to your destination any faster. Plan out your trip accordingly, add in slack time and expect what I like to call "the fuck up factor". Things will go wrong (like 4pm San Diego tracffic) that you can do nothing about (like 4 pm San Diego traffic). Factor that in to your planning.

Packing:

Pack as light as you can but if you have to do laundry, check with your hotel to see if they have laundry facilities you can use. If you're working and getting paid by the hour, it is probably in your best interests to have your laundry done for you. Bring the required cosmetic goodies you need to get ready for the day. You know like deoderant, toothbrush, toothpaste and shaving equipment. Stop by you local food store and bring some energy bars as well. They're cheaper, tastier and healther than most airline food. Drink water or fruit juice when travelling and save the beer for the end of your trip.

Write down all the travel info & Directions to your destination.

I really blew it on this one recently. After my travel agent moved, I took matters into my own hands and booked my flight with Southwest to Dallas. I took down all the flight info and mailed it to my friend who was going to pick me up at the airport. As I was getting on the plane, I realized that I did not write down the airport I was landing at (there are two in Dallas) OR the airline I was taking! All the flight info was there except for those two little pearls of information. DOH! Why did I screw up so bad? I was in a panic to make all the flight arraingements, pay off my Visa bill, write my rent check, etc, etc, etc. Remember to not do what I did ok? :]

Make sure you have good directions to you destination and a map. The net is great for maps of locations but a road map of the area is also a good resource to have. Use what is best for you.

Other:

Don't forget to check and see if these items will matter on your trip as well. Acess to your email. Get an email account you use when travelling or a phone number you can use nation/workdwide for your regular email Bring your address book and have multiple ways to contact key people. Phones, emails etc... If you're transporting data, make sure it will work on the client's machines. Check to make sure hardware is compatable. Bring backups. If you need assess to your home machine, make sure you can log into it or ftp from a remote location. Have a phone number of a friend you can call who can reboot your machine if it goes down.

As you can see, there are lots of details to manage when travelling. Hope this helps.

A Director user since 1987, Alex (Zav) Zavatone has worked on the engineering teams for both Director and Shockwave, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Recent investigations find him developing foundation classes for Director with asynchronous process management and other life threatening activities. In its early days, he had something to do with this Internet thing known as "DOUG". A noted ne'erdowell, slacker and laggard, Mr. Zavatone is nonetheless is trusted by children, small animals and the elderly. In his spare time, Mr. Zavatone rehabilitates lame desert trout.

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