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8 Tips For Tech-Savvy Travel

North Texas executives tell us what apps, services, and gadgets they use to make life a little easier—and productive—on the road.
By Phil Harvey |
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Every U.S. President since Kennedy has had his “nuclear football” nearby. The “football” is a sturdy, leather briefcase that allows the president to stay in command, even under duress. It’s the most extreme example of taking your office on the road with you.


What’s in the mysterious case? Smithsonian Magazine says it contains the items necessary to “confirm the president’s identity, and it allows him to communicate with the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon.” It’s the Oval Office in a bag.


Your “football” may be a briefcase, clutch, backpack, or messenger bag. What’s in it? What keeps you going when flights are delayed, the power is out, you’re stuck in traffic and, for heaven’s sake, the nearest Starbucks is miles away?


As Gabriella Draney of Tech Wildcatters points out, today’s laptops are mobile devices.

I put that question to several North Texas executives via a short online survey. My goal was to find out what real people in the real world use to keep going and work smarter. Based on their replies, and some observations of my own, here are eight tips for using technology—just as the frenetic pace of business travel starts to pick up this spring.


1. Travel light and leave the (big, old) laptop at home.

“If I am on a one-day overnight, I just take my iPhone,” says Joel Ferrell, associate artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center. “If it’s two to three days, I take my iPhone and iPad. If it is more than three days, I take the MacBook and my phone.” Indeed, mobile devices are ubiquitous and more powerful than the desktops of just a few years ago. There are nearly twice as many smartphones in U.S. households today as there are basic cellphones, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The CEA says that in 2015, two in three households (67 percent) are expected to have a smartphone, and over half (54 percent) will own a tablet. Laptops used to be desktop replacements. But as Gabriella Draney, co-founder and CEO of Tech Wildcatters, points out, today’s laptops are mobile devices. The Macbook Air (with the 11.6-inch screen) that Draney totes is a beast of a machine that only weighs 2.38 pounds. The lines between a tablet and laptop are blurring. If you’ve still got a 10-pounder, it’s time to upgrade. Or just get a tablet and leave the boat anchor at home.



2. Take photos of notes and sync everything.

Choose your productivity apps wisely, and make sure they provide access to all of your data on every device you’ll need—even the creaky old PCs you’ll find in some hotel business centers. Several survey respondents use Evernote for note-taking, list-making, and Web-clipping. I use it to take photos of Post-It notes, and Evernote makes my handwriting searchable. “Across all devices, Evernote is my new best friend,” says Kim Titus, a Dallas-based communications and entertainment professional. Dropbox is popular as a convenient cloud-based storage system that allows you to selectively share documents, photos, and videos. And let’s not forget Google. “I would die without Google Docs,” wrote Tech Wildcatters Executive Director Molly Cain in an email reply to my survey. Google Drive, with Google Docs, is a handy Microsoft Office Suite replacement, and it has a ton of storage to boot. Microsoft Office 365 and Apple’s iCloud are other cloud-based sync and storage options. But, generally, you get better results with services that don’t require that everyone use the same brand of operating system (OS). Another example: Tanya Little, CEO of Hart Advisors Group LLC, uses Oxygen Cloud, which offers simple pricing and  unlimited storage, and works with every major phone and computer OS.



3. Bail on email.

My big issue with email, especially while traveling, is that it is hard to get a visual fix on what groups of people are working on and how far along they are in a project. Cloud-based Trello solves this problem with its digital version of a cork bulletin board. It has cards lined up in tidy rows that can contain lists, pictures, notes, and all kinds of attachments. You can share an entire board with colleagues, or just specific cards for specific lists and tasks. It gives a visual order to the chaos of project management. And it’s all searchable, too. It’s a nice improvement over the world of long email trails and Excel spreadsheets. 



4. Get rid of paperwork, but not paper.

Like Evernote, Expensify is an app that eliminates typing. I use it to file, sort, and report expenses. With Expensify, I take photos of receipts and the app fills out all the paperwork. But, I still stash the paper receipts in the hidden pocket of my Moleskine notebook, just in case. When I have online purchases, I can email those receipts to Expensify, too. Using the tags and categories in the program, I can get a good idea of where my budget is going. Kim Adams Edmonds, vice president of southwest sales at YuMe, says she uses Concur, another  expense management app, in a similar way. She also avoids printing lots of travel-related paperwork with TripIt, an app that keeps all flights, hotel itineraries, and car rental information in one place. Much like the expense management apps, TripIt parses the emails you send it and sorts all the info so that your travel diary doesn’t involve a carousel of different websites and logins. Ferrell at the Dallas Theater Center and other respondents say a good pen and a small notebook are must-haves, regardless of the reason or the length of a trip. “Sometimes I want to make notes, and I’m sick to death of screens,” he says.



5. Save and make money while you travel.

The folks at TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s Irving-based media network, used a service called Rocketrip to save thousands on travel expenses for employees. The system sets budgets and helps employees monitor travel spending. It works because, according to Rocketrip, “for every $2 in savings that an employee generated for the TheBlaze, $1 in rewards was passed back to the employee for redemption through Rocketrip’s gift catalog of top retailers.” The result? Employees are now motivated to find all the travel savings they can. TheBlaze saved more than $44,000 in just 90 days on 240 trips. Airbnb is probably the easiest way to save money on trips to big cities. I used Airbnb to find lodging in central London and was able to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Holborn for two people at a price that was less than half of what a single room would have cost at a three-star hotel in the same neighborhood. If you think Airbnb is just for college kids and backpackers, you should give it another look. The service is substantial; Airbnb has more than 1 million listings and is adding new properties at a rate of 3,000 a day. 



6. Pick a brand and be loyal.

Tips No. 6 and No. 7 are polar opposites, so pick the one that best suits your personality. Grant Wood, a brewmaster at Revolver Brewing, says he used to stay at the same brand of hotels in every city, on every trip. “The consistency of environment made travel less stressful,” he says. He preferred Hampton Inns because they are budget-friendly, have free Wi-Fi, and include breakfast in the room rates. The upside of brand loyalty is that reward points and free nights can accumulate over time.



7. Plan less, spend less.

Gavin Kim, president and chief commercial officer of NQ Mobile, says he often doesn’t book a hotel in advance at all. He’ll arrive at his destination city and will “just wait it out until 2 p.m. and then look for what is around and available.” HotelTonight is a great app for quickly finding solid, last-minute hotel deals. Another great place to look is the “Deal of the Day” section of Hotels.com. Rental cars are also a rare thing in the plan less, spend less playbook. Gavin Kim says he uses Uber, the app that connects drivers and riders in more than 200 cities. For an alternative to Uber, try Lyft. It’s a similar service that is available in dozens of cities. Watch for the company’s Lyft Line and Uber’s UberPool to roll out in several cities in 2015. Both services will match one driver with multiple passengers heading in the same direction or to the same destination, and allow passengers to split the fare.



8. Social media saves money.

If travel abroad is in your future, you can avoid international roaming and messaging charges by using messaging apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Apple’s FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. It’s not fun to travel for business and then face sticker shock when your phone bill arrives.


Travel well and protect the football.  

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