In the second part of my series on of my first year as a developer advocate I will take a look at one of the big privileges and hassles of developer advocacy; travel. Let’s take a look at some ways to make travel less stressful and more enjoyable.
Dealing with Security
Airport security is something everyone hates about air travel, particularly if you are a US citizen, or traveling in the US often. Long lines, having to pull apart your carefully packed bag, and taking off your shoes is frustrating. Going through customs can be a difficult experience as well as lines can become extremely long if several flights arrive at the same time.
A way to make dealing with security much easier is to get TSA Pre-check, and if you will be traveling in and out of the US often, Global Entry (note TSA Pre-check comes with Global Entry). For a $85 fee, or $100 if you get Global Entry, and filling out a form you will be able to go through the TSA Pre-check line which means you don’t have to remove large electronics, nor liquids from your bag, and can keep your shoes on. TSA Pre-check lines are also typically shorter and unsurprisingly move faster than normal security. TSA Pre-check/Global Entry are easily some of the best money spent when it comes to making travel more enjoyable (or at least less aggravating).
A couple more notes when it comes to international travel. Even non-US citizens/residents can apply for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check. Several countries also have similar systems to Global Entry*, depending on where your organization may be sending you, it may be worth it to apply for one of those programs as well. Many of these programs are also similarly available to non-citizens.
- The linked article is from 2015 and so is a bit out of date. For example US passport holders can now use ePassport gates as of the summer of 2019, negating the need to apply for the Register Traveller program.
Benefits to Loyalty
When traveling only a few times a year, if you were like me, you’d prioritized cost and convenience over brand when booking flights or hotels. At this level of travel it makes sense to prioritize those factors as you will likely not accrue enough frequent flyer miles or hotel nights to get many benefits from being a member of a loyalty program, but when you are making dozens of trips a year you might want to reconsider your priorities around how you book travel.
Your primary air carrier or hotel provider might be chosen for you by your organization. However if you do get to choose, you will want to do some research. There are three major air alliances: Star, SkyTeam, OneWorld, if you live near an airport that is a hub to an airline that is part of one of those alliances that will probably be your best choice. You will get more flight options as we as more direct flights. Considerations might be where you are flying to. If you are like me and you home airport is a “spoke“, then research to see which airline best suits your needs. For hotels, the three biggest super chains are: Marriott, Hilton, and IHG. Marriott probably has the best coverage of the three, but often they all have presence in the same markets. If you are traveling outside of North America/Europe your hotel chain choices might change a bit.
With both airlines and hotels, initially the benefits of loyalty seem pretty minimal. Slightly earlier boarding and free bottled water aren’t exactly significant benefits, but persistence can start to payoff. Getting to the second, third, and above loyalty tiers start to provide pretty significant benefits. For airlines this can mean upgrades to higher classes, much earlier boarding (which is good if you have a carry-on), and more flexibility when it comes to re-arranging travel plans. For hotels you can get upgraded to a nicer room, more flexibility with checkout, and free breakfast. In both cases you can also start to accrue a large number of loyalty points which can be used for vacations, upgrades, or bringing your significant other with you on a trip.
A tradeoff to getting to the highest tiers of loyalty can mean occasional inconvenience. Your primary air carrier might not always offer the most convenient flights, your primary hotel chain might not always be the closest to a conference venue. On a recent trip to Oslo, I stayed at a hotel that was a 30 minute bus ride both ways each day, but it was also a long stay so I earned some much needed nights. It’s a balancing act, sometimes it might make sense to to take the more inconvenient flight or hotel, other times not.
Pack a “Go Bag”
I can be a bit forgetful at times. I have forgotten noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses, and a few other items here and there. While it’s a bit annoying to forget these things, I never forgotten anything too important because I always have it pre-packed in my “go bag”. My go bag includes all the toiletries I need, under garments, exercise clothes (more on that in a little), adapters, and a number of other important essentials.
Building a “go bag” will require a bit of an investment as it will mean buying duplicates of a number of items you typically only need “one”, but it’s money well spent. When I am preparing for a trip I typically on need pack a few pairs of pants and shirts. Not only does this only take a few minutes, but is also way less stressful. I’m not thinking if I packed enough socks, underwear or if I remembered a toothbrush and toothpaste? My go bag has about 80% of what I need, which means only having to worry about the last 20%.
Travel is hard on your body. There is the jet lag, airports and airplanes are the breeding ground for germs (I once saw a parent change a baby on the tray table in a plane), and being away from home can make it hard to maintain healthy routines. So let’s look at how to stay healthy while you travel.
Allergies, headaches, colds, stomach/digestive problems, they are inevitably going to happen. Being prepared is important, so I bought a pill case that has medicine for handling some of the common concerns. This has come in handy for me a number of times, I have also been able to help friends and colleagues who were dealing with a headache or upset stomach. It’s small and convenient. Though, in some of that earned wisdom, I would recommend getting larger pill case to carry a larger amount/variety of medicine.
In the previous section on the “go bag” I mention I always have exercise clothes packed and ready to go. This was a lesson learned after forgetting exercise shoes, or shorts, or shirts. I have had trips were I have been gone for several days to even weeks, and I can start to feel it in my body when I have gone that long with out any real activity. Exercise is important element to a healthy lifestyle and I would recommend exercising in the morning as you have more control over your schedule at that time. If exercising isn’t an option, find opportunities to walk. Travel is one of the privileges of being a developer advocate, take the opportunity and advantage by walking around and visiting some of the scenic locations of the places you are visiting.
Finally try to make healthy choices when eating while traveling. When it comes to weight the saying goes, it’s ounces in the gym and pounds in the kitchen. It’s not always easy, but eating fruit for breakfast, limiting the number of drinks you have at social (or avoiding drinking or the social hour altogether), can make a difference, especially in the aggregate. The social activities are definitely another perk of being a developer advocate, but be careful to not over indulge.
Trying to Be Green(er)
In a world that is starting to feel the effects of climate change, I am definitely conscious that my recent career change to developer advocacy has enormously increased my carbon footprint. There is no way around that a round trip from the US to Europe creates roughly 1 ton of CO2 per passenger. So what are some ways we can be responsible global citizens in our careers?
A very direct way would be buying carbon offsets. Here is a recent article answering some questions if you are interested in that area. Another advantage of buying carbon offsets is that is artificially increases the cost of travel for you. If you are spending hundreds of dollars purchasing carbon offsets, you might reconsider some trips, or trying to find ways to combine them.
On the subject of combining trips, while it doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, one can be more “efficient” with those emissions. As Roy’s tweet above suggests, flying across the world for a single talk isn’t very environmentally conscious. If you are having to make that trip, try reaching out to user groups in the nearby area. When submitting to a conference, see if there are other conferences nearby that can be included in the same trip. Try reaching out to the client facing members of your organization to see if there are any of your clients in the area, or if an event of some kind can be organized. Flying around the world to give a single presentation can feel wasteful, flying around the world to give two, three, four, or more presentations can start to feel more sensible.
Travel can be very taxing, so it’s important to consider self-care when traveling. If you are crossing many time zones, adding an extra day to the start of the travel to allow you time to acclimate to the new timezone can be helpful. Additionally setting clear boundaries with your organization making sure you have enough time at home for recovery and spending time with friends and family can also be important.
There can be a feeling that taking this extra time is “selfish”, but it makes good sense even from the perspective of your organization. If you are severely sleep deprived when giving a presentation, running a workshop, or helping out with booth duties, you’re not going to be delivering quality work. Additionally if you are feeling overly stressed or run down because you don’t have time to recover from travel, that’s going to lead to burnout and/or inability to produce content/prepare for future travel.
Sometimes pushing for this additional time or cost associated with travel will require self-advocacy toward management, but appreciate that your well-being is important for both yourself and your organization.
Some Final Tips
- If you are in a city for only a single night, stay at an airport hotel. Airport hotels will typically have a free shuttle service and because they are closer you also can sleep in later and generally worry less about making it to the airport in time.
- Pack an umbrella. It’s lighter, smaller, and better at keeping you dry than a raincoat, you can also just keep it in your backpack so it’s always handy. My umbrella has saved me a number of times when inclement weather suddenly showed up.
- Airport lounge access can make long layovers a bit more enjoyable. Membership fees are often several hundred dollars, check to see if your organization would cover membership, if not most airlines let you use points in-lieu of money.
- Loyalty programs often rollover by the calendar year. While you will maintain your same status level into the new year, you will start again at 0 for building up frequent flyer miles and hotel nights for status. As you get towards the end of the year, check to make sure you aren’t going to miss out on reaching a desired status level tier, otherwise it will have to wait until probably late next year before you reach it.
- There is no real disadvantage to being member to multiple loyalty programs, so it’s a good idea to join all of them so at least you can accumulate points and status when you aren’t able to fly/stay with your primary.
- Be sure to carry credit cards from multiple carriers, particularly Master Card and Visa. Also having a bank card with you is helpful as some countries strongly favor bank cards or so you can withdraw cash if needed (and not incur huge fees).
Travel can be fun, it can also be a hassle. You do enough travel and you inevitably run have some bad experiences. There are ways though of making those bad experiences less bad and also reducing some of the stress around travel. Joining programs to make it easier to go through security, pre-packing some of your luggage, and taking advantage of loyalty programs can help to reduce some of the stress around travel and also make it a bit more enjoyable.