Some business travelers prepare for potential travel disaster by packing an extra business outfit or printed presentation notes; I prepare by packing half of
in my suitcase.
Some may say it’s overkill, but I’ve learned that it’s foolish to trust hotels and airlines to have what I need if my technology lets me down—or if I let my tech down by forgetting something.
Instead, I’ve developed a set of tools and practices that address the biggest tech-related travel troubles—and keep my tech running smoothly when I’m on the road. Specifically:
1. The Problem: Where’s the power? Crawling around a hotel floor in search of power outlets is a great way to find out how thoroughly your hotel room has been cleaned, but it shouldn’t be a necessary part of charging all of your devices. And scattering my devices around a room’s available outlets almost inevitably leads to me leaving at least one charger behind when I pack up.
The Solution: A packable power bar. Mine has three outlets and four USB ports, which is enough even for me. When I’m on a multicity trip, I just leave all my cords plugged into that one bar, so it only takes a minute to pack or unpack all my cables.
2. The Problem: Connecting to Wi-Fi. The spread of hotel Wi-Fi means you no longer have to pack an Ethernet cable to connect to the internet in most hotel rooms. But hotel Wi-Fi can still be slow and inconvenient, especially if you need to connect multiple devices, like a computer and a phone.
The Solution: A compact travel router. My 2-inch x 2-inch travel router lets me create my own personal Wi-Fi network by connecting to the hotel’s Ethernet port. I may still pay for the connection, but once I’ve paid I can share it across as many devices as I want.
3. The Problem: Presentation prep. Presentation prep. When I’m on the road, it’s often to deliver a presentation or workshop, which means I’ll want to run a final rehearsal in my hotel room. But practicing on my laptop makes it hard to get a sense of how my presentation will look on a big screen.
The Solution: USB keychain drive. A USB keychain is in most business travelers’ briefcases, but it’s good for more than backup and file transfer. If you need to rehearse a presentation in your hotel room, you can save a PowerPoint presentation as a movie, and then transfer it to your USB drive. Plug that drive into the USB port you’ll find on the back of most hotel smart TVs, and you’ll be able to play it on the TV. (Note: Now that I’m on a Mac that only has USB-C ports, I have a dual-port USB drive that can plug into both my Mac and a standard USB port.) Use that to rehearse your presentation and preview your slides on a large screen.
4. The Problem: Port peril. Do you ever feel like you’re a VGA port in an HDMI world? That’s a real problem, not just a metaphor: With so many different cables and adapters out there (and more computer manufacturers stripping standard ports out of their laptops to make them thinner), you can’t count on being able to connect your computer to the projector or printer on hand.
The Solution: A dongle pouch. I never know which device I’ll want to connect to my hotel TV or to a presentation projector, so I carry an insane collection of cables and adapters known as dongles: a USB-C to VGA or HDMI adapter (for connecting my computer to projectors and TVs), a 30-pin to USB adapter (for connecting my iPad) and an HDMI cable (for connecting anything to a hotel TV.) I carry a USB-C to USB adapter in my purse at all times, because it’s often the only way I can connect my MacBook to an available printer or other external device. Last but not least, I’ve learned to carry an extra cable for my phone, thanks to the time I unpacked my suitcase and found a cable with a broken connector. I keep all of my travel dongles in a pouch in my carry-on, so they are there for the next trip.
5. The Problem: Hotel TV. Trying to watch TV in a hotel room is like time traveling back to 1994. You can only watch what is on, the shows are full of ads and if you want to watch a movie on demand it costs a fortune. Another gripe: nearly every hotel in the universe sets its TV aspect ratios to fill the screen, leading to a distorted image. Gimme my
and Amazon Video!
The Solution: An Amazon Fire stick. I discovered that an Amazon Fire stick is an easy and near-bulletproof way of watching the TV shows I want from whatever hotel I’m in: all it requires is an open HDMI port on the hotel TV. And if I pack my travel router, I don’t even have to worry about connecting the Fire stick to Wi-Fi at each new hotel I visit.
6. The Problem: Wi-Fi security. As with any public Wi-Fi network, you have no idea of how safe it is to use hotel Wi-Fi; for all you know, your passwords, email or banking transactions could be intercepted by hackers.
The Solution: A VPN (virtual private network) subscription. I always use a privacy-oriented VPN to secure my internet connection when I’m on the road: By encrypting and anonymizing all my online activities it keeps me and my data private. You can find a list of options at privacytools.io.
7. The Problem: A dead phone. Even those of us who usually make it through the day on a single phone charge can easily run out of power on the road, since we may be using our phone more—and may not have a chance to stop and recharge.
The solution: A backup battery. I carry a lightweight battery that holds enough of a charge to recharge my phone twice; I make sure to buy batteries that have the same ports as my computer, so I can use one charging cable to plug my phone into either the battery or my computer. Don’t forget to pack a charging cable for the battery itself so that you can recharge it from your hotel room.
8. The Problem: Missing gear. Name an essential piece of tech gear, and I’ve forgotten it at some point. That can be a huge problem—especially if the tech is necessary for your work.
The Solution: The front desk—or on-demand delivery. For phones that use a common charging cable or power brick, odds are your hotel will have one in its lost and found; just call the front desk and ask if you can borrow what you need. If that doesn’t work and you’re in a major U.S. city, there is Amazon Prime. Now you can replace a wide range of forgotten tech within two hours: I’ve used it to get emergency charging cables and USB drives. (Plus some ice cream to numb the pain of an undercharged phone, and some souvenirs for the children.) Postmates, TaskRabbit and other concierge or delivery services can deliver an even wider range of products to an even larger number of locations.
9. The Problem: Uncooperative printers. Half of the gray hairs on my head can be directly attributed to hotel business-center printers that my computer wouldn’t recognize, or that were out of ink or that repeatedly jammed during printing. Life is too short to wrestle with business-center printers.
The solution: The front desk—or a local print shop. If I need just a few pages printed, I call the front desk. They almost always have an email address I can send a document to, and they’ll print it out for me (and if I like, send it up to my room). For larger jobs—say, getting handouts printed for a trade show—I find a local printer that accepts online orders and then arrange for pickup or delivery.
10. The Problem: I was so busy packing tech, I forgot to pack clothes. I wasn’t joking when I said I spend more time packing gadgets than packing clothes. But tech has given me a solution to this, too.
The Solution: An on-demand travel wardrobe. Last year I signed up for Rent the Runway, an online-wardrobe service I use whenever I travel. I get my presentation clothes shipped to my hotel, so all I have to pack is socks and underwear—and half of Best Buy.
Ms. Samuel, a frequent contributor to Journal Reports, is a writer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appeared in the March 12, 2018, print edition as ‘Common Business Travel Problems The Right Tech Can Solve.’