The Basic Rules of Travel

Over the last 25 years, I’ve ended putting together a quick list of rules when I travel, although over time the list seems to be slowly growing, so it’s safe to consider this article a living work in progress and will be updated from time to time.

Of course, if there’s one thing the last 25 years has also taught me, is that the rules don’t always apply.  So, taking everything with a huge grain of salt, and in no particular order, lets dive in.  As always, your mileage may vary:

  • Adjust your attitude before you leave

When you step foot our your front door, no matter where you’re headed, it’s important to concede a few basic things. 1) due to circumstances far beyond your control, not only might your trip take far longer than you thought, but you may never make it.  I’m not talking about meeting your demise along the way, but weather, airlines, strikes, and just about anything else you can imagine can ultimately cause you to abandon your trip entirely.

If you start your trip conceding there may be major delays, then you’re likely to have significantly lower stress levels than someone whose schedule doesn’t allow for more than a minute delay.

  • Don’t over-pack

You can probably write an entire book to cover this topic, but lets’ keep it to a few paragraphs.

First, most hotels rooms have hair dryers, irons, shampoo and conditioner and other basic items you may need while you’re on the road.  If you’re staying in a hotel that you’re not sure about, just call ahead to check.

You don’t need to pack for every contingency. Unless you’re going to a seriously remote location, there’s going to be a mall or drug store down the road, so if you find yourself truly in need of something, you can probably pick it up within a 20 min drive.

As far as clothes and other gear, pack just what you’ll need for the number of days you’ll be gone, and and maybe add enough for one more days worth of clothes, as it isn’t unusual for projects to run long or flights back to be delayed.  That should provide more than enough safety margin.  You don’t need to pack two complete changes of clothes for each day you’ll be gone.

When you arrive home, take note of what you didn’t use or wear while you’re unpacking.  The third time you put away the extra pair of shoes you’ve never worn, you can be fairly confident that you don’t need to pack them the next time you head out.  Resist the urge to fill-up your suitcase with items that you’ll need “just in case”.

  • NEVER bring anything with you that you can’t afford to loose:

This goes for things that carry either high emotional value or high financial value.  Let’s be honest, airlines loose luggage, you can forget things in your hotel or rental car, there are just too many opportunities to misplace items you’ve brought on your trip with you, many of them beyond your control.  So let’s be smart and not pack items like that century-old broach your grandmother gave to you or any other family heirlooms.

It’s a sickening feeling when you realize you’ve lost something you love and there’s no way to replace it.

  • Airport Security

There’s nothing fun about catching a flight these days.  Airlines regularly oversell flights, airports are crowded, leg room is non-existent, and the line to get through security at the airport can try the patience of a saint.  However there are a few things you can do to get through that line faster:

    • Apply for TSA Precheck, or better yet, Global Entry.  You have to apply and then go through an interview as part of the application, but after you receive your approval, getting through security is similar to pre 9/11 travel.  You can go through the shorter TSA Precheck line, you don’t have to take off your shoes, remove your laptop or any liquids you may be carrying,  On a good day, you can get through the entire security process in a couple of minutes.  Don’t forget to update your profile with the airlines with the Known Traveler Number you receive with your paperwork; it doesn’t happen automatically.  Thereafter, your boarding passes will print with the TSA Precheck logo at the top,
    • Liquids: Even if you have TSA Precheck, you can’t exceed the maximum allowable liquid limits allowed through airport security.  Follow the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 oz (100 ml) containers, all of which must fit inside a 1-quart bag,
    • Wear slip-on shoes, something like loafers work well.  You can add significant time to your trip through security tying and un-tying your shoes,
    • Please check your bag for banned items before you leave for the airport; no, you can’t carry-on your gun, torch, compressed gas or nunchucks.  In April 2016, there was a single week where TSA confiscated 73 guns, 68 of which were loaded.  Come on people, we’re smarter than this.
  • Get out of your hotel room

I once had a colleague who when she traveled, spent all of her time either at the client facility or her hotel room, even ordering room service for all of her meals.  When you’re in a location you’re not familiar with, it’s easy to become isolated, even when you’re on crowded flights and full hotels.

Humans are social creatures, and some daily social interactions with other people is good for your mental health.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, jet setting up your laptop in the common area of the hotel, where there are other people doing the exact same thing, can significantly reduce that feeling is isolation.  You might even get in some networking.

Check out the local restaurants

Following on from the idea of getting out of your hotel room, unless you’re crushed for time, avoid the urge to grab dinner at the hotel restaurant, because no one ever had a memorable meal from a Holiday Inn.

I’d also recommend avoiding the chain restaurants…besides meals that can be calorie bombs, there’s no point in traveling across the country to visit a Chili’s or TGI Friday’s identical to the ones back home.  There are plenty of smartphone apps for finding local restaurants, but I’m a big fan of checking out the local brewpubs.  They’re almost ubiquitous these days, and although there are a few chains of brewpubs like Rockbottom, each one tends to be unique.  A brewpub is a good bet even if you’re a teetotaler, as your meal is unlikely to just be a reheated Sysco frozen chicken.

  • Plan for delays:

While you’re on the road, delays are inevitable, but have you prepared for them?  If your itinerary hinges on zero traffic delays, and all of your flights arriving exactly on time, then I’d say you haven’t been realistic.  Road construction happens, weather happens, mechanical problems with planes happen.  In August of 2016, 77% of flights in the US arrived on time, which is good, but that also means that 23% of flights experienced a delay.  If you have a trip out and back consisting of four flights (2 legs out, 2 legs back), then you have a 92% chance that one of your flights will be delayed.  So, the lesson is to build some extra time in your schedule.

Bring a book/magazine/kindle/e-reader with you.  If you’re stuck in the airport gate area and all you have to entertain yourself is your phone with the dying battery battery or the TV blaring CNN, it can be pretty mind numbing.  Having a good book or your favorite magazine with you will definitely help the time pass faster.

  • Tip the staff

Hopefully no one needs a reminder on this, but just in case…

While you’re on the road, you encounter a lot of people who work in the service industry; servers in restaurants, hotel cleaning staff, taxi drivers, etc.  Most of these people work for shockingly low wages, where their legal hourly rate is far below minimum wage.  In New York State, the minimum wage for tipped workers in the service industry is $7.50/hour.  That’s only $15,600 per year, assuming someone worked 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.  The point is that a lot of the people you encounter on your travels have incomes that are largely based on tips.

Also check out “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by Barbara Ehrenreic, for a look in to the lives of the people cleaning your room and bringing your meals.

General rules for tipping:

Food and dining:

  • Restaurants: 15-20%.  Less than 10% or no tip is inexcusable.  If your service was that bad, it’s time to talk to the manager, not take it out in the wait staff,
  • Bartender: 1-2$ per drink,
  • Coffee: drop 1$ in the tip jar.


  • 1-2$ per bag that are delivered to your room,
  • 2-5$/day for the maid/cleaning staff.  Leave it someplace obvious (I leave it under the remote control next to the TV).  You can even leave it under a note marked “housekeeping”,
  • 5$ for room service, unless it’s included in the bill.


  • $2 to $5 to the valet when the car is returned,
  • $1 to $2 per bag for the curtesy shuttle if the driver helps with your bags,
  • Taxis, limos, vans and paid shuttles: 15% of the total fare and up to 20% for above-and-beyond service.


  • 30% for shoe shines,


  • Electronic communication; surf smart:

Our lives today involve a lot of electronic communication, and this can be a very technically involved topic that would otherwise bore you to tears.  If you want more in-depth information, there are plenty of other sites to check out.

If you’re traveling for work, access to e-mail and the company network is essential, but you need to be smart about how you connect to these networks.  Although tempting, using the free hotel or coffee shop WiFi for transmitting any kind sensitive data is never a good idea, and I would absolutely never do any on-line banking or shopping over a public network. Anyone with even a minor amount of technical know-how can listen in on you wireless connection.

Quick Tips:

Verizon branded JetPack
Verizon branded JetPack
    • If your hotel has a wired Ethernet jack, use it.  Although it isn’t a perfect solution from a security standpoint, you’re likely to have a faster and more secure connection.  I travel with a short Ethernet cable in by bag,
    • Make use of the tethering feature of your cell phone.  Be careful if you have a limited data plan and you need to download/upload any large file, as you can exceed your monthly data limit and rack up impressive overage charges.  Otherwise I’m a big fan of the USB tethering feature on my smart phone…my laptop connects to my phone via a USB cable, and my phone connects to my carriers network over a secure telecom connection.  You should be able to access this feature in you phone’s settings.
    • If you need a secure mobil connection without clobbering your data plan, or need to share a connection with a few other people, then something like a Jetpack could also fit the bill.  It provides password protected WiFi and a secure connection to the telecom network.
  • Dress comfortably

I’m a big believer in traveling comfortably.  Unless you’re getting off your flight and heading straight to a board meeting, there’s no reason to put on a suit and tie (unless that’s your thing).  Traveling comfortably also isn’t a license to head to the airport in your slippers and PJs (yes, I’ve seen people dressed this way).  Simply wear clothes you would otherwise be comfortable in public for 8 – 12 hours.  Typically I’m in cargo pants and a company branded UnderArmour polo shirt.  I also go with wool socks to keep my feet dry (and odor free).

Deep vein thrombosis/Compression socks:

Travel often includes sitting in cars and planes for long periods of time, which can set the stage for a fun condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis; essentially development of blood clots in your legs or lungs.  If you’re in reasonably good health, then it shouldn’t be a big concern, but if you have any conditions that might otherwise make you susceptible to DVT, such as being over 40, overweight or having circulation problems, then you may want to consider putting on a pair of compression socks for that leg of the journey.  The medical jury is still mulling over how effective compression socks are for preventing DVT, but like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.

  • Try to remember, you’re not at home

So, this is a particular pet peeve with me.  There are some people who get really comfortable in the hotel or while they’re on vacation, so much so that they tend to forget that they’re in a hotel with 300+ other guests.  Showing up the restaurant for breakfast in your pajamas and slippers is just not acceptable; at a minimum, at least dress and conduct yourself as if you were at home and headed out to a local diner.

Respect the other guests in the hotel.  It’s likely that there are plenty of people on your floor, or above/below your room who are jet lagged, and are just trying to get some sleep before an early meeting.  Don’t crank the radio and TV volumes, and don’t engage in any behavior that would entice the other guests to call the manager to speak to you.