Dear me in 1997,
You’re about to embark on a multi-decade journey involving millions of air miles and hundreds of nights on the road. Here’s what you should know, from yourself, 15 years later after you’ve perfected some of the finer points.
Buy Noise Cancelling Headphones. This may be the single most important thing you do. Knowing you, you’ll complain they’re too expensive and wait 10 years before you buy a pair – BUT BUY A PAIR NOW. Flying for 6 hours without them is exhausting – your brain processing an extra 10db for that long is subconsciously tiring. Trust me, you’ll feel the difference even on short flights. They’re also great for shutting up chatty neighbors. Don’t be cheap, buy the good ones.
Be obsessively loyal to specific travel brands. It’s a given that if you’re going to travel, you will take advantage of the points programs. You’re going to think it’s smart to ‘spread the love’ and get mid-tier status at the three major hotel brands. You’re going to get your ass up at Air Canada and start flying on United and occasionally even American Airlines. You’ll think it’s OK to fly Lufthansa to India because you still get Air Canada status miles. You’re wrong, wrong, wrong. Focus maniacally on a single vendor, and only deal with their partners when desperate. They can tell if you’re a floater or not, and later in the game they’re going to start introducing retro-active rewards like flying a million miles on their metal, or having acquired Gold/Platinum status in their hotels for 5+ years. You’ll want that. Pick a single airline, fly their metal as much as you can. Pick a single hotel chain, stay in their beds as much as you can. Pick a single rental company, rent their cars as often as you can. It’s the better option than spreading out.
Coffee and Alcohol are your friend. For years, I eschewed caffeine and alcohol when traveling because that’s what all the travel magazines said to do. “Don’t get dehydrated” they all say. BULL! I literally spent 2 years feeling like crap on the road following this pucky until I realized I was doing it wrong. When you’re traveling, the first thing you should do every single day is start an aggressive caffeine regimen. If you’re in Europe, double up on that regimen. If you’re in India, triple up on that regimen. If you’re in Vegas, you need to learn what “depth charges” are in relation to coffee. Your goal should be to make the Batista go flush when you place your order. Keep this up until about mid afternoon, then focus on hydration. Water, lots of it. Then, as you approach mid-evening you’ll want to focus on the depressants, usually in form of fermented wheat and barley. You’ll wonder why single guys sit at the bar at 10pm and have a couple beers by themselves? BECAUSE THEY’RE SMART, SEASONED VETERANS. Have a beer, even if you’re alone, and it’ll help you sleep. REPEAT DAILY.
Do something fun and personal while you’re there. At first, this will be easy. Every time you go somewhere new, you’ll want to check out the biggest and best of the tourist traps. Alcatraz. Napa. Taj Mahal. Space needle. World Trade Center. Broadway. Eiffel tower. Big Ben. Burj al arab. Check them out. Make the time, pay the money. See some sports. Make a checklist of how many hockey stadiums you visit. Try an NBA, NFL and MLB game. It’ll give you something to look forward to, and it also helps recruiting other colleagues in your company that should get out more and meet customers/partners – but are too afraid to travel or think it’s too disruptive. After a while, you’ll start to cocoon. “I’ve seen it all” – you’ll think. You need to broaden your horizons. Before long, you’ll have friends smattered around the country side, set up some time to see them. Find new restaurants, go to places you otherwise would not (Japanese gardens? WHY NOT?!) If it’s always about the grind, you’ll burn out in no time. Don’t be that burnt out air rage guy getting angry at a check-in agent for some random reason. Look as forward to where you’re going as you do to coming home.
You can balance travel and a family. You may think that once you have a family, you’re done. But in fact, it can be well balanced. Some of the best road warriors you know will also be the best parents you know. If you do it right, your significant other will look at you funny if you’ve been home for more than 3 weeks and ask hinting questions like “so, when is your next trip again?” The key is to focus on scheduling. You can actually leave Ottawa on a Tuesday morning and hit the opening keynote of a conference in California, if you time the flights right (book far in advance). You can work right through early afternoon on the west coast, and be back on the east coast by midnight – in time to see your kids in the morning. You can even do this without flying red-eyes.
It’s worth it to keep up on gadgets. I know you look around and see most people reading books made of paper, but trust me that in 15 years this will seem almost odd. In the meantime, keep up with the flow of gadgets – it will make being stuck on a plane entirely bearable. Get a PSP when they come out, they play content quite well and the games aren’t bad. This will hold you over until “smart phones” are invented (and no, your Samsung a600 is *not* a smart phone). Get an MP3 player. Get a rocking smart phone as soon as you can. You may try to resist Apple for a while, but trust me – the heroin they provide is ultimately good stuff. Get on it as soon as you can and enjoy virtually all the content you can muster while people around you watch yet another Will Farrell movie. Get a “tablet” when they’re invented. You’ll know it when it happens. Your budget should average about $500 a year for devices and content. When you meet Ms. Right, assure her that all your gadgets are necessary for your career.
Gadgets need content – old TV series are like time travel machines. Six feet under – Best. Series. Ever. Best. Finale Ever. That series has about 20 trans-continentals worth of content. Sopranos are good. Dexter is OK, but it blows in season 5, so stop after 4. The Wire, Breaking Bad, The IT Crowd, Black Adder, Mad Men are all awesome. Get the highly rated episodes of Top Gear. Actually, just get all the episodes of Top Gear. Time will fly. You won’t even notice the screaming baby in 23D.