Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

ToolieTravelBlog: Business Travel, Social Media, and Privacy

It's a absolutely brilliant day here in Seattle: blue skies, puffy clouds and a brisk 53 degrees. Spring has sprung and my thoughts turn to the skies as I'm refurbishing my speaking website. The work is not done, but it will be shortly, and I will talk about it next month.

One of the features of my new website is a listing of my speaking engagements that is pulled from my speaking business management tool. I like that I can enter the data once and display it for prospective buyers. I will also reinstall my TripIt badge when everything is in place.

But my "spidey-sense" tingles when I think about advertising that I am going to be away from home. I am fortunate that McAlister is here working at home in the studio nearly all the time, but I think about the many ways in which we expose our public and private activities online these days: Facebook, Twitter; less so on LinkedIn. Now I'm adding my business travels to a website that can be seen globally. I still think that the networking opportunities outweigh the risks, but I thought I'd go over ways to protect yourself from prying eyes.

Limit the Details of Your Private Life

If you've spent any time on our around Facebook and you keep up with current events, you've probably heard about the young person who decided to call in sick to work, then talked about their activities that day on Facebook. They never considered that the boss might know about their Facebook profile and keep track of what his employees might be doing. The boss found out, and the employee was fired.

While I enjoy sharing some personal details of my life (everyone knows how MUCH I adore McAlister), I am careful to keep specifics out of my Facebook entries and Twitter Tweets. I'm involved with these entities for business purposes, so that helps sort out what I'm willing to share online.

Don't Use Your Home Address for Your Home-Based Business

When I worked at Microsoft, I had the anonymity that working for a big company provided. Unless I gave out my direct phone line, all calls were routed through the main switchboard (later a call routing system), and the AmEx bills went to the Microsoft billing department. By the time I went out on my own, I had established a business address and a business credit card whose bills did not go to my home. I've been using a PO Box for my address for the last 25 years, so I am accustomed to having control over my mailing address. Yes it's sometimes inconvenient to have to go to the Post Office, but it's a choice well worth making, in my opinion.

Have Your Address Removed from the Land Line Listing

If you still have a land line to the house (many people don't anymore), have the address removed from your phone company listing. It's surprising how many people don't realize that websites like have your home phone address listed right there online. While I might allow a home phone number to remain listed (I don't), when it was, I had the phone company withhold the address.

As an online marketer with a company that owns 85 domain names, I also use private registration for what is otherwise a public listing. Domain registration information is public unless you specifically make it private (an additional fee). I've worked with clients who register domain names using a personal credit card, who later realized that their home address was listed for everyone to see. We quickly remedied the situation, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.

Route Home Phone Calls to Your Skype Account

This is a tactic I started using when I was traveling internationally because of aging parents. Only my parents and siblings have my home number, and that way I would be able to stay connected inexpensively.

I purchased a Skype phone number, and paid 75 cents a month to automatically forward my home phone to my Skype voicemail after a certain number of rings. If I was online at my computer, I could take the call, and the caller had no idea where I was in the world. If I was away from the computer, they would get voicemail anyway, but at least they weren't waiting for 2 weeks for me to return a call. It gave the illusion that I was nearby at least, and it was comforting to me to be available to my family.

Stop Your Home Mail Delivery

It's easier than ever to arrange for your mail to be held. You can go to the US Postal Service website (for example) and enter the request online:

You can specify both the start and end dates of the hold, and you'll receive a confirmation by email.

Employ a Security System

Not everyone needs to add a sophisticated security system to their home, but for some this may be a sensible decision. If you live alone and travel a lot, you may not have any other reasonable choice.

My favorite form of security is the neighborhood watch. Until I moved to Seattle I never knew my neighbors. I was always away, or lived in rental neighborhoods where people came and went frequently. Now that I own a home, I notice much more readily the cars that are parked on my street, the stranger on foot who is lurking with no apparent reason to be present.

I still don't know my neighbors as well as I should, but I am much more aware of my surroundings. We have exchanged phone numbers, and we look out for each other. I'll never forget the first time I received a call from the neighbor across the street, who called me at work to tell me that I had left my garage door open when I left for the day. I was so thankful, I sent her a bouquet of flowers!

Here's hoping you have someone looking out for you when you're away! If not, go meet your neighbors and join the watch!
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ToolieTravelBlog: A Survival Pack for Bad Weather Travel

While the Puget Sound region of Washington State has been spared most of the bad weather this year, the rest of the United States has been hit hard by snowstorm after snowstorm. I heard from a client today that his Eastern Pennsylvania home has 6-foot icicles hanging from the roofline, and that they've received 75 inches of snow.

Seattle had two bad years of snow in a row, and though I grew up in the Midwest and learned to drive in snow, because of our hilly neighborhood, we were housebound more than once. Cabin fever is bad enough at home, but it is really, really awful if you're stuck in an airport.

As business travelers, bad weather is often nipping at our travel plans. Having good "travel intel" on your destination is a must, and having some kind of backup plan is equally important.

But if, God forbid, you must travel in less than optimal weather, here are some suggestions for a light-weight travel pack containing items that might help you endure confinement in a snowed-in airport.

* Medications and Toiletries

Those who depend on medications on an ongoing basis are usually prepared with an extra dose stashed in pocket or purse. One way you can do that is will a "metal pill fob" that goes on your keychain. I have to say that this sometimes invites curiosity on the part of TSA, but if you open it and show them the pills, they're satisfied. I found one here on

It's bigger than average for those of you having to take big pills as well as lots of them.

One thing I've discovered over years of international travel is that bags go on their own adventures sometimes. The one thing I've never found in an airline-supplied toiletries kit is antiperspirant or deoderant. So I tuck a travel-size stick deoderant in my carry-on bag just in case. The rest I can get in an airline kit, or do without.

* Food and Water

I never seem to get stuck where there's plenty of food; it's always late at night or early in the morning. I keep 1 or 2 food bars in my carry-on bag to tide me over. I've also discovered that I like a particular brand of trail mix when traveling, so I pick up a bag whenever I can find it. Here are my favorite food bars:

Amazon Fresh delivers groceries in the Seattle area, but you can get Clif bars in most grocery stores across the USA.

Years ago I came across the Platypus water bottles. They're made here in the Northwest. Now that you can't carry beverages through security, it really make sense to get a Platypus water bottle because it will roll up for easy storage. It's also tough enough to either boil or freeze, so that's handy!

* Alarm Clock and Cable Lock

This one has been the bain of my existence. I'm not a good at napping without someone or something to wake me up in time. I have often wished I could nap in an airport waiting room, but I never seem to have an alarm clock with me! I looked at the Magellan's site and they say that this little analog clock has one of their loudest alarms. I'd check it out!

My other fear about falling asleep is that my bags might leave without me. So here's a page of locks from the Magellan's site. You could use the luggage strap to tie your bags to your arm so that you'd wake if someone tried to mess with them.

* Extra Cell Phone or PDA batteries or Rechargers AND a Splitter

It goes without saying that having a recharger you can use to keep your electronics going is a necessity anytime. But if you're stuck in an airport with other business travelers, those outlets are going to be VERY busy. I suggest carrying also a 3-outlet adapter so that you can SHARE your power with others!

* Lightweight Wrap or Mini-Blanket and Pillow

So far everything I've mentioned is pretty small and could be added to your arsenal without much effort. This last category is where things get interesting. If you're traveling with a heavy coat, then you don't really need to carry a blanket, but having a lightweight blanket might be nice if you want to lay on the terminal floor to nap. I know, eeewww, however, if that's your only chance to sleep, it might make sense to carry a travel blanket and pillow during bad weather travel.

This one seems to be pretty handy. I already carry a Bucky Mini- Pillow, so I'd be looking at a blanket to round out the survival pack.
Wrap all of this up in the container of your choice from, and you've got a kit that will serve you well if you're stuck in an airport overnight.

Here's hoping you never have to...!
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ToolieTravelBlog: 2009/2010 Tech Travel Gadgets Turn Heads

Technology, like business travelers, never sits still. The Consumer Electronics Show just recently concluded in Las Vegas. I've never had the opportunity to attend (when I was at Microsoft, I managed to NOT have to work a booth there, sparing my voice), but I think I'd like to try visiting the show. It's the biggest electronics show of the year, spanning multiple venues, so you'd better have some comfortable shoes and no fear of crowds if you plan to attend.

When I went trolling through lists of travel gadgets written by others summarizing last year's best as well as those who did attend CES, I spotted some gadgets that I, as a business traveler, would love to get my hands on. They may appeal to you as well!

* LiveScribe Pulse SmartPen ~

The Pulse SmartPen can record your handwriting and corresponding audio (think note-taking in a lecture) and let you upload it to your computer for storage and analysis. I'd seen reports on this device previously, but in the last few months they've expanded their line and supporting accessories. The SmartPen is yet another attempt to merge handwriting and computing, and depending on your particular interest, can be a real boon to making that connection.

Personally, I can type way way faster than I can hand-write, so for me having a device like this would be less of a priority than having a second, ultra-portable notebook for my traveling and speaking. BUT I do like to hand-write my notes when I'm brainstorming. I'm a regular at my local Red Robin restaurant, where the manager there knows I come to "make lists." In that situation I don't bring my laptop; I bring pen and paper. If I had a SmartPen, I wouldn't be re-typing my hand- written notes, I'd just be storing them on my computer. Bye-bye randomly scribbled notes!

* ITV-Vidix Goggles ~

I first experienced wide-screen video in special, wearable, goggles at my dentist's office. She offers your choice of a movie to watch if she's got a procedure to perform on your teeth that lasts over an hour. (Yes Dr. Cindy Pauley of Brookside Dental IS the coolest dentist in the world -- she's here in Bellevue!)

These ITV-Vidix Goggles are un-tethered; you can load your movie into the goggles using a mini-SD card, and watch your movie without worrying about forgetting to unplug your unit when your seat-mate suddenly decides they have to get to the lavatory NOW! You can just leap up from your seat and not break any cables. OK, well, you probably should take them off first, but remember to hit Pause.

* Kodak Zx1 Pocket Video Camera ~ flagged this model in their best of 2009 review of travel gadgets, but I've been hearing about the Kodak line of pocket video cameras from other sources. My Internet video guy, Mike Stewart ( has been testing the high-end model (Zi8) and likes it a lot. In this department Kodak is giving The Flip pocket video cameras a run for their money.

* La Cie Rugged Hard Disk ~

The La Cie brand is very familiar to long-time Macintosh users, but perhaps not as well-known among Windows PC users. I got involved with La Cie drives when my hard drive needs expanded a couple of years back (those thousands of 7MB photos), and now I have a 2-TB and 2 500-GB La Cie drives that are still working! They're both practical and stylish.

The model I want to draw to your attention though is from their Rugged Hard Disk line. What caught my eye is the fact that these are MIL- compliant, which means they've passed very nasty tests set up by the

U. S. Army's Developmental Test Command to gauge how well a device will perform under extreme conditions. Now as much as I love traveling, I tend to be tough on my electronics, so I look for ratings like this on the gear I buy. Time Magazine's Best Travel Gear of 2009 list mentioned the La Cie Rugged Hard Drive because of this particular compliance. That works for me!

* Vue Personal Video Network ~

Travel + Leisure Magazine put this set of devices on their Best of CES 2010 list, and I have to agree. Several years ago I put in a Panasonic network camera in my office that I can use if I log into my home domain. I use it to observe my printer when printing to it while I'm away -- making sure the pages actually print out. Sometimes I check the door to the studio to see if McAlister is up before I call from overseas, so that I don't wake him up unnecessarily. (As an artist he keeps unpredictable hours, so I try not to mess with that.)

This video network is wireless, and you can set up those simple cameras in any room in the house. My interest though is in having a camera pointed at the front porch. When the doorbell rings, I want to make sure that it's the UPS guy waiting for a signature for my package, not someone ringing the bell and then leaving before I can get to the door.

* Optoma PK102 Pocket Projector ~

I want one of these tiny projectors for my travels. We have a wonderfully bright but small NEC projector that is half the size of a laptop which I plan to use for my presentations, but I'd love to have this projector for use one-on-one with clients or in committee meetings. Time Magazine's Best Travel Gadgets of 2009 flagged its sibling PK101 as one of the best travel gadgets last year, but the newer model PK102 has my attention. This model can hook up to a laptop and project a reasonably sized image. It has a good contrast ratio, long battery life, and 100% NTSC Color Gamut support. I'd be thrilled just to be able to project the movies running on my laptop onto my hotel room walls for more comfortable viewing!

What gadgets have you seen lately? Send your suggestions along and I will share them in future newsletters. Have fun shopping!
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ToolieTravelBlog: Putting My Mass Transit Travel Theory to the Test

I've been able to travel more miles than I expected this year -- not as many as I would like, but enough to keep me on United's Premier list. Almost. I needed 25,000 miles; I had 22,908. In years past, if you were close enough to the next membership level, United would allow you to "buy" Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) so that you would continue to enjoy those benefits: the shorter line for check-in, a better chance at upgrades, and so on.

For some inexplicable reason, United decided not to offer that option this year. I had been counting on it. I had set some money aside to buy those miles. Hey, this year it wouldn't cost much because I was so close to my goal. Here it was mid-December, and what was I going to do? I need to fly about 2100 miles to make up the shortfall before December 31st. Yikes! The alternative was unacceptable though; not making Premier would make next year's travel far less bearable. I had to try.

After loudly expressing my dismay to the birds at the feeder outside my window, I began calculating how far I had to travel to close the gap, and it turned out that if I could fly from Seattle to San Diego and back, that would be enough. The thought of even a few hours of warm sunshine in the middle of winter was enough to make me carve out a day's time buy the ticket. Perfect, I thought, here's a chance to apply last month's principles to this short trip: I would use as much Mass Transit as I could while I was gone.

Mass Transit at Home

Search engines can be a traveler's best friend if you know how to combine your keywords. I started with Seattle's Central Link Light Rail website. The Central Link only runs from downtown Seattle to the Airport; it won't reach the Eastside where I live for at least another 2 years. If I was going to take the light rail connection, I would have to have McAlister take me downtown.

I look through the choices of stops I had for catching the train, and the International District station seemed to be the easiest one to use. Here's where Google's satellite photo overlay of the street map is invaluable ( I checked 2 other possible stations, but it was difficult to tell whether the streets running next to those stations permitted cars to use them. Seattle designates some streets for busses only during certain parts of the day, and without scouting those two stations in person, it was hard to tell whether we could get close to the station without getting a ticket. At the International Station, McAlister would be able to pull up to the curb, I could jump out and roll my bags down to the escalator. Perfect!

For once my plane wasn't leaving at 6 am. Instead I was scheduled for an almost-humane 7:45 am flight. If I caught the 5:44 am train, I would be at the Airport by 6:15 pm or so. The final leg of that light rail line opened December 19th (on schedule) to the delight of Seattle passengers bound for their holiday travel. Some complained that it was a bit of a hike from the station to the check-in desk, but in truth, the distance is about average for light rail/airport connections. I printed the light rail schedule from the website.

Using Mass Transit in San Diego

I started by looking for the San Diego Airport website. I don't use the regular Google search box (, I use the Advanced Search page. In fact, I set that as my browser's home page. I typed the phrase "San Diego International Airport" into the second box on the Google Advanced Search page (same as using quotes in the regular box), and along with a few third-party sites, the official airport website was listed.

Airports are businesses too. They're interested in making it easy for you to get to there, so they tend to be proactive in providing information about all forms of inbound and outbound transit. I read through the Ground Transportation page and discovered to my delight that bus 992 runs from the airport right into downtown San Diego on a 40 minute loop. For a mere $2.25 each way, I could sneak into town, visit Horton Plaza (their big downtown mall) or head over to the Central Public Library and find a work table and free WiFi. The library was just 3 blocks from the farthest point on the route; a reasonable distance to walk with my laptop roller bag.

I printed the map of the route, the timetable, and the fare information from the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System website, put everything into my usual travel folder along with my flight itinerary, and went back to work on my client's website.

The night before my trip, I re-checked the paperwork and printed a pocket-sized reference for Bus 992 that I had missed the first time. Otherwise, I was good to go. It was only going to be a day trip, but I had my route firmly in mind so that I would be confident when I stepped off the plane. I also found airport terminal maps and discovered that Bus 992 stopped right in front of the United check-in desk, so when I got off the plane I would be only a few steps away from the bus stop.

Staying Flexible When Reality Sets In

I haven't been sick in over a year. There are some real advantages to working out of your house, and staying clear of most situations where you might pick up "a bug" is one of them. But I had occasion to spend 5 hours in a client's office, and somewhere during that time I acquired the makings of what turned out to be a nasty cold. In fact, my dear client caught the same cold, so I have concluded that the building was the source of the problem. Anyway, 2 days before my flight, I was walking around with a fog in my head. Ouch. Anyone who has flown with a stuffy nose knows the excruciating pain of takeoffs and landings. And I was about to enjoy 4 of them in one day.

Ow ow ow....

I wasn't about to cancel the trip (tick tock tick tock) so I pulled out my magic remedies. Fortunately by the time my travel day arrived, I was in pretty good shape. I did opt not to try to take the Central Link Light Rail to the Airport, which meant I got a few more minutes' sleep. I was also trying to conserve my energy. My newly acquired ORCA transit card would just have to wait until next time.

When we landed in San Diego, I was sad to see the same clouds and light rain I had left behind in Seattle. So much for claiming some sunshine. I did find the bus stop, and with my fare in hand, I waited patiently for the bus to appear.

According to the schedule it was due every 15 minutes. For some inexplicable reason, it appeared more than 30 minutes later. One of the passengers waiting with me said that she'd never had to wait that long for the bus. Once it appeared, the bus stopped once at the commuter terminal, and twice at Terminals 1 and 2. By the time we got to the last stop, the bus was so full that every square inch of seating and aisle space contained either a human being or their luggage. One of the passengers later told me that he had never seen it that full. Something was up. What had I missed?

When Bad Things Happen to Good Mass Transit

San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System has been rated as one of the best in the country, a fact they proudly proclaim on the side of the bus. Unlike light rail, busses are subject to traffic conditions on the streets. While they move expeditiously through traffic, if everyone else is stuck, they are too.

When we left the airport (which is land-locked anyway), there was a huge traffic block coming out of the area. I'm not a sports nut, what do I know? Turns out there was a big football game at 5 pm that day, and people were either in rental cars heading for the nearest freeway access point in the area, or on the bus with me, heading to the best spot to catch San Diego's light rail connection to the Stadium. I should know better; I've gotten caught in Seattle's football and baseball traffic on more than one occasion. Note to self: check the community calendar before deciding that I can depend on mass transit to get around.

Also, the same reason I had chosen this particular day to travel was the same reason everyone else had chosen to travel. It was a low-fare day situated between two big holidays, but not close enough to either to be useful to travelers extending their weekends. So every plane I boarded was stuff to the gills, and the bus I boarded was also full.

Still, I was optimistic that my plan to make my way to the downtown library was possible. As always when doing this kind of research, I had my stopwatch on a lanyard around my neck. The minutes ticked away, and I decided that prudence was warranted. Plus I noticed a favorite lunch provider along the route, and decided to get off with everyone else in the center of town. I had studied my bus route enough to know that the return boarding location was just across the street. I grabbed a hasty lunch, and headed back to wait for the bus.

Once again, the bus did not appear at the appointed time. I was glad I had decided to opt out of the side trip to the Library in favor of getting back to the airport. Since I was on a one-day trip, I was committed to not missing that departing flight back home.

Again, You Need Plan B

This was not a critical trip; other than my research for this newsletter, my world would not come apart if I didn't get to the Library. But it was a good reminder that a solid secondary plan is always a good idea when your travel IS critical. And we as business travelers are always on a "critical path" to our destination. I am not deterred from recommending that you use mass transit whenever you can. But as always, you can benefit from my cautionary tale.
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ToolieTravelBlog: Airlines, Publishing, and Hong Kong

Below is information of interest to business travelers.

Magazine Publisher Finds Profit in Airlines
The airline and magazine industries are struggling, but British publisher Ink is profiting by combining the two.

Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in the world, so of course I had to share this with you!

After Hours: Hong Kong
In the evening, it's easy to find relief from Hong Kong's madness with green trails, a sparkling harbour and swanky bars and restaurants all close by.

Enjoy your trip!

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