I can't believe it's the end of November already; the year 2012 has simply flown by (a little business travel humor there).  With just 4 weeks left until Christmas, my thoughts turn to surviving the holiday travel season one more time.

In the USA, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is actually a much more difficult time to travel than in December.  Thanksgiving is a USA- specific holiday that cuts across cultural and religious boundaries.  If you're American, you celebrate Thanksgiving, and that means visiting family.

Nevertheless, there are other priorities that come to a head during December, namely holiday greetings and gift-giving.  Two phenomena have radically changed the process since the time I began traveling for business: 1) the rise of the Internet, and 2) the power and convenience of smart phones.

Shopping via the Internet

In mid-2000 I was still working for Microsoft, and while in Hong Kong on a layover, I paid a visit to Nathan Road in Kowloon, home of neon building signs with greater glitz than any Las Vegas has to offer.  Nathan Road is also the home of more electronics shops than you can hope to find in 1 square mile anywhere else in the world.  I was shopping for a pocket digital camera at the time, and there were several Nikon models available that caught my eye.

Internet shopping was in its infancy at that point, as were high-speed Internet connections in places outside the USA.  As a result, I paid far, FAR too much for the camera I bought.  Had I checked online at the time, I would have realized how overpriced the camera was that I bought.  Thank goodness THOSE wretched days are over.

Now with a few search engine skills, you can find nearly anything you can think of, buy it, and ship it to your recipients with greater ease than we could possibly imagine in the year 2000.

Ratings as Guidance for Shopping

There are a number of online retailers that feature ratings as an essential part of their retail experience.  Amazon.com is one; CNET.com is another.  If you've never paid close attention to the reviews that other buyers have posted, it's time to squint and read before you buy.  Having the ability to post and read ratings has vastly shifted the buying landscape because you have a chance to hear what others think.  Not all online retailers with rating systems have an unbiased system, but it's still worthwhile to pay attention.  Caveat emptor (buyer beware) is answered to a great degree by rating systems.

The flip side of that scenario is that after you buy, you should return to the retailer's site and contribute to the ratings repository.  Give yourself enough time to adequately evaluate and use what you've bought, but do give back to your fellow shoppers by logging onto the site and adding a rating for merchandise you've purchased.

Shopping by SmartPhone

In the last 12 months more of the large retailers have gotten the message that having a mobile-friendly website is not a luxury, it's a necessity.  In case you wondered, I can confirm that making a website mobile-friendly is no easy task, so if your favorite retailer has not yet gotten the message, you'll be doing a lot of zooming and panning on your smart phone.  Tablet devices will probably be a better choice for shopping simply because you can SEE better what you're buying.

Nevertheless, it's feasible now that you can do your shopping and shipping from your phone if you're patient.  Most online retailers offer some kind of gift-wrapping so you can make your selections online and having them do the work of getting it to your loved ones.

The trick here is timing.  We've already passed Cyber Monday (the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend) when most buyers who have pounded the pavement and given up on finding gifts, turn to the Internet to shop.  The difficulty is that there are a precious few weeks for shopping during which shipping using "ground" methods will ensure that your packages arrive on time.  After that, your holiday shopping gets very expensive.  So get going!  Use that time at the gate or on the plane while waiting for push-back from the gate to browse and get your shopping done.

Sending Holiday Greetings on Paper

I know, I know; with the ease of sending e-cards, why would you bother?  Well, there's something to be said for taking time to send paper cards to key contacts on your business mailing list.  Even so, you can personalize and automate the sending of cards with a number of online greeting card websites.

I've been using SendOutCards for the last 5 years, and they just keep getting better.  The card catalog is sizeable now, and their card creator is much more sophisticated than it was when I started.  The quality of their cardstock has always been good, and it's very easy to sit down, compose a card, and send a whole bunch out to family and friends with just a few clicks.  You can even import contacts and retain your list there from year to year.

SendOutCards is a multi-level marketing company of which I am a distributor, though I use it mostly for my own business purposes rather than making my membership in it a business.  Nevertheless, if you'd like to try sending a free card to yourself to check it out, head over to www.tooliecards.com to learn more.

Got a favorite retailer who has served you well during the holidays?  Go to www.ToolieTravelBlog.com and comment there.