What’s the independent business traveler’s worst enemy? It’s not hotel Wi-Fi. It’s Radio Shack. Have you seen how much they charge for a micro-usb cable? Twenty bucks. Same cable at monoprice? About a dollar.
Forgetting simple things like power bricks and phone adapters is one of the most frustrating side effects about business travel. Often the frustration doesn’t even come from the inconvenience – it’s always nice to have a backup phone charger – the problem comes when the charger is four times the cost that it should be. Case in point? That combo meal at the Burger King in LAX isn’t supposed to be $12. Captive audiences breed captive prices.
It’s happened to all of us, but there are a few ways around the frustrations of shopping on the road.
If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s always handy to check the lost and found. Travelers leave all sorts of things behind, and according to the Sheraton staff in Philadelphia, what’s not picked up at lost and found gets donated or distributed among the workers. It’s not just electrical widgets either. Lost contact lens case? Forgot your tennis shoes? Check downstairs. And in case you have any issues with stealing something that might eventually be claimed, you can always bring it back.Airport and airline lost and found is also a great place to find lost trinkets, just bear in mind that most repositories are outside of security, so arrive early and with plenty of patience.
If you’re hell bent on buying your replacement though, make sure to stay away from chain stores like Radio Shack or even Best Buy. Discount box stores like Marshalls and TJ Max are a great alternative source of small electronics. The headphones that I picked up in the San Juan Marshalls last Saturday for $5.99 were $14 cheaper than the ones at the airport – and the quality was just the same.
It’s also a decent idea to keep an eye out for a local Salvation Army or Goodwill, similar in concept to the discount box store but with a more random, used assortment of goods.
Not interested in making the capital investment? It’s easier than you think to rent a wide range of electronics while in transit. Cameras are a great example. Here in Chicago you can walk into a Calumet Photo and walk out with either lenses or a full rig for shooting all weekend. In New York there’s Adorama. Online, you can even use lensrentals. And the costs are fairly modest. For a five-day rental of a $1600 16-35mm Canon Lens over Labor Day, I only had to shell out $100. Shipping was included.
But what if you’re stuck in meetings all day? There are actually a few neat services that will outsource your shopping. Zaarly is a great example. Need a new power supply? Post a note in Zaarly asking for someone to pick up your electronics at the local best buy, shell out the cash and offer an extra ten bucks to have it delivered. There’s a decent chance that some poor college student is willing to help out for the beer money. Barring the new fancy Zaarly, Craigslist is always a backup.
[Flickr image via Magic Madzik]