Five ways London will drive American business travelers nuts

On my recent trip to London, I was asked frequently if it was my first time I didn’t quite know how to answer, as I’d spent a day wandering the city in 2008 before schlepping out to East Anglia. Instead of yes-with-a-but or no-with-an-except, I settled on kinda and used that as bait to give an explanation nobody really cared about.

Why is this important?

Subtlety matters in London, and for business travelers, time is of the essence. Fail to handle the former properly, and you will lose on the latter. Had I said I’d been to London while asking for directions, for example, the outcome would have been much different (I’d not have gotten sufficient detail). But, I remembered just enough to be dangerous.

London can be a tricky city for the white collar travel set, largely because it’s more different from what you see in the United States, given the shared language and history. Going to London on business? Here are five things that will tangle with your corporate yankee sensibilities:

1. They drive on the other side of the road: I know; I know – this is perfectly obvious, and you should know about it already. Here’s the problem, though: I’ve spent the last three decades looking or traffic on the right side of the road. Old habits die hard. Combine this with jaywalking (a New York necessity), and the results can be unpleasant. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but after several close calls, it becomes annoying.

2. Cold toilet seats: no explanation needed.

3. Hopstop FAIL: I love Hoptstop in New York, but it just doesn’t measure up in London. Too many streets are missing. Usually, getting “close enough” is fine, except when close enough points you in the wrong direction … when you’re on your way to a business meeting. I quickly gave up on Hopstop and started carrying a paper map.

4. Late-night dining FAIL: It seems like London hates to eat after 10 PM. I worked late several nights on my last trip and found myself needing dinner after 11 PM. There just wasn’t much. If you’re in London on business, feed yourself and your team early if you have an all-nighter forming … and stock up for the early hours of the morning.

5. Nobody knows where anything is: I grew up in the Boston area, so I’ve been through this before: these tiny, crazy little streets are difficult to navigate, and the comfort of the Manhattan grid is nowhere to be found. Everything makes sense if you know where to look. But, it takes targeted knowledge to help a lost American businessman, and I mostly encountered only friendliness and willingness. Give yourself plenty of time to get to that next meeting …

Do airlines care how you’re dressed?

The lists are almost comical. All over the travel web, you’ll find articles about how to scam score an upgrade from an airline, and invariably, one of the items involves attire. If you dress well, the thinking goes, you’ll be treated better, ostensibly because airline employees judge books by their covers. But, does it really work?

There are a lot of variables that are much more important than attire, such as whether you have elite status. So, it’s a bit much, it feels, to over-value clothing. Further, procedural constraints deemphasize the role of how you’re dressed in your general treatment by airline employees.

I’ve been fed the “well-dressed” story since I started flying frequently on business more than a decade ago. I never really bought it, though, as treatment was almost always obscured either by my temper or my status.

But, that’s all different now.

I no longer have the coveted “platinum” tag, and I’m starting to fly fairly frequently again. In the past month, I’ve been on four international flights, and I’ve learned … just what you’d expect. Treatment may be a hair better if you’re sartorially splendid, but all things rarely are equal enough to make a real call on this.

Here’s what I wore (and what I saw):1. Jeans and a respectable button-down shirt: This is what I wear to work every day, and it’s good enough for my employer. So, if it works for the people who pay me, it should be good enough for the airlines I pay, right?

Ummmmm … yes, actually.

I was treated about as well as can be by an airline (without elite status or a first-class ticket). I get neither more nor less than I had coming to me. Truth be told, the flight attendants were friendly and accommodating. Though I wasn’t dressed like an executive, I held myself like one, and that seemed to get the job done.

2. Jeans and a Gadling shirt: Nobody gave a damn that I write for one of the largest travel blogs on the web (which was perfectly fine with me, frankly). So, for all of you who think we get special treatment when we’re recognized … we’re not recognized (at least I’m not). And, the fact that I was dressed down made no noticeable difference.

3. The full uniform: As I write this, I’m wearing a suit, tie and horribly uncomfortable shiny shoes. I arrived at the airport from the Toronto Stock Exchange, where I rang the opening bell with IR magazine. I was all business – and looked it and felt it. According to the conventional wisdom, the airline should have upgraded me to first class and kicked everyone else out, right?

So, what happened?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

I was treated as I was when clad in my Gadling shirt and my button-down and jeans. The fact that the jacket matched the pants added nothing to the equation.

[photo courtesy of Inside Investor Relations]

Five good reasons to screw up your frequent flier mile strategy

There isn’t much that’s precious to a business traveler (except time off the road) – at least not that you can touch. Maybe that’s why road warriors find frequent flier miles to be so important. They are at once a visible reward for suffering the slings and arrows of business travel, an indicator of class in an implicitly hierarchical community and a ticket to leisure travel later. If they accumulate in one place, they can become pretty useful … which is why they white collar travel folks make the flying decisions they do.

Mileage balances can influence decisions about airlines, flight times and payment methods. They can make a three-hour layover seem worthwhile. They can lead to absurd decisions which, at the moment of purchase, appear to be completely rational.

So, when decisions that run counter to this mileage-accumulation philosophy become necessary, the questions from other business travelers can be swift and judgmental. For the past two years, my miles have landed all over the place, and now that business travel is again a part of my life, that trend seems likely to continue – a prospect that would have horrified me back in 2002.

Why the change of heart? Here are five reasons I’ve abandoned the traditional business traveler’s frequent flier mileage strategy:1. Business comes first: if I can maximize my time at my destination, get better flights or use a more convenient airport, I get more out of my trip (from a business perspective). That’s what matters most to me. Period.

2. Status benefits really aren’t worth it: the time and discomfort associated with adjusting my schedule to accumulate miles, I’ve found, is ultimately more painful than flying coach from New York to London on a crowded flight. The eventual upgrade cure is far worse than the inconvenient and uncomfortable air travel disease.

3. Price matters: nothing is more important than getting to the right place at the right time, but price comes next. Travel expenses aren’t like billable hours or closed deals: they don’t benefit me or my business. Is it really worth paying extra to score some extra miles?

4. Stress sucks: after business objectives and price, I tend to value the path of least resistance. Working on the road is hard enough: making it worse to attain platinum status sooner isn’t sufficient reward for the necessary sacrifices.

5. Loyalty shouldn’t be displaced: obviously, frequent flier programs are brand loyalty plays. Like other business travelers, though, I have other loyalty considerations, such as my business and the people important to me back home. Some things are more important than early boarding.

The Gadling gift guide for the business traveler

The business traveler is a hard one to shop for – you don’t want to give them something that will make them have to work harder, but you also want to be sure you give them something “cutting edge”. So, we’ve collected a sample of some of the best business travel friendly products on the market.

If you need other ideas, check out our gift guide for the iPad/iPhone owner.

Toshiba Portege R705 ultra-portable notebook

Unless your office supplies you with a corporate laptop, you’ll be on your own when it comes to shopping around for the perfect machine. As far as we are concerned, perfect is how we describe the Toshiba Portege R705. At a tad over three pounds, this machines has it all – built in optical drive, HDMI, VGA, plenty of storage space, eSATA expansion port and impressive battery life. Combine this with a price tag under $1000, and you’ll understand why we like it so much. The R705 lineup includes all kinds of combinations – including models with a fingerprint reader and processors options up to an Intel i7.

Price: from $899

Product page: Toshiba Portege R705

Gadling review

iDapt charging kit

Traveling with more than one gadget? the IDAPT line of device chargers can take care of all your needs in a single product. With a variety of charger plugs, this product can be placed on a desk, and just one outlet, you’ll have all your gadgets at 100% before you know it.

Price: from $34.99

Product page: IDAPT


Ever been on a trip only to discover that you forgot to copy a really important file to your laptop? Pogoplug could be the one product you need to fix that for good. Plug the Pogoplug into your network (or let it connect to Wi-Fi), attach a storage device, and you instantly create a network storage system that can be reached anywhere in the world. Access can be gained through a browser, desktop software or one of the various mobile clients.

Price: $99.99

Product page: Pogoplug

Sewell VGA adapter

Got a laptop without a regular video output? The Sewell VGA to TV adapter can turn your VGA signal into a normal composite signal, which means you can then watch Netflix movies or PowerPoint presentations on the old hotel TV.

Price: $34.95

Product page: Sewell Direct

Gadling review

Black Box retractable cable kit

With six different laptop cables and accessories in a single kit, the Black Box retractable cable kit has everything you need to be a real efficient road warrior. Includes USB and Ethernet cables, a retractable power cord, headphones, LED light and an optical mouse.

Price: $38.95

Product page: Black Box

Gadling review

Pelican 1510LOC rugged overnight laptop case

Scared of the airlines breaking your laptop or other gadgets? Teach them a lesson with the Pelican 1510 rugged overnight laptop case. When your luggage has its own “pressure relief valve”, you just know you are dealing with something special. If you are concerned about its strength, just remember that the U.S. Military trusts these cases with their weapons.

Price: $200

Product page: Pelican cases

Briggs & Riley BRX line

Looking for some budget friendly luggage that doesn’t scream “PowerPoint presentation master”? The BRX line from Briggs & Riley has it all – great looks, rugged frame and tons of internal storage space. Plus, because the top isn’t rigid, it’ll expand nicely.

Price: from $160

Product page: Briggs & Riley BRX line

Gogo Inflight Internet 6-pack

What better product to treat the road warrior to than the ability to get even more work done inflight! Of course, inflight Internet access through Gogo Inflight doesn’t always have to involve work – just don’t tell the boss.

Price: $49.95

Product page: Gogo Inflight pricing options

Gadling review

[Photo from Flickr/Peterbartsch]

Jawbone ICON headset

Lets face it; business travelers love their Bluetooth headsets. Anyone that has sat at an airport staring at all the people walking by will know how important the headset is in the road warrior arsenal. So, if you are going to wear a headset, at least let it be a decent one. One great contender? The Jawbone ICON headset. Besides fantastic sound quality, the ICON also supports Jawbone apps and different voices for text to speech.

Price: $99

Product page: Jawbone

Gadling review

Balanzza Mini luggage scale

Sooner or later, even the best packer will need to hand their bag over to the airline to be checked in the luggage hold. For these times, a portable luggage scale could mean the difference between just under, or just overweight. And sadly, overweight means costly charges. The Balanzza can weigh bags up to 100lbs and hooks to almost any piece of luggage.

Price: $24.95

Product page: Balanzza

Gadling review

Wilson Electronics MobilePro signal booster

Being stuck in a bad hotel for a business trip is no fun, but things get worse when you are stuck somewhere with little to no signal. Suddenly, you are not just physically in the middle of nowhere, and when your Blackberry displays “no signal”, you’ll be in for a long stay. Thankfully, the MobilePro signal booster kit by Wilson Electronics can turn any dead zone into a 5-bar location. Its internal antenna picks up your signal, and boosts it to a magnet mounted antenna outdoors.

Price: From $184.99

Product page: Wilson Electronics

Gadling review

Livescribe Echo Smartpen

If the switch to “all digital” hasn’t made you any more efficient, consider the Livescribe Smartpen. This pen records your writing, and records audio in meetings or more. Best of all, the pen can be outfitted with handy pen based apps. Once written, you can transfer writing and recordings to your computer, or send them out on the web to Livescribe or Evernote.

Price: from $149.95

Product page: Livescribe store

The Art of Shaving travel kit

Just because you are on a business doesn’t mean you can’t pamper yourself a little. The Art of Shaving kit contains everything you need for a professional style wet shave, plus a stainless steel Gillette razor.

Price: $150

Product page: The Art of Shaving

Gadling review

AAXA M2 portable projector

During the day, you can give presentations, and at night, you can use this projector to watch a movie. The AAXA technologies M2 portable projector is one of the best on the market, with a 100 lumen LED lamp, hi-def resolution, HDMI input and a built in 1GB media player, things don’t get more compact or more entertaining. But the best part? Its insanely low price!

Price: $369

Product page: AAXA Technologies

AVIIQ laptop stand

Not many travel products can claim German engineered hybrid composite materials and “lightest in the world” in a single product. But the AVIIQ laptop stand does work hard to justify its $79.95 price tag. When not in use, this laptop stand folds up into a neat little package and unfolds into a full size ultra-light stand.

Price: $79.95

Product page: AVIIQ Laptop stand

Gadling review