Vacation Email Tips and more

email-travel-settingsI have traveled a fair bit both for business and pleasure and thought I would share some tips, observations and advice for others who like to or have to travel. I was a corporate slave for many years, working for powerhouse Fortune 50 companies on the East coast. I have also worked for start-ups in the Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 worlds. I even took a year off with my wife to travel Southeast Asia and India in 2003. So among all these experiences I’ve traveled quite a bit, both for business and pleasure.

As a corporate worker, most companies have standardized on using Outlook as their email client of choice. I actually grew to hate Outlook, with its bloated application structure and archaic archiving system. I much prefer a webmail solution when traveling, and this approach allows you to avoid messing with the SMTP settings or servers you often encounter when trying to use Outlook on the road.

If your company insists on using Outlook, and your IT staff is clever, they can set up the POP3 server for Outlook using a webmail solution like Gmail. That way you won’t have to mess with the outgoing SMTP server name when you’re traveling. If you are still stuck with a dedicated email server, you will have to find and change your SMTP server settings when you travel. See other blog posts on this site for reliable global mail servers to accomplish this task.

If you’re able to use a smartphone to check mail through a webmail interface, that’s the best solution of all. Just remember to set up your mail client so when mail is read through webmail, the same status is passed on to your mail client.

How to pack? Of course this advice is different whether you’re traveling on business or pleasure. For business, I prefered a garment bag because it fit nicely in the overhead compartment, and kept dress shirts and suits relatively wrinkle-free. Make sure to keep clothes in plastic dry cleaner bags before packing. This can go a long way towards reducing wrinkles. Either way, you will have to iron before dressing, so make sure your ironing skills are up to par. And, don’t iron your suit!

With the new airport security rules limiting liquids to 3 oz., you need to be sure you’ve got travel sizes of all the items you need. Consider using shaving soap instead of shaving cream. Shaving cream containers take up a big footprint in your 1 quart size allowed ziplock, so opting for shaving soap can free up valuable space. Did you know prescriptions (eyedrops, etc.) are exempt from the quart size bag? You can pack those separately, freeing up more valuable space.

Don’t be afraid to use your briefcase as a supplemental packing device. I like to put all my reading material in my briefcase for easy access, and it frees up my garment bag for other items. I also like to load up on reading material I haven’t gotten to yet on trips. Print out that research study you’ve been meaning to get to, and stuff it in your briefcase for airplane reading.

Avoid using the hotel business center if you can. They’re usually expensive, and you can accomplish the same tasks at a ubiquitous Kinko’s/Fed Ex or the like. Don’t forget your computer’s power supply! I’ve seen this happen to countless coworkers, and more than one has asked the home office to overnight their power supply to the hotel so they can check email. Again, the smartphone has eliminated a lot of this hassle, but I still made it a practice to buy a 2nd power supply for my computer — one for the office that never left — and the other for home and travel situations.

Personal travel is another area to explore. Whether you’re going to a highly Westernized location like the Yucatan Peninsula or a more remote location like the islands of Indonesia, you still need to prepare and plan before packing.

Obviously you can get by with more casual clothes when traveling personally. I usually travel with technical gear like “jungle” pants and shirts, in addition to shorts, and t-shirts. Resist the temptation to overpack. I end up wearing about 50% of what I thought I would wear, so pare down your packing piles before you depart. Wear your heaviest shoes on the airplane and pack the others. This will save you from lugging a super-heavy bag through the airport. If you can get by without bringing your computer, do it. Internet cafes are common throughout the world — you see them much more frequently than in the US. They are also quite inexpensive. This makes it very easy to check email and stay in touch when you are traveling. Get in the habit of putting your important documents, photos and videos in the “cloud”. For example you can put all your photos in Picassa and your MS Office documents in Google Docs. Google Docs has really made using a PC and Windows almost unnecessary. Read all your email through a webmail account like Gmail (no messing with outgoing mail servers, POP3 servers or SMTP server settings) and your photos and videos will be secure and easily accessible. This approach also keeps the risk of theft of your valuable personal property down. Of course, if you need to use an application like Final Cut Pro or CSS you will need a computer. If you’re just checking email or creating and reading personal MS Office documents, the solutions I’ve mentioned will work just fine.

In today’s virtual world, it’s quite possible to work while on vacation. Many self-employed people or business owners are able to live anywhere in the world they want and still keep in touch and up to date on business matters. Again, the smartphone makes this task much easier that in the past, but it can easily be done with a computer and reliable Internet connection, too.

I have heard that making flight reservations is cheapest on Tues. and Wed., as that’s when airlines make their cheapest fares available. Consider making travel reservations then — you might save yourself or your company some money.


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