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Out-of-Towners

On the road, in the air, in and out of hotels-with the right gear and the best deals, you'll forget that you even have an office.
November 1, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/45278

You know you're a mobile warrior when . . . your laptop case weighs more than your suitcase. Hot syncs are more important than hot showers. You've seen more movies on airplanes than in theaters. You refer to going back to the hotel as "going home." Does that sound like you? Congratulations-you're a fearless-flying, on-the-road, train-hopping, always-connected entrepreneurial mobile warrior.

A business trip should never turn into a business trap, especially when there are now more reliable technology options than ever before. Enhancing your mobile business style is simply a matter of finding the right combination of hardware and services.

Bag It
Gregory Brooks, 42, has a laptop bag stocked and ready to go at all times. The founder of Boca Raton, Florida, Microconsultants travels extensively to meet with clients and work on software designed to manage customer relationships. Whenever he sees a presentation on the horizon, Brooks grabs a laptop and his so-called "road warrior survival kit."

MOBILE WARRIOR CENTER
Visit our expanded Mobile Warrior Center for more resources that will help you make the most of your business trips.

A peek inside his computer case reveals a portable surge protector with a telephone line, various cables and extra CDs and diskettes. "I never know what I'll be faced with when I'm on the road," Brooks says. "I use LapLink so I have a cable in the event I have to transfer data back and forth from one machine to another."

There are bare necessities entrepreneurs must have while on the road, but there are also items that just make traveling easier. Brooks points out one in particular: "Take a pair of portable headphones. I've found if you play a DVD on a plane, the person next to you already hates you for watching your own movie. They don't want to hear it, too."

Stay in Touch

It's not enough to have well-stocked luggage-you've also got to be ready to reach out and touch your office. In Chris Mortonson's line of work, a couple of hours can make or break a deal. The 48-year-old chief sales officer of Chicago enterprise software company Fieldglass Inc. relies on his BlackBerry pager to get e-mail even as he's boarding planes. Visit www.blackberry.net for more information on the company's $399 (all prices street) RIM 950 device, which is designed for mobile professionals. Monthly service fees start at $39.99. And when he's driving, Mortonson always uses a hands-free kit.

Mortonson has found many ways to stay productive while traveling. "I'll use the Internet as a means to catch up during the evening," he says. "Or, if need be, I'll sneak down into the office in the front lobby to connect to a fax line to download e-mail." Of course, 24-hour services like Kinko's and hotels with computer business centers work well as after-hours lifelines to the office and clients.

"If there's one thing every road warrior has in common," says Brooks, "it's the fact that we need to keep in touch with our contacts." That includes clients, employees and management. Brooks recommends using a contact manager like ACT! or Goldmine. He personally uses Multiactive's Maximizer. He keeps versions of the software installed both on his laptop and on his Palm OS Smartphone.

Sometimes, the simplest solutions work best for keeping all your contacts flowing smoothly. Consider installing a voice-mail system at the office that can forward callers or messages to your mobile phone. And make sure your office contacts have the phone and fax numbers for the hotels you'll be staying at during your business travels.

 
ALL PACKED?
 
  • Cell phone charger
  • Connection cables
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra CD-RWs
  • Extra diskettes
  • Headphones
  • Laptop
  • Laptop security cable
  • Mini tool kit
  • Mobile phone
  • PDA
  • Portable surge protector

But just because you're out of the office doesn't mean you can't have real-time face-to-face discussions from hundreds of miles away. Your laptop, a digital camera and a fast Internet connection can get you there from your hotel room. If you've already made the move to Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows NetMeeting software came with it. NetMeeting offers videoconferencing and audioconferencing as well as a shared white-board feature. You supply the microphone, speakers, video capture card and camera.

Another alternative is a hardware device like the $1,200 VCON ViGO Professional. The laptop-ready ViGO weighs less than 5 pounds and hooks up through a USB port-no special video capture card is required. Sites like MeetingOne.com and Umeeting.com can also set you up for Web-based interaction. The ability to share documents and visual aids makes them a big step above the standard phone call.

Image quality and Internet connection issues still make portable videoconferencing better-suited for chatting with employees back at the office or engaging in informal meetings. When it's a matter of dealing with clients and making a strong professional impression, however, you may want to book a videoconferencing room at a local facility. Visit the SAVIE Videoconferencing Atlas for a directory of videoconferencing locations worldwide.

When you want to be prepared for any conference call contingency, turn to a service such as AT&T's TeleConference Services Reservationless Conferencing. When you sign up, you get a dedicated dial-in number and access codes for participants to log in. You're then free to arrange a teleconference anytime, day or night, without having to make a reservation or go through customer service to get there. It's ideal for spur-of-the-moment, on-the-go office meetings or quick contact with clients.

Lastly, always have a backup. Keep hard copies of your itinerary, important contacts and any vital information. It will come in handy when your cell phone dies or your laptop crashes.

Say It With Wireless

When we asked entrepreneurs which gadgets they couldn't live without, they picked cell phones every time. But there's more than one way to go wireless. Though still limited in scope, the wireless Web is starting to make more business sense. Brooks accesses the Web through his Sprint service. He remembers getting lost on a recent trip to New York City. "After asking someone on the street for directions, they sent me 20 blocks out of the way," he remembers. "So I went back to my trusted wireless service and got the information I needed."

MOBILE WARRIOR CENTER
Visit our expanded Mobile Warrior Center for more resources that will help you make the most of your business trips.

AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and other major carriers all offer some version of the wireless Net. The most useful features are directions, restaurant guides, flight information, news and limited e-mail access. Like Brooks, you may find it indispensable. Or, like Mortonson, you may find that surfing around on a tiny screen isn't worth the hassle.

If just a cell phone isn't enough for you, check out the newer wireless computer services. Sierra Wireless offers go-anywhere modems for laptops and PDAs. The convenience is undeniable, but prices can be high. An AirCard 300 wireless WAN card and GoAmerica service package, for example, costs up to $479 for the hardware and $59.95 per month for the connection. And be careful of roaming charges. Visit Sierra's Web site to view its entire line of mobile solutions.

Weighty Issues
Is your ultralight laptop still an ultra pain to haul around? More and more entrepreneurs are shedding bulky computer systems in favor of PDAs. Brooks calls his Kyocera QCP6035 Smartphone a "great road warrior tool." The cell phone/Palm OS PDA combination handles most of the basic laptop duties. "Where I used to bring the laptop just for the purpose of checking e-mail, I don't need to do that anymore because I have that ability on the Smartphone," he says.

Visit our Travel Center for tips, tools, articles and city guides.

Make sure to assess your needs before you go. If you'll be giving presentations, or if you truly need all your office desktop capabilities, you can't top a laptop. Ultralights can ease the load, but beware of hauling external disk drives and peripherals. You just might prefer a laptop case with wheels to get you through the airport and down the hotel hallway. A Palm or Windows CE device can handle your calendar, contacts, task lists and database and writing applications to a degree. Make it easier on yourself with a fold-up keyboard like the $89 Palm Portable Keyboard or wireless Internet access with the $499 Compaq iPaq H3635 and its $100 optional modem.

Wander Web

Get wired before you fly. A little bit of planning and preparation online can pay off in a smoother business trip. If you're trying to keep your travel budget under control, Priceline.com is still a premier destination for finding low-cost, name-your-own-price airfares. Expedia.com and Travelocity.com are other smart sites you can use to find transportation and accommodations.

You can take a lot of the guesswork out of visiting a strange city by logging on to Cityguide.com . Street maps, weather and an extensive hotel guide are featured. Visit the Business Center at Fodors.com for miniguides to major cities, tipping guides and information on taking business trips to foreign countries. The site is also well-stocked with the standard lodging and transportation information. Biztravel.com, designed exclusively for mobile professionals, offers a travel planner, news and a traveler toolkit. Whatever way you choose to cruise, the Web can be a substitute for using a travel agent or just a smart supplement.

Win By Decision

Web sites vs. Travel agents
Should you hire a travel agent to handle your travel arrangements or do it yourself? Of 200 corporate travel managers recently surveyed by the National Business Travel Association (NBTA), 82 percent said employees were finding better fares online than the discounts negotiated with airlines. That's almost twice as many as last year, and it suggests that the rift between the Net and what's offered on a travel agent's computer reservations system is widening.

But that doesn't mean you should let your employees have a free-for-all online. Consolidating your travel with an agency can translate into significant discounts over the long haul. Airfares and hotel rates may be comparatively low now, but they're sure to rise again when the economy bounces back. The National Business Travel Association Web site can help you find the resources to consolidate your business's travel program.

Another upshot to hiring an agency: knowing what you do and don't need when you're on the road. Take travel insurance, for instance: A travel professional can advise you about what to take and what is unnecessary. Many kinds of insurance are intended for leisure travelers and are largely irrelevant to business travelers. If you're not sure about your policy, visit the Nolo Web site and check its legal encyclopedia section on travel insurance.

Yet another useful resource is iJet , a new company that offers highly specialized online travel intelligence. Use iJet's customizable Web site and e-mail updates to warn you of any security or health risks and ensure you make it home without incident.

STICKER SHOCK

CHECK OUT THE ADDITIONAL CHARGES BEFORE YOU CHECK IN.

Ask tough questions about your room rate before you check into a hotel. The reason? Some properties have started adding fees to the price of your stay for everything from the use of facilities such as a swimming pool or tennis court to the concierge. Some hotels have even gone so far as to charge energy fees. The goal is to make up for lost revenues-according to PKF Consulting, profits were set to plummet about 5.6 percent this year even before any impact on tourism from the September 11 terrorist attacks.

While hotels don't conceal the charges, they don't go out of their way to tell you about them, either. Mention your concern at the front desk before handing over your credit card, and you could talk your way out of them. Robert Mandelbaum of PKF Consulting says hotels are wary of offending business travelers and often remove the fees without any fuss.

 

Gear

WEB RING: If you're ready to shed your laptop, take a look at the Ericsson R380 WORLD. It's a cell phone and PDA combination device that works with AvantGo's mobile Internet service to allow wireless Web access wherever you roam. Includes Lotus Organizer PC software, a travel charger, a case and a data cable. Basic AvantGo services are free.
R380 WORLD ÿFD Ericsson ÿFD (800) ERICSSON ÿFD www.ericsson.com ÿFD Price: $499

FAX-PLOITATION: If faxes are a big chunk of your business communications, you don't have to give them up when you're out and about. EFax Plus lets you choose a local or toll-free number, receive faxes in your e-mail and send faxes from your computer or through the eFax Web site. A $10 activation fee applies.
eFax Plus ÿFD eFax ÿFD (888) 718-2000 ÿFD www.efax.com ÿFD Price: $9.95/month

SURGIN' GENERAL: You surge-protect your office computer, so why not your laptop? The Belkin Universal Travel Surge Protector safeguards your notebook and your phone line. Its automatic multivoltage telecomputing protection works in any country around the world, and its 6-foot retractable phone cord allows you to compute in comfort.
Universal Travel Surge Protector ÿFD Belkin ÿFD (800) 223-5546 ÿFD www.belkin.com ÿFD Price: $29.99

LIGHT SHOW: The Gateway Solo 3450 is a low-cal laptop. At 3.65 pounds and 1 inch thick, its featherweight status won't strain your back while you're running to catch a flight. The 10GB hard drive, 192MB RAM, 12.1-inch active-matrix screen and external floppy and CD-ROM drives will keep you from getting homesick for your desktop PC. You can add on a CD-RW drive for $200 or a DVD for $100.
Solo 3450 ÿFD Gateway ÿFD (800) 846-2000 ÿFD www.gateway.com ÿFD Price: $2,199

Cut the Cards

You don't need every card out there, so pick carefully.

Smart cards were supposed to change everything about business travel. The payment systems would replace credit cards and cash, track frequent flier miles and propel passengers toward a paperless society. While the reality hasn't quite worked out that way, coupling the words "smart" and "cards" is still a very good concept: More than ever, travelers have to make intelligent decisions about the kinds of cards they carry.

For example, Priority Pass offers cardholders unlimited access to 300 first-class lounges in more than 70 countries-including those operated by America West, Delta, Northwest and US Airways-for $249 per year (or $99 per year plus a per-visit fee of $24). That's about as much as it would cost to get access to a single airline's lounge network. Best of all, you don't have to be flying on that day in order to get into the lounge.

MOBILE WARRIOR CENTER
Visit our expanded Mobile Warrior Center for more resources that will help you make the most of your business trips.

How about that affinity card that allows you to spend money and earn rewards points? Savvy travelers prefer the Diners Club card , which offers a generous rewards program with few restrictions. One of the best perks: Cardholders receive automatic car rental insurance-something other cards are reluctant to offer.

Don't overlook insurance when picking a card. The American Express Platinum card offers coverage against loss and damage to checked and carry-on baggage. It also gives you excess coverage for checked baggage up to the program's limit or full value. However, you have to buy tickets using the card.

Pay to Play
In the game of mobile Internet access, your biggest hurdle is finding a decent rate.

Airport business centers are often little more than a cluster of pay phones and a drop-off box for overnight packages. Good luck finding even a basic power outlet, phone jack or printer. One solution worth a try is Wayport Inc., an Austin, Texas, company that provides business travelers everything from high-speed wireless Net connections and fax service to document scanning and comfortable work spaces. And with more than six locations in major U.S. airports, chances are you'll find one of these centers on your next layover.

But should you use them? Rates are a little steep-$4.95 per connection (which gives you unlimited access until midnight of the same day). It isn't quite as good a deal as that offered by airport business lounges, which often give you free Internet connections, but it is a better deal than some airport hotels, which offer less connectivity and fewer features at their limited business centers for slightly less money. At the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, for instance, rates are $10 for 15 minutes of Net-connect time with a 15-minute minimum. For a complete list of Wayport locations, visit www.wayport.net .

Many business travelers on airport layovers are skipping bigger tasks, such as faxing proposals, sending e-mail and making phone calls on landlines, and instead are starting to rely on mobile phones and wireless modems. In the end, paying extra for a cellular modem is more cost-effective than renting a cubicle at an airport hotel or hoping that your lounge will have an available free Internet connection.


Amanda C. Kooser is Entrepreneur's assistant technology editor.
Christopher Elliot is
Entrepreneur's "Biz Travel" columnist.

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