Posts Tagged ‘Business Travel’

Protecting your evangelist/advocates: Part 2 – hotel safety

Working as an evangelist or advocate can mean travelling for conferences and events. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of encountering harassment. In this post I will share hotel safety tips:

Don’t stay at the conference hotel

The conference hotel may be very convenient, but it is not ideal if you are trying to reduce the chance of unwanted attention.

One of the ways to reduce the chance of unwanted attention and harassment is to draw clear lines between your work and personal life. That is difficult when you stay at a conference hotel. Conference hotels become an extension of the conference itself. Your hotel room might be the only personal space you have, and even that may not be quite as private as it seems. You may have attendees in an adjoining hotel room who can hear your conversations (especially if you have one of those rooms with the connecting door).

Since conferences are all about networking, attendees hanging out at the conference hotel may feel it is perfectly reasonable approaching you outside regular conference hours.

Two people running on treadmills one is focus and running the other is talking

You dress professionally for the conference, which sets a professional tone for any conversations with attendees. But, at some point you will likely be headed out in more casual clothing. When an attendee has the opportunity to chit chat with you in casual clothing it makes the conversation feel more personal, they are hanging out with you *outside* work.  Imagine you are in a city like Atlanta and have plans to go grab a nice dinner with friends. Atlanta is generally pretty hot. A guy might throw on shorts and a light shirt, a girl might throw on a light summer dress and sandals. It’s wonderful to ditch the conference shirt after working a booth, or attending a networking event. What you don’t want is to end up being cornered by an attendee in the hotel lobby in your shorts or dress as you wait for your Uber. What if you want to go for a run? Do you really want to meet attendees in the elevator when you are wearing lycra shorts or tights?

If you are staying at the conference hotel, treat all your time in the hotel as professional time, dress and act accordingly.

Don’t stay in the bedroom attached to the hospitality suite

Sometimes companies will sponsor a networking event, or host meetings in a hospitality suite at a hotel. Many of these hospitality suites have an adjoining bedroom. Hey awesome, says the company, we get a free hotel room with the hospitality suite. Even if that room has it’s own lock, that’s still bringing people very close to your personal space. Now someone knows exactly where your room is. At some point it’s possible someone might even go into the bedroom, entering your personal space. Keep your sleeping quarters well separated from the place where you are inviting people for meetings and networking events.

Always use the bolt on the hotel room door

You know the chain, or the flip bolt that prevents housekeeping from walking in if you happen to be on a conference call when they drop by to clean your room? Yeah, use it! Not just because you may be doing work in your hotel room during the day and you might forget to put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

Unfortunately, hotels occasionally make mistakes. It is rare, but I have two friends, who checked into their hotel, went up to their rooms, opened the door to discover the room was already occupied! The hotel had accidentally assigned them rooms that were already in use. One of my friends was arriving at around 2 AM when the current guest was in bed! Fortunately both friends caught on to the situation quickly and were able to leave without freaking out the current guests, but it’s a good reminder that the bolt is your friend!

Master your “don’t talk to me” look

When you work as an evangelist or advocate you want to be approachable. You want people to feel like they can come talk to you after your talk, or at the booth.  You need to practice how to look un approachable as well.  I will smile and greet everyone I meet when I am on the clock at the booth. But when I walk away, I consciously switch gears and demeanour. There are a number of ways to be less approachable:

  • Wear headphones
  • Look busy with your phone
  • Walk briskly with purpose
  • Have a co-worker or friend walk with you and be so engrossed in the conversation with them you can’t be interrupted
  • Practice your best “resting b*tch face” so you look grumpy or angry

Sadly this can be important even when dealing with hotel staff. I do have an acquaintance who used to smile and be friendly with the staff whenever she walked into a hotel. One trip, she had issues with the concierge calling her room, and then he showed up outside her hotel room door! Now she does her best ‘Don’t talk to me” when walking through the hotel lobby. Unfortunate, that one jerk out of 10,000 people you meet forces someone to act this way. 9,999 out of those 10,000 would simply smile back and never be a problem.

Be deliberate about where you eat and drink in the hotel

If you sit at the hotel bar, you are leaving yourself open to have anyone come and sit down next to you. You can bring a book or laptop with you to the bar, which is like a virtual ‘do not disturb’ sign, but that does not prevent someone sitting beside you and trying to strike up a conversation. Also being at a bar, there is a higher risk the person trying to strike up a conversation may be inebriated which creates a higher risk of uncomfortable situations and escalations.

If you sit at a table, someone might stop by and say hello, but for them to sit at your table uninvited would be highly unusual!  You can also ask the restaurant staff for a table off to the side or less visible if you do not want to be disturbed.

Don’t assume the ‘platinum club’ lounge is a safe haven. Many people who attend conferences our frequent travellers and will have access to the club lounge.  Treat the lounge as you would the hotel bar. In fact it can be worse, because

  • You don’t have a bartender to step in if needed (bartenders can be quite helpful when you have unwanted attention from someone else at the bar, many of them know the signs and will try to rescue you as best as they can)
  • Everyone else in the platinum club lounge has something in common with you, so you’ve provided an opening for conversation “Hey you stay at Marriott all the time as well! I find the W so much better than the Westin don’t you? Have you stayed at the one in Manhattan with the amazing desserts?”.

Trust your instincts in the elevator

Once in a while, I get in the elevator and someone gets into the elevator with me who makes me nervous. In these situations, play it safe. If the other person is harmless, no harm done. If the other person is going to be/or has already been a problem, you want to avoid having them in order of highest to lowest risk A) Follow you to your room; B) Find out your room location; C) Find out your floor.

Let them select their floor number first. Once they have selected their floor number you have a few choices. Which option you choose depends how much your spidey sense is tingling, and how easy it is for someone staying at the hotel to get off on someone else’s floor.

If they selected a lower floor than yours:

  • Select the floor one above or below your own. Once they get off the elevator, you can select the correct floor. Worst case you ride the elevator to the wrong floor, and ride it back down again.

If they punched in a floor number higher than yours, or you are at one of those hotels where you can only punch in the floor coded to your room key, or you are just feeling really uncomfortable:

  • Have a ‘darn I forgot to stop by the front desk’ moment, and select the floor for the hotel lobby. You can even walk over to the front desk to ask if they have toothpaste, or late checkout, if you want to carry the charade through. Or you can just wait until the elevator doors close and take the next elevator.

If you found this post helpful, check out the other developer relations posts including other posts in the safety series. If you are looking for help with your developer relations work or are interested in having me speak at your event reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Protecting your evangelist/advocates : Part 1 – Have a plan to get home post event

Evangelists and advocates are asked to be public figures, that means they expose themselves to potential harassment and risk both online and in person. In this series, I will share some practical tips and tricks to help ensure the safety of yourself and your team

Our first tip comes from @TheTrendyTechie, Co-Founder & CTO of Crescendo, and it’s a good one “Have a plan to get home after the event”

Many evangelists and advocates attend events and conferences. You don’t want to find yourself stranded outside a building in a neighborhood you don’t know so here are a few simple things you can do to ensure you have a safe ride back to your hotel or office.

Person standing in the rain at night on desolated street with cell phone battery at 3%

Uh-Oh!

Ensure you will have access to a charged phone

A simple step to ensure you get home safe, is to make sure you have a charge left on your phone at the end of the day. You may need to request a cab/ride-share, or look up directions for walking or driving. Before you walk out the door for that flight or taxi ride do the following:

  1. Fully charge your phone
  2. Put the phone in low battery mode so the battery lasts as long as possible
  3. Charge and carry a portable battery charger as a back up in case your phone runs out of battery

Ensure you will have internet access on your phone

Having a phone without data is not a lot of use in this day of taxi and navigation apps.

  • Don’t rely on wi-fi at the event. Event wi-fi is notoriously unreliable and might even be disabled by the time you leave. $8 for a one day roaming package or $20 for a local SIM card is a small price to pay for your safety.

If you are planning to purchase a local SIM card

  • Make sure your phone is SIM Unlocked and will work with a SIM Card from other providers
  • Bring your passport with you to purchase the SIM card, many countries have ‘traveller’ SIM Cards which can only be activated if you show your passport
  • Find out ahead of time if you can purchase a local SIM. Japan, e.g. does not sell local SIM cards, but you can purchase a pocket wi-fi and use that to get internet access for your phone, tablet, and laptop

Learn from Susan’s mistake: After being stranded and unable to create a taxi account in Malaysia because all the ride-share and taxi apps require a local phone number. I realized I needed a local SIM. The next morning, I got up early and walked 20 minutes to a local store to purchase a SIM Card. The staff told me they could not activate the card unless I had my passport, which was back at my hotel. I did not have time to go back to the hotel and get it before my next meeting. I had to muddle through the entire day getting co-workers to order my taxis and finding ways to repay them until I had another chance to purchase a SIM card.

Figure out your transportation options BEFORE you get to the venue

  1. Does the city have a ride share program such as Uber/Lyft/Grab? Do you have the required app installed and an account created?
  2. If the city does not have a ride-share program such as Uber/Lyft/Grab/ is there a city wide taxi app you can install and use to order the nearest cab? These tend to find cabs faster than apps for specific taxi companies.
  3. If you are going to be using a new cab or ride share service, install the app and create the account with billing information BEFORE you leave for the event. I was at a university outside Singapore with a fully charged phone and a data plan. When I tried to create an account on the Grab and the local taxi app it required a local phone number, which I did not have! I had to get a co-worker to order my a ride, and the next day I had to purchase a local SIM card so I could create an account and order my own rides
  4. If you will be at an event away from the city centre, you may want to rent a car instead of assuming you can get a taxi.

Learn from Susan’s mistake: I once spent over an hour waiting for a taxi at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I did not know Vancouver has no ride share programs and a shortage of taxis. I did not have the generic Vancouver taxi app installed. It was raining, and when I called the taxi company they told me my taxi would arrive in approximately one hour. I was on a university campus at a building with multiple entrances. I spent over an hour constantly scanning the streets looking for my taxi and hoping no-one else had taken my cab. Apparently catching cabs on rainy or snowy days in Vancouver is always a challenge. I now rent a car any time I have events in Vancouver outside the downtown core.

Use the app not the phone number

Always use an application to order your ride instead of calling the taxi company.

  • Using an app often allows you to track the location of your ride
  • Most apps give you and the driver the ability to contact each other if they can’t find you.
  • The app provides a record of who drove you in the event you leave something in the taxi or need to complain about any sort of harassment

Learn from Susan’s mistake: I was in Malaysia and used the Grab app to order a ride from the airport to my hotel. I left an expensive digital camera in the back of the car! I was able to contact Grab and report the lost item. The driver located the camera in the back seat, and for a small fee drove back to the hotel and left it at the front desk while I was out during the day!

Be prepared to walk

Despite your best efforts, sometime ordering a taxi or ride-share does not work out. Sometimes you can walk down the road to public transit or a better location to find a taxi.

If your event shoes are impractical for walking, consider throwing some foldable flats in your purse so you have decent walking shoes in a pinch. (Of course @TrendyTechie would know that you can buy fashionable foldable flats, though she tells me she did not purchase the zebra stripes)

Learn from Susan’s mistake: I was at an event at the science museum in Chicago. They provided shuttle service to the event, but there was no shuttle service when the event ended around 10 PM. There were about 400 people all leaving the event at the same time trying to find taxis and ubers. It was a mess. Fortunately, I was wearing practical shoes and had a 6 foot+ tall male co-worker with me. The two of us walked about 500 meters towards a L-Train stop figuring we could take an L-train into downtown. As it turns out we found a well lit street corner and flagged down a taxi just as we approached the L-Train.

Catching an early flight to the airport? Ask the hotel to arrange your transportation

Take advantage of your hotel concierge, especially if you are booking one of those dreaded 4 AM rides for an early flight. Why would I rely on the hotel instead of a cheaper ride-share?

  • You can’t be sure of finding a ride share service in a timely manner at 4 AM, showing up 20 minutes late for an event is one thing, missing your flight is quite another
  • The hotel may have a free or cheap airport shuttle service, these often require booking ahead of time
  • If the taxi does not show up at the expected time, the hotel now has some responsibility for finding you alternate transportation
  • The hotel (should) have a reliable and safe transportation company

Summary

A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to personal safety. If you are travelling internationally always ask the locals for any additional tips they can share to keep you safe. Attending events and travelling for work can be a wonderful experience, following the tips above will reduce your stress and keep you safe. Share your own tips so we can update this post and provide great suggestions for future posts!

If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of my developer relations posts. If you are looking for help with your developer relations work or are interested in having me speak at your event reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn

 

 

 

Women in Tech–10 Tips for balancing family and business travel

ViewFromAPlaneAfter twenty years of working in high tech and just about every one of those years involving business travel, I won’t even pretend to have perfected the family/work balance but, if you are about to embark on a job that involves travel, I have a few tips that might help.

1 – Accept you may catch some moments in reruns

First steps, losing a tooth, scoring a goal at the hockey game, as a parent you will get to witness many amazing moments in your child’s life. If you travel for work, you are going to miss some of those moments.  It’s not the end of the world, find pleasure in listening to your spouse or child tell you all about that awesome moment. They will be thrilled to have an opportunity to relive it with you when you call or get home.

2 – Find a farewell routine

Life is easier when you have a routine. It helps to have a routine when you leave on a trip. My routine is fairly simple, when I leave town I give the kids (and my husband) a bedtime kiss and hug for each night I will be gone (a little tougher now the boys are teenagers). This is my way of letting them know that even though I am not home, I am still thinking of them. It also gives them a sense of how long I will be gone. A 3 year old doesnt really understand the difference between a 2 day and a 5 day trip. But, kids figure out quickly that only one extra hug meant a short trip. I still remember the night before a two week trip, my 7 year old son stepped back and looked at me and said ‘that’s a lot of extra hugs mom.’  Some people count sleeps until mom or dad gets home. You could make a countdown with post it notes or tear out pages from a day by day calendar and leave them behind one per day. Whatever works for you. Just make sure it doesn’t require too much work beforehand, if you are travelling regularly, you won’t always have the time and energy for complicated rituals.

3 – Do what you can to make your time away easier for your spouse

Leaving for a week? maybe you should call a cleaning service to come and clean the house while you are away, or arrange for someone to mow the lawn. Maybe, the best way to help is by getting someone to help get the kids to and from their various activities. I try to make arrangements for someone to drive my son to his hockey practices so my husband has doesn’t have to manage supper, dishes and driving to and from the arena. Sometimes I can make his life easier by doing something as simple as baking the kids favorite cookies before I leave, so there are peanut free snacks to put in the kids lunches. When I had a two week trip I made arrangements for a friend to come to the house and take the kids to dinner and a movie over the weekend, so dad could have a night off. (We don’t have the luxury of grandparents in town to help out, but if you do, they could also be a great resource to give your spouse a break when you are away)

4 – Set expectations on when you will call home

In this world of text messages and Skype, there are lots of ways to stay in touch when you are on the road. But, it’s still a good idea to just have a quick chat with your spouse to manage expectations. Will you be available during the work day to exchange a text message or an email? A call may take some planning. What nights will your spouse be busy with kids activities?  When will they be busy with bath time?  When will you have privacy for a voice call? a video chat? Are there nights when you have evening commitments on your trip? Are you going to talk every night? Are you caliing to talk to your spouse at one time and your kids at a different time? In my early days of business travel (pre cell phones) my husband used to call my hotel room in the evening, on my first couple of trips I missed the calls and came back to my hotel room to a blinking light and it was too late to call back (don’t forget to factor in time changes as part of your planning). You may be busy on your trip, but your spouse is still at home dealing with all the day to day activities and may be craving some adult conversation, or a chance to unload after a bad day. Sometimes you can just call on the spur of the moment, but it’s good to have a couple of pre-planned times just in case!

5 – Don’t buy everyone presents on every business trip

If travel is going to be a regular occurence, you don’t want the kids to expect a gift every time you go away. Don’t hesitate to bring home a little something from time to time, but you don’t need to be rushing around the airport gift shop every time you have a flight. Like everything else you need to find a balance. My approach was to pick up a gift when I am visiting somewhere new or out of the ordinary. Of course, sometimes you stumble across something you just can’t get at home, a favorite brand of chocolate bar, an interesting bottle of wine, a cool pair of socks (no seriously, my son loves wearing funky socks, and I never know when I will find a cool pair). When it’s unexpected it’s a bigger treat.

6 – Share your travel perks and points with your family

If you have status on the airline, make a point of going to the airport with enough time to visit the lounge with the family (assuming your kids are old enough to get a kick out of the free cookies and drinks). Can you cash in some air miles to get free admission to the zoo? How about using your hotel points to stay at a fancy hotel for one night, cash in your upgrade coupons on a family trip and give your spouse a turn in first class. If your kids are older and are well behaved travellers, consider giving them a turn in first class as well. Please remember that smaller children should not be sent up to first class on their own, I have a friend who when upgraded ended up sitting next to a 3 year old (not sure of the age, but he got my friend to cut his meat up for him so we are going to guess the 3 year old range) this boy was providing his own loud commentary as he watched the in flight tv, was rude to the staff, kicked the seat in front of him, and was generally loud and disruptive. Meanwhile his father was somewhere in economy oblivious to the whole thing. My friend was getting the dirty looks because they thought he was the parent. So while I applaud taking kids on trips and giving them the opportunity to experience first class, with younger kids that should only be done supervised by mom or dad. But I digress, the main point here is your family is affected by your business travel, it’s stressful for them, so if you get a few perks try to share the benefits with them.

7 – Listen and ask questions

When you come home from a trip or you call home during a trip, chances are your spouse or kids will have news to share. Even if you had an exciting day/trip listen before you tell your story. Ask about the science test, the doctor’s appointment, recess, bath time.

8 – Try to be home before bedtime

I’ve discovered that if my kids see me before bed, they don’t consider that a day away. So sacrifice a little sleep in the hotel bed to catch that early morning flight so you can be home by suppertime. When going on your trip, try to avoid those early morning flights so you at least have breakfast with the family before you take off.

9 – Set limits on your travel

How much travel is too much? Best to discuss that with your spouse before it happens. You should also ask yourself which family events should not be missed. Sometimes the answer when the boss says ‘can you do this trip’ is no. I call it my domestic air miles balance. When I take a trip I am cashing in domestic air miles, and when I get home I need to earn them back. Occasionally, if I am travelling somewhere really interesting or in a city where I have friends or family to visit, I cash in a few extra domestic air miles and spend an extra day in the city to explore. If I have had a few trips back to back and another one comes up I might tell my boss that I have cashed in all my domestic air miles and need some time to earn them back before I travel again (If you do turn down a trip, tell your spouse you did it, I’ve discovered letting them know I said no to a trip helps me earn back a few more of those domestic air miles). Saying no from time to time is not going to hurt your career. If you have accepted a job with very heavy travel, then it’s important to stop from time to time and discuss with your family if the job is worth that much time apart.

10 – Give your spouse a chance to be an awesome parent

When you are away, the household routine may vary. maybe the kids get ice cream as a bedtime snack instead of fruit. Maybe they get to watch a tv show you normally don’t let them watch, or they get more video game time than you would normally allow. A little rule stretching can actually help the kids feel a little closer to dad. Maybe there is a restaurant, tv show, or movie that you don’t like but they do, what better time to do it then when you are out of town! They will still want to spend time with mom, and tell you about their days and adventures when you get home. If the kids get a little quality time with dad and bond doing something you wouldn’t normally do, even some minor rule breaking, maybe that’s okay. I honestly believe that my kids are a little closer to their dad because I am occasionally out of town.

Jobs which require business travel can be exciting and great opportunities, but they will absolutely impact your life at home. A little foresight and planning will make it easier on everyone! Safe travels and share your tips as well!

Tales from the Road: Why I love the Dash-8

I’m sitting on a Dash-8, that’s one of those noisy slow propeller planes, where anyone over 6 foot has to bend over to get in, and there are only 10 rows (but it is big enough to have window & aisle seats!) . As I sit here mid-flight, I am quite content. Strange for a semi-frequent traveller, you would think I would want my Airbus or Boeing with the built in entertainment system but somehow this feels just right. But why?

The Dash-8 is like the school bus of airplanes, it’s loud, it’s bumpy, it’s slow, but it will take you where you are going. I went through a period where I had a horrible fear of flying, during that time I was taking a Dash-8 every week. In discussions with the staff I discovered the Dash-8

  • has one of the best glide ratios of all commercial planes (meaning if the engine dies it won’t immediately just fall to the ground, it’ll do it a little more gradually so I can kid myself that we might even be able to land safely, please no-one tell me that’s wrong, I am still slightly nervous about flying Winking smile)
  • can land in a football field (I have been at the airport and seen jets stranded on the ground unable to take off due to the weather while the Dash-8 planes took off, they are real workhorses!)
  • Can handle huge drops in elevation (one of the attendants told me the pilots take them up and do a few big drops so they can learn exactly what the plane can handle, that way when they are on windy landings into St Johns, which is notorious for bumpy, windy landings, they understand, it may be bumpy, but everything will be fine. They told me stories of passengers screaming during landings at St Johns, mental note, take the ferry to Newfoundland.

So for a slightly nervous flier, the Dash-8 is strangely comforting.

I think another aspect is my sheer familiarity with the plane, having spent over a year working in Fredericton ages ago and flying back and forth from Ottawa every week in a Dash-8.

  • the rattle of the chassis during flight that you can sometimes stop if you put your hand up against the rattling bit of the interior.
  • The bumpiness and change of pitch coming from the propeller when you fly through the clouds
  • Row 7-10 the quiet rows in the back
  • Row 3&4 to be avoided because you have a propeller buzzing in your ear
  • Seat 1B to be avoided because you end up playing footsie with the flight attendant
  • Seat 1D excellent if you are a regular because the snacks are stored in the little cupboard in front of you, however sneaking your own snacks is not recommended until the attendants know you by name Smile
  • Seat 10E for those who need extra leg room, its the last row in the plane and you can stick your legs down the aisle

Or maybe it’s because I don’t have enough status for special treatment from the airlines, and the Dash-8 is a great equalizer.

  • I don’t have to worry about all those status folk boarding before me taking up all the overhead room. They have skycheck, I just throw my suitcase on the rack before I walk up the stairs onto the plane, knowing it will be waiting for me when I deplane.
  • No executive class seats full of fliers with more status than me looking smug to walk past as I go to my assigned cattle class seat

Yup, the school bus of airplanes, without the gum on the seats, it’s good to be back. Am I the only one who actually enjoys flying in an old beater of a plane?

Cheers,

Susan

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles–Tales from the Road

This week I travel from Ottawa to Montreal. I could drive, it’s about 2 hours. I could fly, but then I land about 30 mins out of downtown and have to deal with all the usual overhead of air travel not to mention Montreal drivers (although at least they are predictable, they always cut you off Smile)  or I can take the train. If you live in the Montreal/Ottawa/Toronto corridor, you know the answer to this. YOU TAKE THE TRAIN! Via First! I don’t have status on airlines (well I have enough status to get a different card and a polite smile on check-in but that’s about it). So for me travelling first class on the train which is still cheaper than flying and about the same cost as charging in mileage, rocks!

Via One, is not the same as travelling economy on the train, there is no standing in line to get a good seat. Seats are assigned, you can request window or aisle. You can show up 10 minutes before the train leaves and just walk onto the train when it arrives, so you don’t have the ‘hurry up and wait’ syndrome that is so common during travel. You sit on the train and grab one of the lap desks for your laptop as you walk to your assigned seat. The lap desk gives you room for a mouse, and your drink while preventing premature infertility due to overheating of your lap.

Once you have settled into your seat and plugged in your laptop, you connect to the free wi-fi. Then someone comes by with the menu and you select your main course and something to drink and you are not limited to tea, coffee, and juice Smile how about a nice glass of wine in an actual glass! or Metal cutlery to cut through your quiche or lasagna. I guess they aren’t worried about anyone hijacking a train (I’m hijacking the train go…uhh..that way down those train tracks…and don’t stop in Alexandria or else bwa ha ha!), you can probably bring nail clippers on a train if you want to, and bottles of shampoo that contain more than 50 mL of liquid.

The seats recline more than 6.5  degrees so if you feel like a snooze after having your chocolate truffle to finish off your meal you are all set (of course it helps if the train isn’t full, because the person behind you may not appreciate having your head in their lap).

Only a two hour train ride, so you would think not much time to get work done. But of course this is not a plane, you don’t have to wait until the seat belt sign has been extinguished to open your laptop. If you want you can talk on your cell phone from the moment you board the train until you walk off the platform at your destination (this may cause fellow passengers to want to pelt you with their chocolate truffles, but it is an option)

If train travel was like this in more places, the airlines would be in big trouble! I even debate whether to take the train to Toronto a 4 hour train ride vs a 1 hr flight.

The other thing I love about trains is that the stations are often right downtown. In Montreal I step off the train, walk into the station and across the hall to the hotel elevator. This is the way to travel!

So Thursday when I go home to Ottawa, my toughest decision will be which breakfast pastry to have with my hot breakfast and whether to take a conference call enroute or just sit back and watch a movie on my laptop. Sometimes travel isn’t so bad after all.

On the Road Again– Tipping with Loons and Bears oh my!

LooniesToday I parked at a Park and Fly lot. As I climbed into the shuttle van I glanced at the cup in the front of the van obviously intended for tips and paused. I can afford to give someone a tip, and I believe in tipping someone for good service. If only I good figure out a reasonable measure of who I should tip and how much.

Obviously you tip a waiter or bartender unless the service is downright abysmal. In general I’ll tip 15-20% most of the time in restaurants. There is nothing awkward about tipping a waiter, they hand you the bill, quietly walk away so you can choose how much to give them as a tip. I find it a bit more awkward with a doorman when you have to politely place a dollar bill or two into his hand.

The Americans may have a reputation for being less polite than Canadians, but they also have a reputation for being better tippers. When I travel in the US, by virtue of hanging around with my American friends, I have adopted the habit of keeping a few $1 bills in my wallet to hand as needed to a doorman who hails me a cab, or for a maid who stops by my room to clean up the glass deodorant container I knocked over that broke on the bathroom floor. I would happily do the same when I return home in Canada. But here’s my problem: loonies and toonies. It’s one thing to hand the doorman a dollar bill, but somehow a coin, even a coin worth a dollar or two dollars feels cheap. Our smallest bill is $5 but am I really going to give a $5 bill to a guy for blowing a whistle and asking a taxi to pull up to the curb or for picking up my suitcase putting it in a van and driving me in his shuttle bus to the terminal.

With maid service I can always leave a larger bill at the end of my stay. That doesn’t work so well with my Park and Fly driver who is different every time I have a flight, or the doorman who calls me a cab.

I love loonies and toonies. When I think I am broke, I can find enough change in my purse to buy lunch or pay for parking. But is handing a doorman a loonie or toonie a thank you or an insult? Maybe I should keep the cool Olympic loonies on hand so I can help them complete their Olympic coin collection, or make sure I hand out the anniversary Montreal Canadians loonie when I travel in Quebec. Or maybe I should just take advantage of the countries that still have bills for lower denominations, anyone know the exchange rate for a Kenyan dollar?

To finish up, my top 5 odd or awkward tipping situations, maybe I really am a scrooge.

  1. The hairdresser when the machine where I swipe my credit card doesn’t give me the option of adding the tip myself.  What am I supposed to do when I have no cash and they’ve already entered the amount?
  2. The person who washes your hair at the salon, I once had one blatantly hinting at tips, do I really have to tip the shampoo person as well as the stylist? Doesn’t the stylist share tips with the hair washer?
  3. Bag check at hotels, do I tip the guy who takes my bag or the guy who brings it back, or both?
  4. Sometimes I wish I could tip certain airline staff, there are some who really do go above and beyond with a smile, those people make a difference in my day!
  5. The food court tip jar beside the cashier, especially when you pick up the food and drinks yourself and just walk to the cash to pay.  I am really expected to tip you for taking a slice of pizza and putting it into a cardboard box for me?

Racing around town – tales from the road

racetattooIt’s amazing how often you visit a town for a business trip and never see anything other than the hotel and whatever you manage to glimpse during the taxi ride between the airport and the hotel. I’ve always been a big believer in trying to get out of my hotel room from time to time. This week in Seattle, I got to enjoy sights and views that even the locals never get to see when I ran in the SeaFair Torchlight 8km race with my running partner Christopher Harrison.

Running races in different cities is fun to begin with, Fort Langley BC with a view of the coastal mountains, Atlanta with and endless up and down course around the zoo. This week Seattle. The start is by the Space Needle where all the participants for the Seafair parade were gathering and preparing. It was weird going for a warm up run and having to swerve to avoid Boeing workers, tuba players, and Mrs. “insert town name here”  wandering down the street nibbling on cotton candy. Between the 5km and 8km (which started together) there were nearly 4000 runners. Seafair has a pirate theme, so there were many runners in eyepatches, hats, or carrying cutlasses into the corrals. I settled for a pirate tattoo on my calf.

The news helicopter hovered overhead filming the start. We started on a steep downhill and turned a corner, about 500 meters into the course we entered the parade route. Almost 250,000 spectators watch the Torchlight parade, and they had nothing to do while waiting except cheer on the runners. Moms, dads in lawnchairs, or actual couches! lined the streets. Groups of kids came out and held out their hands to give the runners high fives. Downhill, lots of cheering, kids reaching out to give you high fives…let’s just say the pace for that first kilometer was impressive! In fact the whole first 3kms was nice and quick. Hmmmm….maybe we should have foreseen what was coming. At the 4km mark they had the first water stop.  We went around the corner and found ourselves running up an on-ramp to a raised highway that runs along the waterfront in Seattle. On-ramps seem wayyyyyy longer when you are running up them, than driving up them. I swear that was 500m non-stop of steep uphill. Once on the highway, the view was spectacular! An unobstructed view of the harbour and the Space Needle (our finish line) in the distance. I was feeling tired but okay at 6 km and had planned to pick up my pace for the last km. But another hill shortly after 6km drained my energy, then another hill, then another! we finally reached the second water stop at the 7 km mark but at that point finishing held more appeal than water. A short flat stretch gave me hope that I could pick up the pace a bit and then we turned the corner and discovered the last 400 M of the race was pretty much all uphill, and a steep climb! That was just cruel! I did manage a small burst of speed on the 30 m flat stretch at the very end but that was all I could manage. (it was enough to beat Christopher though, so for those of you who care the standings are: Susan 2, Christopher 1 and one tie, I savour every win because he is getting faster!)

At the finish line the parade was about to get underway so we got to watch bands lined up and ready to go, cheerleaders warming up and Chinese dragon dancers practicing their craft. Not my fastest race but certainly a fun one (well except for all those “insert expletive here” hills.) And a race shirt makes for a great souvenir. So if I am coming to a town near you let me know if there are any good races coming up Smile

Cheers,

Susan