Business travel is a necessary nightmare

12 June 2009

Travel is a nightmare, particularly when it comes to lugging digital equipment halfway around the world. But despite his aching shoulders, Al Dean still believes it’s essential if you want to build solid business relationships

The world of publishing is very similar to design and engineering. When your professional life revolves around meeting people to discuss products and services, then you have to expect a high level of travel (I’ve spent over a month in the US this year already). And with travel comes the inevitability of having to lug everything you might need for work with you.

I’ve just finished packing up my bags returning from a trip to the PTC/User event over in the US. For my suitcase, I just threw in my clothes, conference notes, rapid prototype samples and all manner of accoutrements one collects at these events, jiggled it all around until it sort of fitted, then zipped it up. Job Done. Then came my hand luggage. That’s always the challenge.

Taking a look at what has to be packed into my messenger bag, I’ve got a Nikon D90 and countless lenses (the tripod’s stuffed into my checked luggage now, so I don’t have to explain to over zealous security why it’s not an offensive weapon). Then there’s the mobile devices: An iPod is essential for almost every traveller these days, and I also have a digital audio recording device for documenting meetings, keynotes and demonstrations, a Blackberry, and a back up Nokia cell-phone.

Then there’s the laptop. I used to have a MacBook Air, but that got dumped recently with an upgrade to the new unibody MacBook Pro. Making the decision to move to a much heavier, larger machine was a difficult one.

Al Dean travels a lot and is often surprised by where people think he’s from. It must be the heavy French accent. That, and the beret

A light machine is a godsend when you’re on and off planes, trains and (sometimes) boats all the time. The problem is lightweight machines are often low on performance and this became an issue recently whilst trying to quickly edit some video of a conference I attended. Video editing, like CAD, takes a lot of computing resources, particularly if you want to do it in a timely manner.

The beauty of the MacBook Pro is that I can also run Windows Vista using Bootcamp, so alongside all the magazine publishing software we use on the Mac, I can access the huge range of CAD/CAM/CAE software I’m currently evaluating. Just out of interest, I added up the financial value of what’s installed on this machine at the moment and it came to a slightly mind boggling 65 grand. Still, it’ll bring you some good content over the next few months and beyond.

On top of the laptop, there’s the mouse, and a handful of USB memory sticks. Then throw in a few magazines, a book (this trip, it’s Designing Design by Kenya Hara), a Moleskine notebook, a fistful of pens, and a battered passport and you have one busy bag.

But hold on a minute I’ve forgotten something! As my colleague and dear old friend Martyn Day recently posted on Twitter “I’m fed up of charging shit up. I’m always on my last bar of battery when I need it.” I couldn’t agree more. Power adapters, battery chargers and cables are the bane of my life, and there are so many of them.

I’ve managed to get it down to the point where most things can be charged by USB from the laptop. That saves power packs and a couple of cables. But then you have all the other proprietary power accessories. Why haven’t these things been standardised yet? I’ve managed to strip out a couple of things, realising that the two pin power lead from my laptop can also be fitted to the camera battery. That the iPod, Blackberry and Nokia can all be charged from the laptop.

There are companies out there working on cable-free charging (such as SplashPower in Cambridge - www.splashpower.com), but that’s going to take some time to work out and will rely on manufacturers agreeing to standardise on a single platform. But even if they do, it’ll mean lugging around a big plastic tray to throw all your digital bits and bobs onto at the end of the day - and probably forgetting the power pack for that too.

So with all this equipment to carry, is being laden down like a packhorse then travelling half way across the world really worth it, particularly when there are so many high-speed Internet collaboration tools available?

I believe when there’s business to be done, and schemes to be hatched, then face-to-face contact still offers so much more. While communicating digitally certainly has a time and place, particularly in these days of Social Networking, to build strong business relationships you need to spend time with people, sometimes over a beer.
And if that means cramped leg room, a bag full of equipment and developing the ability to sleep almost anywhere, then so be it. I can save for my dreams the phone/digital SLR/multi-core workstation handheld combi device with a battery that lasts a month.

Al Dean is Editor of DEVELOP3D Magazine and was recently threatened with a flight ban for wearing a t-shirt with a drawing of a kids’ ray gun. Apparently, it’s an offence to wear images of weapons at airports. Even those from the future.

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