It’s fair to say that we travel a lot in the Developer Relations team at Nexmo. With the number of events we attend, sponsor, or speak at always going up, as well as our seemingly constant recruitment drive, this isn’t going to change anytime soon.
My time in developer relations has been relatively short, and already my recent travel history looks like this:
This post started as an internal exercise in documenting our experience across the tens of thousands of miles we cover per year as a team. Now, as we approach the end of 2019, perhaps some of these tips and hacks will help your travel go smoothly in 2020.
Take the time to recover. Some of us spend a huge portion of any working week travelling to airports, on flights, at conferences, unpacking/packing conference equipment, searching for our chargers, etc. If you do not recover whenever you can, you’re in danger of burning out.
Pack healthy snacks, like fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, or snacks predominantly made up of these. You will be able to manage your energy levels in a healthy way, but you’re also going to be relieved if you arrive at your connecting airport to a cancelled flight at night when all the shops and eateries are closed, miles away from anywhere to buy anything. Don’t assume the airline will provide healthy snacks, often their freebees are awfully unhealthy.
If you’re a frequent user of the gym, it's essential for you more than anyone to make sure you exercise on the move. A lot of people don’t realise what a positive impact it can have on your mental health or general headspace. A couple of weeks from home, dotting across continents, is going to drain your energy and deplete your patience. Don’t give your brain an opportunity to make this any worse by denying it the endorphins it usually gets from regular exercise.
Do this by finding a way to modify your existing routine to fit into a hotel room’s limited floor space. On the other hand, some hotels have gyms or partnerships with local gyms so you get access when you’re there. Use your local experts to ask about places to jog or walking trails that might be nearby.
Whether you exercise or not, travel regularly or not, it’s important to get moving while you’re on the move.
Take a toothbrush and tissues in your hand luggage if you’re on a really long journey. Freshening up while waiting for a connecting flight can make you feel like a new person. Maybe some fresh clothes, or even underwear, or socks, might help too.
Take an empty bottle with you. You can often fill it from a filtered water dispenser just after security, and it means you’ll have a drink when you need it. Don’t expect to stay hydrated with the tiny cups of water you're given on a flight.
The recycled air and air conditioning on a flight will dry you up like a prune. So, you might also think about avoiding in-flight alcohol. You could also use a nasal spray to help you deal with the dry air. Recycled dried up air can increase your chance of catching whatever cold or flu might be floating around on that flight, and it’s never a good look to start a trip sick or to return from a trip and then be knocked sideways by illness on your time in lieu.
Early morning flights, long layovers, flight cancellations, snowstorms, and erupting volcanoes are just some of the reasons you could find yourself camping out on an airport floor. For when it happens, by choice or fate, there is a website that has tips on how and where to sleep in airports all over the world. It’s like a Lonely Planet for the side of regular travel we’d rather forget.
If you travel regularly and, like me, you feel guilty leaving tiny pillows and blankets on your chair as you disembark, you start to accumulate a little collection at home. Great on a cold night. These can be recycled, which is what an airline would do, but you could also make yourself a sleep kit: pillow, blanket, earbuds, eye mask, spare charging cable, wired headphones. You can probably fit these into a small bag you can fit into your carry-on luggage or backpack. Some airlines, like Delta, give you an almost complete kit when you fly first-class.
As Head of Community, our own Olia Dukova finds herself on the move a lot. She’s recently spoken at DevXcon about using your time in other cities to explore the culture and enjoy yourself.
Do you often struggle with sleep when you’re 7 hours ahead of your normal timezone, so at 3 a.m. you open your laptop and try to do a bit of work? This might feel like more hours in the day you can throw into work, or preparation for your talk, or finishing your slides, but it's not necessarily time that is well suited for doing work. Try shutting your laptop and going outside to take in some of the local culture, which can leave you feeling refreshed when you get back to the hotel.
As soon as you land and get some WiFi or cell coverage, don’t just open your laptop or hop on your phone. Instead, don’t be afraid to ask your Uber/Lyft/Taxi driver what to do in your downtime. Ask your hotel reception what you can do that’s unique in the 4 hours you have spare. Whether it’s while you’re getting lunch or getting a coffee, or in a bar, or spot a friendly-looking jogger. These people probably live and breath the local area. It’s worth finding out what you can get up to.
When you say you travel for work, familiar and friends, or even colleagues, might think you spend your entire life on beaches and in roof-top bars. The reality of 25 countries in a year might just mean 25 different views from hotel windows. Get out of your hotel room when you can, use that local knowledge, find out what the locals do to enjoy themselves. So, turn expectations into a reality.
Travel may seem like a never-ending story and super repetitive, so here are some general tips to making it a smoother experience.
Global Entry is pretty important if you travel into the US regularly. It’s quicker to get than it seems, with most applications and interviews being easier and quicker than ever to get through. Benefits include expedited passage through customs in the US, plus TSA precheck status, which will speed you through security at most US airports. You won’t need to queue to speak to a Customs and Border Protection officer and you can use the Global Entry lane with electronic check-in. In the UK, it costs £42 for the initial background check and $100 for the application. Once approved, it lasts for five years.
It is especially important if you use digital tickets, or are hoping to book an Uber when you land, to charge your devices whenever you can. Not having access to a mobile device in this day and age can reduce some people to anxious puddles on the floor. But, it probably is good practice to make sure you can always call for assistance if you’re in a strange airport in another country.
For holders of multiple passports, remember to use the same passport to leave as the one you enter with. Otherwise, you might find yourself grabbed by immigration for more questions. No matter how innocent you are, or the process might be, it can cause some unnecessary stress.
Find out the kinds of sockets they’ll be using in your destination country and buy adapters before you go. There are around 5 different, partly incompatible standards used across Europe - so don’t be overconfident, especially when travelling to Switzerland or Italy! Worldstandards.eu has an extremely useful guide for checking ahead of time. Hotels will often have adapters you can borrow, too!
Two one-way flights or multi-city one-way journeys that circle you back to your point of origin will earn you more loyalty points with your airline and can sometimes work out cheaper than a return ticket. It’s worth checking out, especially at peak conference times, when flights can get expensive, fast.
Find out the kinds of things hotels will provide you for free (toothbrush/razor etc.) or lend you (kettle, yoga mat) to make your stay better or just to cut down on the amount you’re travelling with.
Most streaming services allow you to prepare by storing episodes and movies before you travel. Netflix is great for this, basically allowing you to keep Breaking Bad at the ready for when you’ve literally watched every single thing on the airline you fly with twice a week. Airpods are generally great, but not for flying. Try to get noise-cancelling headphones. If they’re battery-powered, remember ABC ☝.
When travelling in and around Europe to events, it’s important not to forget about the incredible rail network, including Eurostar.
Eurostar is a great way to get from the UK to mainland Europe, especially if you’re heading to Paris, Belgium, or Amsterdam. Other lines to less travelled cities run less frequently, or require changes, but are still very accessible.
The stress-free environment of Eurostar is especially important when travelling to work. If the noise of the inside of an aeroplane is distracting (or simply puts you to sleep), the quiet zen of a Eurostar train is quite the contrast for someone trying to make their time on the move more productive.
Another advantage of Eurostar is convenience and speed. With shorter check-in times than at most airports and quicker boarding times, it takes less time to travel between central London and central Paris by high-speed rail, than by air. The London and Paris Eurostar terminals have now upgraded their digital imaging technology at security, which means you don’t need to take anything out of your bags anymore, speeding up the boarding process even further.
Munich Airport is the second-busiest airport in Germany after Frankfurt. But, it is particularly efficient. It’s a really well-organised airport with some nice shops and great places to eat. Some terminals are more modern than others, but if you can connect here instead of Frankfurt you won’t be disappointed.
Schiphol Airport is the main international airport of the Netherlands. It’s a short drive outside of Amsterdam itself and it’s one of the busiest in terms of connection in all of Europe. It’s a well-organised airport with extremely modern facilities and tons of things to do. If you have a more extended layover waiting for a connection, this is a great airport to get stuck in.
If you’re flying to the USA, Dublin Airport has great US preclearance, usually taking around half an hour. Dublin Airport also has excellent facilities with a tasty variety of restaurants and shops both before and after security. But, you might want to leave a little extra time for security, because these can be pretty chaotic.
Shannon Airport also has US preclearance and has received steady investment over the last decade, and it shows. It’s a huge airport considering the number of passengers it sees with great facilities and places to eat. This is one of our favourite airports to connect through when travelling to the US.
London Luton Airport, London Southend Airport, and London Stansted Airport are not in London. They’re all in surrounding counties. If you’re hoping to connect from one to another London airport, expect to add an hour or more to your connection time. Including using buses, trains, and/or taxis. The ‘London’ Oxford Airport is nearly a 2-hour train journey from London.
London Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. It has some nice shops, a high variety of restaurants and rumour has it that a bottle of Chanel No.5 is sold every few minutes. Being so busy though, there are rarely places to sit at peak times, security lines can contain literally hundreds of people, and gates usually don’t have enough seats for the number of people waiting to board.
Charles de Gaulle Airport is huge, and it can take a few visits to really know your way around. It can feel like a maze, signage is lacking (in any language), and there are often long queues for security. Queues are understandable, given it’s one of Europe’s largest and busiest airports. But, if you can avoid it and connect at a smaller airport, your journey might be a little less stressful.
Finding consistent alternatives to air travel in the US is pretty tough. Travelling between major cities, you may find a train affordable with the added benefits of some views of beautiful parts of the US—Portland to Seattle comes to mind. But, if your destination is particularly far out, flights or (long) road trips are your most basic options. Not many people appreciate the sheer scale of the US until they’ve tried to drive there.
JFK is a massive airport, which is relatively easy to navigate. It gets a ton of bad press from frequent travellers, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. If you’re on a visa waiver (ESTA) or Global Entry program, then security will be mostly automated. But, otherwise, you’ll be faced with infamous long queues. If you need to connect in the US and you have the option of JFK or O’Hare, we’d recommend O’Hare every day of the week.
O’Hare is one of the biggest and busiest airports in the United States. As such, it struggles with the sheer number of passengers, leading to long security lines. They are quick to clear though, making it our choice for connections this side of the United States. The facilities and food choices are good, too. So if you have a long layover between flights, this makes it a nicer airport to get stuck in than JFK.
San Francisco International Airport shuts quite early at night. So if you find yourself there overnight due to a layover or cancelled flight, be prepared to leave the airport and find somewhere to buy supplies. There are overnight eateries outside the airport, but nothing really inside. The airport itself is huge and easy to get lost in. It’s well equipped though, so just be prepared to ask for directions when you eventually find a wandering member of staff. The queues can be quite horrific, plan ahead for delays through security.
Oakland International Airport is also one of the best-kept secrets of the San Francisco area. It's only across the bridge from downtown San Francisco, but usually cheaper to get into and not nearly as busy.
Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport is another fantastic alternative to San Francisco International Airport. It’s a smaller airport still operating flights with large carriers like Delta and Alaska. I’ve even been diverted there and somehow arrived to find an earlier connecting flight to my final destination. It’s a good option if you’re keen to avoid the hustle and bustle of San Francisco.
Denver International Airport gets a lot of thumbs up from our team, due to its easy to navigate layout and relatively quick queues to clear security, even when it’s busy. Often considered Denver’s best-kept security secret, there is a pedestrian bridge with another security area for TSA PreCheck. The regular security, while quick, can get pretty busy. So taking the time to find bridge security may be quicker in the long run.
“After check-in, stay on the upper level and look for the pedestrian bridge (opposite end from the Westin Hotel), located between the Main Terminal and Concourse A. … Walk across the short bridge-way to find sparsely populated security lines for TSA PreCheck.” — Jane Frye @ The Points Guy blog.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, with nearly 100 million passengers every year passing through its halls. If you fly Delta or a Delta SkyTeam - chances are you have been to Atlanta at least once. ATL is one of the last few airports that have smoking areas in designated areas as well - making it a bit of a relic. Still, the updates and amenities make ATL a modern marvel of air travel.
While this airport can be intimidating, it’s actually easy to get around once you know the layout. Every terminal is connected in the center by a system of underground passages that can either be walked (with a people mover) or using the tram system. If you have time between connections, the revolving art exhibit in the walkways has interesting artwork to view and calming lights in an otherwise hectic airport.
The food at ATL is also quite the scene, with amazing spots like One Flew South, Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Chicken + Beer, Grindhouse Burgers, and Atlanta Chophouse for those with extra time, and Paschal’s Southern Cuisine, Popeyes, ShakeShack for something a little quicker.
If ATL is your final destination, they have a dedicated location for ride-sharing a short walk from the terminal. A line of taxi’s outside are waiting to pick you up, as well as the rail line that will take you downtown without driving.
While the name says Detroit in it, Detroit Wayne Metro is actually located in Romulus, Michigan - approximately 30 minutes west of downtown. Keep this in mind when you arrive that you will have a bit of a drive to your final destination.
The main concourse in the McNamara Terminal, Concourse A, is the second-longest terminal in the world measuring 1 mile (1.6km). There is a tram that will take you from one end to the other with a stop in the middle. An underground passage will take you to Concourses B and C, and is typically less crowded for food options. The security lines are relatively easy to navigate, and the customs area usually moves fairly quickly for most travellers.
It seems whenever we fly through DTW, the flights are delayed in some way. It might not always be DTW at fault, however, during the winter, it might be better to steer clear as you could get stranded due to inclement weather.
Miami International Airport is definitely one of those airports you’ll be grateful for Global Entry. The fast track lanes are immediately accessible at either end, while the security lines leave a lot to be desired. If you’re planning on taking an Uber/Lyft/Taxi at rush hour from outside of the airport, I suggest you walk a few miles before arranging pick up because it may well be quicker.
Are airports mostly a social experiment on how long you can queue before you snap and buy an upgrade? Probably.
🗺️This past month I flew literally around the world, with a fun little detour to Honolulu in the middle.
— Alex Lakatos 🥑🇬🇧 (@lakatos88) November 21, 2019
There is lots of info here, hopefully, you’ll find it useful when picking your connections, or planning your trip. But to summarise everything:
- Global Entry is vital
- Plan ahead
- Queues are to be expected
- Eat healthily
- Sleep often
- Recover well
And don’t forget, if you have any tips you’d like to share with the wider community, then please feel free to jump on our Community Slack workspace.