Help-Key: How To Travel Less Douchey, More Geeky

airport1.jpgThis fall will see many conventions around the country as companies gear up for the holidays and other fun times. This means a lot of travel for a lot of people, and you could be one of them. And that sucks.

Not that you have to take a trip — indeed, visiting new places should be a pleasant experience — but rather that air travel in America sucks. I was going to try to write this article without invoking the term “post-9/11”, but the sad fact is that since the “War on Terror” started, airports have sucked. But we’ve got a few tips to help you get through your day in style and comfort.

To start with, don’t bring anything you don’t actually need. The old rules of packing were along the lines of “better to have it and not need it that to need it but not have it”, but that’s crap these days. Bring what you need, anything else can be had fairly cheaply at your destination. This includes many toiletries and items of clothing.

This brings us to the second helpful tip: know the layout of the area you’re staying in. no matter where you’re staying, use Google maps to find the nearest coffee shops, bars, restaurants, drug stores, and motels with hourly rates (one of the greatest American ideas ever exported, thank you very much). make a note of the locations and reference it when you need something. It sounds simple, but most people don’t think to take the time, and it will save you much heartache later.

If it’s available, take public transport to the airport, as the airports tend to act as transit hubs, so getting you there will be cheap and easy. This also makes the above rule of packing light more relevant.

Once you’re at the airport, though, is when the horror begins. Long lines, expensive food, and rude people are all waiting for you in a virtual gauntlet of making-you-lateness.

Some of the rules to make things easy you’ve heard before: dress casually, wear slip-on shoes, and forget the belt. While for some of us this isn’t practical, it can go a long way to getting you through security quickly. That’s not just good for you, that’s good for the 300 impatient and probably late people behind you.

air1.jpgBone up on what’s forbidden before you travel. Don’t bring liquids, knives, dynamite, or anything else on the forbidden list that is updated at will by the TSA. Also, if the security person says you can’t bring something through, don’t argue. You aren’t going to change their mind, but you are going to annoy every one else who’s also trying to get through the horrendous ordeal.

Let’s say you get through security. Chances are you’re going to have to rush to get to your flight, which means you’re lucky: the waiting for a plane downtime is one of the worst wastes of time modern man must face. You could read a book, but let me save you the hassle by telling you that Potter dies, as do his dimwitted magician friends (sorry!). Magazines are a great way to stay in touch, but you read CrunchGear. You’re beyond in touch, you’re connected.

That’s why you’re bringing a laptop. Even if you’re not a “laptop person”, you’ll want one. Being connected while on the road is one of the aims of the digital revolution. Wireless Internet, in all of its forms, is all about taking it with you. If you don’t currently have a laptop, check Craigslist. You should be able to get a decent enough machine with Wi-Fi for less than your plane tickets.

air31.jpgThe thing is, having a portable with Wi-Fi isn’t handy unless you’re got access to a hotspot. Some airports have free Wi-Fi, but the vast majority have payspots, and that sucks. But you want to know before you get there, so hit the Small Business dot com list of airports with free Wi-Fi and see if yours is on it. If it is, you’re in great shape. If not, you’ll likely have to shell out $10 for the privilege.

Some ISPs and wireless phone carriers, though, offer Wi-Fi services as add-ons. T-Mobile, for example, offers $10 unlimited access to its hotspots in most Starbucks and many airports. Earthlink has similar features, and many local ISPs include access for free with your service. Check your network providers and see if you’re in.

Laptops are notorious for the amount of juice the eat up, so if you’ve got a second battery, pack it up and bring it. You’ll want wall power if you can find it, though, so look around. You’ll find it on or near support pillars and near ticketing counters in the terminals. Finding an unoccupied power outlet is the traveling geek’s equivalent of an Easter Egg hunt, but far more rewarding.

air2.jpgI like to cheat by using the AirPower airport outlet Wiki. It’s handy and looks great on my smartphone’s browser, making it a handy bookmark for travelers.

My favorite quick tip is this: if your devices can charge via USB (iPods and most cellphones, for example), then just bring the USB cables they charge with. This way you can charge up several devices with your laptop’s USB ports, and only take up one wall outlet, making you a good neighbor.

Familiarize yourself with your terminal’s loudspeaker system. If you can hear your gate’s announcements from across the terminal, and there are less people there, settle in. Airplanes aren’t movie theaters: you don’t have to be the first on to get a good seat (unless you’re flying Southwest Airlines, which is another topic).

Check your boarding pass for your seat number and memorize it. Then relax while the sheep try to cram themselves into a hollow aluminum tube at the same time. You’ll be reading CrunchGear while they bump each other in the mellon with their carry-ons. When they start announcing stand-by passengers, then that’s your cue to board. You’ll likely get a straight shot to your seat, and you’ll look good getting there.

You’re allowed two carry-ons, but one should work. I’ve stressed before the importance of getting yourself a nice laptop bag, and air travel is just another reason. I’m able to fit my Powerbook, power adapter, phone charger, digital camera, game system, iPod, and a couple magazines into mine, and it’s not even on the larger end of the laptop bag spectrum.

I keep mine at my feet, under the seat in front of me. Don’t be a loser and use the overhead compartment unless you have to: it takes that much longer to deplane (love that word) when you land, and you will be the idiot who bumps someone in the head.

Another great tool to keep with you during your flight is a set of noise-cancelling headphones. Trust me on this one: when the one-year old member of the Mormon family in the row behind you decides it’s a good time to cry, you’ll thank me when your can tune it out.

Once you’re on the ground, stay in your seat. The awful feeling of claustrophobia that airplanes generate is made worse when you’ve got 144 people all trying to fill that one-and-a-half foot wide aisle. Don’t add to the problem. You’ll be getting off just as fast if you chill out and listen to your music another five minutes, and again, you’ll look better doing it.

When you reach the baggage claim, chances are good that the taxi stand is right outside. You’ve got a few minutes before your bags arrive, so take advantage of this downtime to head out and grab one of the abandoned baggage carts that little the sidewalk there. The idiots will be dropping $3-$6 on theirs, but you know better. You’re a CrunchGear reader.

While these tips may seem like common sense, travel is chaos in motion. Thus, a guide like this is more than a list of ideas, it’s a handy reference. Memorize it, make it into a checklist, and keep it in your suitcase. We’re here to help you, the reader, make the most of your day, even if it’s in a crowded, over-priced, dirty airport. We do it because we care.

Good luck, traveller, and feel free to add any personal tips you’ve got in the comments, that’s why they’re there.