Vacation's over, the kids are finally back in school, and now it's time for us grownups to get down to business. Many of us who are established in our careers are often called upon to hit the road or take to the air, but traveling doesn't have to be so miserable, especially when you have the right tech on board. I just got back from a whirlwind business trip, and here are my top five favorite techno-tools I used to turn travel drudgery into a surgical strike:
1. Planning: Get the best seat
Not all airplane seats are created equal. Before you choose that seat number, go to Seat Guru or Seat Expert and find out where the best seats are located on that giant 500mph tin can into which the airlines will be shoehorning your carcass. This helpful site even tells you how wide your chosen seat will be, as well as how much space there is between it and the seat in front of you. Shocking fact: Many economy-class seats are a mere 18 inches wide. If you're one of the lucky ones whose derrière will fit comfortably within those confines, you have my envy.
2. Up-to-date info: There's an app for that
Unless you're one of the fortunate few who can travel with a personal assistant alongside you, the next best thing is Mobiata FlightTrack Pro, a $10 smartphone application for Android, iPhone and iPad. Once you've determined your trip itinerary, you simply email it to your free Tripit account, and then it links up with FlightTrack Pro to tell you everything you need to know about that flight. It notifies you of flight delays and gate changes in real time, and can even automatically enter the departure/arrival times and flight numbers into your calendar app. And, it shows you a map that gives you a visual representation of where your plane is in the world, and it works offline so you can check it in-flight. This was the handiest app I used on the trip.
3. Airborne tranquility: Keep things quiet
That constant noise inside an airplane makes you even more fatigued. That's why I recommend noise-canceling headphones, capable of turning that engine whine and blasting wind noise into the quietude of a gentle breeze. The best news is they've gotten a whole lot better in the past few years. Bose nails it with its $300 QuietComfort 15 headphones. But my favorite noise-canceling cans are the Sony MDR-NC500D, whose remarkable digital noise cancellation has been a soothing companion for me on many a long airplane trip. Psst! Here's a little secret: They've been around for a couple of years, so you can find these $400 phones discounted to $240.
4. Travel light: Your laptop might be too heavy
A few months ago, my aching shoulder told me it was time to lighten the load on the road. I found two solutions to that problem that both work extremely well: One is a tiny netbook with a 10-inch screen, the $350 MSI Wind U160. It has plenty of power for most computing tasks including some light Photoshop work. Another great idea is to use the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard, with an added benefit of the Transportation Safety Administration not requiring you to take that slim tablet out of your bag when you go through security.
5. Don't get ripped off: Carry your own Wi-Fi
We've raved about MiFi, a cellular modem that acts as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. It lets you wirelessly connect up to five Wi-Fi devices to a single data modem for Internet access. Now Virgin has taken that concept one step better, lowering that steep $60 a month charge to $40, and even better, letting you sign up for the service only when you need it. When my traveling companions complained that the hotel Wi-Fi wasn't working, they wondered how I was still able to connect. MiFi, that's how.