Friday, December 15, 2006

Favorite travel tips and tools

Dave asks on BimmerGeek about favorite travel tips and tools.

Here are my notes on this topic, from a woman's perspective.

  • Keep a second, separate bag of travel-sized personal care items. I've found that it is easier to have a second set of care items (facial care regimen, hand lotion, tweezers, antiperspirant, toothbrush and toothpaste) set aside specifically for travel, ready to go in a travel bag. That way, I'm not doing a last-minute packing frenzy after getting ready for my 7 a.m. flight, only to forget something. Fortunately, most companies seem to offer travel-sized options (even my facial care regimen company), and that helps immensely.

  • Keep all electrical cord accessories (including iPod headphones) wrapped up and kept together in a semi-transparent zipped bag. The Sumajin Smartwraps help manage the unruly cords and the bag helps make sure I have everything ready to go. Then, if I need to pull something out when I'm on the go, I pull out the bag and fish out the appropriate cord. Plus, if I get pulled for a security check, it makes it easy for the inspector to look at the cords all at once.

  • Bring disposable reading materials (such as magazines or mass market paperbacks) that you can throw away as you go. While books are nice, they are heavy and have to be carried back with you. Magazines are ideal because I can tear out pages that I want to refer to later and throw away the bulk as I go. If I carry a book with me, I try to limit it to one and then I usually pack it in my checked luggage.

  • This reflects another key tip for me -- the need to travel as lightly as possible. As a petite woman, carrying unnecessary weight makes travel burdensome and wearying. One of the reasons I won't travel with a wireless router any time soon is that it only adds weight and bulk to my luggage -- definitely something I try to avoid!

  • Digitize your notes and combine electronic tools as much as possible. This is one of the reasons why I like using a Windows Media PDA/phone combo, such as my beloved Treo 700w. The Windows version includes all of the key software that I use, including OneNote and Excel for any notes or lists that I want to jot down. Pocket Outlook ensures that I have my calendar, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail and other contact information available. And, having the phone/PDA combo helps lighten the load -- fewer electronics = good!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Enterprise Rent-a-Car of SFO pleases with great service

So, in the last month and a half, I've been traveling back and forth between Lansing and San Francisco. Initially it was to interview with some companies and then to start working for one. Due to this sudden increase in travel, I've been in a position to rent several cars while in the Bay area.

Like many people, I've seen car rental as a commodity product -- a necessary evil for business travel. It's not something that I've put a lot of thought into, and I've pretty much picked whichever company offered the lowest price. Mind, you the price differences between car rental companies usually equals 10 to 50 cents a day on any given week, depending on the demand for that week.

Rental car experiences typically go like this: I walk up to counter and they struggle to find my reservation. They give me the hard sell on outrageously priced "extras" that I don't need and upgrades I don't want. Then I'm told to go to the garage to get the car.

I walk out there, and of course there are no cars in the section for my rental classification. I try to find someone to help me and each "employee" I encounter says it's not their job. So, I pick the next largest car available and pull up to the exit. The staffer at the exit booth calls into a mysterious office and then those employees who wouldn't help me before bring out another car from a smaller classification (what I wanted in the first place!) and then ask me to unload all my crap and instantly switch to the other car, while others wait in the line. -- Entirely annoying and entirely typical of my sad experiences with these companies.

For the last two trips, I had selected Enterprise car rental since it won the price lottery by 10 to 25 cents. I was pleased with the helpfulness of the counter clerk who checked me in. It was also nice that the "pitch" for insurance and fuel was low key.

Then I headed to the area with the cars. As I walked toward the Enterprise section, I was greeted by name by the manager, who then escorted me to the compact vehicle I had set aside. He made sure I was comfortable with the vehicle and set me up with my paperwork. At the Enterprise car section, there were several employees, all helping renters who had recently arrived. I was given a business card with a phone number and e-mail in case I had any questions or problems. And, after I had the car a day, someone called me to make sure there were no problems.

During my second week for which I had an Enterprise rental, the manager recognized me from before and let me know that if I was renting every week, I could simply e-mail them the day before my arrival and I could go directly to the garage -- they'd prep my paperwork in advance and have it ready for me there.

Customer service definitely counts, even in a commoditized environment such as car rentals -- you can be sure I'll be selecting Enterprise in my future trips out of SFO.