Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lessons From The Road (Part 1); Let TripIt Be Your Guide....

Over the last ten days or so I took some much needed, self-enforced, R&R. Being self-employed, the very idea of a real vacation is something of an oxymoron. Those of you also involved in the entrepreneurial treadmill no doubt appreciate the challenges involved in planning and committing to time away....

About once a year I try to plan a trip which forces me to take a step back, reflect, and with any kind of luck, recharge. Typically, this means taking some combination of planes, trains, automobiles, taxis and boats to a venue south of the border (and possibly a series of locales). The goal isn't to completely unplug; candidly, I think a complete disconnect from my business and personal worlds would actually be more stressful than skipping the adventure entirely. (There are those around me who could well argue that throwing the iPhone, iPad and the hassles out the window for a couple of weeks is exactly what the doctor ordered, but they haven't been around me on a desert island and probably wouldn't enjoy the experience if they were.) Still, I focus on fun, sun, sailing, and living the "don't worry, be happy" mantra of the islands during this annual sojourn.

As they say, getting there is half the "fun." What these same folks fail to highlight is getting there can be stressful as Hell and can add untold "pain and suffering" to what should be a time of karmic peace and relaxation. So what lessons might you learn from my recent experiences and how does technology play roles in the creation, and elimination, of the adventure....? Read on.....

First a positive lesson. Trip preparation is key. I am fortunate that my professional life is filled with far fewer actual business trips than ever. Thanks to life decisions and the power of affordable and increasingly functional online tools, there is less and less need to trek across the fruited plains for face to face meetings. (Here's a quick tip which may help you avoid your next out of town business meeting: The creator of Google Voice has introduced a radically different Conference Call Application, UberConference. I recommend taking a quick video tour through the nearby link. If you are willing to test a platform still officially in beta, sign up! Look for an in depth review here in a week or so. My initial impression is very positive!)  I still frequently go to visit a couple long distance clients but these trips are almost always "roadies" involving my car and some quality time on I-65 with an iPhone and Audible book as company.

The annual trip or two south require far more advance planning. The first and best line of defense is a fantastic app, TripIt! Tripit is a mobile app which runs equally well on iOS devices (with dedicated iPhone and retina display ready iPad Apps), Android, Blackberry (yes, Blackberry!) and Windows Mobile. There is also a web browser interface so you can easily view and manage your trip information from your laptop or desktop should it be more convenient.

The basic App is fully functional and free to download. (You can find the App in various platform App stores. For iOS users, here is a direct link to the download. iPad (Free); iPad (No Ads); iPhone (Free); iPhone (No Ads))  TripIt also offers a Pro version which enhances and extends some functionality found in the free app. If your travel is limited to a few trips a year, the free App should prove more than adequate. So what does TripIt actually do? A lot!

At its core, the service aggregates your travel plans. All of your plans-- airline flight and boarding information; hotel reservations; rental car commitments; and more. Once you have an account, the TripIt service automates the vast majority of this activity by intelligently seeking and importing all of this critical information from your email account! Make a reservation on an airline, TripIt "sees" the email confirmation and adds it to your trip travel agenda. Book a hotel through Starwood, all your reservation information will be a tap away; want to add a reservation for a great restaurant your Uncle says you can't miss the next time you visit Playa Del Sol, you can manually add the plan to your itinerary if the company doesn't offer email confirmation. In no time, your entire trip is at your fingertips.
Something changes.... Your flight is delayed, TripIt notifies you. Need that e-ticket boarding pass, no need to wander through your Gmail Account, open TripIt and click it.

Are you the kind of person who wants, or needs, all of this minutia in your Outlook or Gmail calendar? Tap an export option on  TripIt will add all the details to your calendar! The service allows you to manage multiple trips and itineraries. You can also add other family members or associates included in your trip and easily share important trip details with them. This is a must have organizer app for anyone braving modern day travel.

I have not used the TripIt Pro version largely because the free version has served my needs given my infrequent recreational travel these days and because I utilize other Apps such as Award Wallet (iPhone; iPad) to monitor and track my various award points from credit cards, airlines, and companies (which is one of the primary additional features found in TripIt Pro. Many more frequent travelers will discover the $49 annual fee a bargain. Here's what the company web site states are the key additions to the Pro service:

Everything awesome that TripIt has to offer, including instant access to a master itinerary of all your travel plans, plus extra powerful features to keep you in the know, on the go.

Know before you go Instant alerts about flight delays, cancellations, and gate changes sent right to your phone.

Find alternate flights fast We'll help you when you need to find another way there, including flight status and open seats.

Track all your points At last, all your frequent travel account information, balances, and expirations in one place.

Get flight refunds If your airfare is eligible for a refund, you'll be the first to know.

Share automatically Automatically share all your travel plans with the people who need to knowexactly where you are… and where you're going.

Travel with privilegesComplimentary 1-year memberships to Hertz #1 Club Gold and Regus Gold. VIP car rental and access to 1,100 business lounges worldwide. ($660 value)

If you aren't sure Pro is for you, a free 30 day trial will help you make the decision. I have used the free version for several years and several trips and can't imagine planning a trip without it. Highly recommended.

So..... You know what they say about "the best laid plans....." Organization and determination doesn't eliminate frustration and angst when traveling. In the next installment of Music Row on the road, I will be discussing the good, bad, and the ugly of deal sites. Big names such as Expedia are high powered and you may discover, highly overrated. Others such as the lesser known SniqueAway can deliver a lot of value, but you have to be very vigilant (and a little flexible). Like a great five star dive bar which only the locals frequent, there are some online resources you may not know about to make your next getaway a bit more pleasurable. Stay tuned, and whatever you do, let TripIt add your next away from home inspiration to your itinerary......

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Companies:   Apple; Google; TripIt, Inc.

I currently have a long position in $APPL; $GOOG

This commentary is not meant as an endorsement of any company or to provide financial advice.  If the author has any financial interest in any company mentioned at the time of this article’s posting, it will be explicitly noted. I welcome feedback and comments. 

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