Earlier this year I left the UK to hunt for opportunities in America; specifically in Austin, Texas, USA. The games industry often sees talent moving across borders. I thought some back in Blighty may be interested in a few tips for travelling to conferences and job hunting in the USA. Today I will just concentrate on flying.
Check-in as soon as you are allowed; default allocated seats are often terrible unless you have high status with the airline. SeatGuru.com can give you a good indication of what a good and bad seat is. Seats nearer the front tend to be preferable; if a connection becomes tight you will want off that plane as soon as you can. A little time can make the difference between gate open and gate closed.
Use e-tickets when you can – print them out and keep them with your passport. If you do not already have a travel wallet to keep that stuff together, consider it a worthy investment. Keep it somewhere you can easily double check when you leave the house, car, taxi, plane, etc.
For a long trip you may want to ask your own bank if they have preferential rates for booking some dollars early and compare the rates + fee to the Post Office. Check if the fees and rate for just taking out money from a cash machine with your debit card are unreasonable, if not you might just want to just wait and see if you need any cash. If you do take out cash abroad, take out enough to see you through rather than across lots of transactions, as there does tend to be a per-transaction fee. Do not wait until the airport to exchange money, their rates can be quite bad.
If you are flying out for an interview double check the dress code expected in the interview. In game industry interviews it might hurt you more to overdress rather than to be too casual as far as “cultural fit” impressions go. However, do not go as far as packing dirty clothes!
For clothes you are expecting to wear at an interview, use dry cleaning bags. If you have stayed in a hotel before you can usually find these in the wardrobe. They help keep clothes wrinkle free, especially if you hang things up when you get to your destination. For smart trousers, use those hangers with the clips. On the way back you can separate dirty from clean clothes with the dry cleaning bags.
Choose an airline you think you will use the most and stick to it, members of frequent flyer programs are more likely to be upgraded. Get a decent carry-on suitcase that is close to the maximum size of your selected airline. Do not go to the size limit, connecting flights may have smaller overhead bins. Go for a midrange or better case; cheap suitcases are often badly designed and made of inferior materials. If you are unsure test it out by rolling it around the shop to get a feel for how it will be like wheeling around an airport (perhaps at speed!)
Pack light. Choose one book and one magazine, you will not have time to read more anyway, no matter your intentions. If you want more to do save up for a Kindle or use another multipurpose device you are already travelling with. Audio books ripped to MP3s are another good concession to your “not enough to read” tendencies.
Only pack one pair of jeans, and pick smart ones. Jeans are great because they can be worn more than once without becoming disgusting, but they are bulky. Be sensible about how many changes of t-shirts and underwear you pack, if you need more, you can buy some cheaply at your destination.
Gadgets – pack only your most slim line multipurpose device. Pack a charger for that and a multipurpose USB charger/cable for your phone, MP3 player, etc. Do not take your desktop replacement laptop if your netbook will do. Make sure you have Skype credit and the application running in the background; some airport Wi-Fi hot-spots allow you to use Skype credit to pay for Internet access. A compact Bluetooth headset can be useful for making calls to just about anywhere via your computer and a Wi-Fi connection – save on roaming fees!
When packing, try and keep one change of clothes within easy access. If something is spilled on you during a flight, you will be glad of it. Even if it’s a particularly uncomfortable flight and you find yourself sticky, a change of clothes can really help you feel not so grotty.
Try to never check any baggage. If something does go wrong you have everything you need with you. You will also be easier to place on alternate flights.
Many airlines let you take a carry-on and a personal item (such as a backpack). Some even allow a laptop case on top of that. If taking a laptop I suggest getting a slim neoprene bag that can fit in your carry-on just in case. Check with your airline first. It would be a shame to check a bag after taking all the trouble to avoid it.
Have the airline’s phone number in your mobile phone. If your flight does get cancelled and you need to find an alternative flight and the queue is long, queue up and phone out at the same time. Often the person at the end of the phone line can help you almost as much as the person you are queuing to see.
If someone on your plane has a cold, you want to do your best to avoid it – the last thing you want is to be jet lagged AND have a cold. For this I suggest Vicks First Defense spray… it actually works really well and can be taken preventatively. If you wait until the first signs, then it can be just as effective.
Eyes tend to get dried out on planes, but there is a kind of eye spray you can pick up from Boots called Optrex ActiMist. You spray it on closed eye-lids and it seems to do just about as well as eye drops you put directly in your eyes. It is expensive but has a longer shelf life then normal eye drops. I have yet to find a good place to get an American equivalent. It is an easy way to feel more refreshed while travelling.
Do not bother with those travel pillows, they can take up a ton of room that can be put to better use. I expect you can improvise something to prop your head with (like an airline blanket) if necessary.
Do take your favorite headache medicine with you. Avoid taking medicine with caffeine on the plane though, you should aim to get as much sleep as possible. Buy a cheap travel shaver (Phillips do a pretty good AA powered one) if you normally wet shave, or just buy a disposable razor when you get there. Remember to keep any creams or liquids (including toothpaste) to travel size. Keep in mind that if you are staying at a hotel they will have many things you are tempted to pack anyway. Try and fit your creams and liquid containers in to a small transparent resealable sandwich bag before you go; with any luck it will be the correct size or smaller. Keeping them separately in a bag will also help prevent any spills in your luggage.
There are a few ways you can help shift in to the destination time zone temporarily. A few days before you go try getting up and going to bed an hour or two earlier than normal… which might be easier said than done.
One thing that I found out quite recently that works for me to combat jet-lag is to time meals properly while travelling. Your metabolism can give your body clues about what time of day it thinks it is. On the plane refuse meals or eat light for meal times that do not match with your final destination time zone. Again sleeping on the plane helps, though do not use alcohol to induce sleep; that will just leave you dehydrated!
Over to you
I am sure you have your own flying tips, why not share them in the comments?