If you’re traveling to one of the upcoming fall conferences, here’s a few of my favorite travel tips – as inspired by Kevin Kline’s recent travel tips post. (If some of these familiar, it’s because I originally ran parts of it last fall before the conference season.)
Use SeatGuru.com or SeatExpert.com to get the best seat.
I’m not talking about first class versus coach – even in coach, not all seats are created equal. Every plane has some surprise seats that have more room or awkward armrest setups.
SeatGuru and SeatExpert have maps of every plane flown by every airline. Call your airline or check online to find out the exact make & model of plane you’re flying and then pull up the SeatGuru or SeatExpert map. The seats are color-coded by comfort level. Hover your mouse over your seat, and you’ll see detailed notes about the comfort level of that particular seat. Then, with that map up on your screen, call your travel agent or go to your airline’s web site to change your seat. You can sometimes do this online even when it’s too early to check in for your flight, and the earlier you do this, the better your chances are for getting a good seat.
I’m typing this from the comfort of a Continental Embraer RJ-135, seat 12A. It’s an exit row seat with no seat on either side of me, so I have plenty of space in front of me for my legs, and plenty of space on either side for my arms. It didn’t cost me any extra – I just went to Continental.com and tweaked the seat on my reservation.
For long flights, I recommend the aisle seats because it’s easier to get up and go to the bathroom and the bar. What? You didn’t know about the bar? Anytime you’re thirsty, just head to the flight attendant area, and they’ve usually got water, soda, and snacks available for self-service customers. If you’re right-handed, get the aisle seat on the left side of the plane so that you’ve got room to maneuver; I find it easier to type, move the touchpad around, and so on when I’ve got room for my right elbow.
If you don’t find a better seat, don’t give up: check again exactly 3 days and 2 days before departure. Airlines automatically upgrade their elite frequent fliers to first class for free at those times, and guess what – that means their seats in coach are suddenly empty. These people are exactly the kinds of people who usually know to grab exit row seats and those “special” seats with more room, so you’ll find these seats opening up again.
No assigned seat? Check in online ASAP.
If your airline reservation doesn’t show an exact seat number, your flight may be overbooked. Airlines routinely overbook flights because not everybody shows up for a flight.
Go to your airline’s web site and try to check in right now. You won’t be able to, but it will tell you when the flight checkin will open up. Set yourself a reminder to check in at that date/time. The earlier you check in, the more likely that you’ll get an assigned seat. The later you check in – well, let’s just say you don’t want to get a miserable $100 air travel voucher in exchange for missing the first day of PASS.
Knock yourself out on long flights.
Forget paying extra for a first class upgrade. Get a travel pillow for under $10. The one shown here is an inflatable model, which is nice because you can deflate it and stick it in a laptop bag. If you don’t want to carry one around, you can usually pick up the non-inflatable ones in airport gift shops for around $20.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – you’re thinking that wearing an inflatable toilet seat around your neck will make you look stupid. You’re wrong. The drool coming out of your mouth is what’s going to make you look stupid.
As you’re boarding, take a sleeping pill. Settle into your seat. If you want a blanket, buckle your seatbelt on the outside of your blanket so that the flight attendant won’t have to wake you up to make sure you’re wearing it. You’ll be out like a light in no time.
Conquer time zone changes with vitamin B12.
This tip comes from Douglas McDowell of SolidQ, and it’s saved my bacon more than a few times now. Pick up some vitamin B12 pills at your local drugstore and keep ’em in your laptop bag. I prefer blister-packed sublingual pills – the sublingual ones that come in a bottle break up pretty quickly if they bang around. Take one, and you’ll be comfortably awake for a couple of hours, but not wired or jittery.
Caffeine is the wrong answer – it dehydrates you, makes you jittery, and has other side effects that you want to avoid when traveling.
Be wary of taking late flights for travel vouchers.
Those travel vouchers sometimes have blackout dates, and the blackout dates are like “Valid only for trips with a Saturday stay on the third week of the month.” If you really want to risk it, then talk to the airline staff before you volunteer the seat. Ask whether the voucher has any restrictions at all, and ask them to show you one of the vouchers. If it says anything about “Only valid for fare code X”, there’s a catch.
Oh, and whether you’re delayed by weather or you take a late flight by choice, call your hotel to let them know. If you don’t show up by midnight, they have a tendency to give away your room to somebody else when they’re booked solid. Don’t expect to be able to waltz in the next day thinking your room will still be held for you. If you don’t show up on the day of your reservation, they might charge you for one night’s stay, but they won’t hold the room for your entire stay.
Leave a tip for the hotel maid on your pillow.
Hotel maids make minimum wage, and it’s common to leave them tips. Some folks only leave the tip on the day of checkout, but I prefer to leave a tip daily because the same maid may not clean your room the entire time – they do get days off, ya know.
Also, make it as easy as possible for the maid. Use just one trash can if you can, and dump your used towels in a single pile on the toilet seat (with the seat closed, speedy). It’s less bending over for them.
Plan questions for vendors and peers.
Ahead of time, make a list of projects you’re working on, new products you want to implement, or large challenges that you’re facing. Write this stuff down now, because you won’t remember it when somebody asks, “Do you have any questions?” Us humans are terrible at that.
This is just my personal opinion, but I say do NOT ask tech support questions at a conference. Tech support people aren’t usually the ones sent to conferences. If you want support, call the support line. If you have large architecture questions, implementation ideas, or tips and tricks, then you’ll find good answers at a conference. If you’re getting error 0x8004005,search the web.
Make a list of things to bring to the conference.
Here’s a list of things you may not think to bring along:
- A small, light extension cord or surge strip. There’s never enough outlets, especially at tech conferences. If your laptop has a two-prong electric adapter, bring a two-prong extension cord too, because not all outlets have three prongs. A 2-prong extension cord will get you into places other people can’t go.
- An extra laptop battery. It ain’t cheap, but if you want to take notes during the sessions, it’s easier if you don’t have to fight over power outlets.
- Business cards. If you have a personal web site you want to promote, or if you use Twitter, order business cards now. They’re surprisingly inexpensive if you’re doing simple text with no logos – like $10 for 250-500. I order a set just for conferences that have conference-relevant information like my work email, personal email, Twitter link, web site links, etc, but not mailing address. (Nobody at a conference wants your snail mail address, although you can put city & state if you want an icebreaker.) For ultra-personal cards, check out Moo.com.
Don’t feel guilty about skipping sessions to mingle.
I make a list of sessions that I absolutely can’t miss, but the rest of the time, I wing it. If I get the chance to have a one-on-one impromptu chat session with somebody really brilliant, I’ll go for that, because frankly, that’s worth way more than a session.
For example, I got the chance last year to sit in the hallway during a session and do some impromptu data mining with Donald Farmer, and that’s one of my favorite memories from the Summit. Did I miss a session? Yep. Did I feel guilty? Only for about the first five minutes.
Leave the support calls at home, or bring your evidence.
PASS is a great place to get access to some of the brightest minds in the database business.
It’s a really crappy place to open a support case.
If you’re struggling with a problem that you just can’t fix, and you’ve opened a support case with Microsoft (or in my case, Quest), it can be tempting to approach Microsoft employees and ask for insight. You know how when the doctor bangs your knee, your leg jerks up? I have a really similar reaction. When someone says they’re having a problem, I blurt out, “I need your Windows event logs – both system and application – plus the results from sp_configure and dbcc tracestatus.”
If you’re going to ask support questions, be fair – bring along your support case number, a folder with all of the evidence you’ve gathered so far in the case, and a laptop that can access the system remotely right now. Armed with that, you stand a great chance of getting great minds to ponder your problem and cooperate with you pronto. Without that, you’re probably going to get a polite smile-and-nod-I-feel-your-pain.
Never eat or drink alone – tweet with #SQLPass.
If you’re going to an upcoming conference, bookmark these two links now on your phone or your PDA:
During the conference, I’ll tweet whenever I find out about after-hours events, dinners, meetups, or spontaneous meetings during the day.
I remember what it was like going to PASS 2007 as an attendee who didn’t know anybody – man, it was tough to find out what was going on! I ate lunch and dinner by myself most of the time. Let’s face it, us DBAs aren’t always the best party people. (Except for the PASSCamp Germany guys, they know how to put on a party!) Now that I’m an insider (woohoo!) I’ll share the knowledge to get you folks into the action.
A lot of us will be roaming around downtown Seattle with our handheld gadgets, monitoring the Twittersphere for the phrase #SQLPASS in much the same way that truckers use their CB radios to monitor channel 19 looking for bears. When you’re bored, get on Twitter and say so, but make sure to include the phrase #SQLPass. Someone will hear your pain and tell you where the party’s at.