Business travel isn?t what it used to be. Those spacious first-class seats have given way to super-saver cattle-grade seating and the notable features of most in-flight meals are the large prices and the small portions. Baggage charges, once unheard of, are here to stay and provide irritating chomps out of travel budgets. However, there are many lightweight yet full-featured tech tools that can help you get the most out of your work day on the road, help you eliminate that extra piece of luggage and reduce stress on your back and your wallet.
Not so long ago, heavy IBM ThinkPad notebooks were the norm at business events. Today?s powerful tablets, led of course by Apple?s iPad 2, and the wide availability of free or low-cost wireless Internet access may allow you to leave your notebook at home. By using a service such as Google Docs (docs.google.com), which allows you to create, store and edit documents on the Internet (otherwise known as ?the cloud?), you can get to the files you need when you need them without the need for a notebook with a hard disk.
If you need a real keyboard, there are many choices for tablets, including the Logitech Tablet Keyboard, a $70 accessory that comes in versions for the iPad and for tablets based on Google?s Android 3.0 operating system, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom. The keyboard case converts into a stand, thus allowing you to view your tablet at a comfortable angle. Miss your mouse? Logitech also offers the Tablet Mouse ($50), which connects wirelessly to Android 3.1 tablets via Bluetooth.
Keeping files and documents on a portable hard disk or a pocket flash drive can allow you to travel without any computer at all, as long as there?s computer access at your destination. Hotels like the new Yotel New York hotel on West 42nd Street and Tenth Avenue, just west of Times Square in New York City, offer free Wi-Fi Internet access in all of its spaces and a small business center with free computer access 24 hours a day.
Notebooks with 11-inch displays are in a travel-friendly sweet spot between underpowered, small netbooks and muscle-bound but heavy big-screen notebooks. New power-efficient, yet powerful mobile processors and video chips are allowing manufacturers to build affordable business-class notebooks that are lightweight and have long battery lives. The new HP 3105m notebook comes with Windows 7 Professional and offers an 11.6-inch display, 9.5-hour battery life, a 320-gigabyte (GB) hard disk and 2 GB of RAM in a package that weighs just 3.5 pounds and is just 0.83 of an inch thick. The $459 unit has more than adequate connectivity choices, including Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port for wireless and wire Internet access, Bluetooth for linking to wireless headsets and speakers, three USB ports for various accessories and a VGA (video graphics array) and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) ports for presentations with a TV, monitor or projector.
The HP 3105m uses a 1.6-gigahertz, dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Fusion E-350 ?advanced processing unit? (APU), which is a single, power-efficient chip that combines the functions of a high-performance main processor and graphics processor engine. Of course, the popular Apple MacBook Air is the king of thin notebooks at just 0.68 inches thick and weighing in at 2.1 pounds for the 11-inch version (starts at $999) and 2.9 pounds for the 13-inch version (starts at $1,299).
If you?re the type to forget your cell phone in a hotel room or absentmindedly walk away from it in a bar or restaurant, ?it may pay to have a tiny ZOMM Wireless Leash on your keychain. The $90 unit, which connects wirelessly to your phone via its Bluetooth adapter, can be set to let out a loud squeal or just vibrate if you wander more than 30 feet from your phone. If the phone rings while you?re in another room, you can use the half-ounce ZOMM unit as a small speakerphone and pick up the call by pressing a button. Its lithium ion battery lasts up to five days on a single charge and the speakerphone offers up to two hours of talk time.
One way to keep your luggage light is to lug more items on your person. The $100 Scottevest Travel Vest for men has 22 pockets, including one large enough to hold an iPad or an 11-inch MacBook Air. The company also offers the $225 Carry-On Coat, a long trench coat with 33 pockets, including some large enough to store shirts, pants and toiletries, thus making it possible to travel without luggage altogether. The 5.11 Tactical-brand clothing offered by 5.11 Inc. is designed mainly for law-enforcement personnel, but its offerings, such as the seven-pocket, $55 5.11 Tactical Pants, are also popular among photographers and other gear-toting types because of their casual looks, and durable construction.
If you travel with a lot of small gadgets, you don?t need to take all of their AC chargers with you. The top-of-the-line Energizer Energi To Go Energizer XP18000 portable battery can charge three devices such as a notebook, a smartphone and an MP3 player at the same time. The $150 unit has a 16-20-volt outlet for notebooks, a 9-12-volt output for gadgets such as gaming devices and portable DVD players and a standard 5-volt USB port for smartphones and other devices. Free customized tips are available for most popular smartphones and other small devices.
Business-class hotels and convention centers are notorious for charging rates as high as $15 a day for Wi-Fi Internet access, which is often not fast, reliable or secure. If you try to transmit large files like video clips on such systems you may find yourself babysitting your computer for an hour or more at the end of the workday while your colleagues head out for dinner.
Fortunately, there?s a new generation of pocket-size, high-speed, secure Wi-Fi hotspots that can keep you connected while others are shaking their fists. For example, the Clear Spot 4G Hotspot can provide Internet connectivity to up to eight devices at once at download speeds of 3 to 6 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds up of about 1 Mbps, both of which are faster than many home wired and wireless Internet services. The fastest speeds are achieved when you connect the unit directly to your notebook with a USB cable ? a procedure which also improves connection reliability. The unit can be purchased for $99 or leased for $6 a month and unlimited service plans start at $45 per month.
If you don?t have a portable hotspot and you?re stuck in a place where Wi-Fi is expensive, remember these words: ?Starbucks,? ?McDonald?s? and ?public library.? They almost always offer free Wi-Fi. So go off on that business trip with confidence: your gadgets will back you up.