I was caught up in the travel nightmare that has been unraveling in the UK this week, the result of a major gambit in the ongoing ‘war on terror’ being foiled. Like many business travelers, I had been due to fly, short haul across into mainland Europe, when the news broke that flights were being cancelled and cabin baggage severely restricted on those planes still flying.
The purpose of my trip was to attend a press conference, demo a new hardware product, interview the CEO, then fly home, and submit my copy about it all. Copy that requires me to take photographs, record an interview, and type up copious notes during my time there.
Now I understand the need to react decisively when a terrorist threat is exposed, and the very nature of this latest one (with the difficulties in detecting liquid bombs before they are taken on-board and assembled) required that only essential carryon items would be allowed. Electrical items most certainly not amongst them as the flash of a digital camera or signal from a mobile phone could apparently produce enough charge to detonate the highly unstable liquid devices. The truth is, I suspect, that there is no going back to the days of taking my mobile office with me onto the airplane and working from my seat.
Yet there is no way I would trust the many thousands of dollars of equipment I need to work upon arrival, to travel in the hold with my clothes. Quite apart from the fact that aircraft holds are, at least for the most part, unpressurised and extremely cold places which are not at all laptop and digital camera friendly. Quite apart from having seen the way baggage handlers handle baggage, which is often more akin to a game of ‘who can throw this the furthest’ than ‘be careful with the passengers belongings, old chap.’ Quite apart from the temptation of all that expensive kit now traveling in cases that need to be either unlocked, or locked using those padlocks with the special keys that airport folk can use to open them up quickly for a poke around, thanks to the terror threat. Quite apart from the well-deserved reputation some airports have earned for their less than honest baggage handling staff. Quite apart from the less than adequate insurance cover provided by the airlines themselves (who will not compensate you beyond a trivial amount for damage or loss to your laptop or camera when in transit) and the fact that your standard travel insurance doesn’t cover expensive goods in the hold either, and the fact that to get any kind of adequate cover will cost an arm and both legs.
Quite apart from all that, I found myself asking the big question: “do I really need to travel at all?”
The answer, surprisingly, is not really. Between email, conference calling and webcasts I could get everything I needed without leaving home. Sure, it means a little more work on behalf of the agency organizing the conference, but not much. Best of all it saves me both time and money, and more money because time is money. You get my drift?
So why was I going in the first place? Networking, pure and simple. Most of the time I can do the actual work at home, but I cannot meet the same people, have the same conversations, and build the same relationships. Which leaves me in something of a quandary? I am not risking my kit in the hold for all the ‘quite aparts’ mentioned earlier, but I need that functionality. I could do what a colleague is doing next week, and using an international courier to deliver his technology-laden briefcase to his destination with the insurance all built into the price. I could, but I will not. Much better to simply reduce the size and delicacy of the kit I take, so I shall be leaving my laptop at home on the basis that most places I will visit can loan me one, or I can find an Internet cafe and use theirs. Instead, I will take my 4 GB USB memory stick with the necessary portable apps and data upon it. Easy to pack, easy to protect, easy to hide away from baggage handlers who probably would not know what it was if it bit them on the ass anyway. What else, well instead of the expensive digital SLR camera and a couple of lenses, I will pack the cigarette packet sized digicam instead that somehow still manages to have enough megapixels to produce an image suitable for publication. Again, easy to both protect and hide in the case. The only item that will not change is a digital voice recorder the size of a chocolate bar, which will be put to even more use, replacing much of the typing I would have otherwise done.
Maybe then, there has been a good result of all this hassle. I will be traveling lighter and less often, saving fuel and the planet in the process, and it has meant that others will be doing likewise.