Travel Tips or What I Learned from Two Weeks in New Orleans

August 3, 2010

The New Orleans oil spill trip is about 6/10 done as I write this, but that’s plenty of time to share with you some of the things I’ve learned about being in a hotel in a strange city for an extended period of time.

Yes, I’ve spent long stretches in other cities, but I either moved around a bit or rented an apartment. I’m thinking that when I do this ‘roadtrip’ type project again, I’ll rent a condo or a timeshare as my base of operations. It will give me more control and probably defray expenses.

To answer your unasked but lingering questions…

There is still oil in the Gulf of Mexico

People down here don’t seem to have the same bias against the local BP gas stations that we harbor up north

Po’Boys are really just submarine sandwiches with random stuff on them

I have not seen a tarball yet

OK, let’s now get into the meat of this post. The list of things I’ve learned about being a man on the go and living in a hotel room – Hampton Inn by the way – for two weeks.

1 – A travel tube of toothpaste is inadequate for more than eight days. You will need two or will need to purchase a human-size tube when you arrive at your destination. Further, Wal-Mart and the other -Mart stores are perfect for buying razors, shaving cream, shampoo and tooth essentials. Don’t spend millions of dollars on stuff at the corner pharmacy in your adopted town.

2 – Having laundry at the hotel – or within walking distance – is really important unless you plan to bring a monster suitcase. My hotel didn’t have laundry but there is a place called Suds and Duds (they don’t serve beer or food sadly) on Bourbon Street. For $1 a pound they will wash, dry and fold your stuff. That way you only need a week’s worth of clothing. Less if you wear the same shorts or pants multiple times. I don’t know anyone like that, but you might.

3 – Evaluate whether it’s better to have a car or use public transportation. If you are at a conference in a city or working a job there where you only have to go to one location on repeated days, you can get by without a car. The trip from the airport to the hotel is usually between $5 and $50, but you won’t need to spend money parking a car or renting it.

Conversely, if you have day trips planned and have to be at destinations not easily accessible via public transport or prohibitively expensive by taxi, get a car. But be sure to find out what parking is like in the the city where you’re staying. In New Orleans, it’s typical for overnight parking to cost $25-$35. I got lucky and got a rate at the hotel that included parking and breakfast.

4 – Breakfast! I love this meal and typically spend anywhere between $9-$20 a day for breakfast at home. Staying in a hotel that offers free breakfast with the room means I can save that money or spend it on larger other meals. But you should be aware that breakfast in hotels can get boring and other elements come into play. Sometimes the waffle maker catches fire or the other guests should be tossed in an elevator shaft because they’re so annoying. I try to vary my meals by having yogurt one day, eggs the next, waffle the next and so on. And I don’t sit next to the bickersons or the annoyingsons.

5 – When booking for an extended stay, you might have to do some work to get a good rate for the entire stay. I had to break my reservation into two pieces to get the same rate for all 14 nights. Then, when I arrived I had the front desk just combine the reservations. The hiccup would have been over one of the weekends in the middle when the listed rate was $40 more per night than the rate (with parking and breakfast) that I had booked for the start and finish of my stay. Often, squatters (people already in a room) have some leverage at the hotel and most good hotels will take your comfort into consideration – especially if you’re spending two weeks and thousands of dollars with them.

6 – Know your room and how the hotel treats rooms. I usually get really rolling on my writing around mid-day when I’m on the road. This is at odds with housekeeping because around lunch and beyond you can hear doors in the hallway opening and shutting constantly. The room shakes as doors clang off the safety bar that housekeepers flip out to hold doors open. And there’s lots of yelling for different size sheets and other supplies. If you can’t work with noise, go do other stuff during the room-cleaning periods.

Also, know the hotel policy on towels and sheets. Many hotels now are saving water by not washing your stuff all the time. They just make your bed up and refold your towels. If I want new linens or towels, I put them clearly in a pile near the door.

Next, use the room safe. It takes two minutes to toss your stuff inside and these days many safes are free to use and they can fit all your gadgets. Mine fit a laptop, video and digital camera, audio recorder, various chargers and my other valuables.

And to the point of chargers, realize that some light switches shut off outlets in the room. And some rooms shut off all power if there’s no movement in the room for a while. This means if you wanted to charge your camera or cell phone while you walked around the city, you’d better find the outlets that remain live or be prepared to run out of juice.

7 – Lastly, gifts. I have a simple rule. If I’m away on business, the only gifts I bring back are for significant others, cats and people who gave me the lead on that project or job. If I’m away on pleasure, I try to remember everyone and usually fail miserably. When in doubt, listen for the door down the hall to clang and run to the housekeeper’s cart and collect some fancy soaps.

What do you do or think or know when traveling? Share in the comments!