Business travel these days is a trip, that's for sure -- a journey from Indignity to Uncertainty, with a layover in Anxiety. And we're not even talking about the full-body scans or TSA pat-downs.
On top of all that, you've got business to conduct once you finally get where you're going. So we've put together a list of 12 services, products and Web tools to help small business travelers like you get where you're going with minimal drama. As for those pat-downs though, you're on your own.
Web Tools for Planning Your Small Business Trip
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1. Kayak.com is perhaps the easiest Web-based travel planning tool available. It's essentially a travel search engine at heart. You tell it what you're looking for -- flights, hotels, rental cars, and such -- and it searches for them, presenting the results to you in a way that's easily adjustable. For instance, slider bars let you filter results by take-off and landing times. You can even choose layover airports and exclude flights without Wi-Fi access. Once you've chosen an itinerary, Kayak sends you to the appropriate website, such as an airline's site, to book your reservation. Kayak makes useful apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices, too, though they don't have all the website's functionalities.
2. OnTheFly is a free iPhone and Android app from ITA Software. Like Kayak, OnTheFly and ITA Software's website act as airline travel search engines. OnTheFly offers a few features that Kayak apps for mobile devices lack, such as the capability to search for flights the day before or after a specified date. To be extra sure you've found the best airfares and itineraries, consider using both OnTheFly and Kayak mobile apps and compare the results.
3. SeatGuru gives you the lowdown on domestic and international airline seats: Which seats have power ports? Will the seat you're about to choose be near a bathroom? Which seats on a particular aircraft have extra legroom? Before you book an airline ticket, always make a trip to SeatGuru.
4. TripAdvisor is a full-featured travel planning website, but it's probably best known for its user-generated hotel reviews. Though user reviews can be suspect -- seems like they're often written by flamers or a business owner's friends -- TripAdvisor's hotel reviews and ratings can still be useful.
5. TripIt is a Web tool designed to help you easily organize your travel information. Whenever you receive a confirmation email from an airline, hotel, or rental car, forward it to TripIt, and the service will build an itinerary for you. You can then share the itinerary with others; easily add the itinerary details to your calendar; and receive automatic alerts related to your travel plans. TripIt is a must-have, free service for frequent travelers, and it offers free apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry, too.
Tools for Taking Your Small Business Trip
You'll find FlightTrackPro at Mobiata.com. (Click for larger image).
6. FlightTrack Pro is a $10 app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices that tells you everything you might need to know about every flight, including info about delays, gates, current map location of a plane, and so on. The Pro version automatically syncs with Tripit, too. This one's a gotta-get for airplane junkies.
7. GateGuru is a free iPhone app that helps you navigate airport terminals with ease. Just landed in Atlanta and wondering where the closest Chic-Fil-A counter, ATM, or Wi-Fi network is? GateGuru will point the way.
8. Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 is a compact device that turns a 3G cellular signal (on Sprint's network) into a Wi-Fi network, sharable with up to five devices at once. Here's the best part: Virgin Mobile offers contract-free, pay-as-you-go plans. Through not particularly fast, the MiFi can be invaluable on business trips letting you avoid signing up and paying for Wi-Fi services or having to enter into a one- or two-year data service contract, as most wireless carriers require. For more details, read our Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 review.
And here's the big news: Virgin Mobile recently announced a deal with Walmart. Buy the MiFi from a Walmart store or from Walmart.com, and you can get a pay-as-you go data plan exclusive to Walmart shoppers: 1GB of data for $20 per month. If you buy a MiFi elsewhere, your only data options are 100MB of data, $10 for 10 days, or unlimited data for $40 per month. The Walmart plan is a nice balance between the two extremes. (Note: As of this writing, the Walmart site wasn't yet offering this plan, and the MiFi 2200 was out of stock on the site. You may have to check back later.)
Small Business Travel Gear and Tools
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9. Apple MacBook Air 11-inch model is the must-have, full-featured laptop for frequent travelers. It weighs only 2.3 pounds. It fits comfortably on an airplane seatback tray in coach, even when the person in front reclines. And get this: TSA won't even make you take it out of your bag when you go through security. Sure, you can find less expensive and faster laptops, but this one (starting at $999) is a jewel.
10. SlideRocket is software-as-a-service designed to ease the hassles of giving presentations on the road. You can import your PowerPoint presentations to the SlideRocket service, where you can access them from a variety of devices (computers, iPads, smartphones) and share them with colleagues for easier collaboration. The service recently added support for HTML 5, which lets iPad users give a presentation directly on Apple's tablet. The service is available in three different plans: a limited version for free; a Pro version for $24 monthly; or an Enterprise version (you have to call for pricing).
11. Dropbox is a dead-simple file syncing and sharing service. Install it on all your Windows, Mac, or Linux computers, and the files stored in your Dropbox folder are synced across all computers. In other words, you'll never have to wonder if you remembered to copy all your files from your desktop to your laptop. Dropbox also stores your files in the cloud, and you can access them via Dropbox apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and BlackBerry or from a Web browser. You can get a 2GB plan for free or pay $10 per month (for 50GB) or $20 monthly (for 100GB).
SugarSync is a similar service we also recommend, especially now that its free plan gives you 5GB of data. Other plans offer 30GB ($5 monthly); 60GB ($10 monthly); 100GB ($15 monthly); or 250GB ($25 monthly).
WatchDox adds a higher level of security to its cloud-based document sharing service. Most recently, WatchDox released an iPhone/iPad app for sharing docs with extra security from mobile devices. WatchDox plans start at $50 monthly for a single user with 200 MB of file storage, a maximum document size of 10 MB, and up to five maximum recipients per document.
Don't Forget the Bag
12. Laptop bags. There's no shortage of stylish, durable laptop bags for travelers. Some recommended favorites are Tom Bihn's Checkpoint Flyer -- a checkpoint friendly briefcase that's a bit pricey ($220) but thoughtfully designed and good-looking; Tumi's Alpha Expandable Organizer Laptop Brief ($350), also expensive but with tons of zippered pockets; and just about anything in Briggs & Riley's lifetime-guaranteed product line, especially its @Work collection.
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