My worst business trip ever (Part II: Heading back to Athens)

A new day – Tuesday – had started and I had a nice feeling about it. I woke up early, had a nice breakfast at the hotel, took a warm shower and check out, heading back to the meeting place. This time the elevator was working. I had already checked in for both my Lufthansa flights from Berlin to Munich and from there to Athens in the previous afternoon, and I was supposed to leave the meeting at about 16.00 to head to the airport and catch my flight.

For some reason I did not have a good cellular signal at the meeting building and at some point after the lunch break, I received a call. It was a colleague of mine, who said that they have been trying to contact me for quite a long time to inform me that my Lufthansa flight was cancelled (WTF!!). The good news was that I was rebooked to a Swiss flight to Zurich and from there to Athens. The bad news was that the Swiss flight was one hour earlier than my Lufthansa one, so I had to rush to the airport – now!

(Lufthansa only informed me by SMS (not via email, which I checked regularly), but I had no signal at the time, so I received it rather late).

I quickly picked up all my stuff and rushed to the bus stop to take the airport bus so quickly that I did not have time to greet my colleagues at the meeting. In the meantime, I was on the phone with my agent, who offered to check me in as well, so that I would save some time – and I was glad she did. She also emailed me the boarding pass, just to be on the safe side.

My last photo before leaving Berlin; yes, it was snowing in the morning.

Thankfully, I arrived to the airport on time and went through the security checks pretty fast. I was one time and the flight of Swiss only had a slight delay so we made it on time in Zurich. However, the flight from Zurich to Athens was also delayed (by about 45 mins) and this only got worse by the fact that Swiss staff at the gate started asking passengers to hand over their oversized of second cabin item. As expected, no one was willing to hand over a luggage that they planned to take on board and this led to a confusion and contributed to the delay of the flight.

As a result of all this mess, I reached Athens more than 1 hour later than I expected, at about 01.45. I was on time in all occasions, but none of the airlines was. I reached home at about 02.30, went to bed at about 03.00. Next morning, I woke up at 06.30 to get to the office as usual 🙂

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My worst business trip ever (Part I: Heading to Berlin)

(Alternative title: A 150 Euro taxi ride to nowhere)

(Alternative title #2: Oh Lufthansa, where art thou?)

I have been traveling all over the world for business for the last 10 years – I even managed to get a Gold status with Aegean Airlines at some point, as a frequent flyer. In these 10 years I only once missed a flight (it was due to long security/passport controls in the U.S. but I was lucky enough to be rebooked to the next flight). I was lucky enough but also did my best to be always on time for my flights.

Last Sunday, I had to fly to Berlin through Frankfurt for business purposes with Lufthansa. I had the option of taking an earlier direct flight to Berlin, but I opted to spend some more time with my family on Sunday, who wouldn’t?

I arrived on time at the Athens airport but the flight was delayed by more than 1 hour minutes (I cannot recall exactly) “due to the plane arriving delayed in Athens”. To make a long story short (and this is a really long story!) we reached Frankfurt airport only to find out that the last flight to Berlin had just taken off on time, leaving the remaining passengers waiting at the airport. A helpful lady at the gate informed me about the good news and the bad news:

The good news were that I would get a hotel voucher, a couple of vouchers for the taxi (from and to the airport) and a 10EUR voucher for a snack, as the hotel kitchen would be closed by the time I reached it. I would also be re-booked on the early morning Lufthansa flight to Berlin – but I would have to be at the airport no later than 06.15.

The bad news: The hotel was about 90 km from the airport (!!), so something about 50 mins by taxi… and this is where all hell breaks loose:

  1. I couldn’t find where to use my snack voucher and wasted precious time (as I realized later on); in the end I found a place, where I got a couple of sandwiches just before it closed for the night.
  2. I went out in the freezing cold (-1 oC) waiting for a taxi – there was no queue, and taxi drivers came out of nowhere, picked up customers randomly and left
  3. I got myself a taxi but the taxi driver hardly spoke English and he did not know where the hotel was; his bloody GPS could not pick up a signal and I was trying to explain to him that since we had stopped under a bridge it would be hard to get a signal. After spending about 15 mins waiting for the GPS, he brought a second one from the trunk and it actually worked.
  4. In the meantime, I tried using my smartphones for the same purpose (actually, the taxi driver insisted on it); however, my Lumia was running out of battery (and later I realized that I had only downloaded the Berlin offline maps before leaving home) while my backup smartphone did not have any offline German maps at all.
  5. On the way to the hotel, the driver explained to me that there were no rooms in Frankfurt due to a large exhibition taking place during these days – lucky me!
  6. I had to be at the airport at 06.15 – the driver told me to get a taxi earlier than 05.00 from the hotel, as there could be heavy Monday traffic later on…
  7. When I finally reached the hotel, I realized that there were dozens of passengers facing the same issue as me; everyone had a pack of vouchers and they were all directed to the same hotel from the airport…a long queue before I could get my key for the room. At least I managed to book a taxi for 04.30 next morning.
  8. I only had about 4 hours available for sleep; however, I had to take a shower, eat my snacks, send a couple of urgent emails (e.g. informing the hotel at Berlin for my absence and let them know when I would check in) and re-arrange my stuff in my small wheeled backpack (the issues of traveling packed)
  9. I was so worried that I would not hear the alarm in the morning that I kept checking the clock every 15 mins. In the meantime, I could hear people leaving their rooms so I gave up and woke up at 03.50.
  10. I picked up my phones which I left charging overnight, only to realize that my main phone was not plugged properly, so charging had stopped at about 60% – not good enough for the long day ahead of me.
  11. There was no traffic, no long security queues, no nothing – so I found myself waiting at the gate at about 05.30; 45 mins before expected. On top of that the Lufthansa flight was for once more delayed (something like 30 minutes). This time it was the ground team to blame, as they did not start preparing the plane early enough…enough with pathetic excuses!
At first I thought I was hallucinating due to lack of sleep; however, it was just the interesting decoration of the hotel 🙂

I finally reached Berlin, found my way to the TXL bus and reached my hotel, which was almost next to the meeting place. I paid a visit to make sure that I still had a room (got no response to my email so far) and leave some of my stuff in the room. At the reception, I was informed that they did not receive my email and I should have called them instead to let them know of the situation! Bloody hell…

In the end they found me a room and also allowed me to use their fast WiFi connection at no cost (which I never did, as costs may incur out of nowhere in hotels). Went upstairs, left my stuff (clothes and wash bag) and headed to the meeting place. It took me 10 mins to find the entrance, as Google maps showed the main entrance of the building while the organizers had used a side door instead. Relieved, I entered the building, heading to the 5th floor, where the meeting was taking place (and I was already 1 hour late); lucky me – the elevator was out of order so I had to use the stairs, packed with my (still heavy) wheeled backpack!

I spent so much time at the airports that in the end I felt like Tom Hanks!

My presentation was the last one in the agenda, and by that time I could hardly keep  my eyes open – let alone delivering a decent presentation. Supported by several cups of coffee in the meantime, I managed to do a good job (as my friends in the audience told me later). However, I had to decline the offer for drinks and dinner right after the meeting, as I was really exhausted. I just went back to the hotel to get some decent sleep.

A hard day was over; but not the hellish trip… (to be continued)

Traveling light with my wheeled backpack: first impressions

It has been quite a long time since I last travelled abroad for business purposes. In the meantime, I made quite an extensive research on backpacks that can be used for short trips and I also did my research on how to pack (more) efficiently.

For a recent 2,5 days trip from Athens to Berlin (flying from Athens on Sunday afternoon and getting back home on Tuesday midnight), I decided to skip my typical cabin luggage and I instead opted for a more compact and wheeled backpack. It was a backpack that I “inherited” from my sister – I am still not sure how and when. On top of that, I am not sure about its brand and model, as it seems to be a “Turnip“-branded backpack (Highlander Continental 30), probably meant for company employees or as a gift to customers; who knows? I could not find any information on the Web about it.

Turnip_Highlander_backpack_closed

 

Main features

The specific backpack is not the most spacious cabin luggage available on the market, nor a really practical one: It has a main compartment with a padded pocket for laptops and a small, shallow zippered pocket in front of it, suitable for securely storing your wallet, passport/ID or anything valuable but small. In addition, it has three pretty small & shallow (apart from one) external pockets on its front (e.g. for cables, chargers and stationary), along with two side mesh pockets for e.g. a water bottle and an umbrella.

Turnip_Highlander_backpack_open

 

Due to its design, the backpack hardly stands on its own when fully packed, as it tends to lean in the front and fall. Its strong point though are its wheels; it is the only wheeled backpack I have, so I went for it, even though my aging Trust laptop backpack seems to be able to hold much more volume.

Capacity

All in all, I managed to pack my essentials for this business trip, which were:

1. An 11.6-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard
2. A pair of trousers
3. Two shirts, really carefully folded
4. 3 pairs of socks & underwear
5. My pajamas
6. The typical transparent plastic bag with all my liquids (toothpaste, perfume, foot balm, hand sanitizer) as this was a cabin luggage, and my electric toothbrush
7. Packs of gum, medicine, refreshing tissues
8. 2 chargers (for the tablet & the smartphone)
9. 10 x company leaflets of 10 pages each, about 20 pages of A4 sheets with printed material, as well as my thick paper notebook with pens, markers etc.
10. An external hard disk & a powerbank with their cables
11. A pair of gloves and my wooly cap (Berlin was expected to be chilly, -5 to 5 Celsius during my stay)

There was still some space to fit e.g. my slippers or a small bag, but since the backpack was already heavy enough (about 8 Kg, as weighted at the airport counter), I opted to keep it light. There is also the possibility of having to carry some additional stuff on the trip back home, so this space could prove valuable.

As soon as I reached my hotel room, I removed anything not related to the meeting, so that I would look professional enough 🙂 In any case, it was great being able to walk around without having to carry all this weight on my back & shoulders.

Impressions

What I liked:

  • Wheels: Grateful for being able to push and pull my luggage instead of having to carry it on my shoulders;
  • Enough capacity for a two-days business trip; if this was a casual weekend, I could squeeze even more stuff (or have more free space)
  • Various organizational options – not the best ones for organizing stuff my way, but still I appreciated the pockets available.
  • The main compartment opens quite wide, so I could easily organize my stuff inside (not exactly 180 degrees, but I could do the work)
  • Shoulder straps are well-padded and totally invisible when stored in their pocket at the back of the backpack.
  • The storage pocket of the straps can be used for storing thin items, too; I used this space mostly for storing the leaflets and my notepad.

What I did not like:

  • Hard to keep the backpack standing straight; it usually tends to lean to the front.
  • I would like a different layout; e.g. a way to keep things more organized in the main pocket and probably to keep personal items in a different compartment than the work/professional ones. In this trip, I was forced to use bags for separating clothes from other stuff;
  • It is rather narrow at the top, missing some extra storage space that could be used if needed;
  • When using the shoulder straps, their storage pocket stays open – which doesn’t look good;
  • It looks bulky and rather ugly, due to its external pockets which extend.

Conclusions

To sum up, it was a great way to put the weight down to the ground and pull it instead of carrying on my shoulders; at the same time, I would appreciate some more storage and a better organization of the available space. It may be more sporty than I would like so I would not want to be unfair – maybe I was not exactly using it the way it was meant to be used (i.e. not for business trips or for thorough organization of items)

I would definitely use the backpack again in the future, for similar short trips but I would also keep my eye on any alternatives I have.

Tech Air backpack: Getting along with it

I started using my Tech Air TAN-3711 backpack daily since January, after I realized that I should store my XD Design Bobby Compact for future use, when it would become more necessary. I decided to give the Tech Air another try, in order to better understand its features and see if I could live with it – and if so, for how long. In these two months, including a 4-days business trip, during which it was my daily gear for a 12-hour per day schedule, I admit that I started finding it closer to my needs and more practical than I initially thought:

 

Air Tech backpack full
The Tech Air backpack has more storage space than I initially thought.

 

Positive points

  • The internal organization of stuff is convenient; I found good use for the 5 pockets of the main compartment (picture with pockets), and since I do not always carry a laptop with me, I use the padded pocket (the backpack’s strong selling point) for storing my external hard disk, chargers and cereal bars while the last compartment is used for A4 papers and other printed material;
  • Depending on the use, its main compartment may be expanded to fit a water bottle and even a change of clothes (not too much though) or even a small-to-medium-size lunch box on the top (close to the zippers);
  • The backpack features a waterproof, durable material at its bottom (externally), so there is no way to get this soaked if left on wet surface;
  • The zippers work flawlessly, even though they do not seem to be the typical high-quality YKK;
  • Shoulder straps are comfortable and well-padded;
  • The backpack has an almost square form and it had pretty large dimensions (especially width) but it is still lean, thanks to lack of external pockets for water bottles and umbrellas. Two sets of compression straps minimize the width of the backpack when needed;
  • Overall it is a well-built backpack with sturdy material; it keeps its shape even when empty and looks like it is built to last.

 

I initially underestimated the internal organization options of the backpack; found these pockets really useful now.

 

Negative points

  • As mentioned in my review, there are no small zippered pockets for smaller items like USB sticks, memory cards, paperclips etc. I still find this annoying and a big drawback
  • The back side is comfortable but does not feature a breathable design; haven’t used the backpack during a typical Greek hot summer yet, but I would expect an unpleasant experience (and lots of sweat stains) on the back;
  • Lack of side water bottles: A leak-proof water bottle could be stored in the main compartment, but this would minimize available space;
  • The backpack seems to be a bit on the heavy side; this is due to its relatively thick material and padding. However, taking into consideration the materials used, it is lighter than I would expect by looking at it.

The more I use the Airtech backpack, the more I understand that in contrast with the current all-purpose backpacks, it was made for business / professional use. Not for commuters (e.g. lack of water bottle pocket), nor for school (no way to fit all these school books or organize your stationary), or for casual weekends away from home (e.g. hardly fits a couple of t-shirts). It is a streamlined business backpack, with interesting (but not always practical) organization options.

A small experiment – going back to my Sentio?

I did an experiment the other day: I tried migrating all the stuff I have in my Tech Air to my old favorite Sentio Sporty. There were many items accumulated in the backpack since then, so this was a challenge. Since the Sentio has all its pockets in the front side (thus the unbalancing issue), I tried to put several heavy items (e.g. hard disk, powerbank, documents etc.) in the internal laptop sleeve and some others in the large main compartment. However, when I finished loading it with all my stuff, it still looked like a sack of potatoes, having a hard time balancing the weight… I had no other choice but to transfer all my stuff back to the Tech Air, which seems to be a champion in holding its shape despite the load; and this is something I really love.

To sum up: Even though I planned to start using my (lighter) Sentio backpack, I will have to stick with the Air Tech for the time being. I may switch to the Bobby Compact in the future, which is a great alternative, too, thanks to its excellent weight balance.