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 The Brancatelli File

joe SEPTEMBER'S
SPENDING SPREE


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

September 25, 1998 -- Summer is now officially over and you know what that means: No more ducking business trips for the pleasure of backyard barbecues, lazy weekends and the joy of making believe we're just like everyone else in the office.

It's time to get back on the road. Like millions of other business travelers, we'll all be trouping back to the airport just about now. It's our version of back to school. Summer ends and we have to go back on the road, like it or not.

Me, I use the first official weekend of autumn to go on a September spending spree to make sure I've got what I need to get through this next spate of business trips. Here's what I'll be buying this weekend.

THE BOOK ON THE AIRPORT I don't travel to an unfamiliar airport without first consulting Salk International's Airport Transit Guide, an information-packed little book that has all the ground transportation answers. There is data for more than 400 airports around the world, including taxi, car-rental and public-transit options. It's invaluable and dirt cheap at less than ten bucks a copy. Get more information from Magellans.com.

GOOD, CHEAP INSURANCE I don't care how much insurance you carry, it ain't enough, especially when it comes to travel emergencies. I've yet to see corporate-travel coverage or personal-health insurance that fully covers the tens of thousands of dollars it could cost to arrange for an emergency medical evacuation. I supplement what I own with a package of coverage from the Travel Emergency Network. This under-the-radar firm provides evacuation coverage for an unlimited number of trips up to 90 consecutive days each for just $45 a year ($65 in Canada). That's a fraction of what the better-known firms charge. Get more information from Tenweb.com.

THE RIGHT RADIO Just about every overseas hotel I visit offers a full spread of English-language TV news: CNN International, BCC World, Bloomberg, whatever. So why do I still travel with a world-band radio? Habit, I guess. But also the joy of tuning into the BBC World Service or catching snatches of Radio Moscow (no one's told them the Cold War is over!) or even Armed Forces Radio (ditto!). These days, I'm traveling with the incredibly stylish Grundig Worldband P-2000. Designed by Porsche, this sleek baby has a recessed speaker, 20 tuning presets, an LCD alarm-clock panel and an ingenious leather cover that doubles back into a radio stand. The whole package measures just 5.5x3.3x1.2 inches and is powered by three AA batteries. It's $149.95.

THE MAGIC MODEM I don't pretend to understand it, but an increasingly number of hotels have "digital" phone systems that create havoc with my modem. At best, these systems won't allow me to sign on, get my E-mail or surf the Web. At worst, I've had modems fried by digital phone systems. The solution? Modem Mate, a magical black box that connects my laptop to a digital phone system and makes all the electronics happy. I don't know how it works. It just does. It weighs about eight ounces, measures 4.5x2.75x1.5 inches and costs $79 from www.magellans.com.

THE BLACK CARD The black Priority Pass card opens the door to more than 200 airport club lounges around the world. Besides offering access to TWA Ambassadors Clubs and domestic Northwest WorldClubs, it's the way to get into all those VIP lounges maintained by airports in Europe and Asia. Priority Pass isn't quite as good as it used to be (Continental recently pulled its Presidents Clubs from the program) and it won't replace the membership in your preferred airline's club network, but it remains a must-have item for any serious frequent flyer. It costs $295 a year for the Prestige Level (which offers unlimited free access to all member clubs). Call 800-352-2864.

KIT-BAG STUFF I use the first weekend of the fall to clean out my toiletries kit. Out goes all the old stuff and in comes a new round of the basics: fresh little bottles of pain relievers, toothpaste and toothbrushes, new razor blades, a fresh supply of bandages and other personal powders, pastes and compounds. I also throw in a fresh tube of super glue (good for everything from bonding a broken heel to repairing an unhinged laptop case), clean my Swiss Army Knife, and make sure I've got emergency shoe laces. Cost: about $35 for men, up to infinity for women.

TRAVEL-OFFICE BASICS I don't know about you, but I carry a small bag of office essentials in my laptop-computer bag. And, once again, the first weekend of fall is a good time to clean and update it. I load up on paper clips, staples and rubber bands. I get new pens and highlighters, replace the battery in my calculator, sharpen my scissors and restock my supply of business cards and sticky pads. Cost: about $15.

This column originally appeared at biztravel.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.