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A Thoughtful Gift Guide for Business Travelers
December 8, 2016 -- I get where Robert McGarvey is coming from this week as he decries phony gift guides for business travelers.
That said, though, I think Phil Baker's high-tech gift guide is spot on and Martin Deutsch always offers up interesting reading as last-minute gifts.
And I'd like to offer my thoughts. I always say good gifts for business travelers are things that make their life on the road a little more relaxing and productive, a little more comfortable and convenient. I'm not a fan of giving to have more stuff. Business travelers need less crap in their lives and the best things work without adding any heft or weight to their carry-ons.
Want to get an earful from a business traveler? Ask him or her about the coffee and tea facilities at the last hotel they were in. We could go on for hours about the awful machines, bad selection--or, in the worst case, the lack of coffee on demand because some idiot general manager decided in-room coffee and tea weren't necessities.
I wouldn't dare suggest you gift a business traveler a "portable" coffeemaker or tea kettle. But there are a few things that will allow a business traveler to customize their experience. Sealpod makes a $20 reusable pod for Nespresso machines that you can fill with the coffee of your choice. And Fill N Save produces a $19 refillable K Cup that works with most Keurig machines. You can find cheaper plastic options for Nespresso and Keurig, but these two are made from stainless steel.
Too fussy? How about a Starbucks Gift Card? You can grab them almost anywhere, of course, and they'll work at all 310 Starbucks at U.S. and Canadian airports. I mention that because Starbucks outposts in hotels may not accept gift cards since they may not be on Starbucks' proprietary point-of-sale system. But HMS Host, operator of the airport Starbucks, assures me that all its outlets honor gift cards.
Tea-drinking business travelers have it even worse. Most U.S. hotels don't put kettles in the room and making tea in a coffeemaker is just nasty. Worse, tea drinkers are even pickier than coffee fans. They tend to want their own blend. The solution? Extraordinarily clever Japanese self-sealing sachets that allow you to create teabags from your loose tea. If your business traveler is a traditionalist, however, the classic pincer-style tea infuser isn't as portable, but isn't a burden to carry, either. (Sheffield Spices offers JoeSentMe members a 15 percent discount on these products. Just enter joesentme2016 in the coupon code box on the shopping cart page.)
If only hard stuff will do, The Carry on Cocktail Kit is a clever way to mix a better adult beverage on the road. Available in six formulations, the kits include everything you need except the booze. Packaged in a container about the size of a large tin of breath mints, they'll even work fine with booze purchased in-flight. The Old Fashioned Kit, for example, includes a metal mixing spoon, a bottle of aromatic bitters, packets of cane sugar, a linen coaster and a recipe card. Each $24 tin contains enough non-alcoholic supplies for two rounds and they're easy to reuse with your own refills.
LIGHTING THE WAY
The flashlight app on smartphones has solved any number of lighting issues, but business travelers always need more illumination. For less than $5, you can give your business traveler a pack of ten mini-LED lamps. Flat and tiny, they fit on keychains, the rings of luggage straps and almost any pocket, including that otherwise useless watch pocket on your jeans. They are surprisingly bright, too.
ADAPTING THE ADAPTER
Like most any business traveler, I have a bulging bag of plug converters and travel adapters. But I leave mine home now and travel with just one: the Kikkerland Universal Travel Adapter. This brilliant $14 gadget is small, blessedly flat and replaces dozens of other larger, more cumbersome plug adapters. This is definitely a case of less is more. Any business traveler would be grateful to have this item to replace so many others in his or her travel-tech bag.
HIGH-TECH TOY BOXES
Business travelers carry too many gadgets--phones and laptops and tablets and book readers and on and on--but that is an argument for a later date. You can do any business traveler a favor by giving them the gift of high-tech organization.
The $20 Tablet & eReader Stand is simplicity itself: a small piece of acrylic with a nonslip base and silicon strips to hold the device. Or the device can be placed upright in a beveled well. At around 6x2 inches, it'll hide away in a carry-on bag, too.
The $10 OMOTON Stand is craftily designed and crafted from lightweight aluminum, but might be better for a business traveler's desk. It won't only hold a smartphone or tablet; I can attest to its usefulness as a laptop stand. (I flip mine upside down behind my computer monitor and put my closed laptop upright in the space between the base and bracket meant to hold a phone or tablet. When I hit the road, I reach behind my monitor, unplug the laptop and off I go.)
And if the business traveler in your life is flummoxed by charging and storing his or her gear at home, consider the $40 ZipCord Charger and Cradle. It'll store four devices upright in a very small (8x4x8) space and has four integrated charging ports in the base.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL--AND HARD TO FIND
Have you noticed the business traveler in your life obsessively swipes little jars of jam off hotel-room tables? Squeals with joy when he or she finds a little bottle of ketchup? Hordes business class amenity kits for the tiny tubes of toothpaste?
Minimus to the rescue. It sells everything from cute little jars of Bonne Mamon jam and Hero brand honey to teeny-weeny bottles of Tabasco and packets of Sriracha sauce. Minimus also stocks travel sizes of over-the-counter drugs; personal-care items such as soaps, toothpaste and mouthwash; nail-care and cosmetic items; and even cleaning supplies. If it's small and you might use it on the road, Minimus sells it.
My suggestion? Make a gift basket of your business traveler's favorites. Because, let's be honest, you don't want to hear his or her victory tale of swiping an unopened bottle of Dijon mustard from a room service tray that they passed in the hallway of some hotel.
THE LUGGAGE LIST
Finally, the third rail of business travel gift-giving: luggage. Yes, your business traveler probably could use a new piece. But, no, you probably don't understand what they want. (Assuming, of course, they know themselves...) That said, three absolutely reliable options:
Cheap and disposable: The $108 Heys Rapide 21 weighs about seven pounds and clears most current carry-on rules (21x14.25x9 inches). The embossed polycarbonate case (in blue or pewter) sits on a four-wheeled cart with a cushioned handle. The interior is simple, with a few pockets. Consider it disposable.
Systemic and sturdy: ECBC won raves for the original Sparrow wheeled bag and the Sparrow II is even better. It's nine pounds and small enough (22x14x9 inches) to carry on. The bag itself is constructed of black or gray ballistic nylon with lots of padding. ECBC's wonderfully thought out packing systems maximize organized storage and there's even a built-in power bank to charge electronics. It all sits on a two-wheeled trolley made of aircraft-grade aluminum. The $399 bag does not qualify for the JoeSentme discount, but order before the end of the year and ECBC will give you a free messenger bag and a second power charger.
Old School luxury: I know the only bag most business travelers will tote without wheels is a backpack, but I want to be buried with my Glaser Designs Transaction Bag. The bag fits slimmed-down carry-on rules (19x13x6 inches) and has a clever one-touch tab over the zipper to speed you through TSA checkpoints. There are ingenious pockets and external storage spaces everywhere. The leather, brass and fabrics are all impeccably finished and look as good as the day I purchased the bag nearly 20 years ago. It's a bargain at $1,250, but JoeSentMe members get a 10 percent discount when they call Myron direct (415-552-3188) and identify themselves as members.
Two reminders: Discounts offered to JoeSentMe members in this column are negotiated strictly for your benefit. I receive no commission or payment of any kind if you choose to buy products in this column. And, by the way, if you buy stuff for yourself and not as a gift for another business traveler, that's okay, too.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.