Like many of our readers, I am a full-time road warrior at this point in my career. Readers, friends, and co-workers often ask me what tools I use to make life easier. Here are my must-have tools for any road warrior.
If you are considering booking travel or signing up for a new credit card please click here. Both support LiveAndLetsFly.com.
If you haven’t followed us on Facebook or Instagram, add us today.
My Travel Experience Is Not The Average
Work colleagues that don’t travel as often I do wonder how I can put up with it, but that’s before we have had “the talk.” The talk usually goes something like this:
“I hate security, and messing with bags, and bad hotels, and expensive airport meals… ugh, how do you live like that all the time?”
“That’s not my experience at all. When I get to security I breeze through security in a short line and don’t have to get undressed, I spend less than five minutes typically from start to finish with the TSA. Then I go straight to the lounge where they have food and drink, wifi, comfy chairs, access to printers, etc. where I wait for my flight.
A few minutes before boarding I leave the lounge and board first. I sit in a seat with either extra legroom, an exit row or am upgraded for free to first class. They bring me free food and drink, I always have room for my carry-on and if I have to check a bag, I don’t pay for it.
I’m off the plane first where I make my way to a rental car where I have my pick of mostly whatever I want, go to the hotel where I am often upgraded to a suite and treated to breakfast and late checkout. I also earn more points and miles at a rate of at least twice that of the average traveler so I don’t really have to pay for vacations.”
This is usually met by a look of shock, then a response that they could never do the same. Being a road warrior (or even a leisure frequent traveler) is easy if you have the right tools.
There are a few things I never leave home without. Most of these may seem obvious but they really do make travel easier. I have covered some in the past, but below are some quick links to get you started. Feel free to add your own must-have items in the comments.
Travel Power Adapter
It never seems to fail that there aren’t enough power outlets in the right places in hotel rooms on the road. Travel power strips provide lots of outlets, this one also has USB ports. As an added but hidden bonus, all of your power adapters are then kept in one place in your room. That makes it harder to leave them behind and faster to pack up.
Rimowa Topas Carry-on
Carly, myself and Matthew have all declared our love for Rimowa’s excellent line of suitcases. While the Salsa line seems to get great reviews and is far more affordable than the Topas line – I just love it. It works great, it’s secure, it’s got an excellent warranty and I feel like a million bucks when I am walking through an airport with it… even though it feels like that’s about how much they cost. If you are looking for something a bit more affordable, I have also discussed how I really liked the Away carry-on and their power banks are now removable. This distinction is both easier for travelers and keeps them solvent where others have faltered.
Portable Power Bank
If you don’t have an Away carry-on that comes with one of these removable power banks, you should get one. The one I carry is actually from MiniSo but this one is similar. While they make higher power storage (20,000mAh is pretty robust), one of two things happens when power capacity is increased. They either get more expensive or heavier. The smaller it is, the more likely you will be to have it with you when you need it which increases its value. I am, however, looking to acquire this one which charges via USB-C and thus perhaps my Macbook?
My Own Toiletries
Whether it is soap from Lush, my own shampoo from home or even amenities from other hotels, I like to make myself feel at home when on the road. These little bottles are cheap and easy to add your own toiletries from home to ensure you never have to use KenetMD products. If you forget one at your destination they are cheap and easy to replace.
I love Bose noise-canceling headphones, but I only take them out when I fly long haul (trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific flights). More often than not I am using Apple Airpods but not everyone uses an iPhone and there are plenty of alternatives out there.
Statuses Worth Having
If you travel regularly you will earn elite status on your own through the simple act of completing your trips, but there are some statuses that are worth more than others or are cheap and easy to obtain. Here are some that every road warrior should have.
National Car Rental – Emerald Club
Just for signing up as an Emerald Club member you get to pick your vehicle of choice off the Emerald Aisle as long as you purchase at least an Intermediate-sized car or higher. Sometimes it is a bunch of Hyundais but most of the time they park some decent rides out on the aisle. After 12 rentals or 25 rental days in a year, you can have your pick from the Executive Aisle with slightly better cars. While you won’t find a Maserati on the aisle, I have found cars and SUVs from BMW, Cadillac, Volvo, Audi, Ford, GMC, etc. all for the price of a Toyota Corolla. Regardless of the car you drive, the ease of picking what you want, driving to the exit, flashing your driver’s license and credit card and leaving is remarkably fast. You should do that, why wouldn’t you?
Hilton – Honors Gold Status or Diamond Status
The Honors program has been very good to me and suite upgrades have been pretty consistent though they are not guaranteed like they are with Hyatt. Here are the easy reasons that Hilton is the go-to for road warriors:
- Their elite qualifications are the lowest of the major chains (10 stays or 25 nights for Gold, 30 stays or 60 nights for Diamond).
- They have a comparable number of hotels to the largest chains in the world (over 5,000).
- They often run accelerated status challenges (here’s one that should give you Gold status after just two stays, though four stay challenges are routinely available).
- Earning points is as valuable as any other chain, but there are some great ways to spend them.
- The bottom of the brand (Hampton Inn) is a decent, clean brand experience, and the chain has serious legs at the top end of the market through Conrads like this one.
Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan MVP Status
I held MVP Status in the past with the carrier but don’t hold this now. I should though. Here’s why you should too.
- Easy-to-earn as flights from their 17 partners count including flights on American Airlines, British Airways, and Japan Airlines among others.
- MVP members earn huge bonuses for paid business/first class tickets and their top-tier elite holders.
- Alaska still awards miles based on distance flown not on ticket price.
- Their elite requirements are lower than other US competitors.
- Their award prices are often better than their partners charge.
- Their service levels are quite high, their loyal customers seem to love them – other carriers frequent customers may choose their hometown airline as a result of convenience not preference.
We Don’t Sell Credit Cards But We Use Them
I have no affiliate links and don’t get paid to flog credit cards – I encourage you to Google them for yourself or find your favorite blogger with an affiliate link and support them. The cards I discuss below I use every day and they are my go-to recommendation for two different types of road warrior. The CSR (Chase Sapphire Reserve) is perfect for the self-employed or the employee that rents cars all the time. The AMEX for the traveler that wants a bunch of status and benefits right away.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
While the Preferred is good enough certainly, the Reserve is kind of the new logical minimum. They share the same great partners but if you’re going to spend $300 on travel in a year no matter what, then the Reserve offers so much more for a difference in annual fee of just $55 ($450/year – $300 annual travel credit = $150/annual fee vs. Sapphire Preferred with just $95 annual fee but no travel credit).
There are five reasons why this card is worth every penny of a road warrior’s $150/net per year.
- Points accrue at a rate of 3x on travel and dining spend, and spend at a rate of 1.5¢/point.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards (currency for this and other Chase cards) have a bunch of exclusive travel partners like Hyatt and Southwest that can’t be found elsewhere and provide excellent value for your points.
- The card includes car rental coverage “CDW” or a Collision Damage Waiver. The car is covered in almost every country for just about any damage you might incur as long as it was not intentional and you return the car in some fashion. It doesn’t cost extra and they don’t communicate the issue to your personal insurance.
- TSA Precheck/Nexus/Global Entry fee waived once every five years ($20/year value or $100 every five years).
- Priority Pass Access – Many cards have it but this version includes entry for a guest. Now that Priority Pass has started to add restaurants to the fold, there’s tangible value in almost every airport in the country, something like 1,000 in the world.
This, like the CSR above, is a premium card. Without going into all of the 30+ benefits (they duplicate some like Priority Pass, Global Entry, valuable currency with lots of partners) they don’t earn at the same accelerated rate as the CSR. But keep in mind that if you have the personal version of the Platinum card you will receive $200 airline credit plus $200 towards your Uber account ($15/month plus an extra $20 in December) and now a $100 statement credit to Saks Fifth Avenue.
The reason why road warriors need this card are as follows:
- It comes with National and Hertz mid-tier status.
- It also comes with SPG (going away) and Hilton Gold status.
- There’s real value in their Fine Hotels and Resorts program, usually a $100 credit and the benefits of status at a hotel you are visiting (late checkout, upgrades, club access, etc.).
- American Express Centurion Lounges which are far superior to most airline lounges but do not peg you into one airline’s club program (for example, you’re a United flyer in Miami and do not have to use an Admiral’s Club).
Services and Subscriptions
There are some subscriptions and services that will make a road warrior’s life easier. The price points vary from free to $15/month. All of them deliver something important and I can’t imagine traveling without them.
This free service takes all of your login credentials and keeps your point balances in one place. It’s not just airlines and hotel programs (two key programs that do not participate in allowing Award Wallet to access your account through them are Delta and Southwest) – you can add Best Buy, Starbucks points, cash back sites, even your credit card points. People ask, “How do you keep track of everything?” I don’t. Award Wallet does, I just keep track of that one single login and they do the rest.
If you want to sign up for a free account with them, here is a link, you can also upgrade (more stats, notifications, features) for $10/year. For that extra little bit, you can also get what I consider to be the “Dad” card. My Dad would love to be able to take out a printed card from his wallet (same material and size as a credit card or membership card) that has all of his accounts on it. They give you that card when you upgrade and if you’re like my Dad or my work colleague Culley, this is probably worth it to replace the chicken scratchings you keep in your wallet.
This tool looks dated but is excellent. EF gives subscribers access to fare class information, upgrade and award space options that provide almost the same amount of information as a travel agent. Almost every carrier and fare class is on offer. The service is available for free with limited features or costs $9.99/month or $99.99/year.
Let me tell you why this is critical for frequent flyers and road warriors. You can set notifications for when award or upgrade space opens up on a particular flight. When an airline releases seats or upgrades you will receive a notification and can call the airline to grab it or secure it online. I also scan flights before I book them. If I have three options that will work for a route, let’s say 8AM, 9AM and 11AM, and the 8AM and 9AM have two seats left in first class but the 11AM has seven seats left, I know my chances of upgrading are much better on the 11AM flight. I fly 8-12 upgradeable segments a month, for less than a dollar per flight I get to peek behind the curtain and get some insight into when I will be more likely to sit in the front of the plane.
If you are a road warrior with status, try it out for a month (I believe they offer a free trial) and see if it’s worth keeping for you, it was for me.
I have mentioned this before and I will mention it here again. Audible is awesome and I “read” (listen) to several books per month. It’s easy when I am driving in a new city, walking through an airport, etc. If you haven’t joined before they give you three free books when you join and you can cancel for free within 30 days. After that, it’s $14.95/month but I just found a cool new feature. I didn’t like a book that I selected and my wife brought it to my attention that I can return it for a refund. I had bought this one for cash because I use my credit every month and it was returned and the money back on my billing credit card the same day, no questions asked.
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck/Nexus
The security experience with the TSA as a commoner sucks. With TSA Precheck, the experience is far better. You keep your clothes on, don’t take out your liquids, your computer, use a metal detector instead of the nude-o-scope – it’s nearly civilized. You can pay for this for $85 and get that from most airports assuming you do not have a disqualifying criminal history, the fee is payable once every five years.
Global Entry is similar but works for Customs and Border Protection returning to the US. It also allows access to similar programs (at an additional cost) in other countries including the UK and South Korea. Global Entry requires an interview at an international airport, costs a little more ($100/five-year validity) and comes with TSA-PreCheck as a bonus.
Nexus is for those who frequently cross the American/Canadian border. The interview is actually conducted with the Canadian officials at a selected port. It’s a little cheaper ($80) and you can use the Global Entry kiosks from Pre-clearance airports but not necessarily at all US entry points. TSA PreCheck is a reported benefit as well.
Any of these program costs can be offset by credit card waivers included in a number of credit cards and both of the aforementioned.
What are your must-have items? Have I missed some or are there better alternatives?
How about a nice wallet and a passport holder? I’ve been looking but there’s a huge variety out there.
The travel wallet from bellroy (bellroy.com) is fantastic. I’ve been using it for years and absolutely love it.
Thanks for the FYI, I’ll take a look!
I was curious if you use the regular or the designer travel wallet? I read a review that the regular one isn’t very durable and stitches start coming out within a month. Thanks!
Unfortunately Rimowas no longer fit the 14” width requirements most airlines are going to.
Which airlines? I used two different sized Rimowa Topas on a United E175 (Thursday and Friday) and an American E175 (a week ago). Are you going to switch your case and if so, what are switching to?
Top notch list. How about sleep masks? I don’t have a favorite, but have read there are those that should be considered.
Also, being a Delta hub captive, I like the Delta app. Though it may not be an ideal airline app, I like it.
You also mentioned Priority Pass access via CSR and AmEx Plat…I’ve found the PP app to be quite useful.
Larry, good notes on the Priority Pass app. I think United and American’s apps have also come a long way, I don’t fly Delta so I can’t really comment on theirs. As for sleep masks, I usually just carry one around from amenity kits I gather on long-haul premium cabin flights so unfortunately I can’t help you there.
Have tried the Manta mask for the past ~110k miles, A+.
Is there an agent/blogger who searches (for a fee) for award trips to certain destinations depending on your airline/frequent flyer miles? Thanks.
Hi Gary, check out my award booking service, awardexpert.com.
I have had the HARDEST time figuring out Expert Flyer. I have tried 3 times and never understood what I was doing. I couldn’t even find a decent YouTube instruction. Any recommendation on how to learn?
It’s certainly not user-friendly but a wealth of information, I just used it five minutes ago. Here is the start of a series on how to use it that might help: https://travelupdate.boardingarea.com/expertflyer-basics/
Under “My own toiletries” I would also stress that as a road warrior one should have a separate set of toiletries and razor, comb, etc. just for your dopp kit, constantly adding and subtracting items from a dopp kit will increase the chance of forgetting something, especially when you are packing for a last minute trip.
I always have extra cables (Anker powerline are the best) to charge my phone/iPad. I get 6′ cables so I have room to maneuver when they are plugged in. I also love Ankers dual port IPad charger which allows me to charge both my phone and my iPad at the same time.
For an alarm I have an app on my phone called sleep cycle. The app requires your phone to be plugged in at night and it can monitor where you are in your REM cycle. It will wake you early (within a user defied window) if it senses you are about to go into REM sleep just before your alarm goes off. I have found since I started using it that when it wakes me I feel much more alert than when I just used a simple alarm.
I rely on TravelPro for my luggage needs. The Crew series bags are light weight and durable even when subjected to the regular abuse of being a pilots bag. Quality luggage is an absolute must. I’ve used the metal frame bags that you see many pilots with and while durable it’s too freaking heavy so I gave it up.
Rental car wise Silvercar has become my choice when I’m in a city where they are available. Incredible service, a new Audi every time and with the Visa Infinite discount from my CSR the rates can be very close to what the major rental car companies charge for a midsize anayway. When they are not available National and Hertz are my favorites because you can skip the counter pick out your own car and go.
Rimowa is in the middle of some sort of rebranding, they’re no longer called Topas/Salsa/Bolero etc., and some sizes are no longer available.
Also, for me a must have is a USB fan to plug in the seat. The arctic breeze mobile is a pretty popular choice. It might look tacky, but at least I can sleep in the middle of an otherwise hot cabin.