Confessions of a business traveller…

There was a time when travel was an everyday part of my life. Maybe not the international variety, although I’ve done my fair share of that, particularly when I was working for Polo Ralph Lauren, but I used to spend my weeks hammering up and down the motorways of England, Wales and, less commonly, Scotland and Ireland too…

These days a typical week is split between my home office (commute time, 5 seconds from my bedroom) and London (commute time, 4 hours). This week was different though – as I write this I’m travelling by Eurostar, speeding through France at 300kph, on my way home from Paris.

Holiday Inn Paris Bastille, next to a sex shop...“Lucky so-and-so”, some of you might think but, even though long-distance train travel is vastly preferable to flying, we’re not talking luxury here: I have a standard class seat and my hotel last night was a perfectly comfortable, but not over the top, Holiday Inn (next to a sex shop, as it happens… make what you will of that!)

Even those of us travelling “on expenses” need to be mindful of costs, especially in the current economic climate, so I have a few tips to share with anyone making a similar journey…

St Pancras International (2)First up, is the domestic train travel before the Eurostar terminal atLondon St Pancras (in my opinion, a wonderful place to travel to/from). I bought a normal, off peak ticket into London and an advance ticket home again (two singles) but it turns out there is another, less well advertised, option: cheaper fares are available to connect with London International (CIV) services.

Next comes  the Eurostar boarding pass: if you have a supported smartphone, don’t bother printing a paper copy – Eurostar have a mobile app (for iPhone and Android) that allows you to download your boarding pass and simply show the QR code on your screen to the reader on the gates.

My next tip relates to the journey itself. After travelling on modern trains in the UK, it’s easy to forget that the Eurostar fleet is now starting to show its age and lacks features such as in-seat power sockets and Wi-Fi. Thankfully, Eurostar are embarking on a refurbishment of their fleet next year (together with the addition of some new trains) – and Wi-Fi is certainly part of the plan, although I’m not sure about power sockets for laptops, etc. On that basis, it might be worth making sure that your devices are well-charged before setting out on the journey.

@ Hi Mark, we have power points in coach 5 and 14. Wifi will be coming soon in our refurbished trains next year.
@Eurostar
Eurostar

Mobile communications are another issue and, even though European mobile carriers are being forced to reduce their pricing for voice communications, data roaming charges are best described as excessive. O2 kindly sent me a text to tell me that calls would cost £0.36 a minute outbound and £0.11 a minute inbound. Meanwhile SMS messages would be £0.11 to send and free to receive, but data was – are you sitting down? – £3.06 per Megabyte. And that was in France; it gets steeper in other parts of the world. For that reason, I didn’t use push email, Twitter, or much else whilst I was travelling. I recommend turning off Data Roaming on your smartphone/tablet, resetting the statistics, and then turning it on only when required, taking care to watch what’s being used (just 5 Foursquare check-ins racked up 1.6MB of data, bringing a whole new meaning to questioning the cost of social networking…). Aside from the fact that I’m a social media junkie, it’s amazing how reliant I have become on Google Maps – and I got lost at least twice, including on the way to from the Metro to our offices.

On that note, as I write this post, my train is just about to leave the Channel Tunnel and I’ll be glad to be back in the land of 3G communications again!

Finally, if, like me, your destination is Paris and you feel like using some apps, I have a couple of recommendations:

  • I already mentioned Eurostar but the other is from the Paris transit authority, RATP (for iPhone and iPad). These apps needs connectivity, but tap your start and end stations on the map, then it will work out the quickest journey by a variety of transport modes. Transport for London could learn a lot from this…
  • I was less enamoured with the Lonely Planet Paris Travel Guide (for iPhone). Maybe if I was on a leisure trip it might have been more useful but the £3.99 cost was not worth it for me – the user experience is poor (very un-iOS) and the best thing I can say about it is that is has an offline map of Paris, although it only covers the city centre and I tended to use the paper copy that the hotel gave me…

Oh yes, and one more thing: make sure you have some offline media to entertain you on the journey – I’ve watched quite a few TED talks on this trip and am currently listening to my Spotify playlists in offline mode

So that’s about it. This leg of my journey is drawing to a close, I’m now speeding through Kent and Twitter is calling. Hopefully these tips will be useful to someone else making a similar journey soon.

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