[Podcast: Episode 9] The science of travel
I recently had coffee with Geoff Huston, Chief Scientist at APNIC and regular world traveler. Geoff is a self-confessed 'geek that speaks'. His talent is in revealing to the layman complex scientific and internet issues. Geoff presents on these complex issues at international internet conferences. Geoff took time out of his travel schedule to tell me about his travel experiences.
Good morning Geoff
Welcome to the National Library of Australia. We are sitting here at Bookplate Café and thanks very much for agreeing to talk to me and Planepack about your light travels.
Geoff: My pleasure!
Q: So you are the Chief Scientist at APNIC which is the regional internet registry serving the Asia-Pacific region. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Geoff: It’s always a tough job to explain but in essence we are one of the so-called infrastructure folk in the internet and our job bizarre as it sounds is to hand out internet addresses to various internet service providers - the folk you get your internet from. But it’s sort of a little bit more than that because the rules and the framework that we work with are actually built by the community. This is sort of industry self-regulation so we and our sister organizations around the world regularly meet and regularly discuss what the internet needs at a particular point in time and how we can create mechanisms to distribute addresses that’s fair, that’s equitable but also sort of meets the needs of the industry and now obviously we don’t all go to one place all the time, being community based we tend to go where people are and so that does involve a reasonable amount of travel one way or another. So yes in my job I do, do a fair deal of traveling and meeting folk as well as well kind of working on the infrastructure of the internet.
Q: Well that leads me directly to my second question which is how often do you do that travel?
Geoff: Oh gee . . .
I do remember some time ago that you mentioned you travel at least once a month. Is that correct?
Geoff: Well you know two of my friends, we have had this discussion, we have talked about cutting down and cutting down means once a month. So typically the load just can be a lot higher, either the trip gets longer, the last one I did was only four and a half weeks, or you are doing around two and sort of badly three a month depending on what the travel is. So I think for the first five months of this month [year], six, seven trips something like that.
Q: Where do you go to when you travel?
Geoff: Now literally its where folk are meeting so I started the year with a trade conference in Hawaii and then off to a technical meeting in New Zealand. February I think I gave a talk in Hong Kong and then off to a conference in Ho Chi Minh City, somewhere there was Chicago and New Orleans and so on.
Q: Geoff how do you cope with those constant travel and I do remember once you told me that because you are such a frequent flyer you are familiar with the seating in aeroplanes I was interested in that but apart from that I mean there is a certain amount of anxiety and stress associated with travel how do you deal with that?
Geoff: Well it varies by the trip to tell you the truth. Some trips are astonishingly rewarding, you sit there and think well that was absolutely brilliant. At one point we had a meeting in Phnom Penh and couple of us scooted off to Angkor Wat for the weekend before and you know Angkor Wat is one of those places that once you go there it’s just overwhelmingly beautiful and I think that was a great trip. I went to Chicago earlier this year and it was still in the depths of winter, it was gray, it was raining, the wind was absolutely horrible and it has this subterranean system and I think I spent the entire week down in this rat's maze at the bottom of Chicago, I didn’t see much else and that’s kind of how you, well I could do without that kind of trip. So it varies a lot. This latest trip I have been on I was in Saint Petersburg and I have always wanted see the Hermitage Museum and you know it was really a ball, not the least of which is once you have done your talk and sort of met folk and you can run away and the Hermitage is one of the nicer places I think in the art world to run away to. So yeah those kinds of trips make it worthwhile.
They are rewarding, they are rewards.
Geoff: At times there is some good one.
Q: Yes. Let’s talk about luggage, now are you are light traveller would you say?
Geoff: Look it varies a lot and it varies on the range of places you are going to and the season. Now I don’t travel with suits. I have done it in the past and you know it’s a minor inconvenience but you know, I don’t have any formal or business wear. So I tend to do the whole sort of jeans and shirts and not much else. So generally light. If I am going into the depths of winter like you know Chicago in March is a depth of winter kind of country I would travel with more gear than if I am going somewhere in their summer. So it varies a little bit, also the hassle.
Q: Talking about the hassle, do you travel with carry on luggage only or do you put stuff into the hold?
Geoff: It’s a debate with myself.
Geoff: I normally have around 12 kg.
So you could most probably get away . . .
Geoff: No, no, if I get someone tough at the local desk it’s sort of 12 kg can’t be taken on board the first leg what I will do then I can either book with to Sydney, retrieve it and go onto the next leg or do - ah stuff it - and send it through. I think we are lucky in Australia. Certainly there is no surcharge in certainly on my business travel for putting luggage in the hold and when if travel on the American domestic legs where everyone else has got this massive surcharge you know 25 bucks a piece is enough to convince all of them to take whatever it is to attempt to take it on the plane why because if they knock you back they can put it in the hold for free. So you kind have got this massive amount of luggage. I tend to look at what airports I am going through because taking all your stuff in a carry on can kind of stop you when you are getting through tougher places.
What do you mean by that?
Geoff: Heathrow is tough.
So taking a carry on is . . .
Geoff: Well I carry a lot of computer gear so it is lots of cables and wires and if I compound it with all of my toiletries and everything else invariably I am spending about 15-20 minutes going through the security which is fine unless you have a geez - in Heathrow about a 45 minutes to 1 hour changeover and if you have 45 minutes to 1 hour it’s difficulty on carry on.
Geoff: You put the entire thing in the hold and if all are you dealing with the bag pack is a lot easier. So that’s all part of the factor of you know a bit of luck with me.
Geoff: Will I just throw it on the hold.
Q: You mentioned a bag pack, so do you carry a bag pack as your carry on bag in the plane anyway and is your bag in the hold roll on bag, is it backpack as well, what kind of luggage do you travel with?
Geoff: I always travel with a roll on and a backpack. The bagpack carries all my computer gear, don’t know why but yeah the laptop, the power supply, the camera, the iPad, power adaptors, cables and medicines. I never put medicines in the hold.
Geoff: And then the roll on kind of carries clothes right.
Geoff: And shoes.
Geoff: Well I try to avoid taking a spare pair of shoes because it really depends on the trip but shoes take out time and weight.
Geoff: So if I can get away with one pair I feel good about that and as I said it depends it’s not the length of the time. I am like once you are going for five days, you can go for 10 weeks it really doesn’t matter you know.
Q: It's the same amount. And I think I might know your answer, but what are the essential things that you need to take with you when you travel?
Geoff: Well you know, it’s almost a routine, it’s kind of, there is a certain stock level of clothing which is almost independent and then there is the optional outer wear which depends on the season. So if I am traveling as carry on I will take you know a thicker jacket on something that I can just hang off my shoulder, you know little bag or something like I just hold it so I can put it on when I get there. I don’t try and pack it in because they just get too bulky.
I thought you were going to say that your cables, all your computer equipment is probably your essential travel gear, wouldn’t that be …
Geoff: That always comes with me
So if you were to lose, or if it were to get to lost that will be challenging perhaps on the other side.
Geoff: Well my meds and computer gear and of course the laptop all travel in the same bag and that always travels with me, never goes in the hold. What goes in the hold is I said is normally even when I lose it’s not a great problem and I have certainly . . .
Q: Easy enough to buy on the other side, so has your luggage ever been lost?
Geoff: Well lots of time.
Lots of times!
Geoff: You know generally it’s been Heathrow and I think you know, 9 times out of 10 it’s a transit through Heathrow which I always find a bit weird you know, I did one trip Phoenix to Athens and it was Phoenix to Dallas, Dallas to Heathrow, Heathrow to Athens okay and the plane was late leaving Phoenix, Dallas I had to flip across the airport, it’s big airport and I thought you know I was the last person on the flight to Heathrow it was actually I lost my luggage. Heathrow was a more relaxed 90 minutes to get onto the plane to Athens, that's fine, let's get on plane Athens, get there no bag, but the bag was in Heathrow not Dallas and I was like if you are gonna lose it you're going to lose it on the tightest connection but no the Americans managed it and Heathrow was an epic fail but as I said normally if it’s just clothes generally that’s an easy thing to fix unless you there are in the middle of a holiday weekend.
Q: You mentioned before we started the formal interview an interesting story about the level of satisfaction.
Geoff: Oh yes you know, in terms of airline loyalty the analytics firms have been into this a lot and kind of the question is you know, what can an airline do that will increase your love and affection for them and your sense of loyalty. It seems that of all the experiences airlines can give you recovering your lost luggage is the gold star event and honestly it increases the level of customer loyalty and appreciation more than anything else they can do which you know if you think about it BA must be really high on everyone’s list because you know, Heathrow is really you know, the cemetery of lost luggage.
What happens to all the luggage I wonder?
Geoff: Oh they don’t want it.
They don’t want, so they are happy to reunite you with it.
Geoff: They eventually try and reunite you, you know, the worst possible situation's when the luggage and its tag get divorced and all of a sudden the bag really has very little identification and then it can take forever. As long as the tag is on it I remember talking to some of the folk on it, there is a loadmaster when every flyer is boarding and if you can talk to the loadmaster if they got the time, if they look at your bag tag they will tell you if your bag is on the flight because they know.
Geoff: And it always annoys me that they only ever tell you, you are missing your bag once A you've unloaded and B if every last piece of luggage and you know, you wander off to the luggage office going you know, no bag, and I get - knew that, knew that hours ago.
They don’t bother to tell you.
Geoff: You could have told me straightway and I would have waltzed through customs and you know, walked away going find me later but no, it is a kind of a formal song and dance that involves about an hour and half which I find bizarre because they already knew they knew straightaway you and your bag had parted company.
I had no idea, because I think it’s one of the biggest frustrations for me standing at that carousel waiting for my bag to arrive and it doesn’t.
Geoff: Well every person has a moment of anxiety and it doesn’t matter what class you are travelling or how it’s tagged because it’s the order in which the cans are unloaded and it’s not even the tightness of the connections to tell you the truth it’s some random . . .
Just luck of the luggage draws.
Geoff: There is some luck of the luggage draw and a certain amount of mis-sorting. I arrived in Hong Kong once you know, what I thought was a really ordinary flight, Canberra-Sydney, Sydney-Hong Kong, no bag and they go it was routed via Perth and then that’s kind of just misrouting right it went the wrong way on the conveyer belt and there is nothing we can do about it. Most of the time though the lost stuff for me is at Heathrow not that I go through there that often but that’s where all the loss events occur.
Q: Interesting, well finally Geoff I wanted to ask you if you have any advice for people who may wish to travel light?
Geoff: You know, I find firstly, see if you can wear one pair of shoes which is sort of leather, comfortable . . .
Geoff: that can take anything because shoes take an enormous amount of weight and size in your luggage. Secondly always remember that there are shops. You don’t need to have one of everything, you need to sort of cover you know, 60% of your expectation and if you really get caught out - miles too hot miles too cold - buy it. I was down in New Orleans in May and I was in straight from Chicago, really cold in Chicago, New Orleans was kicking mid-30s I think, it was really hot. Fine, go and buy you know, pair of shorts and light shirt and then throw it out at the end if you need it’s up to you but you know, what you don’t need to, you don’t need to pack for everything, pack a lot less and remember no matter where you are on the planet there are shops willing to sell what you don’t have. Thirdly don’t try and take too much paraphernalia you know, the portable speakers, the this, the that, the extra lens for your camera, you know, all that is size and weight and most of the time it’s either on your back or you're lugging it and it’s never used and so I suppose the other advice is when you unpack at the end of the trip look at what you didn’t use and don’t take it next time, you generally find it if you do that about three or four times you are down to an extremely small set of stuff because that’s what you actually use.
Excellent advice, thank you Geoff, thank you very much.
Geoff: Thank you.
It was lovely speaking to you.