Oct 3, 2010

How to cut expenses when traveling to Silicon Valley?

We all know how exhausting and at times frustrating the trip to the West Coast can be. Traveling this route for the last 6 years, and living in California for the last four years, I'd like to share with you some ideas how to cut your expenses on this trip, and yet make it as enjoyable as you can.

Before we get started, once you know the dates of your trip, book your travel insurance. You never know what might happen to your luggage or to you on the way. This is a must.

The other thing to keep in mind - the weather in San Francisco is very tricky. Although California is sunny, San Fran is freezing most times a year. Well, not freezing, but cold (12-14c) and foggy. Bring your jacket with you.

Flights - For those of you who fly coach:

1. Don't be tempted to pick the lowest price on the flight - it usually involves having two layovers in each direction, and your time's worth money too.
2. US Airways, a star alliance member, are aggressive and competitive with their international fares. They started flying to Israel on July 2, 2009.
3. If you need to stop in NY, Continental has a connection in Newark, NJ.
4. Last and not least - If you're sensitive to long flights, you might want to consider having one 14 hour length flight to LA and then take another 1 hour short leg to your final destination.

Flight reservations:

1. If you are working with an agent - don't forget to mention your frequent flyer and if you don't have one - make one!
2. Make sure to book your seats with your reservation, otherwise you might be left out to the worse seats.
3. Obviously, make sure your passport is valid and you have your visa ready.
4. Domestic flights - I suggest signing up to Virgin America's newsletters, where they send once a month their promotional rates and these are ridiculously low. I must worn you though, VA is not cheap when booked spontaneously.

Accommodations:

1. When traveling for over 3 weeks, I recommend checking Craigslist Sublease section where you can find luxurious apartments for executives including many amenities, wifi, free parking, and great location - the price range can be around $1500.
2. You can always find a nice and modest hotel around the airports or next to your destination in a range of $70-90 a night, including breakfast.
3. Consider booking your hotel with the chain that respects your frequent flyer to earn more free miles.

Car rental:

1. Needless to mention that you always should book the lowest group from Israel. Normally, the rental offices don't have the car you booked, and they upgrade you to the next level.
2. Insurance - Always add damage waiver to your reservation. It's worth it. However, other insurances are debatable in CA.
3. If possible, pick up your rental not from the airport leasing office because they charge you an extra fee for that.
4. Always check your car's gas before leaving the office - as it might be not full and it should be.
5. Always return your car filled with gas, otherwise they will charge you excessive amount for fueling the car.

Alternative to the rental:

If you plan to stay in San Francisco, i suggest signing up upfront to a Zipcar Service. This green community share car service is the cheapest option if you don't need the car for full days. The pricing is rated per hour (about $8) and includes insurance and gas. The cars are located all over the city and can save you parking fees for your rental. In the city, it's easier to commute on foot, or Muni (public transportation) or by taking a cab, but for daily convenient transportation to offsite meetings, Zipcar is great and easy.

To be eligible, you must:
* Be at least 21 years old
* Have a valid driver's license (from any country) and have been licensed for at least one year
* Not have repetitive moving violations in the last few years

If you decide to use a Zipcar - get a Zipcar app for your iPhone to easily find the car next to you.

Phone services:

1. The cheapest option is to buy "Pay As You Go" phone at RadioShack in less than $30.

2. If you are becoming a frequent flyer, you should consider joining AT&T or other vendor's basic plan and get a local simcard with your own number for your next trips.
3. If you use an iPhone, please remember to turn off your international roaming. Once you are out of the country, when the phone fetches the data from the server and downloads your emails, you are paying for every bit of it.

So now you arrived safely, you have a place to stay, and you are mobile. How about few fun suggestions for meeting spots:
1. The W San Francisco Hotel never disappoints. It is conveniently located, has great bar seating, nice restaurant and a lot of space for private chatting.
2. Brunch at Neiman Marcus on the top floor. The best view of the Union Square in the city. Stylish and exclusive.
3. Americano Bar and Restaurant at Vitale's Hotel. Very close to the water, great vivid ambiance.
4. A little offsite, but yet in the city, on the ocean side located the Beach Chalet Brewery. For those who never been there, i do recommend to check it out.
5. For tea lovers and healthy eaters, I recommend trying the Samovar Tea Lounge in Yerba Buena Gardens right in the middle of the city next to Moscone Center.
6. Crossroads Cafe, bookstore and Art gallery - the best coffee shop in town. No wifi, but great food and awesome productive environment.

After having your important meetings (I am assuming they were important since you came all the way to the Bay Area), don't forget to send a thanking follow up note within the following 24-48 hours after the meeting.

Now, I am not giving you ideas for fun, since this is a business trip, and we are trying to be efficient here, but i will give you an idea how to work in fun with new friends, the way they do in San Francisco. Have you heard about CoWorking?



There are a bunch of very cool CoWorking spaces in the city, where people come together and share ideas in a supportive entrepreneurial environment. My favorites are Dogpatch Labs and CitizenSpace that was formed by Tara Hunt the author of The Whuffie Factor. Make sure to thank the space on twitter when you leave out for hosting you (yes, it's free for guests in most of the places).

Before you head back home, remember to show your gratitude to those who waited for your return and bring cute swags for your employees. Here are few gift ideas to alternate the Toblerone version:

1. Personalized M&Ms - you can print any text, pick your color, and add pictures/logo to the candy. Order upfront, and have it shipped to your hotel. It will save you time and effort.
2. Some gift stores sell personalized California license plates with names.
3. Moleskins. For those who don't know the legendary notebook - it was used for the past two centuries by great artists and inspiring thinkers.
4. Starbucks travel mugs.

Have a nice trip back home, and don't forget that while waiting at the gate on the way back - many people speak your language, so don't say too much loudly.

Maya Gura
Chief Gifting Officer
The Gifts Project
@giftsproject

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