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(Tobias Helbig)
(Tobias Helbig)


Biz travellers bring odd bits of home on the road Add to ...

Torontonian Bruce Poon Tip frequently finds himself in hotels in Dubai, London or Melbourne. But for the past few months he’s been feeling more at home no matter where he sets his suitcase.

The founder of GAP Adventures, who logged 150,000 miles of travel this year, recently bought an iPhone 4 before springing for a couple of iPod Touch gizmos for his kids.

Now his family uses the Apple program, FaceTime, to have video chats no matter where in the world he is. Mr. Poon Tip uses his phone to read stories to his two children before bed; the kids use their iPods to convince dad to let them watch more TV.

“It’s pretty insane because my kids can just press a button and we’re face-to-face,” Mr. Poon Tip says. “It’s the biggest thing that has happened in terms of bringing that feeling of home with me on the road. It has changed everything.”

Less strange, more familiar

Forget grabbing a stack of photos or a favourite pair of fuzzy slippers to feel connected to family and abode while jetting around the world. Business travellers are finding all sorts of ways to bring that sensation with them – at least in spirit.

Take Teri Gault, CEO of Los Angeles-based The Grocery Game, Inc. Each morning in her hotel room, Ms. Gault cracks open her laptop and runs a slideshow of family and pet photos while she puts on makeup.

David Flynn, an editor and jetsetter from Sydney, Australia often packs a tiny, pear-scented travel candle.

“The familiar scent of these candles makes any hotel room feel less strange and more familiar,” he says.

Then there’s Jonathan Kraft, an online marketing entrepreneur from Parker, Colorado. He will not take a plane, train, or automobile trip without his own pillow. And not just any pillow, but a feather pillow that he’s had since he was eight.

Mr. Kraft says he once used the pillow to dampen the sound of his brother’s snoring by sleeping with it over his own head. Now, he still sleeps that way, he says.

“If I’m going to put a pillow over my head, I don’t want some hotel pillow,” he says.

Who’s my cuddle-wuddle?

It turns out Mr. Kraft is not the only person who prefers to travel with something soft and cozy.

Hotel chain Travelodge claimed it attempted to reunite over 75,000 forgotten cuddly bears with their owners in one year. Then, in 2010, it commissioned a survey of 6,000 Brits to find out exactly how commonplace travelling with a teddy bear actually was.

The result? Twenty-five per cent of male respondents claimed they took their bear with them on business trips.

Perhaps someone packed it in their baggage for them.

Kim Swanstrom, a book publicist from Ashland, Ohio, says her six-year-old daughter always grabs and packs a different “travel buddy” for her whenever she travels.

“It really does make me feel more connected, and I always take a picture of ‘us’ in the hotel room,” Ms. Swanstrom says of her fuzzy companions.

It’s about loyalty

When it comes to making a room feel more familiar, or at least less sterile, hotels have their part to play, too. Kimpton’s Hotel Solamar in San Diego has a program called Guppy Love. After a long day in meetings, travellers can borrow a loaner beta fish to feel less alone in their rooms.

At other hotels, such as Hotel Le Germain in Calgary, frequent business guests can request a familiar brand of soap or ask to have the bed made a specific way.

Even something as simple as giving a regular client the same room every visit makes a huge difference, says Clarence McLeod, who works in Toronto as a corporate manager for Fairmont Hotels.

“One guest told me he likes the same room because he can get up in the middle of the night and know exactly where the light switch for the bathroom is,” he says. “It’s a small thing, but it means a lot.”

For frequent guests, Mr. McLeod and his team have been known to place family photos in a room, or keep a stash of Wild Turkey booze with a personalized label on hand.

He says he knows he nailed that feel-at-home sentiment once, when a guest one morning said to him, “I’ll be home at five.”

Like home, only better

From newspapers left by the door to coffee delivered within five minutes of a wake-up call, sometimes hotels are even better than what you get back home. Just ask Cam Gordon, a senior consultant for High Road Communications in Toronto, who typically swims four mornings a week.

“It’s kind of nice to have a pool in the building instead of schlepping everything over to the local community centre like I do at home,” he says.

Meanwhile, Kunal Gupta, CEO of Polar Mobile in Toronto, says being on the road is actually good for his social life. He grabs dinner with his old university friends whenever he hits New York or the San Francisco area.

“Seeing familiar faces is a lot of fun and it’s less lonely,” he says.

Connecting with people is indeed what makes business travel bearable, agrees Mr. Poon Tip. Still, he usually can’t wait to get back home.

“I have two pillars in my life: My family and my work. I love them both dearly so I do what I can to integrate them,” he says.

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