The Editors Mailbox

The Editors Mailbox

13 Tips from a Well-Traveled Woodworker

comments (4) February 25th, 2009 in blogs

Tom Tom McKenna, Managing Editor
thumbs up 4 users recommend

 - CLICK TO ENLARGE Photo: Ryan McKenna

When I'm getting ready to take a road trip to a woodworker's shop, I usually make a checklist of things to pack, check the lighting and camera gear, print maps, etc. I'm as detail oriented about my travel as I am about my editing, photography, woodworking... well, most tasks in my life. But my attention to detail makes my road trips, both business and personal, move along without major speed bumps. So I thought it would be helpful to pass along some travel tips to you, from "one of the best-traveled woodworkers on the planet." So take some notes before you take your next trip, and if you have suggestions, let me know. I'll be sure to pass them along to my boot-strapped comrades.

--If you use a travel booking service like, don't commit to a reservation until you check the web site of the car or hotel. You sometimes will find a better rate reserving directly from the car rental agency or hotel, and you'll avoid extra fees.

--I leave some extra space in my suitcase for gifts for my family, if I have the time to shop or see something in my travels that I think my kids or wife will like. 

--Pack a trash bag for dirty laundry. This way the grime doesn't mix with the clean.

--Print out any type of confirmation notice. Not only will it help you rectify any problems with your reservation, but it also has phone numbers that could come in handy, like if you're running late or need to make a last-minute change.

--Find the switch for the interior or map light of the rental car. Once, on my way to an airport before sunrise, I missed the exit and needed to consult my map, but I couldn't see in the dark and had no idea where the light controls were. (I managed to make my flight, despite the misstep.) It also doesn't hurt to rehearse using other car controls, like the radio, CD player and emergency flashers. (Did I mention that I'm detail-oriented?)

--Check out street view options on various map web sites, like Google. I find them to be very helpful when I'm heading to a place I've never visited. The street views give you an opportunity to note landmarks along your trip routes. By the way, the "search nearby" function of these map sites is helpful for finding restaurants or other attractions near your hotel. 

--Avoid restaurant chains. If you want to taste the local flavors, you need to go to a neighborhood establishment. I find it helpful to ask hotel staff about local places. I've also asked my authors for their recommendations.

--If you tip the housekeeping staff of the hotel, do it daily. Depending on the size of the hotel, the housekeeping staff rotates, so tipping daily ensures that the person doing the work that day gets their share.

--Add key phone numbers to your cell phone. I typically add an author's number, or even hotel numbers.

--Check the weather forecast ( for the area you're visiting. It will help you pack appropriate clothing.

--You can speed up your time in the security line by putting any small liquid bottles in plastic bags before you head to the airport. And keep them in an accessible place so they're easy to find.

--I like to wear slip-on athletic shoes. It speeds up the time it takes to get through security, and I can also take them off when I'm nestled into my seat (if you have stinky feet, you may want to avoid this as a courtesy to your in-flight neighbors).

--Some smaller airports don't have newsstands beyond security. If you have a doubt, ask about it; you don't want to get on a plane without reading material.


posted in: blogs, woodworker, travel, airports, hotel, maps

Comments (4)

goodguy goodguy writes: If you traveled in a professional touring band as much as I once did, you will also learn some travel tips about money. Woodworkers travel to find bargains with cash in hand. Sometimes we travel to deliver our work or sell something else, say an old table-saw. In either case, if you deal in cash you are at risk of robbery.

If selling, especially to an unknown person, ask for payment in traveler's checks. They are perfectly liquid and must be double-endorsed before they are tendered. They cannot bounce.

If a seller does not know a bank where he can get traveler's checks, or worse--- does not even know what traveler's checks are, should consider him "high-risk."

If at all possible, ask a seller what payment he will accept. Travelers checks can be used in normal denominations to make up any negotiated price. If you pre-negotiated the price, ask if the seller will accept cashier's checks. The fee is small and that is cheap insurance against theft.

If buying, cash is still king, but it's unwise to carry more than $500. In the old days, before google maps, I would find the address of the person or business I planned to deal with, then look up nearby business addresses in the library's phone-books. Calls to local businesses give you a "feel" for the neighborhood you will be visiting before you invest time and expense of traveling.

Nowadays, you can look up any address and search the 360-degree street-view of the area. If tempted by a great deal on a "like new" machine that seems too good to be true, get the address before traveling and look at the nearby street-views using google maps.

In one case, this prevented me being scammed and probably robbed. In another, it helped the police retrieve stolen merchandise.

If someone offers a $12,000 dollar machine for "$600 bucks--cash only!" suspicious. If the seller only has a rented cell-phone, no work number or land-line, walk away from the deal.

Use Google-maps street-view. If you look around then discover that the address is a second story apartment in South Bend or Detroit that has boarded-up windows, burned out cars, out-of-business convenience stores with metal guards and graffiti, think carefully.

If you are convinced the deal is real but the neighborhood looks dangerous, travel with a friend... or two, or three. You might need help carrying something anyway, right?

Here it's nice to have a cop-friend, who is licensed to carry firearms. It's good to have a reliable witness of any such transaction, and video taping the proceedings is a good idea too.

A traveling musician usually gets paid in cash late at night. That makes him a tempting target for opportunistic thieves. By knowing the "lay-of-the-land" before I go, and ALWAYS traveling with my mates, I have been able to avoid loss and danger for over forty years. Some of my less cautious friends, musicians and woodworkers alike, have not been so lucky.

Happy hunting for bargains! Good luck with your sales! And I sincerely hope this helps everyone who reads it.
Posted: 3:51 am on September 8th

trotterpig trotterpig writes: My first rule is "Take half the clothes and twice the money". I travel a lot, all over the world. How many times have you come home only to find an item of clothing that you lugged 1000 miles and never used? In some countries like China it's cheaper to buy a new pair of socks than have them laundered.
Posted: 4:28 am on April 1st

Tom Tom writes: Great tips. Thanks for sharing...
Posted: 3:20 pm on March 2nd

Kneeland Kneeland writes: Tom -- great tips...a few to add: regarding the rental car, add "check the horn" and "find the wipers" before leaving the lot (...trying to find the horn (whaddya mean it isn't in the center of the steering wheel?!) while being sandwiched into a guard rail provides a nice spike in blood pressure.) Also, know where your gas stations are near the airport if you're re-filling the gas tank before take off...Another good resource for finding local flavors is a bookstore (if you find yourself near one...). The local travel section has all the Zagat, Fodors, and Frommers guides in addition to other fun guides covering best drives, historical tours, etc. Finally, when trying to find a hotel, don't forget to check out large Inns or B&Bs...they're cheaper, more comfortable, and usually in very interesting old buildings in cool neighborhoods. Happy trails, brother.
Posted: 1:19 pm on March 2nd

You must be logged in to post comments. Log in.

Save up to 51% on Fine Woodworking


Become a Better Woodworker

ABOUT THE EDITORS MAILBOX editors report from the woodworking front lines. Check in every weekday for news, information, projects, and answers to questions from Fine Woodworking readers everywhere.

Learn about our new format!

Archive: Temporarily unavailable. Stay tuned and sorry for the inconvenience.