I’ve been traveling for business for more than a dozen years. Looking for business travel tips? I’ve got you. These are some of the travel hacks that help me survive on the road.
Enjoy the experience. There are many articles about the drudgery of travel, but visiting new places is a tremendous luxury. It is estimated that two-thirds of American adults haven’t flown in the past 12 months and 18% haven’t flown in their life. Only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport, meaning that 64% cannot travel outside the United States (though they may have previously.) Look to meet new people, try a new type of cuisine, and broaden your own horizons through your trips.
Pack a good attitude. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek, interpret, and recall information that confirms our biases. If you travel with a negative attitude (thinking airlines are terrible, people are annoying, stations are crowded), your brain will seek those experiences and reinforce your bias towards the horrors of travel. I encourage you to pack another attitude: that travel is interesting, exciting, and offers an opportunity to experience things you never would in your home office.
Be loyal. While rewards programs aren’t as rich as they used to be, they’re still useful. I have a colleague in a different department that was traveling sporadically for five years without any loyalty programs. Since they only traveled four or five times a year, they didn’t think signing up for anything was worth the effort. Understand your company’s travel policies and look for a few airlines and hotels you can remain loyal to in order to earn rewards.
Sign up for TSA Precheck and Global Entry. Not optional. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck, so once you are vetted, you’ll have both benefits. The current cost is $85 for five years. Precheck saves you time and effort at the beginning of your journey - you can move more quickly through dedicated security lines that also include Precheck travelers (who tend to be more experienced, and therefore efficient.) Global Entry saves you time when you return from an international flight; you simply enter information at a kiosk as opposed to standing in a queue to interact with a live agent.
Invest in excellent luggage. This really, really matters. I prefer Briggs & Riley and Tumi, as both have excellent customer service and provide warranties. If possible, select your luggage in person, and ensure it works with the items you pack, is comfortable to wheel when full, and is something you can lift into an overhead bin.
Invest in a travel-friendly wardrobe. Look for pieces that can mix and match easily with one another, in neutral colors, that don’t wrinkle. Here’s where women get a big leg up on men - they are often in suits with pressed shirts; women in a professional role can often get away with an amazing shift dress. Much easier to pack. Other critical items include good scarves and statement jewelry; both add flavor to a wardrobe without taking up much space. I’m also mindful of my pyjamas; I have been in hotels that have been evacuated at night and have been standing outside with colleagues. It can happen.
Use a list and pre-pack. Even experienced travelers forget things! I have a packing list that I use for my business trips, which ensures I don’t forget small items, like socks, hosiery, and my sports bra. I also pre-pack, meaning that there are certain items that never leave my luggage. These items include: an umbrella, travel pyjamas, chargers for my electronics, and my makeup/toiletry kit (which include Band-Aids, aspirin, and Imodium, which you should never be without). I also travel with my beautiful Shhhowercap; life is too short for the ineffective plastic caps provided by most hotels.
Keep your work bag stocked. Some items that are critical for flights stay in my work bag at all times, like lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissues, gum, and a travel-friendly pouch of wet wipes in case I end up in a seat with a dirty tray table that hasn’t yet been cleaned. I also always have a large scarf in my bag; temperature is unpredictable while traveling and it can double as a blanket.
Use packing cubes. You never know when you’re going to have to open your luggage in front of colleagues, clients, or the TSA. I use Eagle Creek packing cubes, laundry bags, and shoe sacks so I can easily dig through my bag without any embarrassment.
Never check your luggage. I’m serious - even if you’re headed overseas for a few weeks, it is possible to go carry-on only if you have excellent luggage and a travel-friendly wardrobe. At best, checking your luggage wastes your time (and that of your colleagues if you’re traveling together); at worst, it puts you at risk of not having what you need for tomorrow’s meeting.
Pack an extra bag. Sometimes, you end up adding things to your luggage on your journey. This may be binders or books from your clients or something fun like an unexpected piece of art and a splurge at Duty Free. I keep Tumi’s ultra-lightweight Just-In-Case® tote packed in my luggage for these emergencies. In this case, you are then allowed to check your luggage on the return flight!
Consider noise-cancelling headphones. I travel with mine for flights that are over 2-3 hours; shorter than that, I can get by with smaller earbuds to drown out the noise. Your experience may differ, but my ears get irritated after a few hours, so an over-the-ear model works best for me on long flights.
Identify a pair of “airport flats” that work for you. I’m usually in business professional clothing when I travel, and I prefer to wear heels to client meetings. If you’re often in heels, I recommend identifying a pair of neutral “airport flats” that you keep in your luggage and can change into after a client meeting, before you have to dash through the airport to catch your flight. Comfortable ballet flats work well.
Prepare for long-haul flights. Long-haul and overnight flights require a little extra effort. When I’m flying overnight, I add a few things to my work bag, including: my noise-cancelling headphones, eye drops, panty liners (I’m serious, pack a few to stay fresh on long flights!), woolen socks, an eye mask (I prefer the 40 Blinks mask from Bucky), and a superb travel pillow (I prefer the Aeris neck pillow; Travel and Leisure has an excellent list for different types of sleepers). I also drink a lot of water and use Airborne; I’m not sure if the Airborne actually does anything but I rarely get sick while traveling.
Stay active healthy. Whether I’m traveling for a single night or several weeks, my gym clothes and sneakers come with me. Staying active on the road helps my energy and keeps me healthy. Nearly every hotel has a fitness facility, and it’s possible to get a great workout in your room, too. I also eat healthy, looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding the temptation to grab a “treat” just because I’m on the road. Since I often travel to the same locations, I’ve learned where I can get a healthy meal on the go. And in an unfamiliar airport or city, a quick Google search can reveal the best options nearby. Hydration is also really important when you're traveling; drink a lot of water if you'll be stationary and near a bathroom for a few hours!
Set two alarms. I’ll end on a very practical note. Never, ever rely on just one alarm to wake you up. If you use the hotel clock, set your phone as a backup. And, if you use your phone, call down to reception to request a wakeup call.
Those are some of my very favorite business travel tips. In a future post, I’ll share my favorite travel hacks, tech, and apps to make the journey easier. I’d love to hear if there are any that are new to you, or if you have any you’d like to add. Travel safely, and enjoy the journey!