“Congratulations, <Insert Your Name Here>. Management has decided that you should represent us at XYZ Conference. You’ll need to travel to Anywhere, USA in three days.”
Your reaction may vary depending on your actual destination and your own past experiences while traveling for work. Business travel, after all, is a completely different animal from family, friends, or fun travel. And if you haven't traveled for business in a while, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the fray of transportation hubs, transfers, and packing.
Some may argue that forgetting the right pacifiers is worse than losing your laptop charger. However, snafus during a business trip have a higher risk of long-term consequences than, say, a missing binkie issue on the family beach trip.
Your travel skills will improve with practice, however, just like any other game you play. Follow these tips to win (or at least not lose) at the game of business travel. Please note that these tips are targeted to those traveling on an extended basis (not a one-off trip), yet they may be applied to any jaunt away from home.
1. Understand the Rules of the Road
You need to understand the rules, i.e., your company's Travel & Expense policy, in order to succeed at business travel. Your employer or client should already have a policy. If a T&E policy does not exist, clarify the expense approach for this trip in advance via email. Key points to clarify are: per diem (daily allowance) versus actual expenses; nightly hotel rate (inclusive of taxes); airline fare restrictions; ground transportation guidelines; Internet costs; meals, particularly a lunch reimbursement; and exceptions to the policy (Are there any? What documentation is needed?).
A final key question is: Are any rewards accrued from frequent traveler programs mine to use or are they claimed by you (the agent/company reimbursing your expenses)? Some employers claim these rewards to offset travel costs. However, many others allow business travelers to keep them as incentive to stay on the road. Your spouse is more likely to sign off on your time away if your hotel and airline points results in a free trip to Hawaii.
2. Join Frequent Traveler Programs
Customer loyalty programs, a.k.a. frequent traveler programs, allow road warriors to accrue benefits based on expense and activity levels throughout the course of your travel. Programs have increased incentives based on traveler tenure so register for the program with a personal information so your account continues even if your employer changes.
3. Coordinate with Colleagues
Team up with workmates whenever possible while on the road. You will have a co-adventurer with whom to celebrate and commiserate in addition to recognizing some practical gains. Sharing a rental car cuts cost and creates the ability to race down the High Occupancy Vehicle lane—a boon in most metro areas. Pre-shipping of gear to a work location can be convenient, but you lose control of those assets when you turn them over to others. A better alternative for the risk-averse is splitting up corporate materials between sets of luggage.
4. Choose Function Over Form
Your choice of equipment will impact your travel experience more than many other considerations. Suitcases and business cases top the list of business travel equipment, but the list of kit does not stop there: Laptop. Tablet. Mouse. Toothbrush. Ink pen. These items and hundreds more will end up hopscotching destinations with you. Make an informed choice based on your end goal.
When all else is equal, choose function over form. We will dive head first into luggage selection in an upcoming article.
5. Inform Your Family & Friends
Duh. Managing personal relationships at home and beyond becomes exceedingly difficult as you hit the road. You will be well served to let your significant other, kids, pets, friends, and therapist know if you expect to travel repeatedly or for an extended period of time. A heads up will allow you and them to plan around your time away...and possibly avoid alarming them. I returned to several anxious text messages after having not advised a few friends of a trip abroad without cell service. Although it was nice to be missed, it’s also best to minimize hysteria.