Those who don’t travel regularly for their work are often heard wishing for more opportunities to do so – and yet those who have to do it all the time almost always wish they didn’t. For employees who fall into the latter category, regular obligatory work-related travel can feel like a real drag, but there are a number of steps that frequent business fliers can take at every stage of the journey to minimize headaches and make future business travel trips a much smoother ride.
General advance tips for all business travellers:
1) Look into the possibility of expedited entry for regular business travellers. In terms of (re)entry to the US, that might be applying for programs like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, Nexus or Sentri. Various other nations offer their own variants. Frequent business fliers will find that membership of such programs can cut huge amounts off the time spent waiting around in lines at the airport, but be aware that almost all require advanced pre-approval involving rigorous background checks and often in-person interviews before acceptance is granted.
2) Try to develop some strong brand loyalty when it comes to airlines and hotel chains, to maximise any available reward systems. In cases where it’s not possible or practical to stick to just one or two favoured options, at least use a credit card that accumulates transferable points or miles for business travellers. Try to maximise any opportunities to accrue personal points and miles while also racking up those company ones. Apps such as AwardWallet can be very helpful in keeping track of miles and points accrued over time.
1) Checklists for everything! Regular travellers should keep a standard packing checklist saved on a phone (or computer, if a physical copy printed out is handier) that contains all the basics required for a typical trip. That way, the traveller can be confident of arriving with pretty much all the essentials taken care of, even if leaving at fairly short notice. Better yet, very frequent business travellers might like to keep a basic small suitcase ready-packed with a spare wash bag, one or two older (but still neat!) suits, and so on. This can save valuable time and minimise stress when those last-minute opportunities crop up.
2) Speaking of packing, master the art of packing light and smart. Try to limit clothing to just a couple of outfit options that are all mix-and-match compatible, and that can be made to work in both smart meetings and more casual environments. Go for neutral tones with base outfits, with the option to brighten them up by accessorising with pops of colour via ties, scarves etc where appropriate. Roll suits, trousers, skirts and shirts – rather than folding – to minimise creasing on arrival. Try to limit shoes to just a couple pairs, one smarter and one more comfortable. Keep toiletries and first aid items to a few key basics, and of course don’t forget to decant any liquids into smaller bottles kept in clear, sealable plastic bags.
3) Fully charge all tech items the night before if possible. If there’s a possibility that anything will need to be charged on the road – for example at the airport, or anywhere else where socket space will be at a premium – it can be a smart move to pack a small lightweight power strip to enable easy sharing with other travellers. Don’t forget to check out which type of sockets and plugs the destination country uses, and make sure to pack a couple of suitable adaptors if necessary.
4) Make additional lists with important info on flight times, useful contact numbers for the relevant airline(s), customer service desks and help lines, the address and phone number of the destination hotel, and perhaps even a takeout option or two in the host city.
At the airport:
1) The number one wise rule at airports is to be as nice as possible to anybody and everybody in a uniform or behind a desk! Huge numbers of people are processed through every gate and line every day, and the very few who take the trouble to be polite, engaging and cheerful stand out a mile to those in control. These are far more likely to be the fliers who’ll be offered any available upgrades or opportunities to cut waiting times first. (The same principle goes at hotel desks.)
2) Dress sharply (but comfortably) when travelling to increase those upgrade chances further; looking the part for business class is the best way, after being nice, to increase the chances of being offered those occasional upgrades.
3) Develop keen airport smarts. Observe the various lines when deciding where to stand, and be aware that the shortest won’t always be the fastest moving: avoid any that contain large families, people with oversized or unusual luggage items, or clearly inexperienced fliers. Queue early at gates for boarding if not already getting priority through a frequent flier program, as being one of the first few on the plane will save hassle when it comes to overhead bin storage space. Some frequent business travellers report that ordering a special meal – say, a vegetarian option – often results in being served first, meaning it’s possible to sleep or work through the much lengthier full meal service without going hungry.
4) Always remember to stay well hydrated, and avoid alcohol in flight if there’s an itinerary that kicks in right after landing – particularly if it involves meeting with clients. The combination of long flight times, dehydration, lack of sleep and jet lag often means that even a small amount of alcohol taken in-flight can start to produce the effects of drunkenness – or indeed a hangover – much faster than it would on the ground. Contrary to popular assumption, alcohol can also be a significant hindrance when having to adapt to new sleep/wake hours if travelling to different time zones.
1) If any onward travel arrangements are required, try to have these pre-booked (or at least be sure to carry the relevant contact numbers in a phone or document wallet). A couple of phrases in the local language here can be a huge help – even if it’s only ‘Sorry, I don’t speak [x], do you speak English?’. Making the effort to ask before launching into English will be warmly appreciated by almost everyone. A good phrasebook app can be handy here if there hasn’t been much time to prepare in advance (but watch out for those roaming data tariffs!).
2) Always try to upgrade rooms if the hotel clearly isn’t full – but pick the timing of the request carefully. Don’t approach the front desk when it’s busy with other travellers, but wait for a quiet moment to check in when it’s more likely that the less hassled desk clerk will have time to do a quick search or to ask a manager without feeling burdened. And again, be as nice as possible, even when tired: if no upgrades are available, friendliness and warmth often results in unexpected perks like free WiFi or breakfast, later check-out times, or just a really through service when it comes to fixing up the room.
3) Consider using a handy app like Expensify to quickly scan, upload, store and even process expenses and receipts on the fly. Indeed, there are a number of helpful tracking app options for keeping tabs on almost every aspect of a business trip – it’s worth investigating which ones might be handy for a given itinerary, as some can be a real boon on longer visits or multi-stop tours where vast piles of tickets (sometimes in various different currencies) can quickly start to pile up.
4) Consider keeping a basic unlocked phone for business travel that can quickly and easily be loaded up with a local SIM card for cheaper calls among groups of colleagues travelling to the same destination. Set up suitable voicemail where possible to alert incoming callers that they’re phoning overseas, and encourage the use of texting for incoming contact where appropriate, rather than callers phoning back or leaving voice messages, to cut down on charges when abroad.
5) If down time allows for exercising, then avoid gyms and instead opt for walking or jogging around the host city to get to explore the locale – it will help with getting to know it better in terms of options for dining, shopping and recreational activities, and can often result in meetings with locals that can yield great insider tips and information. (Be sure to leave contact information and expected return times with the hotel desk when travelling alone, in case of getting lost or waylaid in unfamiliar surroundings.)
6) For those business travellers missing family members or key events, be sure to schedule in some pre-arranged contact time to keep in touch and share details about the trip, new cities, or goings-on back home. When travelling with a smartphone in WiFi range, or with a laptop that has a webcam function, Facetime apps and programs like Skype can make a huge difference in helping business travellers feel connected to families or events elsewhere. Sharing a couple of trip photos daily by email – even if it’s just an interesting meal or a view from a hotel window – is also a great way to help others feel part of the visit from a distance.