Many businesses require employees to undertake some degree of work-related travel, whether it’s meeting with colleagues in remote offices or fostering relationships with important (or prospective) clients overseas. And, particularly in smaller businesses where fewer individuals might be responsible for multiple key roles, some people find themselves having to take long-haul trips quite often.
While many non-travelling workers think it all sounds great in theory, it’s actually very common for frequent business travellers to dread these obligatory overseas trips. On top of all the general hassle and stress of flying long-distance to attend tedious or high-pressure meetings and conferences, the trips themselves are usually brief and busy – they seldom leave much time for exploration or recreation outside of work hours, and often cause us to miss important dates or events with our families and friends.
However, there are some relatively simple steps we can all take to help smooth out our experience of unavoidable business travel, and to assure that we make the most of both our prep time and the few fleeting hours we get to spend at our destination.
Preparation is key
When time allows, putting in some basic groundwork in advance makes things run a lot more smoothly.
Feel like you spend half your time waiting in airport lines? For regular business travellers, it may be worth exploring the possibility of applying for expedited entry into certain countries under a number of national schemes. The US, for example, runs programs like Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, Sentri and Nexus, all of which demand rigorous background checks and interviews from applicants – but if you’re accepted onto them, they can help cut down your waiting around times enormously.
Good packing is the key to good travel, so always plan to pack smart and light. For a short trip, go with just a couple of neutral, multipurpose outfits that are interchangeable to maximise rotation options and to fit various scenarios, and don’t bother with unnecessary luxuries like gym gear – if you have time to exercise, simply do so by exploring the new city you’re visiting with a brisk walk or a jog. Keep clothes looking fresher by rolling them, rather than folding. Charge up all your important gadgets the night before you travel, and consider packing a small, lightweight power strip to enable sharing a socket if you need to top up on the go but find they’re all being used (a common problem in airports). Don’t forget to check on what type of adaptors you’ll need if travelling abroad.
Another great timesaver is that age-old favourite, the checklist. Keep a copy of a ‘bare minimum’ checklist – just the basic things you’ll need to cover any typical business trip – saved on your smartphone or laptop. That way, you can pack in a hurry (perhaps while making those last-minute flight bookings) and still be confident of arriving with a kit bag that will get you through the next couple days comfortably. Better yet, if you frequently have to fly to work engagements at relatively short notice, consider keeping a small suitcase permanently packed and ready to go: a backup wash bag and a couple of older suits can be stashed away under the bed or above a wardrobe until it’s called into action, shaving a good deal of time and stress off those last-minute changes of plan.
Where possible, pre-flight checklists should also include all relevant information regarding your airline, flight times, help desk extensions, hotel contact number, directions and reservation details, and perhaps even a couple of useful numbers for taxi or takeout options in the city you’ll be arriving at.
On the fly
With all the regrettably necessary security checks travellers have to go through these days, airports in particular can be a real obstacle for frequent business travellers. But there are several simple ways to take a lot of the strain off.
Firstly, staying well hydrated makes a huge difference, both while waiting around at the airport and particularly in-flight. Avoiding alcohol altogether on business trips is generally a good idea; you’re fairly likely to have a bust schedule from the moment you land (particularly if meeting with clients or colleagues), and the last thing you want is to appear fuzzy-headed or hungover. (And yes, alcohol taken at altitude does indeed affect you more than you’re used to!)
You’ll want to keep your wits about you, because observation and smart reading of situations can be key at airports. For example, the shortest line may look like the quickest route through security checks, but look further ahead – is anyone clearly a very inexperienced flier, or is somebody wheeling a huge or unusual piece of luggage? Are there any extended family groups up ahead who’ll all need to be corralled through together?
Close attention to these sorts of scenarios can pay dividends when time is short. And, unless you have frequent flier priority boarding, you’d be well advised to queue early at gates – having to stow your case at the other end of the plane from your seat because the overhead bins are all full is a serious drag on a business trip, especially when you’ve got work to do in-flight.
Above all though, the number one golden rule of all airport travel is: be nice. Be nice to absolutely everyone who’s getting paid to be there. Be warm, be friendly, be personable and be cheery, no matter how much you’d rather be elsewhere. It’s by far the best way to increase your chances of getting those occasional upgrades and extras that are handed out every now and then – they have to choose someone, and if they remember you as being a great customer, then you’re already well ahead of the pack. (Dressing smartly and looking presentable will also help a great deal in terms of upgrade potential.)
At the other side
Disembarking from a long flight into an unfamiliar city with an itinerary to meet and an armful of bags, laptops and the like can be a stressful and disorientating experience. But, again, there are some quick and easy ways to help yourself ride it out more easily.
Knowing a couple of useful phrases – yes, no, please, thank you – in the native language will go a long way towards standing you in good stead with the first few locals you encounter. Even better, if you can learn enough to apologise for not knowing the language and ask whether they know English, you’ll get an enormous head start in personal interactions. (If you haven’t had time to prepare much in advance, a good phrasebook app can be very handy here.)
Speaking of apps, there are several very useful ones for regular work travellers that might be worth considering. For example, you’ll start accruing expenses and receipts almost as soon as you step through into arrivals, and they can quickly get a bit overwhelming when you’re trying to store them all in a wallet. An app such as Expensify makes it easy to scan, store and upload all your ticket stubs for processing later. (AwardWallet is another good one for frequent business fliers, as it keeps track of your accrued air miles and reward points for you.)
Staying on the smartphone theme, it’s often quite expensive to make calls while roaming overseas, so consider keeping a basic phone as backup that you can quickly slip a local prepaid SIM card into when you arrive – this should make calls among travelling groups of colleagues much cheaper, and will also cut down on the number of incoming calls you get from contacts back home who don’t realise you’re abroad (in most cases, answering a call overseas will cost you). On your main phone, set up voicemail and ask callers to text instead where appropriate.
Hotels and hire cars present further opportunities to get better deals and upgrades than you’re initially offered, but timing is key when asking about them. At hotels in particular, try to wait for an opportune moment to check in, when the desk isn’t busy and the clerk doesn’t look overburdened – this gives you a great window in which to be friendly and engaging while asking whether they might have a room free ‘with a particularly great view’ or ‘with a bit more space to unwind in after a tiring journey’. Car rental clerks will rarely offer the best possible price first time, so be prepared to haggle: suggesting upgrading to a slightly more luxurious model for the same price is a good way to start, particularly if they clearly have plenty of vehicles going spare. Again, being nice and personable, looking presentable and taking the time to engage on a personal level is absolutely crucial here too.
Finally, always be sure to stay in close contact with family you’ve left behind, even if you’re only away for a brief time – as well as staying connected to important events back home, it helps everyone feel part of the trip even when they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away. Sharing a few photos each day by email, even if it’s just a shot of your breakfast buffet, keeps everybody feeling closely connected, and of course you can’t beat a quick Skype or Facetime session with the kids before turning in (just be aware of time zone differences and make sure you stick to a feasible schedule for both parties!).