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100 Clever Travel Hacks for Your Next Business Trip

December 21st, 2009

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During your business career education, you probably took classes in management, marketing, accounting, and economics, but how many courses prepared you for mastering the real-world business culture? If you’ve found yourself heading out on business trips and aren’t quite sure how to pack, network or manage your schedule, here are 100 clever hacks to help you straighten it all out and travel like a pro.

Booking Travel

Help your boss save money while you get the best benefits with these hacks.

  1. Rack up your frequent flier miles: Ask your boss if you can put your ticket under your name and frequent flier account so that you get the miles.
  2. Be smart about your connecting flight: If you have to connect — and have a choice between different connecting airports — pick one of these: Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, or Portland, OR. They’ve been named the best five airports for wasting time.
  3. Pick your seat ahead of time: Beyond budget travel websites, there are sites like SeatPlans.com that help you pick individual seats by price and by best location on the plane.
  4. Pick your own destination: To avoid getting shipped to places like North Dakota in the wintertime, keep an eye out for conventions, workshops and meetings in cities you’d like to visit, like Rio de Janeiro, which is quickly becoming a popular destination for business travel.
  5. Know how to pick last-minute airfares: You may not know months ahead of time if you’re going on a business trip or not, but that doesn’t mean you have to get stuck in the middle seat or fly at 5a.m. This guide will help you find last-minute deals that are still flexible.
  6. Find the airline with the most legroom: This list measures seat pitch and seat widths of major airlines like Air France, American Airlines, British Airways and Southwest Airlines.
  7. Check hotel reviews: Oyster.com is a great resource for finding hotel reviews in places like Boston, Las Vegas, Miami and more.
  8. Shop discount business class: Cheapoair.com has a whole section that will search deals on business class seats.
  9. Join a hotel loyalty program: This post refers to a WSJ study that found that hotel loyalty plans are generally worth it.
  10. Buy with a credit card, not a debit card: This post explains that if you buy a plane ticket (and get canceled or moved) you can get your money back from the credit card company instead of fighting with the airline.
  11. Avoid flying at peak times: If you can help it, opt for flying during a less crowded time to save money and avoid messes at the airport.
  12. Be prepared to get bumped: Talk with your boss ahead of time to see if you’re allowed to accept vouchers and credits if you volunteer to take a seat on a later plane.
  13. Find flexible airfare: Buy plane tickets that let you change your flight for no fee, in case your meeting is cancelled or you have to stay later.

Packing

Packing for a business trip is radically different than packing for a vacation. Here you’ll learn how to pack light, dress professionally but comfortably, and master the business travel carry-on.

  1. Assemble a permanent toiletries bag: Instead of packing your regular items into a toiletry bag each trip, have one set aside with travel-sized items, all ready to go.
  2. Remember the 3-1-1 rule: You’re allowed to pack in your carry-on 3.4-oz-sized bottles into one clear plastic zip-top bag that is no larger than 1 quart. No exceptions.
  3. Be aware of security regulations in other countries: For your return flight home, you want to make sure you’re just as smartly and efficiently packed as you go through security in a foreign country.
  4. Pick the right bag: A good carry-on bag should be durable, have secure locks, plenty of organizing pockets, and should match your personal traveling style.
  5. Remember your business documents: Make sure you’ve packed your zip drives, documents, laptop and other business material in a safe place in your carry-on.
  6. Be polished but comfortable: Bring shoes and clothing that are professional looking but still comfortable, since you won’t necessarily have time to change between landing and heading to your meeting.
  7. International plug adapter: If you’re flying internationally, make sure you have the comparable plug adapter for your chargers, hair dryer and other appliances and electronics.
  8. Clearly mark all of your bags and keep your luggage tags in case one of your items is lost.

Airport Hacks

From delays and cancellations to getting to and from the airport and zipping through security, here are tips for making the most of your time spend in the airport.

  1. Know your commute: You want to make sure you get to the airport in plenty of time, but don’t overcompensate. Brief yourself on the traffic, taxi wait-time, and/or parking options to calculate to the minute what time you need to leave.
  2. Go through the experienced traveler line: Many large airports now have separate security lines for experienced, sometime, and rookie travelers, so you won’t have to get caught behind strollers or other newbie travelers who don’t know what to do.
  3. Get a passport holder: Keep your passport or photo ID, boarding pass, luggage tags and other travel documents in one easy-to-access case. Just don’t lose it.
  4. Watch the gate attendants: If you’re nervous about your flight getting delayed, pick a seat that puts you directly in front of the ETD and ETA screen, and watch the gate attendants for signs: they’ll most likely start avoiding people as much as possible.
  5. Download an airport map: There are several airport map applications for the iPhone for quick and easy navigation for the world’s top airports.
  6. Find the free wifi: This list from SmallBusiness.com names the U.S. and international airports with free wifi.
  7. Buy snacks for the plane: If you didn’t have time to pack your own, make sure you pack a snack or two that travels well in your carry-on bag, especially if you’re due for a long flight.
  8. Don’t stray too far from your gate: During your search for an open outlet or the closest Starbucks, don’t stray too far from your gate. At least stay in your terminal so that you can hear announcements about delays and boarding.
  9. Check in online: Save time in check-in lines and decrease your chances of getting bumped by checking in online the night before.
  10. Consider staying in a lounge: If you have a lot of work to get done during a layover, consider purchasing a day pass to get access to the airport lounge.

In the Air

From ear plugs to hacking your Kindle, here are tips for staying busy and calm in the air.

  1. Bring ear plugs: Block out babies, annoying conversations and the plane’s engine with ear plugs if you want a break from your music.
  2. You can still use your Kindle: Download a book ahead of time and take your Kindle off the wifi mode to read on the plane.
  3. Grab your blanket and pillow early: Don’t wait to see if there will a blanket or pillow in your seat: grab the first one you see in the overhead bin in the front of the plane (though not out of someone else’s seat).
  4. Stay calm: Whether or not you’re afraid of flying, an airplane trip can be stressful. Remember to stay calm, hydrated and polite. Getting frustrated will just make the trip seem longer.

Road Trip and Train Hacks

If you choose to drive or take the train on your next business trip, follow these hacks for safe, efficient travel.

  1. Bring your GPS: Bring your GPS or download one to your phone so you don’t waste time getting lost in a new city.
  2. Travel with people you like: If it’s at all possible, pick your road trip partner according to travel style so that you don’t have fights about taking turns, changing the radio station or stopping for bathroom breaks.
  3. Take care of car maintenance ahead of time: If you’re taking your own car (or the company car), make sure the oil has been changed, tires checked and windshield wipers are in good order.
  4. Pick a trusted train route: Unfortunately, train travel in the U.S. isn’t what it is elsewhere in the world, so before you buy any old ticket, make sure you’re going to arrive in a timely fashion.
  5. Bring snacks: For rail or car travel, bring your own snacks for cost- and time-effective nourishment.
  6. Bring accessories that help you sleep: Eye masks, pillows and blankets will make it easier to sleep despite other chatter and bumps in the road.
  7. Stock your iPhone: Use iPhone apps to find gas stations, speed traps and maps.
  8. Know the baggage rules for trains: Baggage (carry-on and checked) rules are not the same as all airlines, so make sure you check them first.
  9. Drive at strategic times: Get there faster and more safely by avoiding rush hour and inclement weather conditions.
  10. Go to the bathroom each time you get gas: This post recommends going to the bathroom every time you stop for gas, even if you don’t think you have to. It cuts down on extra stops.

Getting Around

Be strategic when booking your hotel, pal around with other colleagues, and look into airport shuttles when you’re out of town.

  1. Pick a hotel in close proximity to public transportation: Some business travelers like picking hotels close to the airport, but it’s smartest to pick one in close proximity to trains and subways.
  2. Stay close to the meeting or convention hall: You should also try to stay within walking distance (or short commute distance) to the place you’ll be working at the most.
  3. Find a friend: Make a friend or reconnect with colleagues you know are going to be there to share cabs or rental cars.
  4. Download public transit maps: Many iPhone apps offer maps of public transportation, from Google or other services.
  5. Take airport or hotel shuttles: Inquire at your hotel about shuttles to and from the airport or to convention halls, especially if they’re free.

Health, Diet and Exercise

These hacks will help you stay healthy and on-point with your diet and exercise routine even when you travel for business.

  1. Stretch on the plane or train: Stand up once an hour to stretch and bend your knees.
  2. Don’t eat like you’re on vacation: You may have lots of free food, more restaurant choices and networking events that tempt you, but eat in moderation.
  3. Keep healthy snacks on hand: You’ll probably have weird schedules, so keep cereal bars and fruit on hand when you’re hungry.
  4. Bring workout clothes: Bring low maintenance workout clothes and running shoes. Even if your hotel doesn’t have a gym, you can take a walk or jog around the neighborhood.
  5. Bring workout DVDs: You don’t have to miss your regular cardio or yoga workout when you bring the DVD for your laptop.
  6. Take advantage of the free food: Since you don’t have to worry about higher-priced health food, go ahead and order healthy meals and pick veggies and fruit as snacks.
  7. Keep up with your network: Joining an online health and fitness network like Sparkpeople.com can keep you accountable even when you’re away from home.
  8. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face: Especially when flying or taking the train, wash your hands more frequently and avoid touching your face to minimize the spread of germs.
  9. Find a way to exercise: Even if you rarely swim, bring your suit for a couple laps in the hotel pool if that’s your only exercise option.
  10. Get enough sleep: Your immune system will be extra vulnerable if you combine your hectic schedule with late nights and no sleep.

Free Time

If you’re lucky enough to make time for yourself on your next business trip, make sure you use it wisely.

  1. Find wifi: During your downtime, you may still have to email your boss reports or notes, so locate local wifi hotspots if your hotel doesn’t have Internet.
  2. Don’t worry about visiting people you never talk to anyway: If you’ve got an old acquaintance who lives in the same city you’ll be traveling to, don’t worry about visiting them if it will strain your schedule.
  3. Find a city guide: Bring a travel book or visit a city travel guide website ahead of time to pick out a few museums or monuments to check out during your free time.
  4. Stick to the city center: Unless you really know the area, avoid going on day trips to the country or suburbs, where your transportation options are less available and you’re more likely to get lost.
  5. Fight jet lag: Try to keep a normal schedule even when you have down time if you’re serious about fighting jet lag.
  6. Connect with friends and family: Make phone calls, send e-mails and get on Facebook to connect with loved ones back home, especially if you have to travel for extended periods of time.
  7. Relax: Take advantage of the fact that you’re alone away from home, and take an hour or two to just take a walk, sit in the park or relax by the pool.
  8. Stay responsible: Just because you’re out of town doesn’t mean you can have inconsequential affairs with strangers or business partners. Stay responsible and remember that whatever you do on a business trip will follow you back home.
  9. Bring your spouse: If you and your spouse never have time away from the kids, consider bringing him or her along. Just make sure you’re footing the bill and he or she has something to do while you’re working.
  10. Connect with colleagues: Business trips often mean bonding time for colleagues, and make a point to network with new business contacts you’ve just met on the trip.

Expenses and Finance

These hacks will help you make careful, responsible choices when spending your boss’ money.

  1. Understand what’s tax deductible: Be smart about deducting travel expenses for taxes, or you’ll get in trouble and have to pay it all back anyway.
  2. Be clear about what’s being paid for: Make sure you have paperwork explaining how much you get to spend for meals, transportation, etc. each day.
  3. Know which credit card to use: If you’ve been trusted with a company credit card, know when you’re supposed to use it. And keep it in a very safe place.
  4. Keep all of your receipts: Keep every single one of your receipts in a zip-top bag. You can organize them when you get home, but your boss will probably want to see most of them, and you can save the rest for your own files.
  5. Find ATMs: When you first get to your destination, make a point to locate ATMs for personal withdrawals or emergencies. But know that you probably won’t be allowed to count cash withdrawals towards your expenses.
  6. Contact the bank: If you’re traveling abroad especially, you may want to contact your bank so they won’t freeze your credit card, thinking it’s been stolen.
  7. Keep track of exchange rates: Make sure you and your boss are aware of current exchange rates before you leave.
  8. Don’t use your boss’ card for late-night drinks: You’ll probably lose count and get over-generous with paying for drinks, so start the night on your own tab.
  9. Stay within the limit: Obey all credit card and expense rules, or you could lose your job when you get back.
  10. Use a money belt: If you’re nervous about losing the company card, use a money belt when you go out.

Security and Safety

Stay safe, protect your documents and equipment, and watch out for hackers and scammers even while on a business trip.

  1. Lock everything: Lock laptops, suitcases, hotel windows and doors, and anything else valuable.
  2. Keep your cell phone charged: Though your schedule is a bit off, don’t forget to keep your phone charged.
  3. Don’t put your laptop in the overhead bin: Laptops can easily be stolen or damaged if you put them in the overhead bin.
  4. Choose the valet if it’s late: Pay the extra few dollars to have your car valeted so that you don’t have to walk out to a dark parking lot.
  5. Pack valuables in a safe or your locked suitcase when you leave your hotel: Don’t leave your laptop or jewelry in plain sight.
  6. Connect to a secure wifi connection: Avoid dummy wifi connections supported by hackers.
  7. Know how to get back to the hotel: Before leaving for the night, make sure you know the address, phone number and route back to your hotel.
  8. Leave expensive, showy clothes and jewelry at home: Be more inconspicuous by leaving the diamonds and flashy clothes at home.
  9. Stick with others: Pick a travel partner for sightseeing or eating out after hours.
  10. Keep up with your bags: Don’t leave your bags unattended in the bathroom, the gate or the security line.

When You Get Home

The most clever business traveler knows how to set up for the next trip upon returning home.

  1. Take suits to the dry cleaner’s: Go ahead and do your laundry and take suits and jackets to the dry cleaner’s so they’re ready for next time.
  2. Refill your toiletries bag: If you’re running out of shampoo or moisturizer, put them on your list the next time you go to the store.
  3. Organize receipts: Take out your receipts and immediately organize them and file them for tax purposes.
  4. Make a list of the things you’ll do next time: Before you forget all your little mistakes, make a list of what you’ll do next time: fly with a different carrier, carry on all your luggage, or come back a day earlier.
  5. Get your notes in order: Organize all your scribbles and meeting notes so that they’re in proper order for your boss.
  6. Follow up with contacts: Send e-mails and make phone calls to the people you met at networking events.
  7. Eat light: Help your body recover from rich foods by eating light for the next few days.
  8. Catch up on sleep: Get some extra rest without destroying your regular schedule when you get home.
  9. Hand in company credit cards, laptops and documents: Immediately hand over any company-owned cars, credit cards and equipment you took with you on the trip to avoid losing them at home.
  10. Thank your boss: Be sure to thank your boss for footing the bill so that you could represent the company on the trip.

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