Every now and again someone asks me, “If you were to list your top five tips for a new business traveler, what would you say?” I probably have hundreds of tips, tricks, secrets, and other revelations that I use for my own trips, but if I were to take a fledgling business traveler under my wing, there are some basic things he/she would need to know. Here they are:
1) Programs, Get Your Programs!
The quickest way to quell most of the ills and pains of traveling is to become an elite traveler. Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, whatever the level, elite travelers enjoy free bag checking, they’re the first to board and to stash their carry-on bags, they get free meals, nicer rooms, free upgrades, and a host of other perks that are too numerous to mention. My advice is, join every possible frequent travel program you can find for cars, hotels, and airlines. Next, the key is to pick a favorite among them and stick with it to earn elite status as quickly as possible. I like WorldPerks for air miles because you can earn miles from lots of different airlines. I like Marriott for hotels because they seem to have the biggest “bang for the buck” for their hotel points.
2) Pack Smart, Pack Light
Airlines charge extra for bags that weigh more than 45 pounds. The next time you take a five-day business trip, I would challenge you to take your suitcase into your bathroom and weigh it. If it’s your first trip, I can almost guarantee that it will weigh far more than 45lbs! You can easily break it down to less than that, if you’re careful. Be careful when you hear yourself asking, “What if” or you find yourself saying, “Just in case!” The last time it rained on me in New York, I ducked into a convenience store and bought an umbrella for $5. Why pack one? Do you need fins, mask, and snorkel if you’re headed to the beach? I know you can rent a good set, cheaply, from any good full service hotel. Do you really need five pairs of blue jeans? Five pairs of shoes? Five Suits? Not if you stay with conservative colors that mix and match…
3) Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
If you know you’ll be traveling a lot, you’ll want to invest in a good piece of luggage or two. Yes, I said, “invest.” When I consider just how far I’ve tugged my Briggs and Riley computer bag, the uneven surfaces, the inclement weather, snow, ice, curbs, and cobblestones, I take for granted that my laptop always boots right up, and my other daily used travel accoutrements (sunglasses, digital camera, books, toothbrush, etc) stay dry and unbroken. Find a bag that has a lifetime guarantee (Travel Pro, Briggs and Riley, etc) and ask a luggage store salesman how well they honor that warranty. Then if the airlines destroy it, you’ll just smile and get yourself a new one for free. Be careful here, high cost does not always equal high quality in the bag business. Tumi, for example, now manufactures their bags in China and they have nowhere near the quality they used to.
4) Flexibility Rules
If you travel every week, something strange and unexpected will happen to you. Believe it, embrace it, and just be prepared to deal with it. Always have a backup plan, an extra book, and always move through airports and trains in a comfortable pair of shoes with a fully charged cell phone and iPod. Planes land in unexpected places due to maintenance issues, trains fall off their schedules occasionally, and even the most expensive rental cars get flat tires. In my cell phone, I have a bank of phone numbers for airlines, rental cars, and hotels that I can use to call in case of emergency. The last time my flight canceled, I pulled my cell, hit a magic button, and was rebooked before the bulk of the line had a chance to run back to the counter. If you that the unexpected travel surprise is just part of the experience, then you’ll be better prepared to handle it and you’ll laugh about it when it’s over. (See my article, “Chickens on the plane!“)
5) Know Your Schedule
Never take the last plane out, if you can help it. As tempting as it is to stay those last few hours at home with your family, it’s an embarrassing thing to miss a meeting because that last flight out was canceled. That situation is entirely preventable if you book an earlier flight, then learn the other flights (and other airlines) that leave after yours for the same destination. A savvy New Yorker who works downtown is all too aware of the Subway schedule, and most can tell you five different ways to get home from their office. If you apply the same logic to air travel, you’ll rarely be stranded (I think I’ve been stuck overnight twice in 13 years of travel).
EXTRA: If you have questions for Ken regarding business travel, hotels, airplanes, etc, please send an email! Your questions will be recorded and Ken will answer the best ones in his Ask the Expert podcast show.