Monday Mornings with Madison

Business Travel Tips

A half century ago, the average employee or manager at a company could go his or her entire life and never take a ‘business trip.’  Business travel was really just for top executives and traveling salesmen.  That is no longer the case.  Today, thanks to the Internet as well as and greater transportation options, companies have expanded their geographic reach.  Local companies can provide their products or services regionally, nationally or even internationally, with the only restrictions typically from government rules and regulations.  With such massive market opportunities has come a greater need for employees to visit clients and potential clients that are farther and farther away.  Employees are also traveling more to conferences and trade shows to gain knowledge and hone skills.  And, thanks to the expansion of travel choices – such as airlines that provide regular, non-stop flights to more cities and the expansion of fast rail travel — it has never been easier and more affordable for companies to send employees to far-away destinations for business.   Likewise, companies are increasingly able to hire top talent in remote locations and have them commute to corporate headquarters as needed for meetings or training.

All in all, business travel made up over 48% of all air travel in the U.S. in 2012, which totaled over 460 million person-trips.   However, although it is more affordable and there are more options, business travel comes with its own set of challenges for the person doing the traveling.  Security considerations have made travel more tedious, exhausting and time-consuming.  Time management is another challenge as employees look to make the most of travel time, and manage the impact of travel on family and personal life.  For those new to business travel, it can be painful to learn the ins and outs of traveling.   For those traveling for business more and more often, it can be just as challenging to lessen the impact of travel personally and at work.  That said, there are ways to lessen the drain and maximize the value of business travel.   Here are a few tips to make business travel a little easier.

Plan Travel Carefully

Planning pays dividends.  The more time spent planning a business trip, the more likely the trip will go smoothly and without a hitch.  Here are a few planning tips to help travel go more smoothly.

  • Confirm all travel arrangements. It is important to review and confirm all travel arrangements, locations, times, dates and charges at least a day before departure so that there is time to rectify problems.  Go through the itinerary, step-by-step, ensuring every transition has been handled from point A to B to C… all the way to the end of the trip.
  • Check rental car agency hours. If renting a car, verify in advance the rental car agency’s hours if picking up a rental car after hours or on a weekend.  Many of the smaller and even some of the bigger car rental agencies close after midnight or on Sundays at airports and in locations that are not very busy.
  • Invest in a good GPS. For those who do or will be traveling often, invest in a GPS.  Getting lost is no fun and not all GPS devices are created equal.  Buy one you like and take it with you.  If you travel often, it pays for itself as most car rental agencies charge as much as $10 per day for a GPS and an average GPS device costs about $100.
  • Subscribe to toll devices. If traveling regularly to a destination where you will be driving and that has a lot of toll roads and a pre-paid toll system such as New York/New Jersey’s EZ Pass system or Florida’s Sun Pass system, purchase a prepaid toll device.  It is much more affordable than paying fines or waiting in long lines at the toll booths.
  • Avoid checking luggage whenever possible. There is nothing more frustrating than to arrive in San Francisco only to discover that your bags ended up in San Diego.  Unless a business trip is for longer than a week, pack wisely and stick to two carry-on bags.  If you need to bring materials for a presentation, show or conference, ship them ahead of time.
  • When parking at the airport, write down the location. Airport parking lots are huge.  After a long trip, it is easy to forget where the car is parked.  Most airports provide little or no help to find a lost car.  One easy way to remember the lot, floor or row is to take a picture of the nearest parking lot sign with a smart phone camera.  Or, for those who are old-school, just jot it down on the parking ticket.

Pack Smart

Knowing what to bring is as important as knowing what not to bring on a trip.  Pack too much and the outcome will be back pain.  Pack too little and the trip will be spent either doing without or shopping for what was forgotten or overlooked.  Like Goldilocks, the key is to pack ‘just right.’  Here are a few packing suggestions.

  • Invest in good luggage. A broken suitcase is like a pebble in a shoe.  It is a tiny problem that can cause a lot of pain.  Roller board bags today come with four wheels, making it possible to roll a suitcase through an airport without having the weight of the suitcase pulling on your hand.  They are a bit more expensive but well worth it.  Ensure that any roller board bag is the right size to be allowed as a carry on with most major airlines.  On crowded flights, airline employees will use bag size as an excuse to force passengers to check bags.  Don’t give them an excuse to force check yours.
  • Pack for comfort and convenience. Pack clothes that are comfortable to wear during long meetings, in confined spaces and for long periods of time.  Try to pack clothes that are color coordinated to match with one or two pairs of comfortable shoes, thus requiring fewer shoes.  Bring a jacket or sweater for airplanes and conference rooms where the temperature could be chilly.
  • Buy noise-cancelling headphones. Not only do many airlines now have individual televisions, practically all have numerous stations for music.  Quality headphones that cancel noise are also more comfortable and help to reduce the effect of the constant noise of a train or plane, which can be wearying.
  • Buy a travel charger or supercharger. Those traveling with technology — which let’s face it is practically everyone today — is bound to need more ‘juice’ for a smart phone, pad or laptop during a long train or plane ride.  Finding available electrical outlets at airports is becoming more and more difficult.  Most hotels don’t have enough outlets either.  For around $50, a supercharger can recharge a cell phone five times before it needs to be recharged.

Travel Wisely

  • Allow extra time. It is impossible to predict what delays might derail a business trip.  Heavier than usual traffic to the airport because of an accident or a visiting dignitary.   The overlooked need to refuel before returning a rental car.  Long lines at security because of a terrorist threat.  Construction at an airport terminal.  Allocate extra time for the unexpected or unpredictable.
  • Minimize travel fatigue. Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated and avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages during flights.   If changing time zones, trying to adjust to the new time zone in advance.  To adjust more quickly to a new time zone, stay in well-lit places if you need to stay awake until bed time or take Melatonin (instead of a sleeping pill) if you can’t sleep when it is bedtime.  Sun and cherries also help a body’s circadian rhythm to adjust to a new time zone.
  • Stretch often and stay hydrated. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition in which a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs. It can develop from sitting still for a long time, such as when traveling by plane or car.  It is a serious condition because a blood clot that has formed in a vein can break loose, travel through the bloodstream and lodge in the lungs, blocking blood flow which is known as a pulmonary embolism.  To prevent DVT,  walk around an airplane cabin every 15 to 30 minutes whenever possible. This stretches legs and keeps blood moving normally. Drink water often.  Cabin pressure causes dehydration.  Staying hydrated prevents blood from thickening and becoming more susceptible to clotting.  Avoid alcoholic beverages, caffeinated products and salty snacks which increase dehydration further.  Limit periods of sleep on long flights. Sleeping in a sitting position for long periods of time can increase the risk of DVT.  Limit sleep to 30 minutes increments when possible.  Do stretching exercises while sitting.

Catch Up After Travel

  • Unpack immediately and put away luggage. Besides helping to settle back into the routine of home life, unpacking right away ensures that travel clothes aren’t overlooked when doing laundry or dropping off dry cleaning.  However, it may make more sense not to unpack toiletries if another trip is expected within a month.  For regular travelers, a toiletries travel bag makes sense.  For frequent business travelers, the toiletries bag need never be unpacked; only replenished as needed.
  • Cancel any Auto-Responder Message. It is a good idea to leave an email auto-responder message whenever traveling to advise people when you are away or unavailable.  However, make sure to remove that auto-responder message as soon as you return.
  • Return Calls and Emails. Reply immediately to any pending email and voice mail messages, even if only to say ‘I just got back from a trip and am backed up.  I will get back to you soon.’
  • Deal with receipts. It is important to handle travel reconciliation right away.  Otherwise, it can become either a drain on your own finances (should you need to be reimbursed for expenses)  or it can become an accounting nightmare for the company (if receipts are not submitted in a timely manner).  Thankfully, there is now technology that helps keep receipts organized.  Neat, for example, is a digital receipt system that works on a desktop, in the cloud, and with mobile. Neat transforms digital and paper documents into useful, organized information.  It doesn’t file the expense report for you, but it does digitize all the information and stores it in an organized manner.

As more and more professionals find themselves traveling for business, it is just these kinds of tips that will make travel a little easier… and that is not just good business; it’s good sense.

Quote of the Week

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”
Sir Francis Bacon

© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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