American business people take nearly 450 million trips every year—that’s a lot of waiting in airport lines, running for connections, and hunting for rental cars, not to mention searching for dependable wi-fi and dealing with sleep deprivation. The good news is that according to a recent study, business travelers are in general very happy people. So for all of you road warriors out there, here are our top tips for packing your bag, bypassing airport security, and having a little fun.
The first hurdle happens before you even leave home. As airports increase their checked-bag fees and security lines become longer, business travelers need to become ever more efficient packers.
It all starts with luggage. You need a bag that is lightweight, but durable enough to withstand being thrown around many, many times. It also needs to hold all of your essentials and fit into the overhead bin. If you plan to check your luggage, ensure that it has TSA-approved locks. Specialty travel stores are excellent places to learn what’s new in luggage, but they are also traditionally the most expensive places to buy that luggage. So learn what you can, and then check out Costco, www.ebags.com, or even Amazon to get the best deal.
For the flight
Flying can be the most strenuous part of the trip, especially if the flight is long or overnight. To make the flight as smooth as possible, don’t leave home without earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, a pair of slip-on shoes, a book, some healthy snacks, and a neck pillow (if you need to sleep).
For the trip
Packing for a business trip is an exercise in distinguishing what’s truly essential from what isn’t. Most business travelers go on average about 250 miles from home, so unless you are going to a very rural area (not likely), keep in mind that many things are just as easy to buy there as they are to cram in your bag. A good rule of thumb is to pack half as many clothes and twice as much money as you think you will need.
- Wrinkle-free clothing. Let’s face it, you probably don’t iron at home, and you definitely aren’t going to do it on the road. With non-iron, wrinkle-free clothing, you don’t have to worry about looking disheveled. Check out travel supply stores like Magellans and Travelsmith, as well as Brooks Brothers, for a wide selection of wrinkle-free clothes. For those times when you just have to take your favorite non-wrinkle-free shirt, pick up a travel-sized bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser.
- Toiletries. Unless your destination is an exotic one, leave the toiletries at home. Almost all hotels will provide everything you need, from the in-room shampoo and conditioner, to toothpaste and even shaving cream on request. If you will need to attend your first meeting before checking into the hotel, stash a travel-sized toothpaste and some face-cleansing clothes in your pocket for a quick refresher.
- Tech essentials. Stop wasting time searching for a dependable wi-fi hotspot and just carry one with you. Some phones, like the iPhone, allow you to set up a personal hotspot for your other devices, but this can wreak havoc on your data plan. Instead, spend $100 on a Karma hotspot, and then pay as you go. Also make sure you have your chargers, replacement batteries, and conversion cables if you are traveling overseas.
- Energy. Keeping your energy up is essential, but it can also be challenging. Invest in a water bottle with a built-in filtration system so you can stay hydrated, and pack small snacks like nuts and string cheese for emergencies. Also, instead of waiting endlessly in line at the coffee shop (or worse yet going without), grab some Starbucks Via instant coffee packs. They are $9.95 for a 12-pack at Starbucks outlets or about $20 for a 24-pack at Costco. Finally, if you will be crossing time zones or generally have trouble getting enough Zzzs, pack some melatonin supplements to help regulate your sleep cycles.
- Pen and paper. This may sound terribly old-fashioned in the world of smartphones, but phones go missing, batteries run down, and sometimes you just need to jot a quick note. Never leave home without a pen and a pocket-sized notebook.
- Cash. Another antiquated technology, perhaps, but if your credit card gets compromised or a vendor doesn’t accept plastic (e.g., taxi drivers), you will need cash on hand. This is especially useful as companies are starting to up their prices for credit transactions; for example, some gas stations now charge an extra 10 cents per gallon to use a credit card.
- A personal item. Results of the happiness study also showed that almost one-half of business travelers pack a personal item to help them stay connected to home, so don’t be embarrassed to throw in a few photos or even a small stuffed animal (25 percent of business travelers take a cuddly toy for company).
You are no stranger to airports, so you’ve undoubtedly noticed that getting through them isn’t becoming any easier. Here are some tips to make the process of getting there less of a hassle.
- Be prepared for change. Flights get canceled and reservations get lost all of the time, so prepare for these possibilities by printing copies of all of your reservations (flight, hotel, rental car, etc.) in advance and purchasing travel insurance so you won’t be stuck with the bill if your plans change. Many elite credit cards have some limited travel insurance, which may be sufficient if most of your trips are short and inexpensive.
- Don’t check in at the gate. For most domestic flights, you can check in online up to 24 hours in advance, pick your seat, and get your boarding pass on your phone, so if you don’t have any luggage to check, skip these parts of the airport experience entirely.
- Skip the security line. Just this year, the TSA announced a Pre-check program that allows some frequent flyers to receive expedited screening at the airport. The application costs $85 and the pass is good for five years. Learn more about the Pre-check program here. Frequent international travelers should apply for a Trusted Traveler program, which allows you to breeze through border crossings. Check out the Customs and Border Protection website for more information.
- Relax in an airport lounge. If you need a quiet place to work during that three-hour layover, or just want a snack and a little R&R before or after your flight, gain admittance to an airport lounge. The lounges are open to select frequent flyers, holders of certain travel credit cards, and others for a fee ranging from about $30 per day to up to $450 for an annual membership.
- Know where you’re going. Reduce the number of U-turns and other hassles of driving in an unknown city. If you are renting a car, either get one with a GPS or take your own, whether it is a standalone system or an app on your phone.
Staying healthy and enjoying the trip
An oxymoron? Not at all. Even if you have limited free time, your business trip doesn’t have to be all work and no play.
- Eat healthy. Staying away from junk food on a business trip can be difficult, but it will help you both feel better and be more productive. Use your GPS to find the closest grocery store so you can stock up on fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks. Get the best possible start to your day by providing your own breakfast, like granola and yogurt, rather than eating in the hotel restaurant.
- Exercise. Take some time every day to exercise, whether in the fitness center or just in your room. Check out this article on Entrepreneur.com for a hotel room workout that doesn’t require packing any extra fitness attire.
- Make some memories. Don’t let every business trip look like every other one. If you have time, check out a baseball game, eat at a popular restaurant, or even roll it into a weekend. Even if you have only an hour to spare, you can book a car tour—ask for a knowledgeable guide to show you the local highlights.
Finally, here are a few extra strategies to make your trip easier:
- Online printing. If you need presentation materials or handouts for your meetings, don’t worry about taking them with you. Print your materials at your destination using an online printing service, such as Staples, and then pick them up when you get there.
- Apps. Check out our “Ultimate Guide to Travel Apps for Business Travelers” for a list of the top apps to facilitate your trip.
Whether you are a veteran business traveler or new to the road warrior lifestyle, these tips and tricks will help ensure your trip goes as smoothly, and as productively, as possible. Don’t forget to book your room through Hotel Engine for the best hotel rates available.
Featured image by Varano [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons