51 Tips, Tricks, and Apps to Simplify Business Travel
U.S. business travelers take more than 450 million business trips a year. The typical road warrior takes four day trips and two overnight trips every month, spending about 19 nights per year in a hotel. If you are one of these globetrotters, you know that business travel can be fun, stressful, exciting, lonely, inspirational, and awful—often all at the same time.
But travel you must, so travel you do. To help you on your way, here is our ultimate list of 51 essential business travel tips, tricks, and apps.
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Planning – Packing – Transportation – Productivity – Image – Fun – Compensation
1. Verify your meeting, conference, or trip schedule before you plan anything.
The last thing you want is to book your trip for wrong days. Make sure you verify your trip dates before you book or plan. This can be as simple as sending an email to your client or visiting the conference website to check the times.
2. Create a business travel checklist that you can use for every trip.
Make a short checklist that you can use every time you travel. This can be as simple as creating Google Doc, like this travel check list (feel free to save and customize), or use a more advanced planning template for the road warrior like this.
3. Give yourself leeway: Extra time and extra money.
Life often hits a snag, and the more you travel, the more snags you’ll encounter. As you make your plans and prepare for the trip, give yourself as much leeway—extra time, more money, more mental space—as possible, because sometimes things just go wrong.
4. Sign up for loyalty programs as often as possible.
Everyone today has a loyalty program: airlines, hotels, car rentals, restaurants, dry cleaners. Signing up for all of these might seem like a waste of time, but it’s often worth it, even if you patronize the business only once. For example, joining Kimpton’s Karma Rewards program will instantly get you free wi-fi and a $10 bar credit per stay. Sign up for Points or AwardWallet to manage all of your loyalty programs so you don’t have to carry a ton of cards around wherever you go, and use a dedicated email address to cut down on the junk in your inbox. (Learn how to combine loyalty programs for maximum benefit.)
5. Choose transportation and accommodations that meet your needs and fit your business image.
You are understandably focused on the business activities that form the reason for your trip. But just imagine trying to give your presentation after a terrible night’s sleep! Consider several factors when choosing your transportation and accommodations, including your personal comfort (nix the red-eye) as well as your business image (a budget hotel might not be the best choice).
6. Use a travel agent for plane tickets.
This tip comes from longtime travel journalist Larry Olmsted. He writes: “Multiplying travel search engines and airline comparison sites have given the average traveler the illusion that they can beat the market. They cannot. There is no fare or routing you will find that a good travel agent cannot also get, but the opposite is far from true.” The perks of using a travel agent for plane tickets include, well, perks (like upgrades) as well as extra protection if plans change.
7. Use Hotel Engine for Business for hotel rooms.
Hotel Engine gives business travelers access to deeply discounted corporate hotel rates that are typically reserved for Fortune 500 companies.
8. Pay for everything with a branded credit card.
Branded credit cards from airlines and hotels give your rewards earning capacity a major boost. Walla.by is a new app for Apple and Android that can help you decide which credit card to use to maximize your rewards.
9. Pick a hotel with free wi-fi and plenty of desk space.
Pretty self-explanatory: make sure you have the space and the tools you need to work efficiently.
10. Watch out for hidden fees and dispute them in advance.
Airlines and hotels have started using fees as a way to squeeze more money out of travelers without it looking like they are raising prices. It’s annoying, and it’s only getting worse. Read the fine print carefully, especially at hotels, and ask at the desk what kinds of fees are applicable to your stay. It’s easier to argue about the fees upfront than at check-out. (Learn more tips for how to avoid overpaying for hotel fees.)
11. Never take the last flight out.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2014 has been the worst year in the past five for flight delays (22.25%) and the worst in the last 10 for cancellations (2.65%). Decrease your chances of getting bumped by using FlightStats to check historical performance ratings before booking, and never ever book the last flight out. If your flight does get delayed or canceled, use AirHelp to get the compensation to which you are entitled.
12. Book low rates, then ask for an upgrade at check-in.
Of course you want the nicest seat, the nicest room, and the nicest car, but reserving these things from the get-go will blow your budget right quick. Instead, book economy and then ask for an upgrade at check-in. Especially if you are a loyalty club member, you will probably get it. (Read more about how to get a free hotel upgrade.)
13. Confirm your bookings at least a day in advance.
Don’t take the risk of arriving at the hotel only to find there is no room for you. Take five minutes the day before and confirm all of your bookings.
14. Use TripIt to organize your itineraries.
How did we travel without TripIt? This app creates a trip itinerary from your confirmation emails, syncs with your Google Calendar, and lets you share your plans with others. Brilliant.
15. Get lightweight, durable carry-on luggage.
When choosing a bag for business travel, look for something that is lightweight, durable, and has TSA-approved locks. Here are CBC News travel editor Peter Greenberg’s recommendations for the best luggage for 2014.
16. Buy a “checkpoint friendly” laptop bag.
The TSA has set guidelines for designers to develop laptop bags for easy X-ray screening. Learn what makes a bag “checkpoint friendly.”
17. Keep a checklist of what to pack.
Don’t leave packing to chance. Keep a checklist of the essentials, and review and modify it after each trip. There are a ton of checklist apps out there, but one of our favorites is Simplest Checklist, because it is exactly that. For something with a few more bells and whistles, check out PackPoint, “a travel app that practically packs your bags for you.” (Oh, that it could!)
18. Add these things to your checklist: alarm clock, plugs and chargers, personal wi-fi hotspot.
You will need them, and they are easy to forget.
19. Don’t take toiletries.
Most business trips are just a few days long, i.e., not long enough to justify taking your entire toiletry collection. Most of the time, you can probably leave standard toiletries out entirely. Your hotel will supply soap, shampoo, conditioner, and even toothpaste if you ask for it.
20. Do take snacks.
Having freed up all of that toiletry room, use some of it for snacks, like nuts, beef jerky, and energy bars. Don’t let hangry happen to you.
21. Keep a bag packed with all of the essentials.
Many expert business travelers skip the stress by keeping a bag packed with the essentials: shirts, pants, socks, chargers, and so on. Then all you have to do is throw in anything trip-specific, like an extra jacket or your presentation materials. If you forget something on a trip, put it in the bag immediately upon returning home.
22. If you travel to the same place frequently, leave a bag there.
Bill Walshe, CEO of Viceroy Hotel Group, is to thank for this one. For the places he travels frequently, he arranges with the concierge to store a bag with toiletries, business clothes, and workout attire, so he’ll always have them when he needs them.
23. Put your liquids in Ziploc bags before leaving home.
You’re going to have to do it for airport security anyway, so put your liquids in an easy-to-access Ziploc before heading to the airport. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to skip the line of people who didn’t do this and will be busy unpacking and repacking their bags.
24. Take noise-canceling headphones or earbuds.
25. Pack a personal item to stay connected to home.
Take something personal with you—a photograph, a child’s drawing, a spouse’s shirt to sleep with—to help you stay connected to your loved ones, even when you’re on the road.
26. Take a small notebook and a pen.
Because what if you lose your luggage and your phone dies and there is no wi-fi and….
27. Use TSA PreCheck or CLEAR to skip the airport security lines.
TSA PreCheck gets you through the lines faster on all of the major airlines and most major airports. CLEAR is a new private company that provides essentially the same service and has a special program for business travelers. It is currently in only a few airports, but is expanding quickly.
28. Monitor your flight status.
Many apps are available to help you keep track of your flights. FlightView is one of the most popular.
29. Check in and get your boarding pass on your phone.
You used to have to wait in line to get a paper boarding pass. Then kiosks arrived for electronic boarding passes. Now, we are in the age of mobile boarding passes. Most of the major airlines have apps that allow you to check in and get your boarding pass on your phone.
30. Don’t check bags.
You know this one. Checking bags means extra fees and extra time waiting at the baggage carousel. Skip it if you can.
31. Use apps to help you find your way around the airport.
32. Spend your wait time in an airport lounge.
Don’t underestimate the value of having a quiet place to rest, get some work done, and have a snack. The LoungeBuddy app helps you find airport lounges and determine if you are eligible for them. Even if you aren’t an elite status flyer, you can get lounge access in a couple of ways, including purchasing day passes. Check out Dr. Credit Card’s guide to airport lounges and credit cards that will grand you access to them. The Club and Airspace Lounge are lounge networks open to all travelers with day pass prices significantly below those of the major airlines.
33. Visit the rental car desk before picking up your luggage.
This is another tip from Larry Olmsted. If you do check a bag, hit the rental car counter before visiting baggage claim—this way, you don’t have to fight a crowd to get your car or your bag.
34. Book a taxi or car service using Uber, Lyft, or Curb.
35. Use map apps to navigate in your destination.
Many people are anxious about navigating in unfamiliar surroundings, which is probably why map apps are the second-most-used app category for business travelers (behind airport apps). For general mapping ability, Google Maps is pretty hard to beat. Waze is excellent for avoiding traffic, and CityMapper is making major cities more accessible.
36. Ask the hotel concierge for recommendations and advice.
It’s what they do.
37. Sync your calendar on all of your devices.
Don’t take a chance on missing something important. You will probably use multiple devices on your trip, so make sure your calendar is up-to-date on all of them.
38. Keep all of your documents and resources in Dropbox.
Use Dropbox to store essential materials before you leave so you can access them on the road, from your phone or tablet. Then, use it again to store meeting materials so you can have them on your computer when you get back.
39. Use Evernote to keep track of your meeting notes, presentations, etc.
Notes, presentations, to-do lists, schedules—Evernote is one of the easiest ways to keep track of all of these things and more.
40. Get a personal wi-fi hotspot or use an app to find wi-fi and stay connected.
41. Wake up at the same time, no matter where you are.
This is a strategy from Halliburton president Jeff Miller, who travels all over the world. It might hurt sometimes, but it will help you adapt more quickly to time changes.
42. Dress professionally, even on the plane.
You never know who you might be sitting next to, and looking nice doesn’t hurt when you are asking for all of those upgrades.
43. Use Refresh to prepare for meetings and remember who you meet.
Refresh is hands-down our favorite business app to come out recently. It helps you better establish personal connections (and makes you look really good) by aggregating information from social and professional networking sights about the people you meet, so you always know who’s in the room.
44. Tip well and often.
Business travel columnist Joe Brancatelli describes the myriad benefits of not being “stingy on the road.” Among them are better service, upgrades, and tickets to sold-out events, all worth an extra $20.
45. Get there a day or two early or leave a day or later.
Bleisure travel (an ugly phrase, but a growing trend) is becoming more popular and is also associated with more job satisfaction and company loyalty. On average, people who engage in bleisure travel take two vacation days for each business trip.
46. See the sights or plan a side trip.
If you can’t stay an extra couple of days, at least get out and see something interesting. If you have half a day, hit a museum or a historical attraction. If you have only an hour, arrange a driving tour. Making time to experience the local area will keep your trips from all looking and feeling the same.
47. Eat well and exercise.
Being on the road doesn’t mean you have to make unhealthy food choices. Besides, salads are good. Similarly, don’t let a business trip ruin your exercise routine. Use the hotel fitness room or find a local gym and buy a pass with Gymsurfing. If you can’t find the time to hit the gym, at least do the Road Warrior Workout in your hotel room.
48. Have one really fun meal.
Every place has its own flavor, and Yelp can help you find it.
49. Stay calm.
Take things in stride, even when they go wrong. Focus on positives, rather than negatives. And take care of yourself mentally and emotionally. Breathe2Relax is an app that helps you breathe in a way that reduces stress.
50. Use apps to track spending and submit expense reports.
Expensify is the industry leader in this department. It turns expense reports from awful to easy.
51. Know what you can and can’t write off at tax time.
If you shoulder the financial burden for your own business travel, be sure to stay current on what is tax deductible. If you’re taking a bleisure trip, use this guide to help you understand where, for tax purposes, the business part ends and the leisure part begins.
Phew! Did we miss anything?
Image credits: Disruptions at Leeds Bradford Airport by Flickr user:katjung [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons; Suitcase by JEXP [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons; 24-Hour Concierge by PanoramaTowers [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons