Thursday, December 4, 2014

Formula for easy living: Travel tips from a frequent flier

Formula for easy living: In this series, we look at shortcuts and hints for our everyday lives. The goal: Create habits for quicker decision making, stylish living, and more efficient daily routines. Today, we're talking about strategies for business travel. 

There are two kinds of traveler: Business travelers and everyone else.

For the last two years, I traveled almost every single week for work. I left on a Monday morning 6 a.m. flight and returned home on a Thursday 7 p.m. flight. I've worked in Minneapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Orlando, D.C., Charlotte, and even Saudi Arabia. It has shaped me into a very efficient (and bitter) traveler. If you find yourself about to embark on a business trip, here are my recommendations.

  1. Buy the smallest suitcase that meets your needs. This is going to help you for many reasons. You'll always be able to fit it on the plane, even if it's a full flight. You can easily pick it up for running up a flight of stairs (sometimes you're late), maneuvering through the airport, on the street, and in your hotel. 
  2. Pack smart. Really think about how you need to dress and what will make you comfortable, then pack for it. I have a co-worker who had black, blue, and brown weeks. She would pack only black slacks and skirts with one pair of shoes to match and a few complimentary blouses (doing the same for the different colors she wore). This means that she can mix everything and re-wear it. Also, consider if it is worth it to bring casual clothes for after work. If you are comfortable in your work clothes, perhaps that's good enough to wear out to dinner with co-workers.
  3. Forget the workout clothes. I know, you were planning on waking up early every morning and working out for an hour. You probably won't. You'll be tired from the flight, drink too much with co-workers, and then stay up all night watching cable. Don't stress yourself out about breaking your workout routine or guiltily eyeing your workout clothes every time you come back to the room. Instead, Starwood hotels provide rental workout clothes for $5 a day. Sound kinda gross? Well, it does save space in your suitcase and allows you to exercise at the spur of the moment...
  4. Don't forget a sweater. EVERY office I've ever been to is cold. I'm sure there is a study that indicates it is better for work productivity and that is why they all do it. However, it just keeps me shivering and wishing I were somewhere else.
  5. Bring a snack. Flights are delayed, taxis end up sitting in traffic, and meetings run long. If you are hungry during any of those moments, your travel day will seem even longer. I usually carry Clif bars, dried fruit, nuts, or even cookies to help get through the frustration of seeing my flight get shifted back 20 minutes, over and over, to 9 p.m. 
  6. Get TSA pre-check or Global Entry. This means you can go through a special security line that allows you to keep your coat and shoes on as well as leave your laptop in your bag. It also means that you can arrive at the airport with less wait time for your flight. It is glorious. 
  7. Sign up for rewards and points. At your hotel, if you are a Hilton or Starwood (etc.) member, you get lots of special perks that can make your travel all the more pleasant. For example, no waiting in line to check in, you can bump someone with lower status if you desperately need a room (I know, it's terrible but...), and you even get free coffee delivered to your room in the morning. However, the biggest perk is using your points for later stays, especially vacations. This is the same for flying. Find an airline you use a lot and patronize them as much as possible to build points.
  8. If anything is wrong, ask for points. While staying in Pittsburgh, on the same morning a water main broke near the hotel so no one could shower, the cleaning lady knocked on my door at 7 a.m. I was more than cranky when I came downstairs to check out. I told the staff how I felt and they gave me points. Does that seem bitchy? Well, maybe. However, I was paying them for a room with a bed (to sleep without interruptions) and a bathroom (to shower in). And what do points really cost a big company? I feel no guilt. 
  9. American Express business traveler. This last recommendation depends on your company and/or your credit card. My company provides me with a corporate AmEx card for travel. I book all my flights and hotels through it, therefore if something goes awry, AmEx will help me out. For example, I was flying to New Jersey but all the flights were slowly being canceled due to snowy weather. I called AmEx and had them put me on an earlier flight, and I managed to get home that night. It was way easier to do that than wrangle the airline into doing something.

If you start traveling regularly for work, then you will discover how the above advice will really help you get you through your day. Even if you only travel once or twice a year for work, some of these points will make sense. And if you aren't traveling for work, identify the business traveler and stay out of their way. They have a spouse and kids at home that miss them, tons of work to do, a client that is calling them on Saturdays, and of course a flight to catch!

Happy travels!

Photos from the Library of Congress here, here, here and here

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