Between increased security and reduced airline services, there isn’t much thrill left in business travel, as I was recently reminded during a two-week, 20,000-mile trip. But you can reduce the agony if you plan appropriately. Here are 10 up-to-date tips for minimizing the hassle of business travel:
Before You Go
1. Pack for today’s overhead-bin reality. Since airlines started charging for checked baggage, travelers have resorted to extreme measures to ensure their bags make it on the plane. But most people get it wrong. Look around the boarding area. Almost everyone has a big roller bag and a briefcase. But one roller bag can fill an entire overhead bin. If your flight is full and you aren't among the first on the plane, you will have to gate check that bag. A better strategy is to take two more equal-sized bags. One should be the maximum size that will fit under the seat and the other should be flexible so it can fit into any odd space available between roller bags in the overhead bin. Using this strategy, I have never had to gate check a bag in 20 years of travel. An added bonus—you can save the extra fees airlines charge you to board early in order to cram your huge bag on first, which is just a rip-off. For a list of what this luxury and other "premium" services will cost you, take a look at airline services fees on Kayak and SmarterTravel.
2. Select the right clothes (for men). Pack only one color of pants and one (matching) jacket. This way you can optimize the accessories you need to take. The same shirts and socks will match, so you can reuse some of the items if you come up short. This vastly reduces the amount of stuff you need to pack. Also, if you want to exercise, take some of the new lightweight sneakers that take up zero room in your luggage. Wear the heaviest things you are taking (if weather permits) to minimize the amount of stuff you need to drag around with you.
3. Store items in a designated location. Organize your luggage and especially your computer bag/carry-on so that items have a designated place. This makes it easy to locate gear like cables and connectors, which are prone to get lost. A quick "pat down" inventory check will suffice to make sure you didn't leave something behind.
4. Take appropriate electrical plug adapters. Anyone who has felt the panic of realizing they brought the wrong plug convertor just as their computer battery dies, won’t make this mistake twice. Avoid the panic by consulting websites like Countryplug, which show you what you need to bring…before you leave home.
5. Arrange for voice and Internet access before you go. Depending on where you travel, Internet access can be great or it can be pathetic. And having to pay $30 a day for an Internet connection in a $300-a-night hotel is not unusual. So buying an international data plan for your mobile device may be cheaper than paying daily local rates. Then, use your mobile device as a hotspot for data. Check with your carrier or with an international telecom service before you go.
6. Recharge gadgets using USB ports. Almost all devices have some sort of USB connection cable through which they can be recharged. Rather than drag along a spaghetti of cables, I find I can get by with just one plug when I charge my gadgets using my PC’s USB ports. This comes in particularly handy in the many international hotels that think that electrical outlets are an extravagance.
At The Airport
7. Pick the "right" security line. This is more of an art than a science. The best line is usually not the shortest one. Two things to check are the efficiency of the personnel manning the line and the mix of travelers ahead of you. Several things to watch out for include families with small children, unconventional luggage which will likely be inspected, and anyone who looks like they haven't been in an airport security line in the last 10 years. Picking right can save you literally hours if you travel often. For humorous look at this situation, check out this clip from Up In The Air.
8. Create an on-boarding routine. This is particularly important for long-distance flights. For example, organize all your reading material in a separate bag (within your carry-on) before you get on the plane. When you reach your seat, take the bag out and put the carry-on away. I am amazed by the amount of time wasted by people who arrive at their seat and start rummaging through their bags to find all the things they want for the flight, while fellow passengers steam in the aisle waiting for this ritual to end.
On The Trip
9. Develop a routine for sleep and eating. Eat before you get on the plane to maximize the amount of time you can sleep, particularly for red-eye flights. Transcontinental and transatlantic flights are often too short for a full night's sleep. So maximize your Z’s by "preparing for bed"—brushing your teeth and getting into comfortable clothes—before the flight. Go to sleep as soon as you hit the seat. Scoring a window seat avoids being disturbed by fellow passengers during the flight.
10. Eat and sleep right. I find that eating properly and getting at least a minimum amount of sleep makes travel much more bearable. Staying away from alcohol and heavy foods on trips, especially on airplanes, also helps. I wonder how my seatmate in 37F made it through the day after finishing two bottles of red wine before 8 a.m.
Bon voyage…see you in Paris.
Add your business travel tips in the comments section below!
Author David Lavenda is a high-tech marketing and product strategy executive who consistently travels over 200,000 miles a year. He also does academic research on information overload in organizations and he is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. He tweets from the road as @dlavenda.[Image: Flickr user Anton Novoselov]