10 Practical Tips To Make Business Travel Less Miserable

Trying to cram hog-sized carry-ons into tight overhead spaces and drinking two bottles of wine before 8 a.m. local time will not serve you well when traveling for work. Here are some practical tips, as well as some apps and websites, to make business travel run more smoothly.

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]

Add New Comment


  • Jamal

    Make getting through security easy by wearing slip on shoes (or shoes that need not be untied) - men, avoid the belt...

    My purchase of a TSA-approved laptop bag has kept me from wasting time pulling my laptop in and out...

  • Joneill

    Keep clothes in separate dry cleaning bags to preserve press (They slide against each other) & flip one leg back over the rail of the hangar (so one leg falls on either side of the bar) and they won't fall off!

  • TW

    One additional tip..when unloading items to go into the xray machine in Security, i arrange them in the order in which I'll reassemble on the other side:  1st: shoes, sport coat, belt; 2nd: roller bag that I can put on the floor; 3rd: briefcase that i can set on top of roller bag; 4th: laptop that goes into roller bag. 

    I've found that arranging the items in a logical order allows me to get out of the security line mess quickly as others fidget with all of their stuff and try to reassemble items.

  • Seth Kahan

    Can you provide an example of a flexible overhead bag, or even a recommendation?

  • Steve

    Ummm... how about something like...??? Ok, here is one, nope, that applies to men too... Let's see here..... I know, there is always... nope, nowadays that also applies to some men... I am at a loss here.... Nope, I guess not. I cannot think of any travel tips that apply only to women these days. So sorry... ;^)

  • KPinBR

    You are my kind of traveler. Rule 2 for women includes keep to outfits that let you get by with as few shoes as possible and use sample sizes for grooming products. If you use an entire can of hairspray a week it's time to cut back. Your hair and suitcase will thank you.

  • mlj

    I find this comment very offensive. The thought that someone would consider visiting a prostitute to be something a frequent traveler needs travel tips for is appalling.

  • Peter

    Too much political correctness is wrecking society. Everyone finds everything offensive. No one has a sense of humor anymore

  • Josie

    In the treckers accommodation shop at Victoria falls, Zimbabwe they have a large fruit bowl full of brightly coloured condoms free for the taking.  Prostitutes and their clients are not the only ones that need to be careful.  I'm 66 and white, but still carry a condom in my handbag

  • Joyce

    Bose headphones are priceless on a long trip.  In addition to wearing them on the plane, I've sometimes even worn them in a noisy hotel to be able to get a good night's sleep.