Travel Tips from a Seasoned Traveller

By Joe Connelly

The world is becoming a smaller place; at least that’s how the saying goes. Today’s modern communication technologies are allowing us to connect with staff, partners and customers more frequently than ever before. With web-based technologies for meetings like WebEx and GoToMeeting, all the way through mobile email, Intranets, Corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts, there are a myriad of options. And that doesn’t include the humble telephone, which has transformed itself into a mobile media and workstation center for employees on the go. But where does the good old-fashioned face-to-face (F2F) meeting fit with today’s modern technology?

A simple question to ask yourself is: “Do I get more from F2F meetings than from other communication options?” For me the answer is a resounding yes and there is simply no comparison. Of course seeing and hearing through online technology can be done by video conferencing, but there is a dynamic that is evident when you are physically next to someone. You are closer to their non-verbal communications (body language, gestures, etc.), and their local environment, which allows you to really connect better with them. With my own personal desire for more F2F meetings, I often find myself by necessity traveling by plane.

Air travel continues to be a cost-effective method of being with stakeholders quickly, especially when large distances are involved. But with more people travelling by air, I wonder how much efficiency these people actually have. We’ve all seen the email and telephone junkies who don’t have a second to themselves, all the way through the people clambering for a drink at the bar, who seem to have no business work to do at all! Well for those of you interested in getting the most from your time on your next business trip, here are some tips and tricks I have collected over the years, and built into my own travel planning:

1. PREPARATION. Ensure your itinerary is clear, booked up and you have both an electronic and printed copies. Use web-based check-in and get your ticket and seat allocation printed. Ideally aim to have carry-on luggage, which will speed up check-in time substantially. Ensure all your electronics are fully charged – smartphone, media player, Bluetooth headphones, laptop, etc. Ensure all your credit cards are paid off (or payments are up-to-date) and call them if you are traveling abroad – your card can still be refused abroad but chances are significantly lower that a problem will occur. Also take a Visa/MasterCard and an American Express card if possible – not every establishment takes every card. Have some local currency on hand just in case.

Don’t be surprised by roaming charges on your phone – they mount up quickly. Get a local SIM card or Pay-As-You go phone (available at most airports now), or buy a pre-paid roaming package from your carrier before you leave – packages are available for voice, data and text. Bring along contact information for people you will meet (staff, customers, etc.) and also places you will visit (hotels, meeting places, customer/partner sites, etc.). Remember to bring along confirmation numbers of hotel bookings since hotels often find themselves overbooked. Ensure you have company or personal travel insurance – it’s cheap and can save you from significant expense if an emergency occurs.

2. AT THE AIRPORT. Find the most efficient parking that balances cost and ease of getting to the airport terminal; or better still take a taxi. Ensure your travel documents are up-to-date (passport, driving license, visas). Have printed copies of everything (itineraries, boarding cards, etc.). Reduce wearable metals like big belt buckles that will always set the security scanner off. Don’t take any liquids through security greater than your allowance – you will be stopped! Know how to get on-terminal Internet access (either on your mobile phone, or paid/free Wi-Fi on your laptop). At all times remain cool and see all airport staff as good people even when they are a bit stressed.

3. EN-ROUTE. Always apply the golden rule – don’t consume alcohol – it will dehydrate you and actually make you less likely to sleep soundly. Try drinking lots of non-carbonated water, which will energize you instead. Eat healthily before a flight and stay away from airline food, which is highly fattening with lost of additives. Get noise cancelling earphones since they will greatly reduce any jet lag you might suffer. Stretch your legs on a regular basis by walking around if possible – it will make you feel better. Know that bumpy flights are par for the course – try and not stress out them. Having your own “space” now away from phones, you can be productive – start a creative project you now have time to think about, or just catch up on actions and email. Use the time wisely. Also try and have a little downtime to watch a movie, listen to music, or enjoy some non-work reading.

4. ARRIVAL. Check your mobile phone for voicemails and any urgent messages, especially last minute changes to itineraries or plans. Have your luggage easily identifiable (do you know how many black cases there are on a typical carousel)? Know your most efficient get-away plan from the airport (car hire, taxi, etc.). It pays to plan ahead here! Know that if you have checked baggage it will always seem to take longer than you would like! Be cool and stretch those tight muscles.

5. YOUR TIME AWAY. Keep in regular contact with home and the office. Try and get into a regular sleeping pattern (6am starts and midnight finishes are tough on anyone). Minimize alcohol – just because you are away…. Try and keep up to date with email, and if possible build in some slack time in your schedule to do email and make calls. Remember to enjoy yourself – seeing people F2F is the best way of communicating in business. Remain positive no matter what little challenges are sent your way.

6. FLYING HOME Don’t miss the flight. Have all your receipts available for customs if you purchased items abroad. Also have all your business receipts together and complete your expense report before you land (this is real efficiency). Write-up any visit reports, get up-to-date on email and follow through on any actions possible, before being back in the office. Last but not least, find a way of getting home where you are not 100% drained.

It is possible to develop your own set of processes for highly efficient business travel. Now that I am on my third 80-page passport, I have realized that consistency and calmness are great attributes to have while en-route – consistency greatly reduces stress and unpredictability, and calmness smoothes out “life’s little events” that will always be sent to challenge us (if you have ever missed your connection at Chicago’s O’Hare airport at 11.30pm back home, and need to find a place to stay at short notice, you’ll know exactly what I mean).

So, choose to be organized, choose to be efficient, and (most of the time) the universe will reward you with a productive and pleasant travel experience. If not, just chalk it up as another great story for your friends and staff back home. Happy travelling.