When I began work on the Business Travel issue of The Pergola, I assumed there would be lots of good advice available about traveling. The more I read however, the more concerned I became that some tips out there were unhelpful, or at least wouldn’t appeal to me. For instance, one woman suggested that you bring baking soda on your trip because you can use it for both deodorant and brushing your teeth. I might consider that on a backpacking trip, but for a business trip? Just pick up a travel-size tube of toothpaste and a deodorant stick at the drugstore and keep them in your cosmetics bag. You don’t want to be sitting in a meeting, thinking that your teeth and underarms feel funny. Good strategies for business travel include considerations of how to stay comfortable and how to reduce the time it takes you to pack and unpack. Having to deal with baking soda is not one of them.
Let’s start with my two rules about business travel:
Rule #1: Don’t go.
Avoid the situation altogether if you can, and try to substitute short trips with technology: the phone, Skype, a GoToMeeting, a conference call, etc. Multiple well-timed, thorough remote interactions can be more effective than a poorly organized multi-day visit when you are tired and disoriented. Business travel loses its glamour approximately fifteen minutes into your first trip, but we get into the habit of traveling without really considering an alternative. If you’re a trainer, and your customers are consistently choosing on-site training instead of remote training, your company needs to raise its prices for on-site training. It’s not considering the price the employees pay by being away from home. Employees who travel too much are likely to leave, resulting in significant expense to the company. Often “face time” is insisted on by a partner, customer, division or corporate headquarters because they are feeling neglected. Preventing that situation in the first place will save you a lot of trouble later on. Travel takes a terrible toll on your health, your personal relationships, and your overall well-being. Eliminating even twelve trips a year would do wonders for your health and happiness.
Rule #2: If you must go, minimize trip length, preparation and recovery time.
The time you spend away from your friends and family is costly, for you and your tribe, so much of the advice below represents an effort to reduce the time absorbed by your trip.
- Don’t leave early. Preserve the day before your trip for a Sunday BBQ, Tuesday Girls’ Night Out, your daughter’s dance recital, or reading your son a bedtime story. Lots of conferences begin with a social event the night before the real action starts. Feel free to skip it and get in late that evening; no one will hold it against you, and you might save yourself hours of being away from home.
- Spend as little time as possible getting ready. I read some advice about thoroughly researching the hotel before your trip to make sure they have hair dryers or whatever. Another suggested that you investigate what the weather will be like at your destination. Forget it. Who has time? Be a Boy Scout and go prepared. Plans can change anyway. Go play Catan with your kids instead.
- Choose simple gear. Pick a piece of carry-on luggage, a travel outfit, an on-site outfit, appropriate shoes and stick with them. Develop a utilitarian uniform that you don’t have to think about. Leave your bag packed with travel versions of your necessities: cosmetics, razor, head phones, blow dryer and clothes that you will always need when you travel, such as a packable rain jacket. Leave a swimsuit in your bag, along with a pocket towel, as advised in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (or a sarong as suggested by the website, Ordinary Traveler). Overlap clothing as much as possible: yoga pants can serve as pajamas the first night and as workout gear the next morning. Focus on comfort while still looking like a professional. Traveling in familiar, reliable clothes will increase your comfort and peace of mind.
- Include a reminder of home. I had a 2×3-inch accordian photo album that I left in my travel bag and only looked at when I traveled. It was always a treat to look at old photos of my kids when I was in some godforsaken, bleak hotel. It also doesn’t hurt to have a colorful scarf or funny socks or mouse ears to cheer yourself up in a soul-less environment.
- Go door to door. Rely on others to get you from your front door to the door of the plane. A taxi or limo might cost a bit more, but it saves you time in finding parking, taking the shuttle, etc. That time matters. Don’t let the taxi or limo driver dictate what time to pick you up. They will err on the side of going too early because they don’t want you to blame them if you’re late and they don’t care if you spend an extra hour in the airport. You and yours do, so stay in control of your schedule.
- Don’t go to the airport early. Too many travelers are overly prudent about their arrival time. I read once, if you haven’t missed a flight in a year, you’re spending too much time in airports. That seemed about right to me during my decades of traveling. The ideal arrival time is one in which you don’t break stride. Leave the cab, walk through the terminal, pass security, go directly to the gate and walk on the plane. TSA hates it when you get away with that, which makes it additionally rewarding.
- Water, walk, workout. Traveling can drop you into a perfect storm of dehydration, jet lag, rich food, and lack of exercise leading travelers to compensate with caffeine, alcohol and other drugs. Within 48 hours, you’ll be a wreck if you’re not careful. Focus on taking care of your body, and be obsessive about staying hydrated, nourished, and active. The most important item in your luggage is a water bottle which you can fill after passing security and before boarding the plane. Everything else is a nice to have. Carry trail mix, apples, and granola bars—it’s hard to stay fed on modern flights, and the food is terrible. Take your shoes off, bring noise-canceling headphones and a sleep mask, put on nice-smelling after shave or hand cream—focus on little ways to take care of yourself.
- Don’t bring stuff back. Try to get rid of what you bring, and don’t accumulate things along the way, unless you run across a cool toy to buy for your toddler. I used to keep a bundle of articles that I had cut out of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Economist in my suitcase that I could read during my trip and then throw away. Another colleague would bring a paperback she could toss after reading. Conference organizers tend to load you down with papers and swag. Be ruthless about whether you’ll ever look at or use those materials again. Consider leaving useful items for the maid. Freeing yourself of weight before you get home keeps you lighter and makes unpacking quicker.
- Develop a speedy recovery routine. Walk in, put your clothes in the laundry, write a shopping list of what you need to replenish, leave your carry-on bag mostly packed with what you’ll need for the next trip, throw it in a corner of the closet and go find your significant other. You’re home.
To summarize, my suggestions are to eliminate business travel as much as possible; if you have to go, spend as little as possible on the trip, including preparing and recovering. And take care of yourself. Business travel is dehumanizing, so you have to fight back.
© 2016 Jennifer K. Crittenden