One of the most important things I learned in the first 10 years of my career that made me feel like a badass was how to travel. Before I learned these skills, I was terrible to travel with. TERRIBLE. I was anxious, I was always the last one in or out of the plane and boy, oh boy did I look like a hot mess. To put it politely, I was a bitch to travel with.
Perhaps this skill comes naturally to some but for me, it was like pulling teeth. I didn’t come from a family that traveled more than two hours from home for our yearly camping trips so when my boss told me I was going to Chicago for the first time I was ecstatic and also terrified….mostly terrified. The last time I had been on a plane I was eight and I was going to Disney World. I was 25 which meant it had been 17 years since I had been on a plane and I wasn’t going to be traveling with my parents.
I was traveling alone and had NO idea what I was doing. LITERALLY, NO CLUE WHAT I WAS DOING. I was, however, pretty sure that I needed to leave my Mickey fanny pack at home but how would I be sure? Over the past few years, I have racked up a few more trips across the U.S. to places like Chicago, New York, Saint Louis, Orland and so much more. Throughout my travels, I have learned a thing or two that I would love to share with you.
If you don’t travel on flights often the only piece of advice, I can give you is to keep your car clean. If there ever is an impromptu dinner and you get asked to drive, you don’t want to have to make a mad dash to your car to toss all your junk in your trunk and wipe down your dashboards with paper towels from the bathroom. Also, always keep an unopened air freshener in your car – you can open it up and suddenly your car feels so much cleaner. I still struggle with this. I drive two hours a day to and from work so I basically live in my car and you can tell. I have made it very clear to my boss and coworkers that I can’t make any guarantees that my car will be clean if I choose the short straw and have to drive.
- The first and most important rule – be nice to everyone you encounter. You never know which flight attendant is on the last leg of a 72-hour shift or on the flip side what flight attendant can get you upgraded to first class. BE NICE OR DON’T GO.
- Be prepared for the worst in all situations. Not just like “oh this stinks” worse but “dear god, save me, I’m so screwed” kind of worst. Your flight will get canceled, your hotel reservation didn’t get booked, your luggage with all of your presentations won’t show up, etc. What can go wrong will. Leave time to accommodate the bad situations and it will make your life so much less stressful.
- Invest in a good carry-on suitcase with the wheels that spin in every direction, not just forward and backward.
- Try not to check a bag unless absolutely necessary. You can typically get through a week by taking a few key pieces (hello black dresses) and accessories to change it up.
- Put a tag on your bag that you can’t miss. It’s so much easier to grab your bag from the carousel if you can see it coming a mile away. Make sure it’s tied on really tight so that it doesn’t fall off. Make sure you have your name and information on your suitcase in 3-4 locations. Get a TSA approved lock for your suitcase and don’t lose the key.
- Pack as much black clothing as you can. No sweat stains, no-spill stains, basically black is foolproof when traveling (but please…avoid powdered sugar donuts and deodorant that stains).
- Have a suitcase packed with all the essentials that you just leave packed 24/7 and refill when you get home from your trip – that way you don’t forget your Qtips, razor or toothbrush. It’s also helpful to make a packing list with all the items you typically take with that you can use so you don’t have to rack your brain on what you are forgetting. You can also check out my nifty packing checklist.
- Anything you need to get through the day should stay in your carry-on (medications, toothbrush, etc.). I’m just going to say it again… always assume your luggage will get lost and you won’t be able to access it for 2-3 days.
- Have a set idea of where you might go for meals or an agenda so that you can look up the places and make sure you have appropriate clothing. Make reservations if you can, I like to use Open Table. If you’re not familiar with the area, ask around at your office to see who has gone out to eat/entertain in the cities you are visiting. Use Facebook and Yelp to get recommendations. When dining with clients it’s always a good idea to have set plans that you know are foolproof plus a few back-ups. Always ask about food preferences ahead of time (vegetarians and people allergies love it when you think to include them in planning).
- Don’t wait until the last minute to pack.
- Check-in for your flight in advance. Download the app. Make sure you have the notification turned on. I’m a nervous nelly so I always print a copy of my boarding pass as well. Just in case.
- Sign up for frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs. A free weekend in Hawaii – hell yes! Free cookies at check-in – hell yes! I don’t travel that often so I’m only at “free bottle of water in your room” status but I’ll take it!
- Wear socks and slip-on shoes. Airports are gross. Athletes foot is gross. Enough said.
- Avoid wearing extra jewelry and a belt when you are getting on the plane. It could get lost or you might forget it and that would be the stink. Also, don’t wear anything real expensive. It would be tragic to lose your diamond bracelet on your way to a conference.
- Keep a spare phone charger on you at all times. I repeat AT ALL TIMES. If you don’t need it, I can bet someone near you will and you will be a HERO.
- Charge your computer and your phone to 100% power before leaving the house.
- Parking in a garage? Take a photo of your parking space so you don’t get lost when you get home. Take the time to think through how you are getting where you are going. I can’t tell you how many times I have rushed through a parking garage just to forget how I even got to the check-in desk which made finding my car after a week-long trip and late-night meetings a nightmare and also very embarrassing and a little scary as I roamed the dark parking garage at 2 a.m..
- Bring headphones. When your headphones are in it’s a signal to everyone around you that you are off-limits. If you have headphones in and someone bothers you, it is always okay to let them know you are off-limits. There have been so many times where I just wanted to check out and the friendly family in my row wanted to chat. These are the times that my headphones have been a savior – was I listening to anything – nope – were my headphones in – you bet they were. Oh gosh, I can’t hear you I’m listening to a really important podcast.
- Keep a couple business cards on you – you never know who you might sit next to on the plane. Networking on a plane could land you an awesome client or job down the road.
- Bring cash. Bring dollar bills. Tip the taxi driver, the baggage guy, the waiter at the coffee house, etc.
- Keep enough cash on you to carry you through a day if your cards got locked. I can’t tell you how many times my credit card company has locked my account because I was in a different state and it was flagged as a security issue. Dearest pilot – can you just wait to take off for a quick sec while I make a call to my credit card company?
- Be safe, have scheduled check-ins with someone from home. Turn on your location finder and make sure someone is checking in on you.
- Share your flight and hotel information with your team members and family. You don’t have to give them the phone number to your hotel room, but your general travel information should be shared.
- Always include some extra time in your travel plans. Assume you will get lost or your taxi driver will get lost, etc.
- Paper is heavy. If you have a lot of paper that you need to take (conference reports, presentation decks, etc.) you should try to ship them to your hotel ahead of time. I never realized why my suitcase was so heavy until I was talking to another co-worker and she told me she had shipped all her presentations to the hotel. Next level genius. Also, the company either has to pay for your suitcase or for shipping.
- Always bring presentation decks in printed and digital format and assume that the venue that you are presenting has the most antiquated software. Keep a PowerPoint and a PDF in case they don’t have, gasp, PowerPoint. Have a connector for a PC and a Mac.
- Make sure you can turn your cell phone into a private hot-spot if needed.
- Airport wi-fi is not private. It is not secure. Understand the risk of using the airport network before logging on.
- When you are traveling, and your standard workday ends, and you don’t have any more client meetings – it’s okay to check out the city or grab a quick drink. Just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you’re not human – don’t forget to take a break. I remember my first business trip I thought I had to work the whole time I was traveling, and by the end of the week, I was so exhausted I was stumbling through my client presentations.
- If you travel on a weekend it’s okay to ask for comp time – what’s the worst that happens – they say no?
- Keep a bottle of water, energy drink, and protein-packed snacks on you at all times (fruit leather and beef jerky are two of my favorites because they don’t crumble in your bag and they are quick). You will save so much money if you don’t have to buy the expensive airport snacks.
- Find out how often you are going to be traveling and where you are traveling. Some companies will cover the cost of TSA pre-check and a passport if you meet certain travel requirements and let me tell you – it doesn’t suck to skip the line. The company won’t cover it – get it anyways – it’s SO worth it.
- Take care of yourself – eat healthy meals and snacks and drink lots of water. Yes, Cinnabon is tempting but it’s probably not the best choice.
- I strongly recommend melatonin. I keep it in my suitcase, and it’s been great to combat time changes and the nights where I can’t wind down after a busy day of traveling. Take it about an hour before you plan on going to bed assuming you won’t get a late-night call and get pulled into anything after you take it.
- Always, and I repeat always, set a wakeup call. I have had so many nightstand lamp outlets that just don’t work and been down to the wire on my battery life – thank goodness my phone didn’t die, and I miss a meeting or flight. You can call the front desk at just about every hotel and they can set a wake-up call for you.
- Write down your expenses in real-time. What did you buy, who was it for and what did you spend on the tip. If you can file your expenses in real-time (or each night) – I highly suggest doing that. I can’t tell you how many receipts I have lost for a cup of coffee. It might not be a lot, but it adds up.
Have any travel tips I didn’t cover? Would love to hear from you!