How to Travel on Business: Practical Tips
Travelling for work is one of the major perks of my job. However, when I was about to embark on my first business trip, I knew that even the slightest issues needed to be well taken care of, to avoid unnecessary distraction from the business trip objective.
Unfortunately, I found that most of the advice that I received back then through friends, family or online sources were not actually very helpful or relevant.
This was because I needed practical advice on how to nail my maiden business voyage in front of the senior colleagues I would be travelling with. I did not need an introduction to the latest expense accounting tools, or a breakdown of the various loyalty programs offered by hotels.
Also, like many others, I had actually traveled for holidays before, and was therefore hoping to learn what are the different nuances that business travel entailed. While reminders to bring my travel adaptor or to book direct flights to save time make absolute sense, it was stuff that I already knew, so it did not provide me with new information on how to travel smart for business.
Looking back on the business trips I have since clocked over the years, I picked up on a few basic practices that I wish someone had told me right at the start.
On a long journey, even a straw weighs heavy. Travelling with only a carry-on luggage allows you to minimize the time between disembarking and getting a taxi to your next destination. The time saved can be absolutely crucial if you are running on a tight schedule. This is especially so if you consider that a 2014 study in the UK found average wait times for baggage claims to be between 15 to 30 minutes.
Other than time saved, travelling light could also help you avoid awkward situations. If you happen to be travelling with senior colleagues, then having to explain to everyone that you are still waiting for your check-in luggage to arrive could be a little embarrassing. If you are headed straight to a meeting from the airport, arriving at your destination with a massive luggage in tow might also raise a few eyebrows.
This applies even if you are travelling for an extended period of time. When I have to travel for a couple of months, I would much rather pack five days’ worth of travel essentials and visiting the laundromat on weekends if needed, as opposed to lugging a few weeks’ worth of fresh clothing around the world with me. Also, minimalist traveling helps me to stay focused on what is an absolute necessity versus a good-to-have, which I think is an important mindset to adopt when travelling for business.
Time spent in transit, whether it is on a plane, a train or a taxi, can be quite substantial. I estimate that a week-long trip for me would usually involve 12-15 hours of transit time. The best part about being in transit is that there are usually very few distractions. You are stuck in your seat pretty much the entire time, and if you're on a plane, there is also zero interference from emails and phone calls. While using this time to get some much-needed sleep is perfectly reasonable, I have since learned how to utilize these pockets of time to also get some work done.
Before your trip, save any unfinished work that does not require any online research on to your laptop's local drive, so that you can finish them later while on the flight. You could also print out reports or presentations to be slowly dissected during your journey. Another thing I like to do while in transit is to prepare fully-written emails and to save them in my draft folder. Then once I am able to connect online again, it takes seconds for me to send it out.
It is quite frankly a great feeling when you know that your time on the plane has been spent meaningfully, and that you're going to have an easier time for the rest of the day.
Bring Cash Along With Your Credit Card
Having observed the rapid growth of cashless payments in recent times, I was initially tempted to go on my business trips armed with just my credit card. However, I soon found that cashless payment is adopted to varying extents across different parts of the world. Over time, I learnt to keep a small bag with a few hundred dollars worth of foreign currencies. This bag has since come to my rescue several times during my travels, such as when the vendor only accepted cash, or if my credit card did not work for some reason.
For larger expenses such as hotel bookings, paying via credit card would make more sense. On a related note, I also found it more convenient to request to pay in my own domestic currency whenever possible, as it makes it easier to file for expenses with my company. For example, someone who is based in the US is likely to be better off filing for their Australian hotel expenses with a receipt denominated in US Dollars instead of Australian Dollars, as the latter might mean having to contend with conversion rate issues.
These few tips would have saved me a lot of time and grief, had I known them right from the start. However, this is in no way an exhaustive list, so if you have your own anecdotes on what has worked for you when you travel for work, please share them in the comments below!