All too often, business travelers use their trips as opportunities to rest up for the next round of work; however, the savvy, productive traveler never wastes travel or hotel time. He or she always makes good use of the time many consider “lost hours.” Working while traveling offers a unique opportunity to accomplish tasks with few distractions or interruptions.
Spontaneity has no place in business travel. Before you ever set foot outside your home, map out every step of your trip. Start well in advance by making a list of the items you’ll need, taking into account your baggage allowance (I never check a bag if I can help it). Then plan for any contingencies. If a storm strands you in an airport concourse for 24 hours, what will you do? What if your luggage goes missing or someone steals the bag containing your medications? Make provisions for everything you can think of.
Track everything in your personal organization system so you have your itinerary close at hand. My favorite productivity app is TripIt. I forward confirmation emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it automatically populates my itineraries. Then I can access the details for my travel either online or from my mobile devices. No more printing, filing, and hauling paper on my trips!
Meanwhile, unless you’re already thoroughly familiar with your destination, conduct some Internet research. At the very least, find a few decent dinner options near your hotel with Yelp.
Know (or at least anticipate) when your downtime will occur. Decide what you want to accomplish during each time period — airport club, gate, plane, taxi, and hotel. Prepare to ignore distractions and dive right into your work whenever you can.
Useful tips and tools
Wear comfortable clothing during the travel phase of your trip. Business casual offers a good compromise between dressy and sloppy. I’m partial to the Travelers line by Chicos, because the outfits are easy to maintain, don’t wrinkle, and can double as presentation clothing if luggage goes astray. Avoid belts and wear slip-on shoes, because you’ll probably have to take them off at the security line in the airport. For similar reasons, minimize your jewelry and pocket contents.
The TSA Pre✓ is of course a godsend if you can get it. Before that, I used the CLEAR card service to streamline the security process. If your airport has it, and you don’t have TSA Pre✓, it is well worth the investment.
One more thing before you leave: if you’re seeing and invoicing multiple clients on your trip, prepare a folder or envelope where you can easily keep track of all receipts, notes, conference papers, etc., for each one. Keep them in your briefcase, file your documents each evening, and move that folder to your larger suitcase to make your carry-on luggage lighter.
Create more value by spending some money
Don’t skimp on cost if you think it’ll aid your productivity. I prefer to take a car service to and from the airport whenever I can, so I can work rather than drive. You don’t have to hunt up a good parking space or spend money on parking, and the driver takes you straight to the terminal. Book with the Gold service (or whatever they may call it) at a major car rental outlet, so that upon arrival, you can just grab a car and go without waiting in line.
For similar reasons, try to book exclusively on one airline, join airline clubs, and stay at the same hotel chain, so you can get VIP privileges like early boarding, cheap upgrades, and quiet lounges to work in. Once, I was 10,000 miles away from 1K status on United Airlines, so I took a flight from Denver to Frankfurt and back in 24 hours, just to hit the status. The free first-class upgrades the next year were well worth that phantom flight, because economy seating tends to be cramped, noisy, and claustrophobic.
Make the most of Wi-Fi access, even when you have to pay for it on airlines. Consider investing in personal broadband, a technology that piggybacks on existing wireless telephone networks. That way, you’ll always have Internet access as long as there’s a cell tower nearby. In addition, I recommend a good pair of noise-canceling earphones, so you can shut out ambient noise and politely ignore a talkative seatmate.
Finish one trip before starting the next
It’s easy to let trips blur together, especially those scheduled back-to-back. But don’t let it happen, or you’ll end up making more work for yourself. No matter how exhausted you feel when you get home, never just dump your stuff in a pile and forget about it as you try to catch up. If you’re not careful, you may never get back to it.
Immediately empty out your luggage, get your clothes to the dry cleaner, and prepare for the next trip. Refill toiletries and replace anything you’ve used up. Clean out and reorganize your briefcase and laptop bag, making sure all your electronics and their cords are where they should be.
Next, process and organize all your information. Don’t skimp on this step, or you’ll regret it later! Immediately deal with your receipts and expense reports while everything is still clear in your mind.
A world of change
Just a few decades ago, business travel was an exercise in frustration. Not only was the travel itself often boring and unpleasant, but it was hard to get anything productive done when in transit or parked in a hotel room. That changed with the advent of compact electronics: nowadays, smartphones, PDAs, and laptops make productivity simple, no matter where you are. Put them together with logical planning and preparation, and there’s no reason you can’t get nearly as much done on the road as you can from your office. Never again should you utter the words, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you; I was traveling!”
Photo: Flickr / badjonni CC BY-NC-SA 2.0