Productivity expert James Womack, author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, says business travel can be less stressful and you can enjoy what you’re doing more, if you follow these tips:
Always leave early! Always leave earlier than necessary for flights and meetings, and allow more time than you think is necessary to get to the airport. Yes, this is “duh!” advice, but Womack says it’s surprising how many people don’t follow it.
Missing a flight because you wanted an extra 20 minutes of sleep doesn’t make any sense. Plus, if you show up early, you can use that bonus time to work on something else. And if you run into a problem en route to your destination, you won’t have to stress about being on time.
Make sure all travel itinerary info is entered into your cell phone. Don’t underestimate the value of having easy access to confirmation numbers for your hotel, rental car, flight, etc., as well as phone numbers for each of those agencies. Sooner or later, your plans will change when you’re on the go, and having all of the pertinent information at your fingertips can change the game. Plus, it’s nice to be able to check your flight status without having to dig through your briefcase to find your flight-confirmation printout!
Take a (great) seat. If you’ve ever watched The Amazing Race, you know that contestants on the show are always jockeying for seats at the front of the plane so they can be the first ones off when it lands. While you might not need to be as strategic with your seating as those racers, keep in mind that the aisle seat does have its advantages. It allows you, if necessary, to easily get the items you need out of the overhead bin. (Side Note: Be sure to plan what you’ll need during the flight before the plane takes off so you won’t have to keep opening and closing the overhead bin.) Also, Womack says, having a seat in the exit row and on the aisle makes it easy to get up if you have to use the lavatory. (And let’s face it: Drinking lots of water is one of the best ways to stay healthy while traveling!)
Become a preferred customer. Having preferred customer status with car rental companies, airlines, hotels, and other key travel vendors can be a big help if you go on more than a handful of business trips a year. If something goes wrong, preferred status can often mean that a company’s employees will help you resolve a situation more quickly. For example, if you’re a preferred customer with an airline, you’ll get to board the plane early.
Early boarding privileges in particular pay off every time, because they ensure you’ll have overhead bin space for your carry-on. These days, people avoid baggage charges by bringing larger carry-ons, so the overhead bins often aren’t large enough to accommodate everyone. No pressed-for-time traveler wants to have a bag gate-checked and then stand in line waiting for it after the plane lands.
Invest in a club membership with the airline of your choice. If you can, also invest in a club membership with an airline you frequently fly. You’ll gain access to that airline’s club space, so when you’re waiting on your next flight you’ll have a calmer, more comfortable place to be your best productive self. And perhaps most importantly, the space will be quiet enough for you to make calls to clients or colleagues without airport announcements blaring in the background!
Always carry cash. You never know when a problem with your bank or credit card company will cause a card to be denied. Always travel with cash so that you won’t be left stranded without a way to pay a cab driver or without money for lunch.
Carefully plan where you’ll stay. Even if it’s tempting, try to avoid touristy hotels or those in very busy areas. Often, the hassle of a busy lobby, overcrowded parking deck, and perpetual traffic just isn’t worth it. Once you do choose a home away from home, it’s a good idea to call your concierge ahead of time to find out what restaurants, entertainment venues, etc. are in the area and to get feedback on how best to get to your meetings while in the city. Note, as previously mentioned, being a preferred customer with a hotel is a great way to be given time-saving advantages like no-wait check-ins, better rates, more involved service from hotel employees, etc.
Plan meal times. From the airport to your destination city to the journey home, you’ve got to eat. Do a little thinking about where and what you’re going to eat before you even leave your house.
On short trips, I always make sure to have a Balance Bar or a bag of nuts. For flights longer than five hours, I make sure to include time in my schedule to grab a sandwich, a salad, and a bottle of water at the airport. I also recommend figuring out where you’re going to eat at your destination, if possible, before you begin your journey. The day before you travel, call the concierge at the hotel where you’ll be staying. Ask for lunch and dinner options within walking distance or a short car ride from your hotel. This will not only save you time searching for food once you arrive, but it will also help you ensure you go to quality restaurants while on your trip.
Know in advance how you’re going to get from place to place. Getting lost can be a huge time waster once you actually arrive at your destination. Plus, it can make you feel anxious, frustrated, or downright panicked! Prior to leaving for your trip, plan your routes and how you’ll travel. Are your meeting locations within walking distance of your hotel? If so, what’s the quickest route? If not, is it best to take a cab, or should you consider some other form of transportation? If you already know you’ll be driving yourself, make sure your rental comes with GPS or be sure to have your own device ready with a map or written directions as a back-up.
Avoid traveling during the busiest times of day. If you can, avoid planning your meetings, arrivals, and departures during the busiest travel times of the day. For example, in New York City, taxi drivers change shifts around 3:00 p.m., so getting a cab to a meeting that’s scheduled for mid-afternoon can be difficult and time consuming. The same goes for traveling to and from the airport (or anywhere) during rush hour in any big city. It can be difficult to get a cab during those times, and if you’re driving you could end up wasting time waiting in traffic.
Get to know people where you travel. If you frequently travel to the same locations (or even if you don’t), get to know the locals while you’re there. They’ll often tell you the best places (restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.) to go that might be off the beaten path. They can also recommend better routes to use while traveling or put you in contact with other locals whom you might benefit from meeting. Not to mention, it’s always nice to have a friendly face to see wherever you go!
Learn to master the tech you use.Far too many of us today have the latest gadgets, but no idea how to use them productively. Learn about the features of your Smartphone, laptop, and tablet, and make sure you’re using them to their full advantage. The apps and software available can save you tons of time in your work flow and in how you use your travel time. For example, apps exist to help you find great places to eat or visit in your destination city, and they can also help you to check in for your flight while you’re waiting for a meeting to start or in the cab line at the hotel. Your phone’s alarm can even remind you to stop shopping in the airport bookstore and get to your gate!
Your cell phone’s camera, for instance, provides several timesaving options that you’ve probably never considered before:
• Use it to take notes. Instead of digging around looking for a pen and paper, simply snap a shot of books and items you want to buy or price-check online, restaurants you want to visit, billboards of shows you want to see, etc.
• Use it to remember your parking spot. Take a picture of your parking lot space number and parking structure floor. Travel days are stressed and rushed. For most people remembering where you left your car a week later can be a challenge!
• Use it to remember your rental car. Take a picture of your rental car and license plate. (It seems like they’re all silver or beige!) Save time you’d otherwise spend wandering around a parking lot looking for a car you can’t remember.
• Use it to remember your room number. Take a picture of your hotel room number, especially if you’re traveling to several cities or traveling very frequently. After awhile, especially if you’re in a different hotel every night, they all start to look the same! – Jason Womack, Med, MA
Watch for Jason’s “Tips for Traveling Productivity” in his next RFT Road Warrior installment.
Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA, provides practical methods to maximize tools, systems, and processes to achieve quality work/life balance. He has worked with leaders and executives for more than16 years in business and education sectors. His focus is on creating ideas that matter and implementing solutions that are valuable to organizations and the individuals in those organizations. His book Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, shows that working longer hours doesn’t make up for a flawed approach to productivity and performance. It can help you clarify your habits, build mindset-based strategies, and be proactive to increase your productivity and your bottom line.