To say that I travel for work is a bit of an understatement. As an executive coach and speaker who specializes in cross-cultural management, I usually make an average of three trips a month, often overseas. It’s not uncommon for me to hit two continents and three countries in a two-week span.
I have learned that a long flight can be draining and disorienting, or peaceful and productive – depending on how you prepare. Following are my suggestions for how to make business travel painless and even enjoyable.
This advice might seem awfully 20th century, but I still use a travel agent – and it saves me so much time. Travel agents (some people also use virtual assistants or other services) can shop around to find the best deals for hotel, airfare and ground transportation. My clients end up saving money on my travel expenses, and I don’t spend hours hunched over my computer comparing deals.
Always go direct when you can. Connecting flights increase the chances of delays or cancellations, adding stress to an already potentially stressful experience. If you do have to switch flights, try to use the same airline. You’ll cut down on confusion if you lose your luggage.
This might seem obvious, but writing down what to bring prevents countless headaches, or worse (not to be indelicate, but Imodium has saved me on many trips to India and Singapore). Keep all of your travel information readily available in your phone and printed out for quick reference. If you’d prefer to go the paperless route, there are plenty of travel apps to help you keep track of what you need to bring.
Also, think ahead about what you’ll need for work. I never leave home without gifts for my hosts and a portable microphone and speaker. Even the most luxurious conferences can have problems with the sound system, and I have been thankful several times that I came prepared with my own backup.
When it comes to clothes, pack basic pieces that go with everything. That goes for shoes, too. You’ll save room in your suitcase and simplify your life once you get to your destination.
The temptations to bring a big suitcase are many, but don’t do it. You will lose valuable time waiting at baggage claim, and you risk the airline losing your luggage. I also cut down on the number of bags I have to tote around the airport by packing a soft purse in my carry-on bag.
If your flight gets cancelled while you’re at the airport, you’ll probably get stuck in a line so that a ticket agent can rebook you. I always call the airline while I’m waiting in line. I often reach the agent on the phone and rebook my flights before getting to the front.
Many people I know relish the prospect of working uninterrupted for hours while they’re in the air. It may seem like a good idea to be productive on a flight, but if you spend six or eight hours working, you will land overwhelmed and frazzled. I set a limit of two hours for work on the plane to give myself time to rest and recharge. That way, I’m at my best when I meet the client.
Do yourself a favor and take the guesswork out of what to wear on the plane. After many years of international travel, I have this down to a science. I wear black yoga pants, a t-shirt and a stretchy cardigan – clothes that are comfortable but can still look polished in a pinch. I carry a big scarf, which I also use as a blanket, and I wear slip-on shoes.
If you travel often, the TSA Pre-Check program available through the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is absolutely worth it. You’ll pay a small fee, submit to a background check and have a brief appointment with an agency official, and in exchange, you can go through security without having to take off your belt, get your laptop out of your bag or take off your shoes.
Global Entry and the other Trusted Traveler programs available through U.S. Customs and Border Protection are a good idea, too. With Global Entry, you can usually walk straight through customs with no waiting. I have avoided numerous long lines – the last thing anyone wants to deal with after a 12-hour flight.
Airplane air is dry – between 10 and 20 percent humidity, experts say. Compare that to the 30 to 65 percent humidity that’s comfortable for most people, and you understand why most of us get off the plane with dry eyes, a dry throat and flyaway, static hair. Drink water and make sure you have lip balm, lotion and eye drops handy. While I might have a glass of wine on an evening flight, I limit drinking due to the drying effects of alcohol.
But it’s impossible to exercise on a plane, you say. Not so. Walk the aisles regularly, do non-intrusive yoga poses, breathe and stretch whenever you can. You will feel the beneficial effects in the hours after you get off the plane.
These tips have helped me survive – and even enjoy – my itinerant lifestyle. Whether you fly on business a lot or just a few times a year, they will help you arrive at your destination rested and ready to work.