Many people view business travel as one of the worst parts of their job. The stress of policy-compliant booking, tight packing, busy airports, and trying to squeeze a Macbook Pro between yourself and the reclined seat ahead of you without spilling a complimentary ginger ale on the snoring man in 16B can surely be overwhelming. It’s a lot to manage on your own.
Of course, things like your company’s travel policy, how often you travel, and the purpose and destination of your trips have a lot to do with how much you enjoy your life as a business traveler, but most of these are aspects that employees have little control over. What is in the hands of the business traveler, however, is strategy. Having the right strategies to approach the many steps of a business trip can truly make all the difference to an otherwise physically and emotionally weary business traveler.
Thanks to the help of some experienced business travelers, we’ve been able to collect the best tips out there and create the ultimate guide for a business trip that doesn’t wreak havoc on your routine, your health, or your spirit. It’s a lot to manage on your own, but lucky for you, you don’t have to!
(If you want to learn even more, check out our complete, by-category index of tips from esteemed writers and weathered business travelers at the end of this article)
There are many more perks to be picked up in the booking process than an amateur business traveler takes advantage of. Seeking these tips out can be useful for both eliminating or reducing travel stressors and increasing comfort or luxury. In other words, they make the bad stuff go away, and more good stuff fall right into your lap (and we’re not talking about that ginger ale).
So, you should start with picking a frequent flier or airline points program that works well for your individual needs and your company’s. Especially for frequent business travelers, those miles can add up quickly and be exchanged for a number of great rewards, including cabin upgrades, hotel stays, or even entire flights. Plus, today, more and more loyalty programs are teaming up with credit card companies to produce co-branded cards. This means your weekly grocery purchases can even go toward your next flight.
However, experts warn against passing up extremely cheap flights for the sake of accumulating points. Sometimes there are offers out there that really are too good to miss, and one ought to stay level-headed within the points game. The same goes for balancing frugality and practicality. The cheapest flight is often not the one that gets you from Point A to Point B the fastest, so it is important to know what makes sense for the trip at hand, or how much you can handle as a traveler. Although, it is beneficial to try to consolidate a trip into one or two airlines if possible (less distance to cover when running between gates!).
You can also land a cheaper flight by knowing when to shop. Although not all business travelers have the luxury of planning a trip six weeks in advance in order to catch that well-known Tuesday at 3:00 P.M. trick, most flights are also slightly cheaper just after midnight any night, after all 24-hour holds are lifted. Deleting browser cookies can also work to your advantage, as, with them, ticket prices tend to go up after you’ve visited multiple travel websites.
There are other, more nuanced things to consider, however, when choosing the perfect flight. Weathered business travelers recommend learning the (important) difference between a “direct” and a “non-stop” flight – being that while a direct flight might still touch down, but continue travel aboard the same airplane, a non-stop flight will. not. stop. There are also specific “booking codes” to look for before you press “confirm,” so keep your eyes peeled for a Y or a B. Selecting either will get you a full fare ticket, but grant you a complimentary upgrade to the next class if a space is left open.
The best business traveler knows how to pack both the absolute minimum and everything he or she could possibly need. The basic key to this is remembering the purpose of the trip: business. A pro business traveler packs his or her personal items efficiently and packs a disaster kit for business because being shy that one adapter or not bringing a flash drive can cost one a deal.
To further safeguard success, the pros also recommend a go-to packing ritual. Investing in a sturdy carry-on-sized piece of luggage will be crucial to this. To check baggage is to leave a great deal to chance – something a business traveler ought never to do. While you can protect yourself from certain hold-ups by doing some research and packing in accordance with airline-specific security guidelines, a good business traveler must be prepared for delays, and keep what they may need at a presentation or meeting in their carry-on bag at all costs, in case they need to go straight there from the airport. They must also be prepared for particularly high or low-tech circumstances at their destination, and carry the proper cables, connectors, and adapters for each. To ensure that he or she come off as professionally as possible, a good business traveler must be prepared for virtually anything, and having a set of dependable items that always come along will help greatly with damage control.
So, when it comes to packing personal items, it is best to keep it scant. Dark colored clothes are a plus because they hide stains well and can often be reworn. Shoes without laces are extremely convenient for getting through security. A Dopp kit or toiletry bag can be within your set of go-to’s to ensure you don’t show up to a meeting with rancid breath because you forgot toothpaste. Gather the essentials here and ensure that the rest is versatile.
At the Airport
Airports can be a drag. It seems one is always either rushing through security in a panic or waiting for what feels like eternity in the uncomfortable seats at Gate 23. While there are a few hacks to get you moving more quickly through the chaos, frequent business travelers recommend that above all, what earns a traveler the gold star is in fact not acting how you may feel. What gets you the big rewards here is really being a decent person. Having empathy for airline workers and shaking off a “resting grump face” often results in some good karma (being selected for an upgrade over another grumpier pa
ssenger, being treated with equal respect, etc.), or at the very least, a less frustrating, painful experience for you.
However, there are a few applications that business travelers can complete online to become eligible for special expedited security or customs programs to guarantee a slightly better airport experience every time. The most widely known of these are TSA Precheck and Global Entry. However, there are some differing views across the Internet on the pros and cons of these, so best to do some research if such opinions have stirred some skepticism in you. Big names fall on both sides of the debate, like USA Today or Skift for these programs, and Business Insider and Scott Mayerowitz of Associated Press against them, so, best to educate yourself, scout out some objective comparisons, and decide for yourself.
Waiting around in the airport is also a great opportunity to stand or walk about as much as possible. Pass on the pack of Oreos and the cocktail in the overpriced bar, get off your keester, and move. Your body will thank you later.
On the Flight
Speaking of your body, this is the phase of travel where your body really starts to hate you, so come equipped to pamper it as best you can. Germaphobes, bring hand sanitizer and your own travel pillow. Prone to tight muscles or leg cramps? Bring a tennis ball to roll out what aches, or place it under a leg to release pressure in a knot. Frequent travelers might consider investing a pair of compression socks to increase blood flow during such long periods of immobility.
Now, remember, we skipped the cocktail in the airport. We’re going to skip it again now. Traveling, especially onboard airplanes, can be extremely dehydrating. So, to put it one way, it’s best to not “drink and fly,” unless what you’re drinking is water. The air itself on the plane is also quite dry, so beyond hydrating, many travelers opt to bring moisturizers, eye-drops, and lip balms as well.
Car and Hotel
Ah, how to manage the torment of getting off of a plane, feeling as if you’ve finally been set free, and realizing the many steps between you and that Hilton featherbed. Unfortunately, there’s no way around the stop at the car rental service or the hotel desk, but there are still perks to be found yet!
Whereas reserving a premium, high-quality car can cost you an arm and a leg, if one of these vehicles is available when you go to pick up what you do reserve, you stand a chance at snagging one for a much lower price. Simply ask if one of these upgrades is available, and come ready to negotiate. (It helps here again to flash that smile and be nice). Travel expert Eric Rosen also recommends being savvy when it comes to paying for car insurance, as many credit card companies include coverage already. “In my case,” he writes, “3 of my credit card companies offer this little perk which saved me $200.”
Hotels hate having empty rooms, so if you can, wait until the last minute to book your stay to get the best rates. On the other hand, if you need to cancel your hotel reservation last minute and want to avoid a cancellation fee, you can often manipulate a small loophole by rescheduling for a later date (which is usually free), and then calling and requesting a cancellation through another representative.
Making a good impression at check-in can keep you on track for good treatment throughout your stay, especially if you’re requesting an upgrade. Being pleasant, letting staff know if you’re on the hotel’s loyalty program, and making inquiries only when the main desk is uncrowded is a true recipe for success.
A business trip is not a holiday. You will be expected to be on your game at the drop of a hat, so this is perhaps the worst time to disrupt your regular diet. Rather than turning to comfort foods, consider a healthy comfort meal that you can eat – as sad as it may sound – as frequently as possible, especially when traveling abroad. The best way to minimize stress on your body and disruptions to your routine is going to be keeping your meals simple and healthy. While some companies provide business travelers with prepaid meal cards for healthier restaurant chains, if you are one of those on your own with the company card:
- Do NOT splurge on the extravagant dessert
- Do NOT sample the entire drink menu
- DO ask for healthy alternatives when dining out (Think: salad dressing on the side, oil-free, steamed or grilled foods instead of fried ones)
- DO bring along healthy snacks, so as to not be tempted by conference or event food
- DO research on the destinations you are traveling to, so you are aware of any current health risks in the area related to drinking water, certain meats or vegetables, etc.
In the same breath, your business trip is not the time to throw your exercise routine out the door either. Always try to book a hotel with a gym and go first thing in the morning if you can. That way, you won’t have an excuse to not go later in the day, or the opportunity to schedule something that cuts it out. Learn bodyweight exercises or yoga at home, so that if, for whatever reason, you find yourself without a gym, you have a few go-to’s on hand. Picking up running is also a great idea. This will be a great way to both burn calories and explore a bit of the city you’re in.
When in doubt, technology can help you out big time here. Apps like FitStar, Daily Burn, and Yoga Studio can help you put together your own personal workout. However, what more and more business travelers are turning to are digital fitness trackers like Fitbit. These work not only like pedometers, but actually keep track of when you step, and encourage you to take a short walk or do some light exercise after long periods of immobility.
Perfecting the art of beating jet lag is a feat achieved by few, but there are a few important tips to at least get the amateur business traveler started. It’s always best to leave home well-rested so you avoid starting off on the wrong foot. From there, it is best to try to get as much sleep as you would in a 24-hour period at home. Your time in the air can either help or hinder you, as a plane is a great place to sleep, but often a difficult place to stay awake, if that’s what you need to do to settle into a new time zone. Either way, it is key to stay up until the local bedtime at your destination and not sleep in the following morning. Depending on which way you travel, the pros either recommend short naps and good coffee or short-acting insomnia medications like temazepam.
If you’ve followed these instructions—particularly those pertaining to health and wellness—transitioning back into life at home ought to be much less painful than before. Just make sure that you are staying up to date on what goes on in the office while you are away, and file expense reports as quickly as possible upon your return.
Studies show that frequent business travelers, who travel on average more than two weeks per month, are at a higher risk for a number of health concerns, including weakened immune systems, obesity, or mental health problems. Being prepared and smart throughout the booking, traveling, and working away process can influence some major attitude adjustments when it comes to business travel. Limiting stress on the mind and body can make more of a difference than you could ever imagine, so why not try out a few, and turn the worst part of your job to something truly enjoyable?
An Expert Directory of Business Travel Tips (by category)
20 Ways to Save on Airline Tickets (Tigrest Travel Blog)
Here’s 13 of our Top Tips When Booking Business Travel (Business Travel Connections)
Traveling at the Eleventh Hour – Myth-Busting Last Minute Travel (Concur)
Points Programs (most cover rewards programs for flights, hotels, and rental cars)
Best Rewards Programs for Business Travelers (Kayleigh Kulp, Travel Channel)
The Best Travel Rewards Programs for Business Travelers (Laura Longwell, Tripit)
A Frequent Flier’s Secrets to Winning With Travel Points (Alexandra Nuth, The Muse)
Travel Hacking (Travel Addicts)
10 Devices That Will Make Your Business Trip Easier (Mariana Pereira Buitrago, 30SecondsToFly)
Best Carry-On Luggage for Business Travel (Mimi Lombardo, Travel + Leisure)
The Best Luggage for Business Travelers (Colleen Fogerty, Tripit)
How to Fold and Pack a Suit Jacket…Better (Editors’ Piece, GQ)
Must-Have Phone Accessories for Frequent Business Travelers (Lauren Anzaldua, 30SecondsToFly)
Ten Tips for Packing the Perfect Suitcase (Tom Otley, Business Traveller)
The Best Carry-On Luggage (Kit Dillon, Brent Rose, The Wirecutter)
At the Airport
20 Top Airport Tips: How to Stay Calm and Save Time at the Airport (Matt Smith, Skyscanner)
Business Travel Tips To Make You Worthy Of An Upgrade (David Zax, Fast Company with contributions from Tommy Goodwin of Eventbrite)
Top Airport Tips for Business Travelers (American Express Global Business Travel)
On the Flight
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight (Ed Hewitt, IndependentTraveler.com)
The Best (and Most Comfortable) Airport Clothing for Business Travel (Dale Schahczinski, OML Worldwide)
7 Tips for Saving on Rental Cars (Michelle Higgins, New York Times)
10 Things Not to Do When Renting a Car (Ed Hewitt, Independent Traveler)
33 Car Rental Tips (Kristina Portillo, Business Travel Life)
6 Insider Tips for Choosing a Hotel Loyalty Program (Mark Murphy, U.S. News Travel)
The Ultimate List of Ways to Get a Hotel Upgrade (Hilary Solan, Travel Zoo)
A Business Traveler’s Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Diet (Lauren Anzaldua, 30SecondsToFly)
Managing Food Allergies While Traveling (Food Allergy Research & Education)
Staying Sane and Healthy During Business Travel (Eric M. Ruiz, Observer)
Top 10 Tips to Stay Healthy During Business Travel (Conferences and Events) (Jacob Morgan, The Future Organization)
How to Fit Fitness Into Business Trips (Jenna Sheffield, 30SecondsToFly)
How to Stay Healthy While Traveling (Shannon Mahon, Smarter Travel via Huffington Post)
Training and Travelling – Tips to Keep You on Track (Adam Rogers, New Horizon Active Escapes)
8 Tips for Actually Sleeping on a Red-Eye (Adrian Granzella Larssen, The Muse)
20 Tips for Beating Jet Lag on Business Trips (X Today)
Beating Jet Lag: 8 Ways You’re Doing It Wrong And How To Do It Right (Andrew Bender, Forbes)
Conquering Jet Lag (Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Europe, Inc.)
How to Beat Jet Lag, from a CEO with an Insane Travel Schedule (Julie Bort interviewing Microsoft chairman John Thompson, Business Insider)
A Traveling CEO Chimes In With Top Tips For Avoiding Jetlag (Ben Schlappig, One Mile at a Time)
8 Tips for Surviving Long Flights (Hannah Bae, CNN Money)
The 10 Best Business Travel Tips (Matthew E. May, American Express OPEN Forum)
10 Of The Best Business Travel Tips From The Experts (Nina Ojeda, Inc.)
10 Tips for Efficient Business Travel (Sienna Kossman, U.S. News)
Business Travel Tips: Discover Your Inner Boy Scout (H.O. Maycotte, Forbes)
Business Travel Tips: Harmful Effects You Need To Manage (Nigel Nolan, Sandbox Advisors)
Experienced Business Travelers Reveal Their Favorite Travel Tips (Sarah Schmalbruch, Business Insider)
Six Tips To Reduce Stress While Traveling For Business (Raquel Baldelomar, Forbes)
Tips for Business Travel in 2016 (Steven Fox of Fast Passport via Huffington Post)
Tips for Easier Business Travel (Kayleigh Kulp, Travel Channel)
Tips for a Healthy High Life (Charlotte Moore, The Guardian)
Your Basic Guide To Business Travel Abroad (Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes)
Molly is currently studying philosophy at Vassar College, working as 30STF Berlin’s resident psychic, and perfecting the art of writing and snacking at the same time (both of which she is equally passionate about).