I do not travel for work nearly as much as some of my friends do or as much as my father did while I was growing up, but I have been on a plane roughly once a month for the last 6 months and am good for 1-2 work-related trips a year (at one time it was 5-6) (added to personal travel). Traveling for work is not as glamorous as one may think but despite Skype and Teams and lighting fast WiFi sometimes you just need to be there in person. With that in mind, here’s a set of useful tips culled from my personal experience and from my coworkers and friends.
To check bags or not to check bags? That is the question. Before your trip assess which airport(s) you’re flying in and out of and then see what their reputation is online — for example, CDG in Paris has a reputation for losing luggage, one that I found well-deserved (I got my bags about a day and a half after I arrived). If you don’t want to risk it make sure your carry on fits carrier guidelines (many carriers have *reduced* the size of acceptable carry ons) and be prepared to not use that space under the seat in front of you for your feet — because if you’re in a later boarding group there may not be overhead bin space. Also, take advantage of YouTube packing videos. You can get a lot of stuff in a small case.
Inversely, if you do choose to check, weight your bag before you get to the airport — and maybe pack a smaller lightweight bag or backpack in it. This is because if your bag is over 50lbs they usually charge $100 instead of a $25 or $30 bag fee, and having 2 checked bags is still cheaper than one overweight charge. If you travel a lot and you have a carrier Visa card, that usually comes with free bag check. Finally: add some unique item to your handle, even if it’s just a strip of novelty duck tape. You would not believe how many identical black Samsonite bags are out there.
If you aren’t thrilled with an airplane loo — and who is? — and find yourself needing to go as you exit the plane: use the facilities closest to (and just before) the security exit. That is, you get off the plane, you head down the concourse to the main hub, and you get to that part where it says “after you go through here you can’t go back” — and find the restroom right before that security exit. This is because it will be less crowded than all of the ones you just passed (because everyone else got off the plane and will happily stand in line) and is likely to be less busy.
Hotels often have more amenities than are listed on their site. For example, mine has a free shuttle to the conference I’m attending — even though it’s a half hour away. It wasn’t advertised and I came across it by accident (while trying to schedule a Lyft) so it’s good to ask at the front desk if there is a shuttle service to your location of interest.
The gym at a hotel can be resplendent with fresh towels and water bottles and a wide assortment of machines/weights or it can be one dilapidated bosu ball and a sketchy elliptical trainer. Check TripAdvisor or Yelp hotel reviews to see what the gym actually has and also when it is open.
It’s nice when they hand you your room keys in that little paper fold and it’s a pain to carry that around. If you travel a lot room numbers kinda blur, so take a pic of your room number (at the door) to remember it without having to keep track of little foldy bits of paper. This strategy also works with remembering parking space/stall numbers.
Hotel toiletries are unreliable (in terms that some hotels offer a selection of toiletries and others offer the inherently suspicious bottle of 3 in one shampoo/conditioner/body wash). Get reusable travel-size bottles and fill up with your stuff from home. Bonus: keep them all together in a quart size Ziploc – you’ll need it for security, anyway.
Ever notice how conferences are usually in a hot-weather area during the hottest time of year? It’s because it’s cheaper (it’s during their off-season) for the conference provider and usually for the attendee. Case in point: Grace Hopper (where I’m at right now) in Houston, or an analytics conference I attended in July. In Las Vegas. You’ll be tempted to wear a super-lightweight top and pants or a skirt, but don’t forget a light jacket or scarf — because as soon as you get into the Convention Center or Hotel Ballroom, the AC will be jacked up and you will freeze. As much as you’d like to think that will help you focus on the material, it won’t, and you’ll end up drinking too much coffee in an effort to keep warm.
Speaking of coffee: the coffee shop or stand *at* the convention center or hotel may sound like a good idea, but it will be slammed. Go around the corner or even two blocks away, or leverage pre-ordering apps like the one offered by Starbucks. Bonus points if your hotel has a mini-market or quick options like muffins or fruit, but you’ll want to put thought into your breakfast strategy *before* the morning of. This is because when you get up, you will be thinking about your deliverables and schedule, and just hoping to run into food. So are the other thousands of attendees.
Seating strategy is also important – you’re in a room with 300, 400, 500 other people? Figure out if you need to exit early (for a conference call or because you’re dubious on the content) — and sit closer to the door so you don’t feel like a horrible human being when you do get up to leave. Do you need to take notes during the presentation and you’ve got a laptop? Look for carpet cutouts in the floor –– typically power outlets are stashed there (or sit along the walls). Poor eyesight or you like to ask questions? Sit towards the front *or* near the mic stand.
Most conferences have some sort of expo or booth-laden enterprise where you go learn about new things and acquire swag. Don’t acquire swag to acquire swag. It’s more stuff to pack into your suitcase for dubious benefit. If you’re interested in the company or its offerings, grab your cell phone and take a picture of the business card or product info – doesn’t get lost, takes up no space, and you have all the information nearly instantly.
Finally — Conference WiFi (and any publicly available WiFi) is open — so remember to use a VPN to keep your electronic traffic safe. If you need super-reliable WiFi, don’t rely on conference WiFi — they can easily underestimate traffic — see if you can tether to your mobile or get a mobile card if it’s an absolute must.