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Tips for Savvy Business Travelers

Alexandra Levit -- These tips will help relieve the stress that comes with traveling, and help you get more from the experience.

1. Understand your company's expense rules.

Look out! Business world expense policies are riddled with fine print. Some companies won't allow you to take a taxi to the airport. Others won't pay for your lunch because you'd be buying it yourself if you were in the office.

2. Keep a bag packed at home.

You never know when you're going to need to travel out of town on short notice. Prevent frazzled, last minute rushing around by keeping a travel bag packed and ready to go in your closet. Besides a suit and comfortable business shoes, include toiletries, regular medications, mints, business cards, and modem and power cords for your laptop.

3. Remember your corporate persona.

Out of the office does not mean off the job. Resist the urge to let your hair down and party during a business trip. There's nothing wrong with having fun, but you should behave professionally no matter whom you're with or what you're doing. You never know who's watching.

4. Review your itinerary ahead of time.

Go over your schedule to make sure you know where you're supposed to be at all times and how you're going to get there. Leave large time cushions in between each activity so that you can make it from one place to the next without having a heart attack.

5. Sign up for a frequent flyer account.

Frequent flyer miles are the best way to make your business travel hassles pay off. While you're at it, make sure the credit card you use for business is linked to a frequent flyer program too.

6. Print out important materials.

You never know when your laptop is going to decide to have a temper tantrum. Technology often fails us on business trips, so if you really need something for a meeting, carry both hard and virtual copies.

7. Assign colleagues to share your workload.

Keep the machine running by making a detailed list of items you need covered while you're gone and delegating each task to a trusted colleague. Set up your e-mail and voicemail systems with an out of the office message complete with emergency contact information.

8. Pack necessities in your carry-on bag.

Once your Samsonite disappears down that black hole, you can't control where it ends up. Of course, 99 percent of the time your baggage will make it safely to your destination, but have a contingency plan just in case.

9. Block out the noise.

A good night's sleep is imperative to your effectiveness on a business trip. Regardless of where you're going, assume that your hotel will be louder than a big city apartment building and pack ear plugs or a travel-sized white noise machine from Sharper Image or Homedics.

10. Carry snacks and a bottle of water.

In the alternate universe known as business travel, something simple like eating can turn into a complex task you can't be bothered with. In case you have to miss a meal, tide yourself over with a granola or Power Bar. And don't forget to stay hydrated, especially when you're flying.

11. Dress up, not down.

When you're attending meetings in unfamiliar surroundings, wear business appropriate attire. Even if the folks you're meeting with are dressed casually, no one will fault you for being the only one in a suit. Pack your clothes in a garment bag and use the iron in your hotel room to keep your attire clean and wrinkle-free.

12. Roll your laptop.

Save yourself an excruciating backache by rolling a laptop carry case instead of lugging it around on your shoulder. You'd be surprised how heavy all of that computer hardware can be after a day on the road.

13. Fly during business hours.

Inevitably, taking a business trip means working longer hours anyway, so don't be a martyr and volunteer to take a red-eye flight. You're already stressed out; why should you be bone tired, too? Also, don't feel obligated to work during the flight out. Use the time to relax and mentally prepare yourself for the trip ahead.

14. Pay someone to drive you around.

Even if you take pride in your sense of direction, do you really want to be bothered with navigating a rental car through the bowels of a strange city? If your company will allow it, stick to taxis or corporate cars. Just don't forget the extra cash to pay your drivers.

15. Call the office frequently.

Never allow your boss to think you've dropped off the face of the earth, even if you're super-busy. Drop her a voicemail or an e-mail to update her on your whereabouts and don't let her catch you spending half a day gambling in the Las Vegas airport.

16. Log on at the hotel.

Dial up in your room using your modem or make an evening pilgrimage to your hotel's business center. Try to check your e-mail at least once a day so that you can keep on top of the endless stream of issues and action items. Even if your boss isn't expecting you to do it, your workload will thank you when your trip is over. Just watch the hotel's fees!

17. Check your watch and wake-up calls.

When you arrive in a new time zone, set your watch and cell phone immediately to avoid confusion later on. Also, don't rely on either your alarm clock or the hotel's wake up call to make sure you're on time for a morning meeting. Set both just in case.

18. Don't touch the hotel phone.

Use your cell phone or a calling card. Calls from a hotel phone, even local ones, may be so pricey you should be embarrassed to expense them. Even if you're not embarrassed, your company's Expense Department is probably too smart to pay for them.

19. Take advantage of the hotel's fitness center.

Running on the treadmill or lifting weights is a great way to relieve stress and work off those extra pounds you've put on from eating out every day. Don't forget to pack your sneakers!

20. Have dinner with friends or family instead of your co-workers.

Does anyone from your personal life live in the city where you're traveling? Make an effort to get together instead of hanging out with the same colleagues you see all day. Business travel is a great way to catch up with folks you wouldn't get to spend time with otherwise.

21. Extend your stay to do some sightseeing.

If your company is paying for you to fly to a city you've never visited, why not stay the weekend and treat yourself to some fun activities? There's nothing more frustrating that being in New York City from Monday through Thursday and spending the entire time in a convention center.

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent marketing communications business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004), This excerpt was reprinted, with permission of the publisher, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. All rights reserved.

© 2004 Alexandra Levit

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