10 Survival Tips for the Business Traveler

Karl Wiegers
Oct 10 · 7 min read

A central aspect of being a consultant, trainer, or speaker is that you usually have to go where the work is. People in many other businesses often need to travel frequently as well, of course. When I began consulting more than 20 years ago, I started to adopt some policies regarding how I would approach my business travel. These policies have made my career as a road warrior much easier. Perhaps they’ll help you as well.

Early in my career as a software development consultant and trainer, I had no idea how much work I was going to get, so I gratefully accepted every opportunity that came along. I was fortunate to get traction with the business quickly. As a consequence, I was doing a lot of traveling. My busiest travel year involved 137 flight segments and 131 nights in hotels. It didn’t take me long to decide that I:

Don’t travel during more than three weeks of each month.

This doesn’t mean that I was gone three-quarters of the time, just that I might travel one or more days during three out of every four weeks. It’s important to set time aside at home to get caught up, maintain relationships with family and friends, develop new training material and other content, write articles and books, and even relax and enjoy yourself (or so I’ve heard).

This policy also has helped keep me healthy. Two consultant friends became ill and couldn’t fully recover for several months because their back-to-back travel commitments were so exhausting. The only thing worse than traveling a lot is traveling — and working — while you’re sick. Leave time in your schedule to treat yourself well.

Along that same line, I find it very tiring to teach a class more than two days in a row. It’s hard to be witty and charming — both on your feet and on your toes — all day long, day after day. Therefore, if a client asks me to teach two sessions of a two-day class, I will:

Take Wednesday off between a pair of two-day training sessions.

I might do some sightseeing, visit friends in the area, or take in a movie. My vocal cords, feet, and disposition all benefit from the break. Of course, I don’t charge the client for my expenses or time on the day off.

Anyone who travels a lot has had the experience of being stranded overnight, or longer, at an airport or hotel. It happens, whether due to bad weather, mechanical problems, missed connections, or terrorist acts. I don’t worry much about such delays on my way home, but it can be disastrous on your journey to a gig. Therefore, I decided long ago that I would:

Never take the last flight of the day to a client site.

I’d rather arrive several hours early than miss the engagement because I’m stuck in an airport hotel a thousand miles away.

It’s unnerving to have to search for your destination early in the morning on the first day of a gig in an unfamiliar city. Traffic can be heavier or more confusing than you expected, and you might encounter construction delays. The meeting location could be cleverly hidden somewhere in a vast corporate campus, or parking might be problematic. Maybe even all of the above. To avoid beginning the workday with excessive stress, I like to:

Practice the drive from the hotel to the event location the prior evening.

I’ve only arrived late for an event once in my consulting career, heading into Jersey City from a hotel near Newark one morning. Who knew the highway to the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan would be so popular during rush hour? Everyone except me, apparently. I never again groped my way to an unfamiliar location without a dry run beforehand.

I’ve done some work outside North America, going to Europe a couple of times and taking several trips to Australia and New Zealand. I decided I will:

Only fly across an ocean in business class or better.

Yes, it’s expensive, and no, you don’t get there any faster. But it certainly is a lot more pleasant. I arrive at my distant destination better rested and ready to work. I build the fees for business class airfare into the price quotes I provide to my overseas clients. If they’re unwilling to pay the cost, that’s no problem — I thank them for their inquiry and stay home. Unless, that is, I really want to go anyway, in which case I’ll pay the additional airfare myself or upgrade with frequent-flier miles.

I have a consultant friend who thrives on international travel. He and his wife are adventurous people who love to explore exotic locations. I haven’t adopted this policy myself, but Ken likes to:

Spend one extra day sightseeing for each time zone change.

So if Ken goes to some faraway place like China or India, he takes his wife along and they spend several extra days touring, hiking, or camping. This isn’t a bad way to see the world if you can afford the time and cost.

You know all those little bars of soap that hotels give you? I don’t let the extras go to waste. Instead, I:

Collect unused hotel soaps and shampoo bottles, and donate them to a homeless shelter.

Some people think it’s unethical to steal soap you didn’t use. I view the soap as part of what I’m paying for in the hotel room, so it bothers me not one whit to take the leftovers home. Over the past thirty years I’ve given hundreds of little bars of soap and shampoo bottles to people who needed them more than I did. This policy might gradually go by the wayside as more hotels shift away from all the plastic trash associated with those little bottles.

Some years ago I figured out an interesting traveling trick. I learned how to:

Leverage airline frequent-flier programs against each other.

At the time I concocted this scheme, I held second-tier premium frequent-flier status on United Airlines. I wrote to American Airlines, which flew on some of the same routes, and invited them to match my premium status on United. They didn’t bump me up two frequent-flier levels from basic, but they did bump me up one. “Hmm,” I said to myself, “that was easy.” The next year I tried it again, and it worked again. Then I mailed a copy of my United card and my new American premium-level card to Delta and made them the same offer. Again, they said yes.

I pulled off this scheme for several years, parlaying premium status on one airline into others and enjoying the ensuing benefits. It cost me only a few postage stamps. There was nothing underhanded about this — I was simply presenting each airline with a business offer. One year, I held premium status on four airlines without having earned any of them!

I recently figured out a way to save money on travel. These days the prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars change frequently. Now I will:

Check the prices for hotel rooms and rental cars I’ve already reserved before I leave home.

If I find a lower price online, I simply call the hotel or rental car company and they readily change my reservation to the lower rate. I can find better rates this way roughly half the time.

Recently I performed this check for five hotels and a rental car I had reserved for a vacation coming up soon. With fifteen minutes of mousing around online, I saved more than sixty dollars off three of my original reservations. I checked again the day before I left and saved another thirty dollars. It’s worth the few minutes it takes to look (unless your client is reimbursing all of your expenses).

I’m a planning kind of guy. Having encountered my share of unpleasant surprises when traveling, I now:

Adopt small contingency plans to help make each trip run smoothly.

For instance, I wear clip-on sunglasses over my regular glasses. Those are quite fragile and hard to find in stores, so now I carry two pairs of sunglasses along in case one breaks (as has happened to me). I place a printed copy of my boarding pass inside any checked baggage in case the suitcase handle with my ID tag breaks off and I need to prove the bag is mine (as has happened to me). I also carry a printed boarding pass in case my phone dies (hasn’t happened yet, fortunately). For overseas trips, I upload scanned images of my passport and other key travel documents to a secure cloud location as backups in case I lose anything important.

I’ve read horror stories about drivers who were billed for damage to a rental car that already was present when they picked it up. Consequently, I now take photos all the way around a rental car before I drive it away from the lot and again when I drop it off. So far I haven’t needed that data to prove the car was already dinged when I got it, but I’m ready — just in case. I also carry printouts of some key maps for navigation when I’m driving in the event my electronic navigation device dies (as has happened to me).

I view these little precautions as risk management. Bad things like these don’t occur very often and might never happen to you at all. I just feel more confident being prepared. But even the most thorough risk management and contingency planning won’t anticipate an oddity like the toilet in your hotel room overflowing when you flush it first thing in the morning, barely awake — as also has happened to me. (Is it just me?) Sometimes you just have to roll with reality when it slaps you in the face.

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This article is adapted from Successful Business Analysis Consulting by Karl Wiegers. If you’re interested in consulting, software requirements, business analysis, project management, or software quality, Process Impact provides numerous useful publications, downloads, and other resources.

Karl Wiegers

Written by

I’ve written on software development and management, consulting, self-help, chemistry, military history, and a mystery novel. More info at karlwiegers.com.

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