After graduating from college, I began a career in management consulting. I dove headfirst into this fast-paced, semi-nomadic profession. Now, after 105 flights, 132 Uber rides and 229 hotel nights, allow me to share a few lessons learned.
1. Kindness pays off
Thank those that serve you. Whether it’s riding in an Uber, checking into the hotel, or asking for a Coke from the flight attendant, you will be served by dozens of people while traveling. Talk to them. Be a human. These folks are not your servants. Pro Tip: Befriend hotel receptionists and remember their names. In turn, they will remember you and gladly upgrade your room when politely asked — cha-ching!
Be prepared for the most random run-ins. The world gets small when you bounce from airport to airport. Be ever ready to bump into the following individuals: 1) B-class celebrities, 2) old college flames, and most commonly 3) former coworkers that you never wanted to see again. Mark my word, it will happen.
Travel need not be lonely. Don’t default to sitting at the hotel bar. Plan creative events for your evenings after the workday. You’re in a new place, explore it! Discover unique local attractions, sign up for an exercise class or volunteer at local nonprofit organizations. While traveling to Chicago, I organized activities at the Ronald McDonald House near my hotel, and my team loved it. Pro Tip: Try organizing dinners with like-minded people via Meetup. If company policy allows, pay for the group’s meal using your per-diem. Networking over a few Chipotle burritos is much more enjoyable than eating extravagant room service alone.
2. Keep yourself in check
You’ll become price insensitive. When expensing nearly everything, price becomes an afterthought. It’s normal for a week’s worth of meals, flights, Uber rides and accommodations to top $2,000. You’ll be tempted to lose your sense of reality. Be careful, or your perspective of pricing will balloon to ridiculous standards. I have plenty of coworkers whose lifestyles would be unsustainable if they stopped traveling each week. A good rule of thumb is this: it’s not normal to have $50 dinners every night.
Loyalty programs will puff your ego. Don’t be that guy who proudly displays his Diamond Medallion nametag on his carryon as if it were a badge of honor. Just don’t. Nobody cares. Sure, making status is fun, but it’s short-lived and goes as quickly as it comes. One year you’re platinum — the next year, you’re a statusless scrub.
Your integrity will be tested. My college business ethics class was somewhat of a joke. At the time, I never thought I would be enticed to abuse a loosely monitored corporate card. However, those times have arisen (and continue to arise) while on the road for business. After talking to my dad about this, he gave me some advice:
Expense as if it were your own money, regardless of coworkers’ actions. — Dad
Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, also has great advice about keeping integrity in the workplace:
Resisting the logic of “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed. — Clayton Christensen, “How Will You Measure Your Life”
Don’t be a whiner. It’s comical when travelers get frustrated with things that don’t go their way. You will be much better off with low expectations. If there’s one fact of travel life, it’s this: flights will be delayed, and there will always be traffic. Your boss and clients will completely understand when things happen outside of your control.
3. Material possessions don’t matter
Pack simply. Like most people, I have a tendency to pack too many things. Recently, I decided to do something about it. I packed for a three-day trip using my Aer city-bag. It’s small, but it holds enough. By using this constrained space, I was able to have a more simple and focused trip. Plus, I was hands-free the entire time. My new rule of thumb for packing is this: If you have to question it, don’t bring it.
Your stuff is completely forgettable. It’s nice to come home from a trip, especially when opening your closet reveals forgotten clothes. While traveling, it’s human nature to forget about most things at home. My roommate could steal a shirt from my closet each time I left, and I wouldn’t notice it was gone…until he wore it. It’s cliché, but possessions and clothes don’t really matter. Traveling makes that all too clear.
4. Be yourself in all places
Don’t live a double-life. “Treat yo’ self!” is a message nearly impossible to ignore while traveling. A break from the normal stresses of life has a way of enticing you to let loose. While spoiling yourself on business trips may seem fun and innocent, it can have dire effects when it becomes a habit. It’s not surprising that many frequent travelers have affairs or stay single forever to “play the field.” It’s just too easy to do.
Tighten your circles. I formed a philosophical idea, dubbed “The True-Self Triangle,” that has helped me resist living the tempting double-life. Allow me to walk you through a mental exercise — imagine how you are viewed from three different angles. How do I view myself? How do others (who know me well) view me? And most importantly, how does God view me?
As you candidly answer these questions, you can begin to formulate your true self — where the three outer circles merge in the center. Your true self creates personal power and is manifest with confidence, enthusiasm and positivity.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to deceive others (and yourself). In turn, this deception skews your triangle. For example, when living a double-life, the “how others view you” circle shifts to the right, creating an obtuse triangle. Those who have such skewed, off-balance triangles are easy to spot — they’re fake and seek confidence from external power sources such as money, titles, or harmful substances.
Set a goal to be a consistent person across all ranges of your relationships, including your relationship with Deity. Put simply, be yourself wherever you are and whomever you’re with.
5. Productivity hacks are priceless
Travelers always find their own ways to make their journey more comfortable and efficient. Here are my personal travel hacks. Enjoy :)
- Never unpack toiletry items. Buy an extra set of everything, and keep them in your carry-on at all times.
- Pack an audio jack cord. Play your music/podcasts in rental cars.
- Bring a fully charged portable phone charger. You don’t want to be stranded in a new city with a dead phone. Traveling, by nature, will drain your battery quicker than usual when using GPS. You only have to learn that lesson once.
- Keep your routine. Don’t change your daily habits just because you’re traveling. Read, meditate, exercise and do what you normally do.
- Get out of your room. When you get back from work, go on a walk, make phone calls, meet up with a friend, go out to dinner, exercise or read in a nearby park. Whatever you do, don’t just sit in your room and watch Netflix.
- Use public transportation. You’ll get a good feel for the city, and it helps you feel like you’re a part of the community.
- Always Uber, never taxi. This is a no-brainer nowadays. Uber is simple, easy and a better experience all around.
- Expense a bike-share pass. Hands down, the best way to commute around downtown Chicago and San Francisco. It’s invigorating and fun!
- Allow your thoughts to elevate to 10,000 feet. Planes are perfect for thinking time. Use it to catch up on your journaling and self-reflection (that’s where I initially began writing this article).
- Buy noise-cancelling headphones. These are a lifesaver when trying to focus. Crying babies? No problem. Loud talkers across the aisle? Don’t care.
- Always bring a book. Use the hum of the airplane as a focus tool.
- Avoid checking bags. Check in on your phone. You should never go to the check-in desk, unless you have to check a bag.
- Get TSA Pre-Check. Will save you a ridiculous amount of time. ‘Nuf said.
- Never use in-flight Internet. Using Boingo is indicative of a lack of planning — or complete boredom. Only once did I have to use it to send a client deliverable and it took forever to send. By using it, you’re setting yourself up for frustration and unmet expectations.
- Find your travel cadence, but don’t push it. You’ll learn exactly (down to the minute) when you need to leave the house/office to make your plane. However, give yourself extra time. I’ve had to pull off way too many Home Alone airport-running stunts.
- Get a window seat. Try to imagine that you’re flying for the first time. Never cease to be amazed that you’re flying through the air like a bird!
There you have it, two years worth of business-travel-lifestyle tips. After thinking about it, I’ve added a sixth tip for good measure.
- Kindness pays off
- Keep yourself in check
- Material possession don’t matter
- Be yourself in all places
- Productivity hacks are priceless
- RELAX — it’s all going to be OK.
Disclaimer: These are all my own opinions. Nothing in this article reflects the opinion held by the firm that I traveled for. I’m writing this because I wish that I had known these tips when I began traveling. Rather than focus on maximizing SkyMiles or SPG points, my intent is to provide advice to ease the hectic lives of my fellow business travelers.
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