Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone from someone who rarely traveled to feeling like the airport is my second home. Below are some of my biggest business travel takeaways that will help turn your travel experiences from mundane to enjoyable!
1. Join all rewards programs!
Make sure you get points for every plane you fly, train you ride, car you rent, and hotel you stay in. The points may take a while to accumulate, especially if you aren’t loyal to particular providers, but you’ll have free flights, rides, rentals, and stays before you know it.
2. Dress like a professional.
“For what? I’d rather wear my PJs”
Common advice is to dress as comfortable as possible, however, people will treat you how you look like you should be treated. If you look like a business class traveler, often you will be treated like a business class traveler. Right or wrong, if you look unsophisticated you will be treated as such. Generally, I’ve found that when I am dressed up and traveling, people are much nicer and accommodating. You’ll learn more about the benefits of dressing up later in the post…
3. Fly the same airline, every time.
“Why? My usual airline is $50 more for this flight.”
Because first class is better than coach. Once you reach a certain tier with your airline of choice you become eligible for a whole host of benefits. It all begins as soon as your arrive at the airport. Often there is an incredibly slow line just to check in and check your bag – not so for priority fliers. Typically, there is a separate (read: much shorter) line for them. I was recently in an incredibly busy airport where the check-in line was insulting. As I looked to my right, I noticed that there was an entirely separate check-in area for priority customers. There were free snacks and drinks, and most importantly, 10 airline agents for myself and the other 2 customers in line (compared to the 20 agents for the 100 customers in the normal line).
Next, we have the dreaded security line (or lack-thereof) for priority customers. This particular benefit is the reason why I’ve almost never missed flights. You just walk to the priority line and what would have been a 45 minute wait to reach the agent, now takes mere seconds. The line skipping doesn’t end there. Once it is time to board, you will be one of the first groups to board (which means you won’t feel rushed because there won’t be 20 people behind you staring at you while you struggle to put your bag in the overhead compartment).
Finally, my favorite benefit to gaining priority status: the first class upgrade. Invaluable on longer flights. Let me just run through some of the benefits… Seats big enough for a normal sized human, seats that recline far enough to become a bed, personal space, free three-course-meals (I believe the main dish was roasted salmon and mashed potatoes on my last flight), seemingly bottomless free alcoholic beverages (drink responsibly), enough blankets and pillows to go around, free gifts, etc, etc ,etc… Further, much of the annoyances of being on a plane with a bunch of people seem to disappear (i.e. crying babies, loud talkers, strange smells, etc.)
Note: Don’t forget to check how many miles and/or segments you need to reach status with your preferred airline. If you do not believe it is feasible for you to reach your desired level of status then I would recommend you look into your favorite airline’s credit card to receive many of the benefits listed above.
P.S. Act like you’ve been there before.
4. Ask for a room with a view.
This is one of the easiest things you can do to make more out of your hotel experience. Politely ask for a room with a view (or a higher floor) when you check in. If there is a room available ,they typically oblige. You just may get lucky and receive a complimentary upgrade. What better way to begin an experience in a new city than to have an amazing view of it.
5. The hotel concierge knows more than Google.
My best friend no matter what city I am in. They always know the best places to go, foods to eat, and things to do. Consider the concierge one of your best resources for exploring an unfamiliar place.
6. Invest in decent travel gear (and essentials).
One day, I was at the baggage claim waiting for my suitcase to come around. And when it did, I noticed the zipper and handle were broken, exposing all of my belongings. Do you know how difficult it is to drag a 50 pound suitcase with no handle? I knew at that very moment I needed quality travel gear. In my experience, suitcases are one of those things where you get what you pay for.
- Noise-cancelling headphones – turns the sound of crying babies and the roar of the jet engine into silence.
- A tablet computer (iPad, Kindle Fire, etc) – why be limited to just one or two books when you carry an entire collection of books, magazines, movies, and tv shows with you?
- An actual book – because your smartphone and tablet’s battery does not have infinite capacity (don’t forget about the 2 points within a flight where you have to turn off all electronics).
- A mobile battery pack – this rechargeable item can charge your smartphone and tablet anywhere and everywhere, as you can’t count on always finding an outlet when traveling.
- Quality and checkpoint friendly laptop bags or backpacks – these are designed for travel and will make your life easier.
- Quality luggage – because you don’t want to drag a suitcase with a broken handle
- A dSLR camera – for places you travel to that you never want to forget
#6.1 Bonus Essential – A major credit card
Along with a couple of hundred dollars in cash, you should always have a major credit card or two for a few reasons…
- Your debit card is a direct line to your checking account and will really suck if you are defrauded (which happens to travelers often). Once I received a call regarding my credit card asking if I spent $300 in a Family Dollar in Atlanta. I have not been to Atlanta in over a year so no, I did not. It was as easy as the credit card company sending me a new card.
- Travel Insurance – your luggage missed your flight? No problem. Some cards provide different types of benefits that help when things go astray while traveling. An example – if your suitcase is lost or delayed, go ahead and buy up to $500 worth of replacement clothes and you will be reimbursed.
- Emergency cash – some cards have a cash advance option
7. Pack for every situation (as lightly as possible).
So you’re in a new city, you’ve met some cool people, it’s 2am and they invite you to a hot tub party. One problem: you didn’t bring a swimsuit (nor can you go buy one because it’s 2am). Or, you’re on vacation, at the beach, met some more cool people and they invite you to a cocktail party. Another problem: you didn’t bring cocktail attire. Don’t miss out on amazing experiences because you didn’t plan for the unexpected.
Personally, no matter where I go, I pack for every scenario I can think of.
My personal check list:
- Swim trunks/bathing suit
- Suit or at least a sports jacket (for formal occasions)
- Clothes for working out
- Clothes for going out
The only exception: trips where I know it will be impossible for me to make time for non-work related activities.
“Won’t that force me to check a bag?”
Yes, it will. But you don’t care because you followed tip #3 and got status with the airline. Therefore, it was free to check that bag. Also, you followed tip #6.1 so even if your luggage gets lost, you just bought a whole new wardrobe.
8. Against your parent’s wisdom – talk to strangers.
You never know who you’ll meet, where you’ll meet them, what you can learn from each other, what you can do for them, or what they can do for you. Because you followed tips 1, 2, and 3 – you are a sophisticated, well dressed individual flying in first class. Who is the person next to you? They could be anyone… so start a conversation.
Currently, my responsibilities at my job lie within the realm of e-commerce. On my last flight home I decided to start a conversation with the person sitting next to me (might as well, it was a 6 hour flight). I am glad that I did. She was a pleasant conversation partner and we covered a whole gambit of topics. Later in the conversation I found out that she is the Vice President of e-Commerce at a very well known company (!!!). She was also planning a trip with her family the following month to my home state. There it was, a prime networking opportunity.
A few weekends ago I was out in a new city in front of what seemed to be the most popular club in town. There was a long line of people waiting to get in. I strike up a conversation with a couple of individuals walking in the same direction as me. They offered to make my coworkers and I their VIP guests at the club.
9. Never eat alone.
Whenever I am traveling I try to connect with friends or colleagues. I am sure I do not need to tell you about the doors that can open for you as well as the experiences you can have by connecting with old and new friends.
10. Open your mind – be adventurous.
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
This story was curated by Anthony Kerr.