I used to travel for business, a lot. For a large part of my career—about 15 to 20 years of it—I was traveling at least once per week. I’m approaching three million miles with my favorite airline because I had the top travel status for 10+ years. Plus, starting in 2006 when I began my international professional travel, I visited 17 countries for work. I’m happy to have had a mini-reprieve in my new role and spend more time with my family. What all that travel has given me, though, are some really helpful tips for business travel (and those frequent flier miles), especially if it’s going to become a big part of your life.
Always use a carry-on. Do not check your bag. It wastes time, increases frustration, and there’s always the chance that they will lose your luggage. I kid you not, during a 7 stop global trip, an unnamed airline lost my client’s luggage 3 times.
So I can be a fanatic about this, as my colleagues know, and that’s not always great. I did once inadvertently make a colleague cry a little bit because I was the boss and he thought I wouldn’t let them check his bag for a week-long trip to China. So the asterisk on this one is to communicate this preference the right way if you’re traveling with someone else.
Get pre-check. It’s completely worth the $100 and the hour spent wherever you need to go to not have to keep your liquids separate, take your shoes and belt off, and computer out. To be honest, it’s pretty worth it even just for vacation, but my expertise here is in business trips, not family vacations. (As good as I got at travel, I did once forget my suitcase at my house for a family vacation to Hawaii.)
Get good at packing. Once you’re good at it, it should take you five minutes. You can use a checklist if you need. Packing is always a pain and forgetting something you need feels like crap, so this is an important one. Socks are still a problem for me so I keep a generic pair in one of those weird suitcase pockets that it isn’t clear why it is there.
Simplify. This will help with packing too. Simplify your wardrobe, have a travel uniform. Pick one airline and one hotel group. The more this process becomes something in your muscle memory—packing, dressing, booking, security, flying, etc.—the better you will be at traveling. Simplifying things gets you there faster.
Occupy yourself. Bring a book. Download video content, podcasts, audiobooks, playlists, or your work. When you get delayed (yes, when, not if), you’re going to need something to do so you don’t go insane.
Always, every time, be nice to travel personnel. This is one of the reasons it’s important you have things to do. And even if you don’t, you can’t ever be rude to the people who are there to do their job, which is to help you. It will pay off. I’ve more than once been upgraded to the presidential suite at hotels because I was just nice at check in time and they were overbooked and had to give it to someone. And even if you don’t get the perks? Still be nice, because someone else will inevitably be the jerk we’ve all seen, and you don’t want to be that guy.
Make your health and wellbeing a priority. Because if you don’t, traveling will wear you out.
You don’t have to order off the menu. Between airport food, room service, hotels, and client dinners, it’s really easy to get unhealthy fast. Order steamed veggies or say no to the fries or get the dressing/sauce on the side or whatever works for you. One of my favorite clients, who I traveled pretty extensively with would order “as much steamed broccoli as you will give me” for the table no matter where in the world we were.
Get a workout in. Use the hotel gym. If it means cutting a dinner short or getting up early, this is an easy and important way to take care of yourself.
This one isn’t really a rule, but more of a guideline: I don’t turn on the TV in the hotel room because it just ends up turning me into a zombie who is not asleep but not quite awake. It’s better to watch what you’ve downloaded or brought because it provides structure so it’s not just one reality show blending into the other.
And finally, don’t waste it. If you go to a city often, get to know it a little bit. Go see what they are known for and eat their local dishes. See the Forbidden City and the Jazz Club in Kansas City. It will make you better. When you get to go someplace exotic and interesting or just far away, build in an extra day or two and switch from work to tourism. Take advantage of the privilege you have.
John is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life who, if he wasn't helping people with their careers, would consider himself a ghost researcher. His claim to fame is that he is a champion race walker (he actually came in second place).