Travel Tips

Get more out of business trips by applying project-management skills

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Business travel often comes as feast or famine, leaving some wanting less and others, more. All of us, however, need ways to make the travel itself rewarding, and the best approach is by giving it the same detailed attention you'd devote to one of your technical assignments.

If you want to travel more--to win business, forge connections with far-flung parts of your organization, or just see the world--you can wangle trips to conferences. One way is to get involved in professional societies and industry committees, many of which hold their regular meetings at conferences; another is to respond to requests for abstracts for conference papers. Your company will be happy to send you.

You can also target places that will promote business, an approach that led me to the best business trip of my career. After Pan Am went bankrupt in 1991, I marketed its Kennedy Airport maintenance facility, in New York City. I spotted an aircraft-maintenance conference in Germany in connection with the International Paris Air Show and proposed a trip to both. To my surprise, the trip was approved. The many business contacts I made helped me to get ahead.

Getting permission to travel is one thing; succeeding on the trip is another. Here are some tips:

Plan out the entire trip. At the outset, determine the end dates, the rough itinerary, key meetings and appointments, air transportation, hotels, and car rentals. I do it all on my Microsoft Outlook Calendar software, creating the trip as a recurring ”appointment” and entering my itinerary in the ”notes” area. It all syncs with my PalmOne personal digital assistant, but even so, I print a copy so I'll have a form on which to record my expenses. I also enter key phone numbers in my cellphone's address book.

Reserve your hotel early, even before you get approved to go, to lock in the discounted conference rate. Program your calendar to remind you to cancel the reservation within 24 hours, in case you end up not going.

Plan for craziness before and after the trip. Block out your calendar to avoid meetings when you get back so you can take care of the work that piles up while you're gone; better yet, tell nobody the exact day of your return.

Pack light, because you can always buy the odd thing you may need. Keep up on the latest security guidelines on what can and cannot go in carry-on luggage.

Avoid peak travel times. For example, savvy travelers connect through Chicago's busy O'Hare International Airport according to the season--in summertime you connect early in the day to avoid afternoon thunderstorms; in winter months you connect later to give the previous night's snow a chance to melt.

Keep your cool. Resolve not to get angry if things go wrong, as they often will. I once had to spend a day at a gate at Houston's Bush International Airport, but I got a lot of work done and read most of a book. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't worth stressing about, either.

Plan for the return trip. Ask how often the airport shuttle runs and at what time you'll need to get to the airport, then confirm the time with the airline. Once I missed a return flight from Hamburg, Germany, after both the hotel and the taxi driver had assured me I had plenty of time to make it. However, the plane boarded extra early to ensure it would get a slot at London's Heathrow Airport. Whose fault was this? Mine, because I hadn't checked with the airline!

Besides teaching you patience and flexibility, travel gives you far more usable experience than you'd gain by sitting in your office. Still, while the most important part of business travel is the business part, don't forget to enjoy the travel part. Bon voyage!

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