16 Tips for Work Travel, From a Globetrotting Expert
Filed in: Your Career
In the first decade of my career, traveling for work was a real treat. That someone else was paying me to go on an adventure—and not just hopscotching between American and European capitals, but journeying to far-flung geographies that my loved ones struggled to pronounce, let alone find on a map (ahem, Lubumbashi)—fueled me through multi-week trips at a time. But 20 countries, over a dozen years, and the nerdiest of all transport status clubs later (Amtrak Select), I now favor my own bed, a regular exercise schedule, and reliable access to fresh vegetables over the lure of a far-flung work destination. Still, until I indulge my fantasy career as a horse whisperer, duty calls.
Below are some pointers for making “the bag drag” a bit easier. I’m now wise enough to know that you can never guarantee a “restful” journey, but these tips will help you feel more polished when you get there.
1. To state the obvious, get a few no-brainer, no-wrinkle, all-purpose work outfits down cold, so you don’t have to think about what to pack (especially for relatively short trips). I favor MM.LaFleur’s Masha dress, its half-twin Williamsburg skirt, a pair of tailored black pants that can be quickly dressed up or down, and chunky pumps.
2. Invest in a large silk scarf or cashmere wrap. It’ll serve as a travel blanket first and foremost, but make sure it’s also polished enough to function as a compact layer for meetings. (It’s impossible to escape the tyranny of male-biased air conditioning, no matter your destination.)
3. Warm socks are also essential to have handy on the plane, and for hotel rooms without slippers.
4. Bring a carry-on only, ever. End of discussion. (And even if you have a bag that fits the carry-on dimensions, be sure to check weight limits on international flights. For example, many Middle Eastern airlines have outrageously low weight requirements, usually around 15 pounds—barely more than what you lug around daily.)
5. This may come as a surprise, but a headlamp is a girl’s best friend. Best case scenario: You get to use it in a cozy hotel room with a bad bedside reading light. Worst case scenario: You’ll need it in an unexpected power outage.
6. You know the oddly-euphemized “personal item” that you only get to bring one of? Prepare it like you’re a secret agent. Stuff an extra tote bag in there, in case there’s space to cram your nonessentials in the overhead bin at the last minute (and give yourself some extra leg-room). Also, make sure that the bag at your feet stands up on some sort of base; you don’t want a shapeless laptop bag dumping your belongings all over the aisle.
International Flight Tips
7. Select your seat as far away from the bulkhead as possible. That’s where bassinets—i.e. potentially crying babies—end up.
8. Airplane food is gross, and you’re too self-sufficient to relish a free meal these days. So, BYO. My go-tos are sandwiches with hummus and avocado or almond butter and banana. Also, bring a water bottle. Flight attendants will fill it up for you, repeatedly, if you ask nicely—and you’ll feel like crap if you don’t hydrate enough.
9. If you must order a meal, order a “special” one, like a vegetarian or other non-standard option. You’ll get served first, which is a real bonus when you’re looking to go to sleep as soon as possible after boarding.
10. Pack a sheet mask or two for your final destination to help restore moisture at night. Hey, it’s a spa trip! Bonus: Put some rose water in a travel-sized spray bottle and use it to freshen up your face and/or underarms after a flight or long day.
11. To (help) avoid getting sick, I take Emergen-C before and immediately after a flight. And—this is where it gets a little socially awkward—I always clean the tray table, arms, and entertainment screen of my seat with a travel-friendly pack of disinfecting wipes.
12. To (help) ensure a good night’s sleep, whether on a red-eye or in a new time zone, your two musts are a sleep aid like melatonin and a colored noise “song” on iTunes or Spotify that you can play on loop with headphones. (“White” noise can be harsh, so you’ll want “pink” or “brown” noise.)
13. If your body clock is off, there’s a chance you’ll wake up in the middle of the night starving (back home, it’s lunch time!). Keep a few granola bars or other snacks handy so that you can nibble on something and get back to bed. Also, weird things happen to a digestive system that’s been pressurized for hours on end, so bring a few bags of “Get Regular” tea.
Last, But Definitely Not Least
14. Always assume you will not have WiFi on the plane, and/or the entertainment system will malfunction. It happens with some frequency, and you will be livid, to no avail. Download plenty of reading material, TV shows, podcasts, music, etc. ahead of time.
15. Global Entry is the best $100 you (or your employer, since you can likely get them to cover it) will ever spend. It lets you effectively skip the line coming through customs back into the U.S., but it also grandfathers you into TSA pre-check, which allows you to get through security more quickly when boarding. Contrary to urban myth, the online application is not that bad, and there’s been a recent proliferation of in-person interview locations so you no longer have to make a dedicated trip to the airport.
16. Whenever you travel for work, remember that anyone in your immediate environs could be headed to the same meeting as you. In other words, don’t be a jerk, despite the fact that mass transit brings out the grumpiest in all of us.
Photographs by Yan Ruan.