Traveling for Business
January 31, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm going on my first business trip and I'm nervous. Help me impress my colleagues. What tips do you have?

I am by far the youngest and most inexperienced in my group. The most senior members of my group are five promotions higher than me. I have a good opportunity to impress several senior managers at my company. What advice do you have?

posted by gocubbies to Human Relations (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Listen a lot. Talk less.
posted by nitsuj at 2:19 PM on January 31, 2010

- Keep your mouth shut and listen.
- Be early for everything. Never have them wait on you to arrive to leave the hotel, go to meeting, etc.
- Volunteer to help on stuff that needs to get done, even if below your pay-grade.
- Dress well, maybe just slightly above your position. Don't dress better than your colleagues though.
posted by SantosLHalper at 2:24 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do go out with the guys after work-hours if invited. Do not get drunk or anything similar... even if everyone else is doing it. Maintain your integrity at all times. If they end up inviting you out to something that's really not your style (strippers or something) - you can always politely decline.
(That said, once people are drunk, it's often easier to just slip out than to try to dismiss yourself. Remember, after hours you are your own person, you don't need permission to leave)

When you return from said trip, do not gossip about stuff you may have seen outside business
hours on the trip that you were privy to, should any of your co-workers also go overboard.

You are vague about the type of trip and the context - but I'd say, take notes, be observant (like a detective or something) and summarize in a diary at the end of each day.

You were invited on the trip - which means the company feels you are adequate to be going - don't underestimate yourself or get hung on on pay-grades and corporate structure - official corporate structure is only half the story (if that).
posted by TravellingDen at 2:30 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

In what context do you want to impress them: please pick one:

being a savvy traveller
being a clever business person
being an awesome fun party guy/gal

Very different skill sets.

I would heartily recommend not trying to hard to impress but instead to allow yourself to be mentored: be available for teasing and lecturing by older folks. Nothing imparts good feelings towards an underling like an eagerness to learn. Be curious and forthright about yr inexperience, but with a willingness to risk being wrong. Don't go drink for drink if you can't handle yr booze--it's more impressive if you offer to DD and stay having fun all night.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:35 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stay on the ball. Don't screw up so badly that you need to call the home office -- don't lose your keys, corporate card, etc. Try to take travelling in stride. Run into a holdup? Cancelled flights? No big deal. You'll get there eventually. Unless you've got kidneys in a cooler, no one will die if you're late. T

he best part of that is that you're travelling on the company dime, so if there are unforeseen issues, it's the company's responsibility to take care of you. Similarly, don't go overboard with the expenses, but don't act cheap either. I tend to eat just like I do at home -- which is moderately frugally.

Buy your coworkers drinks. Don't expect one in return, and it will pay off eventually.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 2:44 PM on January 31, 2010

Don't screw up, obviously. And don't take 7 tons of baggage. The lighter you can travel, the more "pro" you are.

Don't be impressed. Business travel is typically deathly dull. [He writes from a deathly dull hotel in Brazil before a meeting tomorrow]. Classic puppy dog sign to look like you're going to enjoy it.

Check your blackberry A LOT. It's a sign of how important you are.

Go with the flow. You'll always learn at least one really juicy bit of gossip or get one searing insight into office politics as people let their guard down. Don't feel the need to reciprocate. Your job is to laugh or nod appreciatively at the right moment.

You'll impress your seniors if you impress your clients/whoever you're meeting. I can't tell you how many times I've been on business trips and some prat decides to wing it and doesn't prepare. Get your preparation right, research properly what you're going for on the meeting, and don't force the moment when you choose to impress everyone with your searing insight.

By the end of the trip, you'll wonder what the hoo-ha around business travel is all about. Welcome to the club.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:55 PM on January 31, 2010

Agree with statements above and would further emphasize, don't be the (non-gender specific) guy that forgets either their wallet, ticket, keys or phone, and certainly not the client presentation or boards or printed decks. Do carry a couple of $20s and $5s for ready cabfare & tips. Do a little research on the area you're heading to — it's nice to have a sense of the nearest FedEx or Starbucks or a recommended local lunch spot, and thus allow you to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, etc.

Don't ever make anyone wait on you, please. Unforgivably rude.

With today's budgets and the cost of travel, you've either a presumed or proven value; remember specifically what that is you offer and seek opportunities to apply it.

And finally, I've done everything counseled against above and worse, and survived. What people remember best is not what mistakes you've made, but how you handled the consequences.
posted by Haruspex at 2:56 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

If your girlfriend is also going to the conference, don't create stress with her about that, because inevitably that interpersonal stress will make you more tense toward your colleagues as well.
posted by salvia at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2010

Be prepared - have any materials you should have, keep a pad and pen on you, put some folding money in your pocket, know where and when things are, and review any concepts/initiatives you should know about for conversations. A checklist for packing & even one for unpacking to determine what you carry around when will help. Have a map for the place you'll be and look at it before you go.

Be punctual - it matters way more than a lot of folks think.

Be neatly and appropriately attired - don't overdress, don't be too comfy; you should be able to go from conference to dinner to after-dinner hang-out without looking out of place.

Be able to recognise the people who matter - look up bigwigs & presenters online.

Be aware you may not know who matters - so be polite and professional with everyone you meet.

Be a good listener - this is more important than knowing what to talk about.

Be patient with yourself - you might not get everything right. Bouncing back with a positive attitude is more important than being perfect.
posted by batmonkey at 4:00 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice above (that I wish I had had years ago).

Re luggage, it should be obvious, but don't check your bag -- carry-on only unless this is a 3 week trip. Unless you're in the fashion industry, no one is really going to give a damn what you wear so long as it's appropriate (see above) and clean.

Re forgetting things, also remember to pack all of your relevant cell phone/laptop/Blackberry/etc. chargers. Make sure you have at least one credit card paid up so that you can clear your hotel bill without an issue.

Re your role, depending upon the circumstances and the personalities involved, there may be a tendency to look to you to address travel-related questions. It wouldn't hurt to have copies of the hotel and rental car reservations and directions to/from airport/hotel/client location in your bag.

From a substantive perspective, you will impress your colleagues by not getting loaded after hours and by being quietly competent at what you're there to do. If you're visiting a client or business partner, you might spend a few minutes reading up about them beforehand.

Good luck --
posted by hawkeye at 4:16 PM on January 31, 2010

To follow up on Haruspex's comment above, if it's not too burdensome, bring printed copies of documents you'll need, and email them to yourself as well, in case your flash drive gets lost en route.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 4:19 PM on January 31, 2010

During the meetings, take excellent notes. Use a symbol you can scan for easily to highlight notes on any commitments the players make to each other. Quietly, but competently, take care of logistical matters, refreshments, paying cabbies, etc. so others don't have to deal. Keep scrupulous track of your expenditures, especially cash, and be timely about completing your expense reports and other paperwork once you return.
posted by carmicha at 4:33 PM on January 31, 2010

As others have said, take one carry-on bag only, so you don't lose your bag or hold up others at baggage claim.
posted by chinston at 4:47 PM on January 31, 2010

If you must check your baggage, and need a suit at your destination, wear it while travelling. It may not be the most comfortable thing, but nothing sucks more than the stress of being on business and losing all your business attire.
posted by lowlife at 5:30 PM on January 31, 2010

The thing that will make you feel really awkward right away is if you just have too much crap. If your colleagues are zipping through the airport with a laptop bag and a rolling carry on. and you've got a back pack, a purse, a laptop bag, a duffel/gym back you are just going to look and feel all... discombobulated. And disorganized.

Also, when you are at work, you probably only need to worry about what your work clothes look like. When you travel, you also need to worrry about your outerwear. So make sure your not the guy/gal in the puffy ski jacket while all your colleagues are wearing their wool Grown Up Coats.

Bring the absolute 'safest' items of clothing you own. Its not the time to impress them with your adventurous fashion sense. Its the time to look like them, only younger.

(Also, its dumb but: pretend your bored by the whole thing. But if you have a question about something, just ask. Nothing looks more amateur than badly faking your way through something.)
posted by Kololo at 7:54 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bring a ton of business cards if you have them.
I always bring a bathing suit, while I almost never get a chance to swim in the hotel, I'd rather have the opportunity than not!

Write out a list the night before you go listing everything you think is important, don't find out you forgot your razor or belt when you are mid flight.

Write up a trip report the day you get back (if not earlier), even a paragraph makes it look like you are a together person.

Two methods of waking up (esp. if you are changing time zones)

Safe trip and have fun.

Make sure you have the full name, email and phone number of the person you are visiting, it sticks getting to the place you get your badge and realize you only know that you are meeting "John"
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:41 PM on January 31, 2010

Make sure you bring at LEAST one extra set of work clothes and at least 2 pairs of work shoes. Also, if you are checking your bag, bring at least one set of work clothes and shoes in your carry on. Every large meeting or conference I go to there is at least one poor soul whose luggage has been lost and they are stuck in the jeans and tennis shoes they wore on the plane.

Always have a pen and paper on you to take notes.

Print off copies of all your plane, hotel and car reservations. There are usually multiple hotels with similar names. Also if driving you should printoff the map quest directions for every place you know you are going. This saves so much stress and time (it's a good idea for cabbing it too).

Get to the airport 2 hours early if checking your luggage. I've been shocked to find how many people are flying at 5 am when I assumed I'd be flying through security.

Bring everything you could possible need or even better scan and email your files to yourself. This has saved me from panic on so many occasions and you never have to worry about losing or misplacing a document.

Carry a decent amount of cash so you can easily and quickly pay your share of the dinner bill (if you're company isn't picking up the tab). And when calculating your bill remember to include enough for tax and 20% tip. If you're bad at math round up.

Remember to tip hotel staff, cabs and others where appropriate.

Plan on being early, very early if you have a decent drive. You likely don't know the area or the traffic, a lot can go wrong.

You should not turn down any social invitation for drinks or dinner, even if all you really want to do is order some room service and maybe hit the hotel gym. The only exception to this is if you have important time sensitive work you need to complete. If dinner turns into your colleagues getting drunk and engaging in behavior you do not want to be associated with (i.e. going to strip clubs, talking in graphic detail about their sex lives, doing dozens of shots and yes these things have either happened to me or friends) find any reason to excuse yourself. Feeling ill or jetlagged is a pretty easy way to politely remove yourself from the situation without appearing to pass judgement.

Don't have more than 1 drink and only if others are drinking and only if you are not a light weight. Probably safest to skip.

Mostly error on the side of talking too little instead of too much. Make bland small talk with the higher ups, stay away from anything too personal unless they volunteer it (I find asking where someone is from or went to school is pretty safe, but I wouldn't ask about spouses or children unless they do). However, be aware that your boss's small talk could have ulterior motives so be very careful before sharing anything too personal. Such as plans for marriage, children, career plans that do not involve your current company, long term goal to live somewhere else (can lead to all sorts of awkward questions), etc. Weather, sports, places to eat, vacation destinations, and unoffensive television shows and movies are generally pretty safe conversation topics. I realize this isn't a recipe to wow the higher ups, but this is your first business trip and you are better safe than sorry.

More than anything be prepared. If you are weak on any general background in your field or to do with your company, now is the time to do a little reading so you can at least fake a conversation on a topic you may have little to do with, but should theoretically know.

All that being said, I travel a lot and have broken all these rules and nothing awful has happened.
posted by whoaali at 9:14 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recently had a job where we all had to fly to another European country for presentations a lot. One of my co-workers there did everything that you should not do. Don't do this:

  • Too many bags, making her slow through the airport, and always hollering "wait!"
  • Not organised, whenever a boarding pass needed to be shown, she'd spend ten minutes looking for it.
  • Easily distracted, she'd slow down at every airport shop as if she'd never seen them before.
  • Wrong shoes. She pointed out my uncomfortable looking heels at the start of every trip, but I not only walked faster, they were my easy-off shoes for security reasons. Hers had laces.
  • Wrong coat. She was always too hot inside, with a bulky coat to add t her luggage woes, and too cold outside. Consider full outfit carefully.
  • Cutting time too short, she'd be the one running to gates.

    I was her polar opposite, and thus sent to more presentations, while she, who really wanted to keep this job and climb higher was actually held back due to her inability to travel without drama. We're talking morning flight to another city, evening flight home. There is no need for umptebillion bags.

    Business trips where you spend the night you'll still need to keep your luggage to a minimum, but your co-workers will love you when it turns out that you have (which they forgot):
  • Scisscors
  • Aspirins / Band-aids
  • All chargers (phones & whatever other devices you use)
  • Printed maps of hotel-location, copies of every reservation in an easily reachable bag (to hand to taxi drivers/at gate etc)

  • posted by dabitch at 1:30 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Not sure if anyone's reading this but:

    -Wear your suit and slip-on shoes to the airport, both times.
    -Have your laptop and other devices in an easily accessed place.
    -Make sure the day before that all devices are working, clean, and charged, and with all needed chargers and accessories.
    -Have a go bag with travel-sized toiletries ready to go, in a plastic ziploc bag.
    -Put your keys and change in a side pocket of your carry-on--you won't need them when flying.

    Most embarrassing recent example of not following my own advice: hadn't realized my trackpad button wasn't working until I got to the hotel (I usually keep a keyboard and mouse attached). Managed to borrow a mouse from a friend after getting a little frantic.
    posted by lackutrol at 2:04 PM on February 8, 2010

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