Traveling for work 101
January 26, 2012 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Looking for some tips on traveling for work.

I have a new-ish job that will have me traveling for about a week out of every 4-6 weeks this year. About half of these trips will be to one city (City A) in particular. The rest will be to meetings and conferences scattered around the country (the US). Quite a few of these trips will be from one coast to the other, and I won't always be able to get direct flights. The trips to City A are usually pretty quiet - basically just working out of the office there. The other trips are typically oriented around a planning retreat or conference, with time at the beginning or end for local meetings.

On these trips, I will usually be able to stay in hotels that are in city centers, and I have friends in many of these cities, so I won't be spending all my time in suburban hotel rooms, watching cable TV. However, I've done a couple of these trips already and they exhaust me. I'm looking for some tips from experienced business travelers on how to make these trips easier on my body and mind.

A few specific questions:

- How do you handle food? I do get a per diem, but eating all my meals out for a week every month seems unhealthy. Tips for breakfast and lunch when you have a fridge in your hotel room but nothing to cook with? There is a nice Whole Foods near my usual hotel in City A.
- Tips for making cross-country air travel less exhausting?
- What do you think is the best way to handle money? I can either pay for stuff with my company credit card or just take a per diem. Right now, the per diem seems easier since I don't have to submit receipts, but it throws my personal budget out of whack to have to spend so much upfront and then get paid back later.
- How to stay sane when living out of a suitcase in a hotel?

Oh, and in case it's relevant: my costs are covered on these trips, but I work for a nonprofit organization, so no business class seats or hotel rooms that cost $400/night. My per diem is $40/day. I'm willing to spend a little money on things that would make my life easier, but I am on a nonprofit salary, so nothing crazy.

Also, I'm a pretty experienced traveler in general (have traveled all over the world by myself) but it seems like my backpacker skills only take me so far with this more mundane travel.

Some things I already do or plan to do: Bringing oatmeal packets and fruit for healthy breakfasts, staying hotels with a fitness center, making sure I make plans with friends for at least a few nights when I'm in cities where I know people, loading up my kindle with books and my ipod with podcasts.
posted by lunasol to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This may sound completely insane to suggest, but hear me out -- does one of the citys you'll be traveling to regularly have a youth hostel? Hostels in urban areas can actually be fairly well located, and comfortable, if spartan. Some even have private rooms if you'd prefer. But -- being in a hostel would a) give you access to a kitchen so you can do your own simple meals, b) be cheap, and c) give you exposure to other travelers that are usually quite chatty. I always end up striking up interesting conversations with SOMEONE in a hostel (one of the best was I had was when I was in a Philadelphia hostel and had this wild conversation with a London cabbie).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:29 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: I usually find hotels that have breakfast included and go for the oatmeal and fruit at the breakfast bar. Other meals are out at restaurants, but I try to choose healthier options. It does tend to make me feel pretty gross by the end of the week, though. The long multi-week trips that I've taken, I've gone to the supermarket and loaded up on apples and things like cheese and crackers. And beer, of course.

As far as flying: first off, sign up for a frequent flier program and stick with it. Most of the legacy airlines now will automatically upgrade you to their "economy plus" seating for extra legroom if you've got status. Also, the points are nice for free personal flights. You could also consider getting the credit card associated with the frequent flier program for more rewards. Getting status on an airline nowadays also gets you priority check-in and access to priority security lines, which means you don't need to get to the airport so early.

Over-the-ear headphones that can block out some of the excess noise has been helpful. Also, don't forget snacks. If you wear contacts usually, I find flying with glasses to be less tiring on the eyes.

Electronic doodads have helped me keep amused in hotels, specifically my Kindle and a Netflix subscription. Definitely helps things feel a little more like home. I also usually check out sites like Wikitravel before going anywhere to find things to do, live music, or other events.

I also try to arrange Metafilter meetups when I go somewhere, but it's not always feasible if the trip is short (or short notice).
posted by backseatpilot at 12:31 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: The best things you can do to make work travel more pleasant is to join loyalty programs. Figure out which airline works best for you based on your location. United, American, etc. and try to book all/as most of the air travel you can on that one airline or it's alliance. Doing this will get you "status" pretty quick with your transcontinental flights. Status doesn't net you what it used to, but it will help. Free upgrades to business or first class, free checked luggage, the ability to board earlier and miles matching, etc.

Hotel chains offer similar programs. Getting complimentary room upgrades and the like are well worth the loyalty if all things around price are pretty similar.

Having a "go bag" with an extra set of all your toiletries will make packing and unpacking before and after your trips less stressful as you won't have to worry about "did I pack that"?

I tried to make my work week meals as much like my at home routine as possible - heavier in the earlier part of the day and lighter at night. I also started traveling with nuts so that if I ever felt peckish I could just pop a handful of nuts and get a boost.

If you're in the same location for the entire week I would get in the habit of fully unpacking your bag when you arrive. It'll make you feel a little more settled. If I'm only going to be a night or two I don't bother with that. I'll only take out the items likely to wrinkle.

I try to minimize the other things that I bring with me - I'm an Apple person so I can consolidate chargers between various devices. I keep the Kindle charged. I travel with as few cards in my wallet as is practical, etc.

Good luck.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:37 PM on January 26, 2012

Yes, pay for everything on the corporate card. It makes things much easier, even if you have to submit receipts. Get a small zipper-closing notepad/brief that you can keep all of them in and organized.

Flights take a lot out of you and I agree the romanticism of it wears off pretty quickly. But, some things are drink water on the flight - it'll keep you hydrated and help with the jetlag.

backseatpilot's suggestion of taking advantage of the typically free continental breakfast at hotels is a good one. And definitely pick an airline and stay with it, and rack up those frequent flier miles. Also, on that note - if you have an Amex card, link your corporate card to that and the membership rewards. Those rewards will add up quickly, as well.

Sanity in a suitcase.. if you're there for a few days, unpack and use the closets and drawers they have and put the suitcase away. You'll be better organized and at least for a couple days not living out of it.

If you're going to the same places, find some 'regular hangouts' where you can start to recognize the staff, and they you.. having a friendly bartender is a great relief walking into a place after a long flight or a long work day.
posted by rich at 12:39 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: I go through phases where i travel a lot for work. Here's what i do:

- How do you handle food? I agree that its annoying and unhealthy to eat out all the time. I often go to the grocery store on arrival and buy things like yogurt, fruit, milk, cereal, and/or oatmeal (that you can make using the kettle or coffee maker in your room.) Ask room service to bring you bowls/plates/cutlery, and put it way in a cupboard so that they don't take it away every day. I usually eat lunch out, but its easy to buy things you can take to work for lunch from the grocery store without needing to do any preparation - ready to eat soups, prepared sandwiches, salad bar stuff, frozen meals (the fridge in your room probably has a little freezer compartment.)

- Tips for making cross-country air travel less exhausting? I know you gave those caveats about working for a non-profit, but seriously: be selfish when it comes to booking flights (ie the best schedule for you, not necessarily the cheapest.) Beyond that, its just about being streamlined with what you're packing/carrying, so that you can be relaxed as you travel. Also, if you're changing planes, sometimes its worth checking your baggage so that you don't need the hassle of dealing with it through multiple flights. Also: drink lots of water. When they go to fill up the crappy little plastic cup, ask if you can have the whole bottle.

- What do you think is the best way to handle money? Use the company credit card. That shouldn't have an impact on your personal finances at all?

- How to stay sane when living out of a suitcase in a hotel? Bring clothing options. (ie. if you'll be away for 4 days, bring 6 tops.) Bring stuff you don't REALLY need - the body wash you love, even though there's body wash in the hotel; books, hobby stuff if you have a hobby you can bring with you - generally just stuff to make you feel like you're comfortable and not sacrificing. Also: try to always stay in the same hotel chain. In addition to earning loyalty points, staying in rooms that are always the same will mean you don't need to 'relearn where the lightswitch is/hairdryer is stored/if the soap is good' every time. Also, when you arrive, completely unpack everything in your suitcase right away.
posted by Kololo at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might be worth it to pay with your company credit card. The receipts may seem like a pain in the ass, but this will save you money, because it is very easy to justify spending above and beyond one's per diem.

For 2 meals a day, purchase basics such as fruit and whatever at a supermarket. Try to eat one hot meal a day, but order from the salad section, taking care to avoid fatty and sugary dressings.

I did a lot of travel for 3 years. I've lost about 15 pounds since I quit that job.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2012

A note for those questioning whether using a corporate card would affect personal finances: in many companies, the bill FOR that corporate card gets sent to the staff member, who has to personally pay for it; and they are later reimbursed the cost of those expenses when a report is submitted to the accounting office. So it wouldn't affect Lunasol's finances in the long run, but it would in the short term (for the few weeks between "Lunasol pays the bill out of her pocket" and "lunasol gets reimbursed for her expenses").

I've not ever worked with a per-diem situation, and only a couple people I know have; but they were both kind of weird outlier guys (a guy I once knew got hired as a shooting-location translater for a Chinese-American film, and saved up his per diem rather than spending it on anything so he could take off and go backpacking across Tibet for two months when filming wrapped). So I don't know whether you'd have to still account for any of your purchases with a per diem. If you don't, and you have somewhat modest tastes, the per diem may be a good way to go - you'd end up with a little extra money in your pockets each day, that you can splurge on for something for yourself (i.e., if you find a spa in the city, and manage to only spend through half of each days' per diem, then you can treat yourself to a masage your last night there).

But if you have to do any kind of accounting for your spending eventually, the credit card would be easiest, so you're not stuck trying to remember "exactly what did I spend that $40 a day on 5 months ago?...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Baby carrots, tiny tomatoes, hummus and pita for the hotel fridge. If you're staying for a week at a time, you could actually get bagged greens and dressing and make salads. You might even be able to buy things like sesame seeds, etc, in a bulk section at the grocery store and make _really nice_ salads. (Pack a couple of medium-sized plastic tupperware bowls to eat out of (you can get them at Ikea) - fill them with socks or whatever when they're in your suitcase and rinse them out on arrival. )

When I went overseas (which was a little different) I actually brought a couple of sketches by a friend done on heavy cardstock to put up in my room. If I were traveling a lot, I might make a little traveling folio or two of favorite photos - the kind of thing where it's a heavy folder-like object that holds pictures which show when you open it, and you can prop it open for display.

I'd also set up my hotel room to be as homelike as possible - unpack my clothes, etc.

Although - and it's a big although - when you're staying in hotels a lot you raise your risk of bedbugs.

If I had to stay in hotels all the time, I would do these things:

1. Invest in some unstructured nylon or canvas luggage that could be heat-treated in the dryer between trips.

2. Get a LOT of plastic bags and make a plan - you should have everything bagged between the time you get home and the time it's heat treated. So you come home and put all your stuff, including your bags and coat, into sealed plastic bags which then get opened only to toss everything in the dryer.

3. Have a travel wallet/bag that can be heat treated - you don't want to end up heat treating your nice messenger bag/purse all the time. When I travel for work, I keep my fragile stuff (phone, iPod, etc) in a ziplock bag in my big bag so that I can pull that out and heat treat everything else. But I'm crazy paranoid like that.

4. Learn how to spot check your room for bedbugs (you basically look under the mattress, check the sheets and mattress for blood spots and look for bugs and eggs around the headboard/base of the bed.

I have not found that heating things in the dryer destroys them unless they're fragile. I've heat-treated leather bags, silk, all that stuff. It's getting things wet and then heating them that messes them up.

I've chosen to believe that if I am exposed to bedbugs, the bugs will probably not hide in the pages of my books, but I still try to be careful.
posted by Frowner at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2012

oh god corporate card and it isn't even close. Make sure you know what corporate policy is for receipts. I never needed a receipt if it was less than ten bucks on the card, but if it was cash I needed a receipt for anything.

I think another good point here is hidden Kololo's point on being selfish about booking flights. Find out what the travel policy is for everything, and do everything up to that point that makes travel better for you. Don't be a hero and stay somewhere cheaper, or spend less on meals, or take some awful flight home. Follow the policy. No one gets credit for staying in a Motel 6 when the Four Seasons is the standard hotel.

Also if you stay at the some hotel often, they will hold the sort of little amenities you want to leave behind. If its a nice enough place you can even trust them with clothes.
posted by JPD at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2012

Response by poster: To clarify on the corporate card vs. per diem question: The corporate card is paid by my employer. I get a copy of the bill, but just so I know what receipts to submit. It's actually helped my finances because it goes on my credit history and my employer pays the balance every month. For the per diem, I don't have to account for any of my expenses or submit receipts. I just have to fill out a form saying the days I traveled and they send me a check. It is indeed nice for the times I spend less than the per diem, but the cities I travel to are pretty expensive, so that's rare.

All these suggestions so far are great, thanks!
posted by lunasol at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2012

I keep a bottle opener and a few clips that can close bags in my suitcase all the time. I also have a go-bag of toiletries and common meds (ibuprofen, benadryl, pepto) that lives in my suitcase, so I usually only have to add makeup and my hair brush.

I keep a separate zipper bag in my laptop bag with chargers, cords, etc - I never have to wonder if I have power with me, and everything goes back in as soon as I'm done with it.

One of the things that bothers me when I travel is stressing over "where can I find a snack?", so I try to add something snacky to my handbag before I head out on a trip - nuts, raisins, other 'non-crushable' things.

Even if I'm only staying overnight, I always unpack - it's a comfortable routine for me.
posted by ersatzkat at 1:26 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: This is my life too. I work for a not-for-profit, I travel one week per month to the same city where I work in an office, and then I also have some other travel from time to time to other places for busier trips (usually overseas). I was an experienced traveller before I started this (in terms of lots of personal adventure travel).

How I handle food - I buy juice, yogurt, fruit, granola (or carry that with me if I already have some at home) when I arrive, and eat that for breakfast. It is what I have at home. I have considered getting groceries delivered to the hotel so that I don't have to do the shopping. I am trying to develop some better lunch options (I used to either buy it, or eat leftovers from the takeaway I was having for dinner, which I would try and make healthy). For my trip the other week, I bought a big bag of salad (shredded broccoli, carrot and beetroot), ranch dressing, and some felafels, and ate those for several lunches/dinners. I usually take a container with me that I can use to pack lunches. I take nuts and granola bars with me so that I have something to eat if I get caught or stuck at the airport. You do need to get over travel=special treat when you travel this much and pick healthier stuff. Having said that, sometimes it gets exhausting trying to do and find the right stuff, so don't be too hard on yourself.

Air travel - for my regular trips, it is short haul, but the rest of my trips are longer. As you get used to flying so much, you may settle into a bit more (I never used to be able to sleep on planes; now I often have trouble keeping awake!). Do try and pick one airline - my life is much easier now I have status and can use priority check-in etc. After a policy change at my work, I now try and do all short haul flights during business hours, rather than early morning or after work. This has helped the week not feel so exhausting. Make sure you have snacks, perhaps a collapsible water bottle, and ear plugs (I still haven't bought any noise cancelling headphones, though I'd love them). Wearing ear plugs really takes the edge off it for me. Especially if you can't always get direct flights, consider getting some kind of airport lounge membership. Priority Pass gives you access to a whole lot of lounges, regardless of which airline you are flying (good if you always have to take 'best fare of the day'). They are always selling these at 20% off if you search for them via Google. When I have to do flights with connections, the lounge is my sanity!

Money - I used to have to put everything on the credit card. It was terrible because many places didn't take credit cards or had minimums (this is common in Australia), so I could only eat at certain places. Now I have a per diem to cover food and incidentals and I love it (but my work will pay it to me upfront). Actually, I am putting all mine in an account to save for a vacation, and this encourages me to make more frugal choices in eating. I travel to an expensive city - but there are always cheaper choices (I would love a Whole Foods nearby - plenty of ready to go healthy stuff). Also then you can use that money for buying stuff like earphones.

Staying sane living in a hotel - I always stay at the same place (now I usually get upgraded). It isn't a big chain, but I asked them for a special rate seeing as I would be there so often, after getting a good last minute special once. This means I get to stay in a much nicer place than my work would normally cover. Actually, I stay in a serviced apartment (extended stay hotel?), which means there is somewhere to sit other than the bed, and more stuff for cooking etc. I would highly recommend this if you can find one that fits your location/budget.I unpack the suitcase, and I put everything in the same place each time. I have a set of toiletries and chargers just for travel. Include painkillers so you don't have to go out when you have a headache!

Get some good luggage. Also, you need a good home routine around travel, see my question around this issue. Also, when you are home, you will probably feel tired. You need to keep saying yes to people when they ask you out, even though you are tired, or you will never see anyone.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2012

See my comment in another thread here. In fact, there's probably lots of useful comments for your situation in that thread.
Your goal on these trips is to reduce the stress of taking the trip, 'cause that's what's generally exhausting about travel. That means booking your travel to reduce stress, staying at the best hotel within your price point, etc. For some people, that means routine: what do you do when you check in, and what do you do when you leave? Are you giving yourself time to get to the airport and return the rental car without freaking out?
The thing to be careful about with loyalty programs is that they're a reward for the provider, not for you. As long as you know and accept that, you'll be less pissed off when you're screwed over, and be able to work them to your advantage most of the time.
90% of my travel is to the same three cities. Though these cities have hundreds of restaurants, there's a handful that I'll eat at most of the time. This is because I know their menu, know the process for getting seated/paying my bill, getting there, so I can do it all on mostly-autopilot. One of the other things that tires you on travel is that you're always in decision-making or search mode. What shall I have for dinner? Where? How do I get there? Where's my toothpaste? Where's the fitness center? Did I remember to pack my charger? Etc. Establishing familiarity eases that.
posted by Runes at 1:40 PM on January 26, 2012

Many good suggestions here so far. If you want to stretch your travel budget but stay in nicer places (at least in large cities), I've found combining Hotwire with the knowledge at the Better Bidding forums to be really helpful. Also, pack earplugs, and place extra pillows or bedding at the door for bonus sound insulation.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:42 PM on January 26, 2012

Can you find a hotel, at least in city A, that has rooms with kitchens? Something like short-stay fully furnished business apartments? This can make life much easier, and the price break where it becomes worth it is usually about a week. This is what I did when I frequently traveled to the same city for work, and it was great. Then you can even get to know the local grocery stores, and do all your cooking from "home."
posted by indecision at 1:46 PM on January 26, 2012

Food: I agree with the other tips regarding snacks. I don't always travel to the same city, but it is nice to develop a few regular hangouts once you get to that point. I also do light lunches, and a lot of salads.

Tips for making cross-country air travel less exhausting?: Seconding status. I have noise-suppressing (or somesuch; not noise-cancelling, but they block out ambient noise) headphones that are somewhat spendy but very worth it. Don't bother turning off your ipod when they tell you to. Get a kindle, and subscribe to the New Yorker. Pick up the paper at your hotel to read during takeoff and landing. Buy drinks if that's your thing. Once you gain status, the occasional bump to first class is a godsend. Pick up a good neck pillow if you're taking late flights.

Money:I have to use my personal credit card and get reimbursed. I make it work by floating a pretty big chunk of change in my checking account, which I use to pay cc bills (about $10k). The rewards off of the credit cards are nice under this system. I also exclude all of the purchases and reimbursements from my budget in Mint, so they don't throw everything out of whack. Also easier to do if you have on personal card for business travel, and another for everything else.

Sanity out of a suitcase: photos from home on the dresser. The Kindle, again. Buying local beer if I'm in town for a few days. A separate set of tolitries and baggage that I only use for business trips, with snacks, power cords, etc. all in there already.

Other tips: like the others have said, don't be a hero and stay in a crappy hotel if you don't have to. Same with flights, ground transport, etc. Give yourself permission to do what's good for you. Also, in addition to those airline loytalty programs, sign up for hotel loyalty programs and car programs as well, if applicable. The little perks you'll get with status are nice to have. I use to track the different programs. is also a great resource to chat with travel nerds.

Spend time with friends (or even loose acquaintences) in the cities you're going to. You may even want to get involved in the couchsurfing community, not for staying on people's couches, but for having other people to hang out with and get together with.

Also, metafilter meetups to find cool locals to hang out with.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:55 PM on January 26, 2012

- Tips for making cross-country air travel less exhausting?

Even with careful planning your travel logistics will go wrong perhaps 5% of the time. You will sleep in, turn up on the wrong day, miss your connection get food poisoning, forget your driving licence, lose the address of the place your are supposed to visit...

To stay healthy and sane you need to be good at dealing with these incidents. This involves taking time to have backup plans, mitigation strategies and margins for error. Arrive for flights in good time, travel out the day before important meetings, check your insurance, have scanned copies of important documents in an encrypted folder online...etc. There are lots of business travellers who do not take these steps - and who boast about it. But I suggest they are the ones who suffer most from the fallouts of stress.
posted by rongorongo at 3:02 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had good luck staying at airbnb places for work travel. You might find a place that is quiet, peaceful, cheaper than a hotel, and which gives you access to a full kitchen, sun porch or yard, etc.
posted by lulu68 at 3:05 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: I was flying around for work on almost a weekly basis for about a year & a half. Here are some things that worked for me:

- Keep your travel bag stocked & ready to go, as much as possible, eg when you get back from a trip empty your dirty clothes out & immediately restock with clean socks, undies, shirts etc. This way you avoid last-minute packing dramas.

- You should have a complete travel kit of toiletries that stays in your bag all the time.

- Ditto for all your phone, ipod etc chargers.

- Never check your luggage. Ensure your cabin bag is small enough to meet regulations.

- A membership in your airline club lounge is a godsend. Get up, dress, taxi to airport, then eat a quick breakfast & have a coffee while waiting for your flight to be called. Evening flights home are more often delayed, so you can relax with a glass of wine, browse the internet, and have a bite to eat. It might cost a few hundred, but will save you much more than that in the long run, by not having to buy your own food or coffees etc in the airport. If you're that way inclined, you can also yoink some snacks & a drink to take on the plane.

- Sign up for airline loyalty programs. With mine, I ended up being allowed to choose seats closer & closer to the front of the plane as my status increased.

- Confirm your flights & choose your seats online. Print out your boarding pass yourself. You shouldn't have to deal with airline staff at the airport at all.

- First day in town, get to a supermarket & buy stuff like juice, milk, cereal, fruit, yoghurt, etc. I quite like oily fish at breakfast, so that would be something like salmon, ricotta & cucumber on toast or bread.

- I got a per diem, but it was roughly 5x what you'd get, so do whatever makes more financial sense to you.

- Get yourself some noise-cancelling headphones. Many or most will include adaptors for airline plugs.

- Page-turning books are preferable to serious heavy literature. You'll be reading a lot when tired, so keep it simple. David Mitchell-esque novels worked well for me, or else fun satire like Gary Shteyngart & the like.

- For airport security, I got down pat the technique of putting all rings, keys, coins, belt etc into a pocket of my bag while waiting in the queue to be x-rayed, so I would pass through the metal detector without a beep. Saves messing around with those little trays.

- Put some kind of distinctive sticker on your laptop, and distinctive tags on your bag. Avoid the risk of mixups. There are thousands of tired business travellers & all laptops look the same.

- For entertainment on the road, I'd learn where the arthouse cinemas were, and which nights were their cheapo nights (usually mon / tue). That's one night taken care of. I also do martial arts, so would seek out similar groups in destination cities.

- Hotel pools are great for a bit of morning exercise, or else see if there's a public pool nearby. A hotel gym is a next-best option.

- Pro tip: you can get on the plane at the last minute & not worry about whether there will be room in the overhead lockers for your bag, if you remember that the business class people at the front of the plane travel super-light so there's *always* heaps of room in their lockers. Don't worry; nobody but nobody steals bags in these situations, and you should be able to keep an eye down the aisle on it when disembarking anyway.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:11 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

PS - some shoes will trigger the metal detectors; others won't. I worked out over time which ones I could keep on. For women's shoes, from what I've noticed high heels must contain metal in the soles & always need to be removed. Something flatter (and comfier!) might work better for you as I think you're female, right? (maybe in the US all shoes must be removed? Not sure)
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:25 PM on January 26, 2012

I would probably use my own card to get the rewards, instead of the corporate card, but that is a bit risky.
posted by smackfu at 3:49 PM on January 26, 2012

I do a fair bit of travel and choose the per diem option, as I usually spend about half that so the rest is profit. Even if you spend all of it, the hassle of not having to keep and track receipts (and find duplicates of those you inevitably lose) is not likely to be worth whatever saving you make. If you choose to use the card, you will probably find that continued expenses over the per diem amount will be queried anyway, because that's what they've budgeted.

Definitely join a frequent flyer program and fly with that airline all the time - research which has the most available flights to where you regularly travel first. Lots of hotels are part of these programs, so try and find a program that allows you to claim points for both. Check-in online - it saves time and hassle and lets you arrive slightly later at the airport without risking missing your flight.

Check your bag rather than carry it around (although I think Australian airlines are far more strict on carry-on, so this may vary). I carry a backpack with all my person stuff in it, but put heavy things in my checked baggage. Make sure you have with you clothes that you can use for work the day you arrive (or the following day) in case your luggage goes missing, even if you have to wash them overnight. I always travel in work clothes for this reason. Never travel with more than you can carry around with you.

Stay at the same hotel all the time. Unpack as soon as you get there. Stay within walking distance of where you will be working, if possible.

Stay at a hotel with a nearby supermarket and visit the supermarket as soon as you arrive to buy simple food you can prepare in your room.

Look after yourself by (as others have mentioned) making travel arrangements that suit you. Travel for work should be during work time, not at all hours of the night or ridiculously early as much as possible.
posted by dg at 4:42 PM on January 26, 2012

I was travelling a lot last year for work. We had a government contract so we had to do the government per diem thing and it varied by location. Most were somewhat out of the way, but we had to hit up the grocery store because the places that we were working generally did not have anyplace to eat nearby and we only got a 30 minute lunch date. We weren't always in location that had a Trader Joe's but when we were, I found that they were the best place to find tasty, somewhat healthy, pre-packaged food. They have some great prepackaged salads (my favorite was a caprese salad with arugula, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and a delicious basil vinaigrette on the side), the aforementioned hummus and cut veggies, and good cold cuts and cheese (not exactly healthy, but satisfying and easy). I also pack or pick up some protein bars. Pick up a reusable spork to keep in your travel bag; the office where you're working may not have any or any extra flat ware (plastic or otherwise).

Definitely make use of the fitness center because even if you are trying to eat healthily, it's just a lot harder when you don't have access to a full kitchen and even the healthier versions of snacky, pre-packaged stuff is more likely to be higher in calories than a healthy home-made meal.

If you're in a city, get out and walk around and find places where you can feel like a regular (particularly since you will be returning frequently). When I was in Tucson for 1 week with some colleagues, we got up early and to the same nice independent coffee shop every morning. By the third time they knew our orders and by the end of the week it was "our" place and the staff would chat with us. It was almost a mile each way so we got in some exercise before it got too hot out. It was a nice way to start the day and created a daily routine that offset some of the "thrown-off-your-schedule" stress of work travel. Also try a local specialty at least once.
posted by kaybdc at 6:11 PM on January 26, 2012

Check your bag rather than carry it around

No, really, don't. It just adds time at both ends, and increases the risk of your bag going astray. On any flight you'll see that almost every obvious regular business traveller has one of those cabin regulation compliant wheelie bags (which can easily hold enough clothes for a week, as long as you choose your wardrobe sensibly). These are the people who walk straight out to the taxi rank, while recreational travellers dither about waiting for the luggage carousels.

In my experience, nobody has looked twice when I've carried onboard the largest compliant wheelie bag plus a laptop bag. It's pretty much standard & expected. If you're packing for less than a week, you can often fit the laptop bag inside the wheelie bag as well.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:04 PM on January 26, 2012

Plenty of good advice here from fellow road warriors. Currently I'm only traveling every other week or so, but it used to be constantly.

To keep your sanity, having a flexible attitude is a must, or else the stress will kill you. Just two weeks ago I got to the rental car return with less than 25 minutes before take-off, and it was for a red-eye back home. Was able to keep my cool, apologize to the others along the way, and made it with 5 minutes to spare. The weather will affect your plans, mechanical problems cause delays, grumpy passengers can ruin your day, but remember one of the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape."

Agree wholeheartedly about the value of an airline club - even for 10 minutes on a layover, completely worth the $. And the healthy, grocery-store fresh food is a must; one year I gained 10 pounds, not a good thing.

Lastly for cross-country trip travel, develop the habit of doing certain kinds of reading and reserve certain work for that 5 hours of quiet time (interrupted by the beverage service of course). I bring a stack of magazines I subscribe to, a folder full of articles I've clipped, a laptop with several mini-projects reserved for the occassion, and an iPad full of podcasts and ebooks.
posted by scooterdog at 8:04 PM on January 26, 2012

I don't usually travel to the same places again and again, so this might be less practical for you, but my tip is to stay away from hotels and use Airbnb instead. For the price of a hotel room or cheaper, you get a furnished house/apartment, with equipped kitchen and everything you might have at home. Also, most of the time you get the interaction with the house owner and recommendations for local things to do, the best places/events in town etc...
You can pay online with the company credit card, and print out detailed receipts for accounting purposes.
I've only had great experiences so far, though i must admit i've only done this in major cities, so i don't know how much choices you would have for places to stay in the cities you travel to, but it's worth a shot!
posted by PardonMyFrench at 2:01 AM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: I'm posting this from my second trip to City A so far this year. These answers have been enormously helpful! I'm marking as "best" the answers I've already begun using, but really, everything has been helpful. I especially love the AirBnB suggestion - haven't done that yet, but I think I will on my next trip!
posted by lunasol at 6:31 AM on February 19, 2012

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