A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.
January 14, 2008 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Hey, business travelers! I've got some questions for you. :)

Meetings & stuff aside, what makes a business trip convenient/pleasant and what makes it bad/stressful for you? What kind of conveniences do you look for or potential annoyances do you avoid when planning your trip? Do you tend to stay near a client/event or in the middle of a city? Are certain areas specifially easy or stressful for you to visit for business?
posted by miss lynnster to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Two words: Business Class.

I've done a Toronto - Melbourne flight or work, in steerage. Wasn't awesome, I can tell you that.

I know it seems obvious, but it exists for a reason. If your business can afford it, it allows employees to arrive fresh and ready to work. Steerage takes a day to recover from. Essentially, it wastes productive capacity.

It becomes a business case to your employer. A business class ticket may cost 50% more. You need to demonstrate that you'll be 50% more effective when you arrive.
posted by generichuman at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2008

For me the requirement to catch a connecting flight is easily the most reliable harbinger of a stressful business trip.
posted by rongorongo at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2008

The less I have to do the easier it is for me. People picking me up at the airport is is very pleasant for example. In some places in the mid east, someone can meet you at the airport gate and take you though customs on a VIP like for like $20. Awesome.

My typical business trip is a number of one-on-one meetings in a foreign city. I hate being late and while I am pretty good at marketing, it doesn't really come naturally to me. I try to limit myself to four one-hour appointments a day which allows me a few long walks during the day when I can decompress. It also lets me enjoy a peaceful lunch and get back on track if I get delayed. I also try to go to yoga class or an AA meeting when I am away (your interests may very, naturally) as that makes it more like living somewhere for a very short period of time rather than visiting.

I try to stay in the middle of the city at a fancy boutique hotel. The first time in a city is more stressful as is a city which does not use Latin alphabet. The fewer English speakers the worse for me as well.

The travel itself, I often do business class but always, always do direct flights. I arrive a day early if the time difference is more than five hours.
posted by shothotbot at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2008

I'm not that good at venturing around very far by car while on a business trip. So I try to find a hotel that is in an area where you can walk around and find cafes or bookstores or whatever at night.

If I'm at a hotel that's sort of isolated or in a deserted office building area I end up feeling sort of disoriented and just stay in my room and watch TV.

On preview -- seconding direct flights, always.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2008

I only travel maybe twice a year for business. But I really like to find a place to stay that's in the downtown itself, or at least somewhere within very easy public transportation or walking distance. I always try to 'pad' either end of the trip or get away from conference sessions long enough to experience the city itself. THe places I go for business travel tend not to be the places I would choose for personal trips, so I like to have a look around a little bit of a tourist experience so I can feel like I've "been there" without sacrificing my own time and travel budget to visit. When it's practical, I try to stay somewhere off the beaten path - a B&B or historic hotel - but sometimes I can't because we're supposed to be in a conference hotel.

There are a few things i really appreciate in business-hotel sorts of places: one is a fitness center, and by that I mean a decent one, not just an old treadmill in a closet. At least a few different cardio machines. A couple of internet-connected terminals at the very least - I don't have a laptop, and these days if I can't check my email and stuff I feel like my arm's been cut off.

I choose flights to minimize stopovers. Stopovers add stress. I'm a big fan of mobile alerts on cell phones to update you about flight status.

One very frustrating thing is the spotty availability of healthy real food, especially if you arrive somewhere late. I carry TLC bars and snacks like that, but they're no replacement for a real meal, especially after a long day's travel.
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2008

I stay in a full service hotel - gym, on site laundry that guests can use (not the 4 dollar a shirt variety). I nearly always rent or bring my own GPS. I book my flights so there are at least 2 flights departing after my scheduled flight to a specific destination so I can usually get on one of them if I'm late for my scheduled flight or if there is a cancellation.

I tend to sleep in, so generally speaking I will choose a hotel near the work site rather than near the hotel for extra sleep. When I choose a hotel I will generally check out the walkable area before booking, usually this is just web searches so I can determine where a drug store is, where something to eat is if I'm in a rush, where the mall is if I ruin a shirt and don't have enough spares. I always require high speed internet access in room when booking a hotel, work pays for it so I don't really worry about the costs.

If I am staying on site for more than 2 weeks I negotiate with the manager for either an upgraded room or access to the concierge lounge/etc.

The worst part for me is sleep, I take 2 days to adjust to a new place I'm sleeping, I put a premium on the hotels I stay in because that's the place for my downtime, and often where I have to work late in to the evening.

If it looks like I will have some weekend time I generally try to make sure I have a plan to go see the local sites, but those are on really long engagements. If possible I try and make sure there's enough time so that my wife can fly in and we can spend a weekend together, or I arrange with the hotel desk to hold my luggage and fly home for the weekend and fly back in on monday morning. Keeping a separation between work and not work when traveling for business is one of the most challenging thins for me because it feels like there isn't much else to do while I'm there.
posted by iamabot at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2008

I don't travel a huge amount for work, but it's not unusual for me to take a few week-long trips during the year. In terms of picking a place to stay, I always try to select a hotel that is close (within walking distance) to a fair number of restaurants. I'd rather be far from clients and close to restaurants and cafes than vice versa--I expect to have to do some sort of traveling (whether public transportation or taxi or rental car) to get to the client site, but somehow I never really expect to have to do the same to find dinner. Nothing is worse that coming back to your hotel after a long day in a strange city, then having to wander around looking for somewhere open that has acceptable food.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2008

  • generous per diem
  • easy access to local drug contacts ("the man")
  • fewer explosions
  • internet access in accommodation
  • shit pay, long hours
  • local drug culture non-existent / difficult to quickly penetrate
  • more/larger/closer explosions
  • no internet access in accommodation and / or local servers are a terrorist target

posted by Meatbomb at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2008

I'm on the road constantly, mostly European hops these days but for about three years starting in 2002 I was doing a lot of biz in Africa & The Middle East. Before that mucho travel between New York and London / Frankfurt / Paris, so I've got a good overview of both long and short haul.

Direct flights are best, and I really miss being able to bring everything I needed for a weeks trip with me into business class. I don't like to check stuff, not so much because of the risk of loss but rather due to time delays.

Bad & stressful trips are usually due to delays (any kind, not just baggage) or unexpectedly lengthened stays. I'm there for a job and I want to get in and out - fast!

For conveniences a must is a specific brand of hotel; Intercontinental, for example. Annoyances would be anything interrupting my routine - I find business travel most bearable if I can recreate my life but somewhere else. Thats to say, the food & wine I like, fast 'Net connectivity and a comfy place to read. Nice tub for an after dinner soak while reading, and a place to park my PowerBook so I can watch the same DVDs I would while at home. For me to tolerate travel I find that I have to render parts of my life transportable.

I try to stay in a location thats amendable to doing business so if the client bank is near the airport so am I. I'm on business after all, and not there to sightsee.
posted by Mutant at 10:30 AM on January 14, 2008

I travel to conferences and tend to stay in the conference hotel because I'm there to schmooze. I prefer a city-based conference that's walking distance from ethnic or otherwise interesting restaurants. I avoid conferences that are held in exurban wastelands.

Annoyances: Arranging the flights and ground transportation. I prefer public transportation and wish more conferences would publicize how to get from the airport to the site without using a stuffy, slow shuttle or expensive cab. Also: perfumed hotel rooms without enough ventilation.

Conveniences: Free wifi. An iron and hair dryer in the hotel room. Windows that open. Direct flights. Maybe this year I can afford business class.

I put everything except the laptop in one carry-on bag that's also a backpack. That makes it easier to use public transportation.
posted by PatoPata at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2008

If you want to drink from a firehose of anecdotes, check out the Flyertalk (www.flyertalk.com) forums. In between people doing (somewhat) crazy things to maximize frequent flier miles, there's a wealth of travel advice out there.

I started frequent business travel (all domestic US) last year and my preference is to stay close to the client. In areas where the client is out in the suburbs, I always have a car so finding a decent place to eat (or other entertainment) isn't that much of a problem. In some cities when I can be downtown near the client, I don' have a car -- but since it's downtown, restaurants are a short walk or cab ride away.

I have been most relaxed on trips where I have had some "flex" in the schedule -- i.e., knowing that I'll have an afternoon or evening to decompress or to make up for lost time. Generally I don't build these gaps into my schedule, though, since I'd rather be home.

I am most stressed when trying to make a 7:00 am (or earlier) filght out of O'Hare, or when rushing to make that "last flight out" to get home. For specific anecdotes, I'd say the rental car return in Denver has been the low-point of my travel experiences (it's way far away from the terminal, hard to find, and had apatehtic counter staff and a very long wait for the shuttle).

In my opinion, smaller airports and towns are less stressful than the big cities. I'd rather fly into Burbank than LAX, for instance. Last year, I had better experiences in downtown Minneapolis and Austin than New York.

Oh, and nth-ing business class / upgrades. There's a reason so many seasoned travelers concentrate their trips on a single airline.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm thinking more about on the ground stuff than flight stuff. Your experience after you get into your destination of choice.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:37 AM on January 14, 2008

I stay as close to the client as possible, and in the case of multiple clients I plan my days and nights to make that as easy as possible, even if it requires a change of hotel mid-stay.

In a perfect world, every hotel would have a serviceable restaurant (with breakfast) onsite. That amenity (along with a decent bed, functional wireless internet, and parking that is not a bunch of crap) is probably most likely to make or break my stay. I just want to be fed regularly without stress. If I'm there for more than a night, I prefer a refrigerator and microwave as then I can at least not worry about breakfast and something-better-than-nothing for dinner.

I'm going to start paying more attention to actual physical location of my hotels. I recently stayed two miles from a client site where it took me maybe 5 minutes to travel between hotel and site in the morning. But because it was on a one-way service road for a congested highway on the edge of downtown, bordered by a lake, hemmed in by a one way street with construction on it, it took me an hour to return the two miles back to my hotel at night (Austin, I love you, but GAH that sucked and I should have known better).

I get the hives when someone else makes my travel plans, unless we are dealing with completely alien territory (like if I should need a hut in the jungle, I'll use a qualified travel professional, not my office manager). The last time I warily let someone else handle it, they tried to fly me into SFO to get to Oakland (I caught that and got it fixed) and booked me a rental car at an off-off-airport facility that I'm pretty sure was a money-laundering front. My policy now is that I will do the research and tell someone else what to do if that person is the purchasing authority, but they aren't allowed to make any decisions for me.

My suitcase is stocked full time with toiletries and gets restocked each trip with every single over-the-counter ailment remedy that it is currently possible to buy, in quantities large enough to sustain me for twice the length of my trip. I remember my business trips by whatever weird thing was wrong with me at the time (ringworm = Atlanta training class, 1999; ruptured eardrum death cold = Shanghai, 2005). I also have an array of work-appropriate socks that stay in my suitcase, because I never manage to pack any.

With limited exceptions, I do not try to be a tourist when I travel for work. My priorities need to be on the client or my training or whatever, not whether I can schedule meetings around a trip to Alcatraz.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:37 AM on January 14, 2008

In my opinion, smaller airports and towns are less stressful than the big cities.

That's a great tip. I can often choose between flying out of teensy Manchester NH or enormous Boston Logan. At Manchester, you're in, ticketed, and through security in under 15 minutes. At Boston - well, not so much. Small airports are much less stressful. Downside: sometimes (not always) the flights cost more or there are fewer departures. But they are often connected via a shuttle service to a large hub, and those flights are really cheap.
posted by Miko at 10:39 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I travel one or twice a month for business, and I'm usually in town for one-offs where I give a talk, go out to dinner and head home. A few things that make stuff bearable for me (which is not hard, I actually really like to travel even for business)

- I never fly on one day and out the next, it's crazymaking. For international travel I spend an extra 2-3 days wherever I'm going.
- I stay where they put me on trips. If I have a choice I stay in the hotel where the conference is. Otherwise I care almost not at all where I'm staying but I'm fussy about hotel rooms. I ask for a room that's quiet and if they put me near the ice machine or the elevators I go back down and ask for another one.
- I refuse to do anything before 11 am. I may be a prima dona about this, but I'm at the point where I can dictate certain terms and this is one of them. I sometimes sleep well when I travel and sometimes not, but being able to make sure I'll get 8 hours of sleep even if I go to bed at 2 am is a godsend.
- I hang the do not disturb sign on my door when I check in and never take it off until I leave.
- I have a whole set of toiletries packed at home that are for travel only, so I toss it in my bag and go, I don't have to pick through my bathroom to find one of everything.
- same with tech gear - I bought extra dongles and chargers so that I don't have to find them each time I travel and also have a set at home
- RIDE FROM AIRPORT - I never have a rental car on short trips so I either want someone to come fetch me or I want to know how to take the bus (unless there's a hotel shuttle). I'm with PatoPata in terms of public transpo directions/info, it's really hard to figure out how to take the bus to the hotel.
- I fly out of a little airport and if I'm making a connection I'm often going from the little-plane part of the airport to the big-plane part. I pay special attention to connecting times. I'm never running through O'Hare again.
- I got a Boingo subscription so I have wifi in airports. They have sales basically always so you can get three months for $10 a month and cancel and re-sign up next time you need it. Totally worth it. I'm not really cell phone enabled otherwise.
- I got a VIP trip through customs when I recently flew to Dubai with a service like shothotbot describes. It was amazing just walking past everyone in line.
posted by jessamyn at 10:48 AM on January 14, 2008

Keep your toiletry kit stocked and packed at all times, so that you can grab-and-go when you need to.

Keep an extra one-quart ziploc bag in your toiletry kit - you'll need it when the one you've been using for 6 months tears.

First/Business class is totally overpriced and overrated for US domestic travel, but is positively invaluable for international flights.

Airline loyalty pays off. I can't tell you how much having Gold Medallion status on Delta makes my life easier. The priority security line alone makes it worth the added effort it takes to fly one airline only.

The airline club rooms are worth it, especially if you travel frequently on a really big airline that has a club-sharing agreement with other airlines (Delta/Continental/Northwest/AirFrance being an example of this). The only thing worse than getting stuck on a crowded plane is getting stuck in a crowded terminal, and having club privileges makes that bearable. Well worth the $350 or so per year.

Up-and-backs (a same day round-trip) are to be avoided at all costs. They NEVER go well. Fly in the night before, or plan to stay the night after your meeting - it's worth it.

If you're taking a longer trip (more than 4 days) to an interesting city where you've never visited before, do the Saturday night stay. Even factoring in the added hotel & meal/per-diem, your trip will cost far less, and you'll get a day for sightseeing on your employer's dime. They save money, and you get the benefit of actually experiencing travel, rather than just doing it.

If your hotel has a sauna, pack a bathing suit and use it. Nothing relaxes me more before bedtime.

onebag.com is your friend, although if you're traveling for more than 4-5 days, it's usually just better to check your bag. While carryon-only travel has it's benefits, there is a diminishing return there, the longer a trip goes.

If someone reclines their seat into your lap, feel free to bump/kick the back of his seat so that they get no peace whatsoever. If they confront you, say "sorry about that - it's a little tight back here".
posted by deadmessenger at 11:02 AM on January 14, 2008

I travel for work about 8-10 times a year. My trips range from short one-on-one meetings (for example, I'm going to DC on Thursday - flight leaves at 6am, get back home by 8:30 pm same day) to an entire week staffing my company's conferences.

1. Direct flight. Luckily I live in Chicago and only fly domestically for work, so I can almost always get a direct flight.

2. Hotel near important things. I avoid renting a car if at all possible, it adds a lot of stress IMO. I probably want the hotel at or near the event/meeting, especially if it's a short trip or if I'm staffing our own conference. Being near good non-chain restaurants, coffee shops really helps too. A drug store is a god-send, because I'm always forgetting something or other. And it's just nice to have somewhere to grab a coke and a candy bar without paying ridiculous hotel gift shop prices.

3. Hotel with good room service, for those nights when I am dog-tired and can't even be bothered to go downstairs to the hotel restaurant.

4. Free wifi in the hotel. I'll pay the $10 a day or whatever, but do so grudgingly and frankly it makes me angry. Like the $200 a night they're already getting from me isn't enough.

5. A normal sized hair dryer in the room. Nice shower (hot, good water pressure). Decent free shampoo/etc - on longer trips I bring my own, but for short trips I use whatever the hotel provides and am happier when it makes me feel and look nice. I always bring moisturizer because hotels dry my skin out like nobody's business. I keep band-aids in my toiletries bag because walking around a hotel/city in my work shoes always leaves me with blisters.
posted by misskaz at 11:10 AM on January 14, 2008

Nth business class and upgrades. The way to get them is loyalty to one airline group (i.e. star alliance, sky team, etc) and hotel chain that gets to know you and takes care of you. I don't think any one is better than another, you just have to pick one and stick with it as much as possible. You may get better fares/rates by going outside of your group, but the benefits of loyalty are high. Note that how many FF miles you have doesn't really matter - its your gold/silver/platinum status, which is acquired through more arcane means, that makes a difference in how they treat you.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:12 AM on January 14, 2008

Research restaurants! For me, there's nothing more miserable than settling for crap food. Hotel food is overpriced and mediocre. Not usually gross, but mediocre, and that's not good enough for me.

I always hit eGullet, Chowhound, and lots of Googling to figure out several options in the following categories:

1) Places very close to my meeting that will provide a quick, cheap, pleasant breakfast. Places very close to my meeting that will provide a quick, cheap, pleasant lunch.

2) Good for a group, not hard to get to (either on foot or public transportation) place with a bar, so that the networking can move to dinner if needed, OR I can have a nice meal and a glass of wine solo.

3) Total must-go foodie nirvana destination-places (that don't need more than a day or two advance reservation) in case I have time.

Other little things that make my life easier:

* Find a map of the area and use the flight there to learn the major cross-streets, so that I can navigate without stress.

* Nthing separate travel toiletries all ready to go for trips.
posted by desuetude at 11:14 AM on January 14, 2008

What type of business trips will you be taking? 3 week international trips, or 3-day domestic trips? I have much more experience with the latter; for 2 years straight, every Monday morning I flew out of the Washington DC area to place X, and returned on Thursday afternoon/evening.

If you're doing this type of domestic travel which a lot of consultants end up on, I have the following insites:

- NYC is different from any other domestic destination. In NYC, you don't need a car, every other place I've constulted in I did need a car.
- Pick an airline/hotel chain to be loyal to. My diamond status at Hilton brand hotels has scored me a room when the hotel is "full" to normal customers. It also means upgrades and free goodies in my room which is nice. Same with airline, being 1K on united gets me first on the upgrade list, and first on the waiting list when a flight is cancelled/delayed. This got me out of O'hare on the next available flight many many times, if I didn't have status I'd have been stuck overnight.
- My travel experiences would be "4 months spending M-Th in Chicago, followed by 3 months spending M-Th in Cleveland....", so I would have a chance to try a couple of different hotel locations. Since I was only staying 3 nights each trip, if I picked a dud it wasn't a huge deal.
- My company has a travel agent, but I usually book flights/hotels myself (again with the loyalty trend, if you use your airlines website/hotel website to book, you will usually earn more points/miles). This was made more convenient because my trips were very repetitive, week after week.
- Toiletries are tricky because you can only check in 3 oz bottles which is inconvenient for stuff like dry-skin lotion. I would typically buy full-size bottles of stuff at my destination and leave it at the client site (this only works if you keep going back to the same place week after week).
- Be good to yourself. The constant week-after-week-after-week for years will take its toll. Treat yourself to something special when you're on the road that you normally wouldn't.

If you're doing this kind of constultant travel and want to know more, mefi-mail me, I'd be happy to share years of road-warrior stress :-)
posted by BigVACub at 11:25 AM on January 14, 2008

My boss' motto: "If you don't miss a flight every once in a while, you're spending too much time in the airport."

We're constantly amazed when he manages to stroll onto the plane just a few minutes before we push off from the gate--and always looking calm as can be. I haven't seen him miss a flight yet. I can't live his motto, but I wish I could.
posted by mullacc at 11:40 AM on January 14, 2008

The comments above are spot on. I'll add one more item: I'm in The Four Seasons in Atlanta right now on business, wanted to go for a run this morning, and there's a little flyer in the desk that shows a map of the area, and outlines a half dozen running maps, from 2 miles to 7 miles. It was a fantastic find today.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:45 AM on January 14, 2008

For me it's all about doing things that mean I don't have to constantly be thinking about traveling. I always keep the same stuff in my carry-on bag. I always park at the same place at the airport. I always buy my paper from the same place and fill my water bottle at the same drinking fountain. Getting upgraded is nice not because you get a meal and a hot towel, but the extra room means that you're not constantly being reminded (via knees and elbows) that you're traveling.

If your schedule calls for many trips to the same place, keep to a schedule. Take the same flights and stay in the same hotel. The less you have to worry about the minutiae of moving around, the saner you'll be. I travel to the same place 40-45 times/year and the only time I really feel like I'm a crazy person who is dying by inches is when I have to get back into the routine after taking some time off.

This may not work for you, but for a while I enjoyed trying to get through the entire travel experience speaking as little as possible. I found I could reliably get from my house to the airport, onto the plane, through the rental car process and to my work without saying anything other than "Thank you." Still want to travel a lot for work?
posted by MarkAnd at 11:50 AM on January 14, 2008

mullac, I suspect that your boss's ease walking onto the flight at the last minute is partly due to the fact that he (likely) has high-level status on the airline, and would thus be very, very likely to be accomodated as a stand-by passenger on the next available flight.

The legacy air carriers clear standby lists by status. So while people who aren't even members of the frequent flier program might stand around for the entire day, a 1K / Platinum member is going to be at the top of the list for getting on the next flight.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:53 AM on January 14, 2008

Qualifications: Travel constantly for work. Last year has been mainly between Africa, Europe, and the US. Did 8 cities in 3 weeks over the holidays back in the states, half for work, half to catch up with people. I probably cross the Atlantic more than most cross the Mississippi.

Meetings & stuff aside, what makes a business trip convenient/pleasant and what makes it bad/stressful for you?

On-time flights, pre-boarding for elite (et. al.) members - especially if you didn't land the biz / first class seat*, minimal distance / traffic between the airport and the biz destination. Staying at a decent hotel with comfortable beds, modern amenities, gym, room service, good guest services, etc..

What kind of conveniences do you look for or potential annoyances do you avoid when planning your trip?

Conveniences: Printing my boarding pass ahead of time, getting a good seat on the plane - ESPECIALLY if you didn't land the biz / first class seat, minimal traffic back to the airport, fast rental car drop-off, priority security lines, lounge access.

Annoyances: TSA. Bitchy flight attendants. Crowded airports with absolutely no seating and even fewer power outlets.

Related to planning in particular: Finding direct flights, or if not, traveling via a connecting city unlikely to be delayed by weather. Using carriers / rental companies / hotels that I'm accruing points with rather than the competition.

Do you tend to stay near a client/event or in the middle of a city?

Usually near the client, for necessity's sake (long hours). It sucks. Would take middle of the city if I could.

Are certain areas specifially easy or stressful for you to visit for business?

In the US, any city with traffic problems (Chicago, LA, etc.) is hell. It means you have the airport commute and then get the normal traffic everyone else deals with to boot. Anywhere in the northeast is generally hell in the winter, airport delays galore. Most places in Europe are a lot easier than most places in the US, in my experience. Africa has crazy delays for everything but you learn to deal with it. Not much exposure to Asia / Middle East.

*my work lately has been mainly pro-bono, so no biz/first class for me. that's when you really learn to milk the system.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2008

Bring a pillow.

Always use a residence inn-type hotel with free wifi and breakfast.

Always get a Direct Flight.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:37 PM on January 14, 2008

* Make a checklist of things to pack; add / delete items on packing list as necessary

* Loyalty to one brand of hotel / airline; attaining elite levels pays for itself a thousand ways over

* Hotels with convenient and frequent airport shuttles, free wifi, breakfasts, pool / gym

* Having the office mail items directly to my hotel or to the client so I don't have to lug them around myself, saving me backbreaking pain and having to juggle too much luggage

The Good: Unexpected kindnesses by strangers or upgrades

The Bad: To be honest, sometimes inexperienced travelers do or say things that make the rest of who live half our lives in planes / hotels want to strangle them

The Ugly: Getting sick while on the road; bad food; forgetting that last night you were in Hotel J in room #894 and today you are in Hotel K in room #948 and getting really pissed off that your room key doesn't work
posted by HeyAllie at 1:06 PM on January 14, 2008

I travel every 2-3 weeks for business, going out generally for a week at a time.

Here are some things that have made my life easier:

- Print out Google map directions from airport to hotel to customer site to next destination
- Give yourself more time than is stated on the directions to get there!
- Keep street maps on hand for the cities you visit frequently (Seattle, LA, Denver for me)
- Avoiding crappy airports such as Las Vegas whenever possible.
- Stay at a hotel super close to your client site if you're in a city with extreme traffic
- Go for hotel chains that have free wifi and free breakfast. I usually go with the Hampton Inn, since they're in all but the tiniest towns. Not the most exciting place in the world, but I know what to expect.
- If you're checking a bag, make sure you are wearing decent business attire on the plane or can cram a change of such clothes into a carryon. Have all maps, client related info, etc in your carry on. Just heard a horror story from a colleague who didn't do this and had her bag lost; she had to show up at the first client site in jeans, which was definitely not appropriate in their setting.
- Research a couple decent restaurants in advance and know where they're located in relation to your hotel. The last thing I want to do is drive around aimlessly looking for a decent meal after I've spent the whole day traveling.
- If you travel to somewhere cool, by all means take an extra afternoon, day, or weekend to check it out and relax.
posted by medeine at 1:10 PM on January 14, 2008

I travel a lot for business - I spent three days in the air last year, albeit not concurrently :) I don't get to travel business class, alas, because I work for a nonprofit.

I definitely prefer to stay in a hotel which is close to the centre of town, especially in a big city, or at the very least near a cafe or restaurant strip where I can wander out and get myself food if I arrive after room service has closed or if I don't like the hotel's restaurant. 24 hour room service is awesome if provided, but often isn't, especially in country towns. Food access is really important, because plane food and airport food are usually crap, and it's awful to arrive somewhere and find there's nothing to eat but minibar and no healthy food places within miles.

Country towns are more stressful generally for me, just because there are fewer facilities available (including taxis, internet access and convenient eateries). The plus side to country towns is that the people are friendly and often willing to give you a lift rather than make you rely on taxis, and as others have said, the airports are quicker and easier to get through. Mind you, I will never forget the time I turned up to Moree airport and no staff arrived until twenty minutes before the plane was due to depart. It's quite eerie to be sitting in a brightly lit, completely deserted airport with phones ringing and faxes whirring and nobody else there.

Other stuff that makes business travel easier: internet access; having someone to meet you, or introduce you if you're a speaker. At the same time, not having a "minder" who feels they have to entertain you and make conversation the entire time. If you've been on the road doing workshops or speeches or meetings for several days, you want to conserve your energy and your voice.

If you're travelling somewhere you're not familiar with, it really helps to have a little map of the place - whether someone provides it for you, or you find it yourself. Even if you don't leave the hotel, it helps alleviate the disoriented feeling you sometimes get from being in strange places.

Stuff I do that makes my travelling life easier: always have bathers, because pools and saunas are fabulous to relax and refresh after a long flight; always have chargers, packed in a pouch (I store my ipod, phone and laptop cords in the pouch I take them travelling in); keep a toiletries bag already packed with toothpaste & brush, deodorant, soap, shampoo & anything else you might need; if the hotel's provided mini-toiletries are nice, nick them and use them on other trips; have a pair of comfy clean socks and a T-shirt, if nothing else, to change into while you lounge around in the hotel room. Bring some light reading, something fun and indulgent.
posted by andraste at 1:55 PM on January 14, 2008

what makes a business trip convenient/pleasant and what makes it bad/stressful for you? What kind of conveniences do you look for or potential annoyances do you avoid when planning your trip?
As Lyn so aptly said, "I get the hives when someone else makes my travel plans." I have fought tooth and nail to retain the right to book my own travel. It makes a huge amount of difference, allowing me to micro-customize my experience for maximum comfort. This is beyond just the flight/hotel; the more control I have over my trip, the more relaxed I am. This includes the overall itinerary, the meeting times, familiarity with the agenda for the trip, the ability to select restaurants, and dictate the down-time. I prefer to always arrive the day before the event/meeting; having to travel the day of, and hope that weather, traffic, and general good luck are all on your side, is muy stressful.

Staying in a certain caliber of hotel -- preferably a global "bed war" chain with full service and a restaurant / bar on the property -- makes all the difference, for me. I know some road warriors out there that prefer the relative ease of the "extended stay suite"-type places, where you might go your whole stay without interacting with another person. But, a trip is most pleasant for me when the hotel can approximate what I could do for myself at home, and that might mean extra pillows or a glass of wine or loaning me an umbrella or a DSL cable, or emergency dry-cleaning the blazer I got schmutz on.

I also favor hotels that are ADA-compliant, simply because I know there aren't going to be four flights of stairs keeping me and my luggage from easily getting checked into the room.

I hate having to rent a car in an unfamiliar city, especially if I've been traveling all day to get there. Conversely, if the hotel offers an airport shuttle, that's a nice perk.

I do not like trips where I am stuck in the hotel any time I'm not at a meeting. Whether because of weather, distance, or general lack of things to do, there's nothing worse than being stuck in the four walls of your room for three days, looking at unfamiliar news anchors and an ugly floral bedspread (Yes, I'm talking to you, West Virginia).

I have scads of other quirks and prefs when it comes to airports and the flight part of the trip, which I'll forego at miss lynnster's request.
Do you tend to stay near a client/event or in the middle of a city? Are certain areas specifially easy or stressful for you to visit for business?
I'm lucky in this capacity: my events or clients are almost always right in the city center. But, the airport usually isn't, so again ground transportation is something I consider heavily. I prefer to stay in the major cities with which I'm most familiar, simply because I get a better rate of return on the trip. Any destination where English isn't an official language, or at least prevalent, is stressful for me.

I've been on the road 7-10 days a month for the last two years, and I've learned that different people have different "best practices" based on their particular idiosyncrasies and needs. These are the sites, services, and techniques that have worked best for me, although your mileage might literally vary: collecting local restaurant ideas in advance from Chowhound.com... maximizing my overall experience at FlyerTalk.com... wifi accounts with Boingo and T-Mobile hotspot... always having my toiletries and OTC meds pre-packed... having duplicates of all my cords and peripherals, already loaded in my laptop bag... carrying a couple pre-printed FedEx shipping labels with me, just in case I've got to jettison something for any reason... the Admirals Club (I'm in Dallas so I'm an AA girl)... my Eagle Creek folders, cubes and sacks.
posted by pineapple at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2008

i travel for work a few times a year.
i like it when they:
allow me to book it myself, or pick an itinerary that doesn't involve any connecting flights
ask for my airmiles number so i get the points.
send me detailed confirmation emails with really useful subject headers, if possible including the confirmation number right in the subject line. and the departure terminal, i can never seem to find that when i'm in a rush.
pick a hotel near whatever i'm doing early in the morning
pick a hotel with good wifi, free brekky, a gym, and restaurants nearby
give me cab chits (when possible, i prefer chits over paying out of pocket and waiting to be reumbursed)
pay for at last 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks with dinner (i don't expect them to cover binges or anything, but it's weird when they pay for the meal but not the single glass of wine accompanying it)
give me a phone- or at least a free long-distance call home when i get to the hotel

to make it easier on myself, i try to remember:
take advantage of taxi and hotel wake-up calls so i don't miss morning meetings.
to add a roaming plan to my cel before i go
pack light, you can always buy or borrow what you forgot.
i pack slightly dressy stuff that doesn't wrinkle- i have a couple jersey wrap dresses that i LIVE in when i travel. screw ironing.
i keep a separate travel toiletry bag all ready to go, so i don't need to cherrypick stuff from my bathroom the morning i leave.
i wear sneakers, yoga pants and a hoodie on the plane, and bring earplugs. i do my makeup as the plane lands, so i look cleaner than if i'd napped in mascara on a flight.
i prefer a backpack to a rolly suitcase or bag with handles- plus it looks less touristy.
if possible, i try to piggyback vacations at the end of business trips, and get the company to fly me to the vacation spot at the end of the trip instead of home (especially if the vacation is in a central destination like NYC). it makes the vacation cheaper for me, and minimizing the number of flights is better for the environment.
when i know i'm travelling a lot, i'll share my airport wifi account with a friend who also travels. as long as we don't travel together, we can both use the same account name and password and get access for a month or whatever. when i do this, i usually don't end up making him pay me back for the $25 or whatever, but i feel better about the expenditure because we're sticking it to the man. i always wanna avoid paying for airport wifi, so if i'm not gonna buy it, i'll refresh my RSS and email before i leave for the airport so i have something to read. schlepping novels & magazines gets heavy. besides, planes are full of magazines. SKYMALL!
posted by twistofrhyme at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2008

Ideal hotel features: free wifi, inroom coffee with non-herbal decaf tea options; ideally also with creamer made from dairy but that hardly ever happens in US hotels; room free of whining A/C unit or refrigerator; bed with noticeably pleasant sheets and without that thing where the comforter is a duvet sandwiched between two sheets (I'm happy with a real duvet but the fake thing is annoying); access to some kind of sweet snack late at night.

Location: I do try to be in a walkable area if possible and agree that public transit from the airport is nice in places where it works (Chicago, Minneapolis).

One thing I try to do when I travel is look online or get the local free paper to see what music shows are happening during my visit... you can generally identify the interesting local venues and often there's something that sounds like fun to go to. Half the time (or more) I think I might go to a show and then punk out because I'm too tired from, you know, being on a business trip, but I find it kind of fun to go through the exercise anyway.
posted by yarrow at 4:50 PM on January 14, 2008

What Mutant said about a good business hotel.

Requirements I have are: reliable wifi, good gym/sports facilities, good laundry service - means I can travel with hand carry and not have to worry about bags being lost (Air France, you know what I'm talking about).

Frequent Flyer/Loyalty cards are an essential. Never mind any upgrades or points you may get, the number one use is lounge access to get away from the maddening crowds. Helps a lot on check-in and if any flights get delayed, you tend to get treated better.

...ok, the upgrades are nice, as are the free flights.

Once I'm there, get outside, get some fresh air, as it helps with any jet lag. If you've got a local colleague who can take you to or recommend a good restaurant or sihgts to see, then that trumps a guide book any day.

Best thing is my company has the flexibility that if the meeting is on the Monday or Friday I can book flights for the weekend as long as I cover the hotel (and the flights aren't more expensive), if the location is nice then I pay for my wife to fly with me and she can see the city whilst I work.
posted by arcticseal at 6:05 AM on January 15, 2008

I travel 2-4 few times a month, often for one-day in-out marathons, and rarely for more than 3 nights at a time. Having a good breakfast is important. I often find that I am forced to miss lunch because of long meetings or insufficient break times. I try to pack a small supply of dried fruit and cereal bars, just in case. In general, I try to eat more healthy than I normally do—lots of fruit and juice and fiber. It's really easy to get run down and pick up colds on business trips.

As a consultant, I often travel for companies who impose ridiculous per diems (and for me, nothing is more stressful in business travel than an unrealistic per diem), and that can make finding decent meals in a strange city hard, since the healthy stuff is usually at the pricier restaurants. I will always trade better restaurant meals for a cheaper hotel room, and wherever possible, I take advantage of being able to have a really great meal, as these kinds of rewards help make up for all the other stresses and inconveniences of being away from home.

Hotel amenities that others have mentioned are nice, but I find that on shorter trips my work schedule usually does not allow time for a swim or workout or cable movies. One thing I try to do to take the tedium out of business travel is to stay someplace interesting. Now, if it's a high performance trip I'll just stay at a hotel closest to my clients to minimize the stress involved. But if it is more routine business or a conference, I always look for the most interesting hotel I can find—usually an independent boutique hotel or B&B that has some local flavor or history. This requires a little extra research ahead of time, but it helps make trips more fun and interesting if you feel like you actually experienced a new place (hotel chains give the same experience no matter where you are). Other people have said that being able to repeat their home routines while away helps them feel more comfortable and in control. For me, making the experience unique and my own, either through a great meal or an interesting hotel, helps me feel more in control and helps make work feel more rewarding.
posted by amusebuche at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went on ~10 business trips last year and these are the things I learned and/or started doing:
  • Get a direct flight whenever possible.
  • Buy separate, 3oz or less toiletries for travel use only.
  • Always opt for carry-ons whenever possible (minimize time between getting off the plane and getting to the hotel)
  • Once you find a good, reliable taxi driver, get his/her number. Schedule rides with them ahead of time.
  • Get a hotel as close to your work side possible. Nothing worse than working late and then waiting another 1/2 hr to get back to the hotel.
  • Make sure the hotel has free internet, room service, and a great customer service (I'm particularly fond of Marriott after I was dropped off at the right hotel but on the wrong side of town (see taxi note above). They called another taxi for me and paid for the trip even though it wasn't their mistake.)
  • Bring something to entertain you while you're waiting to board or on the plane and make sure they are in an easy-to-reach area.
Hope that helps!
posted by vocpanda at 12:17 PM on January 15, 2008

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