Over the past decade, along with being an aggressive domestic traveler, I’ve been a pretty consistent global traveler as well. I may not get around as much as George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air,” but I sometimes know how he must feel, so I put together a few of my observations and tips to help you avoid any extra hassles.
By far, my most important rule — and one that too few people follow — is to pack lightly, in fact as ridiculously lightly as possible. After careful consideration, I have been able to get my baggage for any length of business trip down to one medium-sized bag small enough to put under the seat in front of me. Not only does this free me from checking baggage, it also frees me from the overhead-compartment scramble — which can be especially important if you arrive late. I realize that some of you may have presentation materials you need to bring, so I recommend sending them to your hotel ahead of time.
Here are my suggestions for getting everything into one bag, including a laptop:
1. Take one pair of pants (or dress), no more than two pairs of shoes — one being black running shoes that can double for work or play, one sweater (a great way to hide an un-ironed shirt) and one jacket. None of these have to be packed since you just wear them.
2. Take a week’s worth of T-shirts, socks and underwear. A week is all you need since every city in the world has laundry facilities. Throw in a few dress shirts/blouses.
3. Other random items that I have found useful: sunglasses, international power converters, first-aid kit, gloves, hat, swimsuit, a few USB drives and toiletries.
4. Hiking clothes are great because they are easy to clean, they’re classy enough to wear to most meetings, and they can work in almost any weather situation — from a Mediterranean beach to a Canadian snowstorm.
Most important, of course, is to take only things that are critical and to remember that you can always buy things that you forget.
A few other travel secrets that I have found useful:
1. If the plane is not packed, look at the back and see if you can find an empty row. It’s a gamble, but if the plane is light you can often get the entire row. It’s one way of getting the “flat seat” comfort you’d be enjoying in business class for a fraction of the cost.
2. Don’t rush getting on and off the plane. How many times does everyone jump up as the plane gets to the gate — only to wait in line for 30 minutes or more before the door actually opens.
3. If you’re on the red-eye or dealing with time-zone changes, consider handling the time change on the plane versus on the ground when you need to be productive. That may mean sleeping right away or forcing yourself to stay awake — whatever the time change requires.
4. I have become a fan of using Skype when traveling abroad. The program allows you to connect to various Wi-Fi hot spots without signing up and paying the typical hot-spot fee. Instead you pay a few cents per minute to Skype and you can upload and download e-mails quickly. Wireless modems are great, too. You can talk to your wireless provider about using your phone as a mobile hot spot — its efficient and cost-effective. If you require your staff to be on Skype throughout the day, you’ll be amazed at how effective you can be, connecting with people instantaneously, even when you are in remote locations.
5. If you’re late to the airport and the check-in agent says that you’ve missed the 30-minute cut-off, don’t bother yelling. Instead, ask for a gate pass (the agents will usually give that to you) and if you can get to the gate within 15 minutes of take-off, the gate person will often get you on the flight. This has saved me more times than I’d like to recall. Of course, check in before you get to the airport, so that you already have your boarding pass.
6. Book your tickets with a travel agent who specializes in business and leisure travel — always look for opportunities to mix business with pleasure. Life’s too short not to.