When I first started working in events in 2013, I was thrilled about the opportunity to travel for work. During my first few months on the job, I had business trips for client events 2-4 times a month and got to experience everything from fine dining experiences with celebrity chefs in Philadelphia to happy hours with the team in LA. While traveling for work was certainly exciting, I quickly realized the importance of learning my company’s travel policy to ensure I was abiding by the rules and not compromising myself in any way. Here are my top business travel tips for newbies:
1. Learn your company’s travel policy
Most companies have company-wide travel guidelines with explicit rules on everything from how much you can spend, to what you’re permitted to spend company dollars on. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your company’s travel policy before embarking on your first business trip. Even if you aren’t a first-time business traveler, you might be surprised to learn some of the stipulations included in your company’s policy, so be sure to give it a good read.
2. Book your trip with your company’s preferred travel tool
If your company has a process for booking travel and accommodations, be sure to use it! Your company’s travel guidelines will likely include instructions on what the company’s preferred travel tool is and how you can access it. Even though it may be just as easy (and sometimes cheaper) to book your travel or accommodations directly through another website, some companies mandate booking employee travel through their own systems or third-party vendors for reasons that may or may not include added insurance coverage, partner exclusivity (sometimes companies have agreements with certain hotel and/or transportation branches) or auditing/legal reasons.
3. Set up an out-of-office autoresponder
Make sure your colleagues and clients know you will either be completely inaccessible or have limited availability while you’re out-of-office by setting up an email auto-response. Be sure to include your travel contact information if you would like to be reached that way, an emergency contact (perhaps a colleague or teammate) for urgent requests, and the date you plan to be back in the office in your autoresponder. Most email clients have an auto-response functionality built in, but if yours doesn’t – an alternative is to include your out of office dates in your email signature in the weeks leading up to your trip.
4. Keep track of all your expenses and receipts
Save hard copies of all travel-related expenses while traveling for business. You’ll need those receipts when it’s time to expense your trip back at the office. In addition to saving my receipts, I like to snap a picture of all my receipts and jot down a quick note or label so I remember what the expense was for (ex. cab to airport, dinner with client). Research your company’s expense management system in advance and make sure you have all the necessary documentation needed to expense your trip.
5. Don’t charge personal expenses to your company card
This goes without saying, but I’m going to go ahead and say it any way. Don’t mix personal expenses with business expenses. 1) This is stealing, and 2) If you get caught doing so (and you will get caught), the end-result could be suspension or termination of your employment. Not to mention, your reputation will likely be severely tarnished. It’s like the ole saying goes.. Misuse and you lose.
6. Recognize that you are still on the clock
Traveling for business is very different from traveling for vacation. So while you may have used that 5 hour flight to LA to enjoy a cocktail (or three), take a nap and catch a movie on the in-flight entertainment system, when you’re traveling for business consider using that time to catch up on emails, prepare for meetings, or check items off your work to-do list. You are an extension of your company and represent their brand when you’re away on a business trip, so conduct yourself the way you would back in the office.
7. Pack light; pack smart
Create a travel check list to help you pack. I sort my packing list with my trip itinerary. If I have a venue walk-through on Day 1, I’ll pack comfortable business casual clothes. Client event Day 2? A few dressier options, maybe a blazer. I also reuse a pre-packed toiletry bag with bathroom necessities and a separate “gadget” bag with my chargers, VPN token, and MiFi device. Charge all your devices the night before your trip. As a general rule of thumb, it’s also usually a good idea to dress the part for the actual trip – wear business or business casual in the event you are traveling with colleagues or heading straight to meetings when you touchdown. Pack no more than a carry-on depending on the length of your trip. You don’t want to end up in a situation where your checked baggage is lost and you don’t have the clothes you need for your trip.
8. Find out if you can keep your mileage and hotel points
One of the perks of business travel is the ability to accrue mileage and loyalty points that you can later redeem for free flights, hotel stays or status. I’ve been able to gain status with several airlines, in part, due to the points I’ve earned on business trips. Not all companies allow you to keep these points, so be sure to find out what your company’s policy is.
9. Have fun!
Traveling for work grants you the opportunity to visit cities and stay at properties you might not otherwise explore on your own. If your schedule permits, carve out an hour or two to do a tour, visit a museum, or try a new restaurant. If your work team chooses to expense a group excursion– great! If not, be sure to set aside some personal funds from your own budget. Work trips are also a great opportunity to get to know your team outside the office.
What tips would you add to this list?