Making Business Travel Bearable 



I had a huge fascination for air travel as a kid . My dad traveled frequently ( at least once a month) on work , and I had some rich relatives who flew regularly to America and Europe for family vacations . They would tell me great stories of their travels and bring me back little goodies – like a can of Coke ( which was not available in India at that time ) My resolve became stronger over teenage years that I need a job that let me fly frequently all over the world .

My wish was granted . Fast forward 20 years since I graduated – and millions of miles behind me – all I can say is WHAT THE **** WAS I THINKING ???

By conventional terms for me  – 2016 so far has been a “light travel” year. And today I saw that I had already qualified (yet again) for the highest tier of my Airline frequent flier program for following year , as well as for the hotel chain I use . I am sure more than half my colleagues had those same emails 6 months ago. The last time I felt good about getting such emails was the first time I got it and I can’t even remember which year that was . 

Those who know me can vouch that repetition bores the heck out of me . That is why despite the extreme dislike for travel – I am still in the consulting business . I get the variety of challenges that keep me motivated every day I wake up . If clients for any reason choose not to challenge me – I am sure my employer will pick up the slack and throw a few challenges my way …. you know , just to keep me sharp 🙂

Effective and efficient travel is a life skill for anyone in this business . I keep picking up new skills and make little tweaks as I conquer the sky miles . Here are a few that I think are my basics – with no claims that it will work for you too 🙂

1. Be a minimalist about everything you pack

If you need 3 shirts for the trip and want 5 , stick to 3 . If you run into an emergency – buy a new one or hit the laundry. In 20 years I have had to do that maybe three times . 

A big part of traveling comfortably is to pick a great bag to be your constant companion . Although not fashionable ( and un-executive like according to my mom)  – I use a backpack for my laptop and books , and one stroller for my clothes be it a one day trip or a 5 day trip. Many friends choose multiple bags to suit length of travel. 

Many consultants go the same city every week for several months . When I had that kind of travel,  I used to leave some dailybuse stuff at my regular hotel (or under my desk in a bag) to avoid carrying it . 

I dress for comfort . Unless the client needs me to – I won’t wear a suit and tie . Comfortable shoes that also look decent is probably the best investment I make on shopping front.

2. Try as hard as you can to not checkin luggage 

You cannot buy time . Even when you have nothing better to do – it’s better spent reading a book , or (and?) drinking a beer at the airport bar than standing in line to check in your bag and then waiting to pick it up at the destination . 

3. Ignore the pain and earn top tier loyalty levels at airlines and hotels ( optionally car rentals too)

Pick an airline that works for 80% of your travel and stick to them till your breaking point . I have come dangerously close to getting out of it a few times but I haven’t taken the final step yet . As you travel more – upgrades become your best friend . And the bonus points help a lot . I forgot the last time I paid for a hotel or airline when I took a family vacation . I have stopped renting cars almost fully – mostly because of the nature of my current job . I stick to cabs and uber now and it works splendidly . But in many cities – rental cars still make sense . 

4. Choose a credit card wisely for travel 

Those points help with vacation . Some will also make airline club memberships cheaper . Balance it against annual fees and pick one up and use it regularly . Always keep a backup card too – Murphy is always watching you ! 

5. Enroll in TSA-Pre and Global Entry

Although those lines are getting longer compared to when it got introduced – for the most part it’s easier to get through them than the regular frequent flier lines. I have a few friends who don’t enrol due to privacy concerns – and it makes a great beer conversation after their tired selves join me at the bar after a two hour journey through the regular line . For me this is the best $100 a consultant can spend every 4 years 

6. Minimize the need to travel 

It’s really hard to not travel at all for business – except in a few cases ( say where you have extremely good skills and are in a hot market without a lot of competition ). But all of us can minimize travel by good use of phone , email , social media etc . I often choose to travel even if I can get work done through electronic media – mostly because human-to-human interaction has greater quality . 

7. Build a time saving routine 

Routine keeps us sharp and reduces variance and hence reduces risk. I am on autopilot for several things when I travel . Be it packing , booking , driving , eating or exercising – build a routine and it will help tremendously over time . For example – I know it takes 12 minutes for me from gate to exit at PHX airport . So I book my uber ride to perfectly match when I am stepping out and have zero wait 

8. Strike conversations every chance you get 

I can check email later – but if I can strike a conversation with a stranger , I will do it . These are not long boring talks and if the other person is not interested I move on quickly. But I have learned a lot from these conversations – especially from cab drivers across the world . When I have hypothesis to test on social and political issues – nothing beats airport and hotel bars . Over the years – I have even built the foundation of a few business relationships this way . Funny enough – I have met more fellow IBMers in airports than at any other place 🙂

9. Never eat alone 

I try really hard to not eat alone when I am on the road . After work conversations over food and beverages are the best way to know your customers and colleagues . It has the Magic effect of building solid relationships over time . And it keeps the boredom away 

10. Call home 

I usually call in evenings to catch-up with my wife and daughter . And I call my parents and in-laws from cabs on my way from airports . And I post updates during the day on Facebook so that they know what I am up to . What I don’t do well is to restrict the audience to just my wife , my sister , my mom etc – but that is just my laziness . 

11. Music , reading , writing , exercise ..

I use my phone for listening to music , to read and also to write emails and blogs . I always prefer being agile over being elegant and formal and it mostly works for me . I am not big into working out – so I use airports and offices to walk fast , climb stairs and so on to make up for it . I don’t always succeed . 

What are your tips ?

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13 thoughts on “Making Business Travel Bearable 

  1. Vijay – best time to hit the gym is first thing in the morning; it helps to keep one energized for rest of the day. Time is not easy to manage but energy level are easy to manage.

    • My friends are divided on the timing of exercise – some like early mornings and others like evenings . I hate gym – so I try to stay active during the day and walk to meetings instead of driving , taking stairs instead of elevator etc

  2. There is one tip I read once on how to make regular business travels nicer – bring your favourite things you use daily at home – be it the pyjamas you use at home or anything you closely relate to home – this will make your stay at the hotel more cozy. Seems to really work!

  3. It was really difficult professional decision for me to leave consulting job I liked so much. And then the following year I dropped from gold to silver level with Lufthansa – I could really feel as it was the year a lounge in Wrocław airport introduced a fee for silver members. Next year I will lose as well hotel status it seems. But I must say that 25% travel time is ideal to keep work/life balance on a very reasonable level, and it helps me not to regret the decision.
    Szerokiej drogi! (meaning “good trips!” in Polish)

  4. Love the advice! For those who travel to the same city week over week it never hurts to develop rapport with the hotel staff. In my experience, the more friendly the more likely they are to help you – corner room, upgradeX2. I also make it a point to tip housekeeping with a note. Also, non-iron shirts! A little shower steam and you are nearly dry-clean perfect. If you have to iron, put a towel down. I’ve ironed in the circular metal sheeting of some of the lower end ironing boards into pants. There is definitely a coffee table book or calendar advice of the day material in your post!

  5. Hey Vijay.. another amazing blog, i felt like you were reading my mind. I was thinking about my travels since last few months & my future opportunities that has regular travels ..Its hard to balance the words like you do. Staying away from family & not to see your kid for 3-4 days is a big sacrifice, but the only way you feel challenged is if you travel & work with various customers..Wow what a situation.

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