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 ?