Depending on how often you take them, business trips are exciting, exhausting, or both. It can be a nice change of pace to travel and experience something outside your routine, but it’s also easy to lose track of your everyday responsibilities. And at nonprofits, where resources are tight, you must always try to squeeze as much value as possible from your trips.
Here are seven practical business travel tips to keep you on track and make your next trip run smoothly. Whether you’re checking in on a satellite office or program, attending a conference, or meeting with potential partners, these tips will help you make the most of your business trip while managing your existing tasks.
1. Plan Around Your Absence
One of the biggest pitfalls of business travel is missing important meetings, updates, and deadlines because you’re out of town. It’s a lot easier to stay caught up, however, if you never fall behind.
For many business trips, you will have at least a couple weeks’ notice to prepare. As soon as you know the dates you’ll be gone, start planning your work around them. Reschedule meetings, get ahead on time-sensitive projects, and diligently communicate your absence to the rest of your team. This way, you and your coworkers will be able to get issues squared away ahead of time and avoid repeat meetings and missed deadlines.
2. Set Your “Out of Office” Email
This may sound like a simple, common sense tip, but a little forethought can go a long way. Even if you anticipate having access to your email while you’re away, your communications could be interrupted by faulty WiFi, travel delays, or simple distractions. It’s better to set an automated response that tells people you may not reply as quickly as usual.
It’s also a good idea to include an emergency contact in your away message. You can give your cell phone number, but you can also refer people to a colleague (just make sure to notify them in advance).
3. Confirm Crucial Details
A stitch in time saves nine. In other words, by taking a moment to prevent a problem, you can save yourself a lot of stress and work. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check on a few vital details of your trip:
- Transportation – Flight numbers, times, and statuses; train schedules; rental car reservations.
- Lodging – Hotel addresses, confirmation numbers, and reservation dates.
- Commitments – Addresses, dates, and times of all your meetings or events.
Although you should check for updates regularly, it never hurts to have paper records of these details. Phones die, WiFi fails, and chargers get lost, so it’s always good to have your most important information offline.
4. Carry the Essentials
Business trips often require flying to your location, which means there’s always the chance that your luggage will be lost. Anything that you can’t go without for 48 hours should be in your carry-on bag. As you pack and prepare, make sure you keep things like medications, your toothbrush, and electronics chargers on your person.
Even if you aren’t flying, you should always know where your most important possessions are. Designate a certain bag or pocket for things like rental car keys, hotel keys, and conference badges.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Part of the fun of traveling is breaking out of your routine, but don’t abandon all your usual practices. If you exercise every day, but aren’t active during a weeklong trip, you won’t be at your best. Similarly, if you sleep with a white noise machine, bring it with you or use an app on your phone to imitate your routine.
Taking care of your most basic needs will make a huge difference in your energy and attitude. Pay attention to what you eat, drink lots of water, and be aware of your caffeine intake. It’s easy to abandon your good habits (like exercise and sleep) during a business trip, so consider setting reminders on your phone to keep yourself on track.
6. Track and Report Expenses
Nobody wants their job to cost them money, but traveling can lead to all kinds of expenses. Before you leave, clarify with your boss or finance department what expenses will be covered and how to receive your per diem or get reimbursed. Knowing the rules ahead of time will save you future battles.
In any case, put all your receipts in a specific part of your wallet or purse to make sure you don’t lose them. When you return, report any expenses as soon as possible to ensure you are reimbursed.
7. Debrief Yourself Every Night
Like good habits and surprise expenses, great connections and lessons can easily fall through the cracks. When traveling for work, you may attend talks by experts, connect with important colleagues, or just get some great new ideas. Don’t let these valuable experiences and insights slip away.
While you should take notes during conferences and even meetings, take some time at the end of the day to review your notes and thoughts.
- Who did I meet today?
- What did I learn?
- What actions do I want to follow up on?
Write down tasks for yourself and make a list of people you want to share your ideas with. After your trip, you can return to these notes and turn your inspiration into action.
With a little preparation, you can avoid many of the usual problems that come with business travel. And when you make the most of your business trip, it’s more valuable for both you and your organization. Whether you’re at the airport right now, or just thinking about a conference next year, bookmark these tips to prevent stress and maximize value.