Five ways to improve business travel with your family

It usually seems easy to mix a business trip and a family vacation. You’re already on the road, and your company has picked up the tab for your flight. So, a good chunk of expense has been taken out of the equation from the start! Especially if you go to a great destination, extending a business trip into a vacation can be a smart move. You may even get to absorb some of your hotel costs into your travel budget at work.

The problem, however, is that you have to make it all work. Just plopping your family into the middle of a business trip doesn’t turn it into a vacation. Trying to squeeze too many pieces in at once can actually turn into a nightmare. Before turning your business trip into a work-and-family-hell-on-wheels, let’s take a look at five ways to avoid disaster:1. Just know your spouse won’t have support: if your family is traveling to meet you at your business (or another) location, you won’t be there to help. You might be able to chip in on the flight home, as long as you can get everyone booked on the same plane. Be ready to greet frustration along with your family.

2. Avoid overlaps with your business trip: having your family meet you after your business obligations are finished is much smarter than trying to cram family and business into the same time. Quite simply, it never works. Your days are occupied, as you’d expect. However, your nights can get pretty crowded with business, as well, from drinks with colleagues to client dinners. You’ll wind up getting back to our room late … and you may have more work to do. Even if your family is tolerant of all this, they’ll still notice, and it will put a bit of a damper on the experience for everyone.

3. Don’t force the destination: I spent the better part of a year traveling to Omaha from my home in Boston. Let’s be realistic: the odds your family would be happy with this as a family destination are pretty low. Unless you’re going on a business trip to a major vacation destination, you should be ready to offer up some flexibility. See if you can get a multi-city fare for less than your regular roundtrip, and you’ll save the company some money while making sure your own expenses are covered (thus preserving the benefit of adding a family vacation onto the front or back end of your business trip).

4. Take a day in between: being out of the office causes obligations to pile up. Whether you’re on a business trip or vacation, stuff is happening back at your company, and some of it is likely to have your name on it. Now, think about the accumulation of stuff when you put both a business trip and a vacation together! Give yourself a day in between to catch up on things before you disappear again. This will also help ensure that your time with your family will actually be with your family – not cleaning up from the week of work you spent outside the office.

5. Know your audience: you may want to change hotels when your family arrives. Even if the cost isn’t an issue for you, simply changing spaces will help you with your mindset as you transition from work to play. In fact, it’s better if you can even change neighborhoods, for example, if you’re staying in a city. Make sure it’s as different as possible. You’ll sacrifice any special treatment that the hotel would offer you because of your relatively long stay, but it’s probably worth it to shell out the extra cash to make sure your family vacation isn’t tainted by remnants of your business trip.

[photo by rabble via Flickr]

The advantages to one-day business trips

I prefer to keep my trips as short as possible – that’s how I’ve always felt about business travel. I Not only does it get me home sooner – to be with the people with whom I’d rather spend my time – but it also results in lower expenses. So, if I need to take an extra trip, want to test out a new marketing idea or such, I’m more likely to have at least some of the cash I need available. And, if you’re running your own business, the shorter stay actually means more cash going directly into your pocket.

Why spend the night when you can get home the same day, right?

It can get exhausting to do nothing but one-day roundtrips over and over – I once tried commuting daily from New York to Boston on the Delta Shuttle and lasted only a week before caving to overnight stays – but every now and then, it can help you accomplish a goal without spending unnecessarily. For some trips, like routes among New York, Boston, Washington and Chicago there’s no reason to stay overnight if your work can be wrapped up in a day.

So, the next time you’re looking at a one-day business trip, think about these five reasons not to stay overnight:1. You can travel light: really, you won’t need to carry much more than you would take on a commute. All you’re doing is going to a business event or meeting of some kind, and you’re coming back the same day. Maybe tote along some mouthwash or a toothbrush and toothpaste, but that’s about it.

2. It’s much less expensive: keeping your travel expenses under control is important. Whether you work for yourself or a blue-chip firm, someone is bound to notice money being spent that doesn’t correspond directly to a return. Skip the overnight, and you cut hotel expenses, as well as dining or per diem. It might not seem like much, but these numbers can add up over the course of a year.

3. It’s less disruptive: the morning after a one-day business trip is often unpleasant. You feel like you’ve been on the go for a while, and the pace really does catch up with you. The benefit, though, is that toughing it out can result in better business performance. You’ll be available to your direct reports and your boss. You won’t have to spend time playing catch-up, which ultimately increases your productivity.

4. You won’t accomplish any less: do you lose time with a one-day turnaround? Not at all! The only reason to take a business trip is to accomplish something that needs to be done at a certain location (e.g., a client meeting or training session). Aside from the event itself, you don’t need to be away from the office. With an overnight stay, you wind up giving up part of an extra day to travel, which truly is a waste. You’re basically paying more to get less.

5. You’ll be home faster … and that’s just better for everyone in your life.

Conference and Meeting Travel: How the packing list is different

My bag looks different from usual on this trip. Convention travel, though not usually as productive as other forms of business travel, does bring with it the benefit of a lighter bag.

When I go on a regular business jaunt, I usually wind up having to overpack. The problem is that there is just too much happening, and none of it is related. On a normal business trip, usually to visit the IR magazine team in London, I have to be ready for:

• Meetings with my team
• Meetings with my boss
• The sort of work that I do every day
• Special events that have a dress code
• Casual dinners with former colleagues
• Recreational travel, which I usually like to tack on to the back end of a business trip

Conventions and conferences are totally different. I go for one reason, not many. Conference events dominate the agenda, so there really isn’t much time to build in recreational meetings or visits with friends or colleagues – and needless to say, I won’t be seeing much of Vancouver when I’m in town for the RIMS 2011 event. And, I don’t build in leisure travel when I’m on a conference trip, mostly because I’m so busy at the event that I can’t put off returning to the office to catch up.

So, what’s the upside? Well, a lighter bag …Unlike my last few trips – to Palo Alto, Toronto and London – this run up to Vancouver has the benefit of a lighter bag. I won’t need a suit on this trip, just a bit of attire on the upper end of business casual. This also means that I can make the trip with the shoes I’m wearing, which saves lots of space. Since the suit and shoes are usually in addition to a day’s attire, they wind up consuming a disproportionate amount of space. On this trip, everything I need, from socks to cigars, fits in a small carry-on.

Because of the single purpose and straightforward attire, packing for a convention/conference trip is pretty easy. So, what’s in my bag right now?

• Two pairs of pants (for two and a half days on the ground in Vancouver)
• Four shirts – just in case I spill something or have an unexpected night out
• Socks, toiletries, etc. (the basics you’ll need to pack for any trip, regardless of purpose)
• I’m wearing the jeans and shoes that I’ll wear on the flight home

Just to play it safe, most of my shirts can be worn with either pair of pants packed, so if I spill something on a pair of pants, I won’t wind up in a weird stripes-on-pinstripes predicament. Also, I’m short on gadgets for this trip. Since I probably won’t be doing anything other than working the RIMS 2011 event, I don’t need my camera (which takes up far too much space); my BlackBerry camera will get the job done if necessary. My Flip is small enough not to be a bother, and my laptop is tiny. Anything else doesn’t make the cut.

Convention and conference travel can lead to heavier bags if you’re on an event management team, and you get stuck toting marketing materials, brochures and other equipment for a booth or other presence at the event. If you can ship as much of that as possible ahead of time, though, you’ll find yourself with easier shoulders, free hands and the fresh look that comes with not having to check a bag!

Conference and Meeting Travel: Five ways it differs from other business travel

As I write this, I’m en route to Chicago from New York, the first leg of a trip that will bring me to Vancouver where I’ll be when this story runs. For the first time in a few years, I’m headed to a professional conference, and the preparation process, it has occurred to me, is different from other forms of business travel. From the packing list to the mindset, it’s unlike the other business trips I’ve taken this year.

So, how is conference and meeting travel different? Here are five ways that came to mind pretty quickly:

1. The packing list: my bag is a lot lighter than it usually is (I’ll write more about this later in the week). Convention and meeting travel usually translates to a lighter load (unless you’re stuck toting last-minute items that weren’t shipped in advance)2. The intent is focused: when I go to a conference or event, I usually don’t have a lot of ancillary business scheduled … unlike a routine trip to see my team in London, in which case I try to lump in both business and travel stuff with friends, contacts and former colleagues. On a conference trip, I’m only thinking about the conference – nothing else.

3. The schedule and priorities shift: on a normal business trip, I try to have a return flight later on my final day in town. This gives me the maximum amount of time on the ground relative to cost, ultimately making my trip more productive (better return on investment). On a convention/conference trip, you can wind up stuck in town for a final morning, in order to maximize the value of the last night of the event – and the day after becomes a total flush.

4. The pace and agenda are wacky: client visits, regular visits with my team and even sales calls tend to be predictable. Even if I can tack on recreational travel or additional business, I tend to know what’s going on before I hit the ground, and not much changes once I arrive. Sure, crazy stuff arises from time to time, but most trips are predictable. One conference trips, you wind up hoping to score meetings, drum up some new contacts and just “see what’s out there.” This means that a lot can change quickly, and you have to be ready for anything!

5. The end is much more welcome: at the end of a convention, I usually just want to get home. I’m tired from walking around, making contacts, meeting people I know and generally being “on.” Even trips to meet with clients aren’t this exhausting, because the agenda is usually set and the objectives are so specific. On the last day of a conference, I actually find myself looking forward to getting on a plane … for a change.

Five business travel challenges for small companies to overcome

Regardless of economic conditions, owning and running a small business isn’t easy. It’s always tough to find clients, allocate your funds effectively and maximize your bang for the buck. And, business travel is a big part of this. When you go out on the road, you know you’re committing some serious cash to the endeavor, and you want to make sure you get as much value out of it as possible.

Part of this has nothing to do with what you’re spending: you want to make sure the reasons for your business trip are smart. But, you also need to keep an eye on the expense side of this to ensure you aren’t spending unnecessarily. Business planning covers the first aspect of this, and travel planning addresses the second.

So, how can white collar travel folks spend more intelligently on business travel? Here are five ideas:

1. Forget brand: are you loyal to a particular airline? Cut those ties. Sure, you’re thinking that accumulating miles can get you free business travel later … and there is some truth to that. However, you could be spending more than the price of a ticket when working toward that benefit. Also, there may be constraints on when you can take free travel.
2. Stay a little loyal, though: even if you aren’t buying on loyalty, you should still enroll in the loyalty programs for every airline, rental car company and hotel you use. It may take longer to accumulate benefits when you spread your purchases around, but the free perks you receive won’t come at the (literal) expense of your travel budget.

3. Shop around a bit: time is money, and the hours you spend looking for a flight are hours you could sink into other business activities. So, look at your effective rate per hour (i.e., how much your time is worth). Let’s say, for example, that an hour of your time is worth $100. If you could spend an hour to save $250 on a flight, that’s a good return – swallow the pill and do some comparison shopping for airfare and room rates.

4. Look at alternatives to airline loyalty: some online travel agencies have loyalty programs. Remember to join them, as you can accumulate benefits with them as well as with the airlines. As with airline choices, though, don’t choose a particular booking site just to accumulate points. Cash comes first!

5. Play the credit card game: use a branded credit card to make your travel arrangements. Choose one for the airline you use most. So, if you have a Delta card and wind up flying American Airlines every now and then to save money, you’ll still accumulate some benefits with Delta. Just don’t forget to pay the card off at the end of the month!

[photo by codepo8 via Flickr]