Conference and Meeting Travel: How the packing list is different

meeting travelMy 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

business travelAs 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

business travelRegardless 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]

Five good reasons to screw up your frequent flier mile strategy

business travel frequent flier mile strategiesThere isn’t much that’s precious to a business traveler (except time off the road) – at least not that you can touch. Maybe that’s why road warriors find frequent flier miles to be so important. They are at once a visible reward for suffering the slings and arrows of business travel, an indicator of class in an implicitly hierarchical community and a ticket to leisure travel later. If they accumulate in one place, they can become pretty useful … which is why they white collar travel folks make the flying decisions they do.

Mileage balances can influence decisions about airlines, flight times and payment methods. They can make a three-hour layover seem worthwhile. They can lead to absurd decisions which, at the moment of purchase, appear to be completely rational.

So, when decisions that run counter to this mileage-accumulation philosophy become necessary, the questions from other business travelers can be swift and judgmental. For the past two years, my miles have landed all over the place, and now that business travel is again a part of my life, that trend seems likely to continue – a prospect that would have horrified me back in 2002.

Why the change of heart? Here are five reasons I’ve abandoned the traditional business traveler’s frequent flier mileage strategy:1. Business comes first: if I can maximize my time at my destination, get better flights or use a more convenient airport, I get more out of my trip (from a business perspective). That’s what matters most to me. Period.

2. Status benefits really aren’t worth it: the time and discomfort associated with adjusting my schedule to accumulate miles, I’ve found, is ultimately more painful than flying coach from New York to London on a crowded flight. The eventual upgrade cure is far worse than the inconvenient and uncomfortable air travel disease.

3. Price matters: nothing is more important than getting to the right place at the right time, but price comes next. Travel expenses aren’t like billable hours or closed deals: they don’t benefit me or my business. Is it really worth paying extra to score some extra miles?

4. Stress sucks: after business objectives and price, I tend to value the path of least resistance. Working on the road is hard enough: making it worse to attain platinum status sooner isn’t sufficient reward for the necessary sacrifices.

5. Loyalty shouldn’t be displaced: obviously, frequent flier programs are brand loyalty plays. Like other business travelers, though, I have other loyalty considerations, such as my business and the people important to me back home. Some things are more important than early boarding.

Five ways holiday travelers annoy business travelers

holiday travelers and business travelersOn December 23, 1999, I was trying to get from Madison, Wisconsin to Boston Massachusetts. On paper, it didn’t look hard. I had to catch a short fight from Madison to Chicago and another flight from Chicago to Boston. Unsurprisingly, it was snowing in Madison. It was also snowing in Chicago. Flights were canceled quickly and routinely, and crowds backed up in the gate areas. I was starting to wonder if I would make it home in time for Christmas. I finally made it back some time on Christmas Eve, but it was stressful … and yet another taxing holiday experience in what had become a blur of them.

Holiday season travel is rarely enjoyable for anyone, but it can be particularly brutal on business travelers. The pressures of family holiday obligations converge with business demands, and it all comes on the back of a full year of hitting the road, which can mean 40 weeks or more of round trips and enough miles to have nailed platinum status by the end of the second quarter. The one thing business travelers cling to is efficiency. Even if it doesn’t buy much in real impact, it feels better to get through security faster, board the plane smoothly and make a quick exit from the plane and airport upon arrival.

And holiday leisure travelers just make that exponentially more difficult.The folks who travel once or twice a year – or even less frequently than that – tend to throw a monkey wrench into the finely honed travel operations of road warriors. They fumble for documents at airport security checkpoints, take forever to order something as simple as a slice of pizza (how do you choose from both those toppings?!) After a while, the white-collar traveler, perpetually exhausted anyway, begin to hatch conspiracy theories about how leisure travelers are all in cahoots, intent on making his life miserable when all he wants to do is get home and rack open a bottle of holiday cheer.

So, let’s take a look at five ways you can annoy business travelers this holiday season. I’m not suggesting that anyone on either side of this dynamic engage in any behavior modification … because we all know that isn’t going to happen. But if you decide to try – to annoy either less or more – this is how you can go about it:

1. Your kids: I know this is a tough one. If the end-to-end air travel process is difficult for adults on a good day it’s even harder (a) during the holidays, (b) for adults with children and (c) for children. It really does suck. Do what you can, and make an honest effort. Don’t let your kid “cry it out” or practice his first step. You can give up on good parenting for a few hours without causing any lasting damage. Please try to avoid saying, “It’s only for a few hours; we don’t travel often,” to a weary business traveler.

2. Your awareness: is the airport security line moving forward without you? Do you wait until you’re at the x-ray machine to realize you need to remove your coat and shoes? You could turn around to see the eyes rolling, but that would just consume even more time. This also goes for your trip to the food court. Be ready ahead of time, or expect someone to say something.

3. Spread out: take extra seats in the gate area – for your bags or anything else. And then, let your kids play on the floor between seats, so nobody can walk by. The gate area is crowded already, and this is just a heroic way to make a bad situation worse.

4. Camp near a power outlet: it’s hard enough to find a place to plug in, and business travelers are desperate for the short supply. So, be sure to take up this prime real estate … even though you don’t plan to use it at all.

5. Sense of entitlement: assume the same sense of entitlement that road warriors have. And, I’m actually encouraging this one. Nobody really has a right to feel this way, but it is a formula for some incredible street theater!

[photo by