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March 31, 2009


You may find yourself on business trips early in your career. Usually, your departmental assistant will take care of the traveling team's airplane tickets and hotel accommodations, though sometimes this task will fall to you. Here's how to ensure a successful trip.

Before you leave for a business trip:

  • Find out from your manager what work materials you are responsible for bringing. Gather and pack all the necessary hard copies of meeting documents and back-up data, along with extra copies of the presentation. If this is a heavy load of paper, you may want to consider Overnighting the bulk of the materials ahead of time to your hotel or client office if you are certain you can send it early. Always keep a copy of important documents with you in case the sent materials are lost or delayed.
  • Save all the documents and related backup needed for your meetings on a laptop. If you do not have one, borrow one from your company's IT department.
  • Find out how you are supposed to book your trip. Is there a corporate travel department that you have to use? What kind of budget restrictions do you have?
  • Print out a detailed list of important contact information: cell phone numbers for your teammates, phone numbers and addresses for your hotel, client offices and any restaurants where you have reservations.
  • Print out relevant Internet maps and directions.
  • Confirm a meeting time and place with your teammates. Are you meeting at the office to carpool to the airport, or at the airport? If you are meeting at the airport, are you meeting at the ticket counter, at the gate or in the airline's business travelers' club?
  • Plan to arrive at the meeting site or at the airport 30 minutes earlier than your meeting time, in case you get stuck in traffic, need to get a snack or have to make a last minute run to the ATM.

What to bring:

Only pack carry-on luggage. Never check any bag if you can help it. Sometimes client meetings are scheduled just hours after you land, so there is no time to wait for your bags to arrive on the luggage carousel. Even worse, you don't want to risk losing your meeting materials if your luggage doesn't make the right flight.

To bring:

  • Ticket
  • Photo ID
  • Passport, if you are flying outside the country
  • Frequent flier numbers for airline, hotel and rental car credit
  • Credit cards
  • Plenty of cash, for parking, cabs, tips and the occasional snack
  • List of important contact information
  • Directions to hotel, client offices, etc., and any key phone numbers
  • Meeting materials and back-up data
  • Granola bar and bottle of water, in case you need an energy boost before a meeting
  • Standard business meeting basics (business cards, pen and paper, calculator, personal calendar, etc.)
Carry-on luggage:
  • Toiletry kit
  • Travel alarm clock
  • Business clothes: daily change of shirts, underwear, and socks; one or two basic suits and dress shoes you can re-wear
  • Some business casual clothes, in case the client hosts an activity after work hours
  • Workout clothes, if you want to take advantage of the hotel gym
  • Sleepwear

Take care of your belongings

Try to consolidate everything in as few bags as possible so they are easy to transport and remember. If you are loaded down with a separate briefcase, purse, winter coat, laptop bag and file boxes, it is very likely you will forget something in a cab or restaurant.

Using your expense account

Many companies have a travel policy itemizing what employees can and cannot be reimbursed for. If your company doesn't have a policy, check with your manager about your company's expense account parameters.

Be careful to keep all of your receipts while you are traveling, so you don't get stuck paying for something because you lost the receipt. Make sure to ask for receipts from cab drivers and other vendors who may not automatically give you a receipt. Keep track of cash tips you hand out to cab drivers, hotel staff and restaurant servers, and write the amounts on the bottom of the relevant receipts for your complete reimbursement.

What is acceptable to expense? During the workday, you will be expensing transportation costs between the hotel and work sites, as well as any business meals you are taking with clients or colleagues. Any side trips you take to see friends should be paid for out of your own pocket (although it is usually OK for you to use the rental car for this purpose if no one else needs it). At the hotel, it is usually acceptable to expense a few long distance calls home and to the office, room service for a simple breakfast or evening meal, the daily fee for use of the gym, dry cleaning (only if you are staying for several days and need clean work clothes) and an occasional pay-per-view movie at night if you need to relax after a long day.

Your expenditures should be comparable with the moderate expenses you would be incurring on your own at home. Don't go crazy and try to expense filet mignon and expensive wines that you would never order on your own dime. You may have to pay for it yourself when your manager sees your expense report. Of course if your manager explicitly tells you to treat yourself to a spa visit or a bottle of champagne because the project went so well, don't be shy!

In flight

You may be expected to work on the plane, especially if you are sitting next to a superior and traveling during business hours. Don't assume you can sleep or watch the in-flight movie. Prepare work for the flight. However, you can take your cue from your highest-level colleagues on the trip -- if the partner is chatting, reading a novel or napping, then you can too.

At the hotel

Always ask the hotel for a wake-up call and set the in-room alarm clock. Set the alarm with plenty of time to spare. Eat breakfast before a morning meeting so you are not sleepy or hungry. It's difficult to eat at a business meeting, especially if you will be talking a lot.

On the job

Jet lag can be a pain. If you can schedule some buffer time before you have to get into the office or a meeting, do so. Do not volunteer to go straight in. If you have to, realize your limitations induced by travel. One new consultant was called in to the client's office after flying from California to Belgium. Because he did not get enough sleep, he stumbled through some basic project work and nearly undid a month of preparation. He had to spend the rest of his two weeks there proving that he truly did know what he was doing!

After business hours

Don't assume you'll have the evening off. You may be expected to work late with the clients or with your team in order to have materials prepared for the next day. If you don't need to work all night, you may be expected to dine with the clients or with your team while you are on a business trip. Meals are a great opportunity to build on your positive working relationship with your colleagues or your clients.

If you have friends or family you want to visit in town, make sure you find out from your manager when you have free time in the schedule. Your manager will let you know if it is OK to excuse yourself from after-hours work obligations for personal reasons. It's probably best to have your friends meet you at the hotel for a quick drink -- even if the client dinner is "optional," it's much better to go than not.

Heading home

If you accumulate more papers during your trip than you can fit in your luggage, ask your client or hotel to FedEx your work materials back to your office for you. (Make sure you get your manager's approval beforehand.)

Special caution: travel relationships

Out of the office, far from your routine lives, you may find yourself and your colleagues sharing more personal interactions. Certain colleagues, who are usually tied down with a significant other or a family after work, may take advantage of business trips as an opportunity to cut loose with partying, drinking, flirtation, even infidelity. Some departments go by the mantra, "What goes on the road, stays on the road."

Be careful. Don't think you've suddenly made new, fabulous friends with your co-workers. You don't want to confide anything you'll later regret. And you don't want to hear anyone else's confidences you can't keep back in the office! If you do engage in "airplane pillow talk" with a colleague about people or issues back in the office or in your personal lives, make sure you are clear that certain remarks are confidential, and keep it that way!

Business travel does provide an intimate opportunity for you, a lowly new hire, to network with superiors. However, be careful about flirtations that can develop with colleagues during a business trip. Don't be naove; make the distinction between desirable professional attention and inappropriate personal attention from a colleague, and resist the flattery of a colleague's inappropriate advances. Compromising your career and dignity for a fling with a married partner is not worth it.


If you are working late hours, you may find yourself in an unfamiliar environment. Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you, whether with a colleague you know well or people you encounter while traveling. The common-sense safety rules still apply: don't give out personal information to people you don't know, don't explore a big city at night alone, don't get rides with people you don't know, and so on. Ask male colleagues to walk you to your hotel room or down isolated streets. It is hard to remember to be safe when you are tired from working late, but that is exactly when you are most vulnerable.


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