Beating the Long-Haul Business Travel Blues

As anyone who flies frequently knows, long-distance business travel can be arduous, and if you are the one who is picking up the tab, exasperatingly expensive. Increasingly crowded airports, intensified security, and declining service standards among airlines have done nothing to improve the experience.

If you have to fly to meet with clients or attend a conference, consider these suggestions for making your trip more enjoyable and productive:

Become a frequent flyer. While it may appear to make sense to always shop around for the cheapest airfare, achieving frequent flyer status often comes with benefits that outweigh paying a slightly higher price for each trip. As well as allowing you to accrue miles that can eventually add up to a free flight, becoming an elite frequent flyer brings with it a number of valuable perks, such as free or reduced price access to airline lounges, which offer comfortable seating, free drinks and snacks, and Internet access. Frequent flyers may also be given preference when booking flights and selecting seats, and when checking luggage or boarding the plane. Best of all, the airline may bump you up to business or first class, even if you have only paid for a coach seat.

Handle your own hotel booking. Rather than relying on a travel agency to book a room that may be overpriced and with a view of a loud highway, take the time to investigate hotels online, looking for one that has the location, amenities, and the price range that best meet your needs. Call the hotel yourself to book the room, specifying the type of room you will need to work and sleep comfortably. While this may require some extra effort on your part, it will likely pay off in a better experience — and may even help you snag some bargains.

Join a hotel members’ club. If you often stay at the same hotel or chain of hotels, find out if they have a loyalty program that offers lower rates for business travelers or frequent guests. This can not only reduce your costs, it can also simplify your stay as you will have a general idea of the type of accommodation you can expect upon arrival.

Think about connectivity in advance. Especially if you are traveling internationally, craft a strategy for staying connected before you take off. Investigate Wi-Fi hotspots at your destination, and check that your hotel offers Internet access at free or affordable rates. Be sure to pack any adapters for electronic equipment that might be needed in the country of destination. To avoid being hit with a big bill when you use your cell phone abroad, ask your phone provider for special international roaming rates. If none are available, consider purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone to make calls in the country, and using an inexpensive Internet phone service to make calls to the U.S.

Pack wisely. For short trips, try to pack only a large carry-on bag. This will make check-in easier and allow you to avoid wasting time at the baggage carousel. If you must check a bag, pack as lightly as possible, and ensure that the suitcase is easy to roll even when fully packed. Choose clothing that is mainly dark, plain, and does not need to be ironed. Take as few toiletries as possible, keeping in mind that any liquid toiletries in a carry-on bag must be smaller than three ounces, and should be kept in a separate plastic bag for security inspection. If you are a light sleeper, don’t forget to take earplugs and a mask to help you nod off on the plane and in your room. Pack a healthy snack for the flight, and carry an empty plastic bottle that you can fill with water once you have passed security.

Prepare your own in-flight entertainment. Unless you plan to work the entire time while traveling, don’t forget to pack some light reading in your carry-on bag. While some longer flights allow passengers to choose from a selection of movies, you can also download films onto your laptop or carry a DVD to watch while on the plane or waiting in the terminal. You can also download music and podcasts onto a cell phone.

Don’t forget to have some fun. Even if your schedule is tight, find ways to unwind on the trip, even if it is only swimming in the hotel pool, working out, or enjoying a relaxing massage. Make the most of opportunities to dine with business contacts, choosing restaurants with reputations for tasty cuisine with a local flavor. If you have a little more time, check out the tourist attractions, or book a night at the theater.

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