Now that the holidays are behind us, and the orgy of winter storms is finally moving on, it’s time for corporate road warriors to get back on the road. For those of you new to business travel, it can be a mystery how some people can arrive for work — in a completely strange city — looking fantastic. Those travel pros make it look effortless; they have all their stuff in one bag. One bag! How do they do that?
I know a little about corporate travel from my days on the speaking circuit — 10 cities in 12 days, two weeks out of every month. I was fortunate enough to work with people who had been keeping that brutal schedule for decades. They knew everything about corporate travel, and it showed — in everything from how they packed to where they stayed.
Some things are definitely easier about corporate travel these days. Services like Concur Expense and Google Now make tracking expenses and getting lost in an unfamiliar city things of the past. Google Now can show you where to get food, catch a bus, order a cab, keep track of your flights, and a million other things we used to need a human concierge to arrange.
You can hire your own personal concierge when visiting any big city.
Still, there are some old school travel tricks that can make your life on the road a whole lot easier.
Managing Your Clothing
True travel pros don’t carry their clothing around like some type of modern Bedouin; at most they’re carrying a spare shirt and pair of slacks in case of a spill. No, they’re not wearing two pairs of slacks or a single pantsuit all week — so how do they do it? I used to ship my clothing to the first hotel on my route, with a “guest hold” notification. That way the only thing I had to carry was a small, empty duffle bag. I had a FedEx shipper ID and made good use of it. Keep in mind these were the days before checked bag fees. At the last city on Friday, I’d ship my dirty clothes back home in a box.
Get Your Shirts Pressed & Boxed
There are still a few dry cleaners that will clean, press, wrap, and box your shirts in blocks of five — a number that is not an accident. Keeping your shirts in that condition costs more, but they always look crisp and brand new, no matter how many times they’ve been through the laundry. You can also coordinate your ties in each box with the shirts. Getting your shirts tailor-fitted with extra buttons is also a great way to look like a million dollars on a middle class budget.
Fruit Basket On Travel Days
This tip, which I got from one of the older guys, was a life-saver more times than I can count. On travel days, have a fruit basket delivered to your hotel room early in the day. That insures the hotel doesn’t give your room away if you’re late… and you will be late sometimes. If you do arrive late, you’ll also spare yourself the extra time of running around at 2:30 am trying to find some fast, greasy food that will certainly spoil what little sleep you’re likely to get. You can also sleep in later in the morning, since breakfast is already in your room. Toss an apple in your pocket on the way out the door in case of a mid-morning blood sugar attack. You’ll be amazed how much time you spend trying to find food.
Starbucks Gift Cards
I used to buy stacks of $5 Starbuck’s gift cards, and hand them out like candy to service people who were not accustomed to receiving tips. I’d hand out gift cards to courtesy car drivers, hotel clerks, flight attendants, and maids (but not restaurant servers), and anytime I saw someone really going out of their way to help out. I knew it was a good strategy when I showed up at a hotel I hadn’t visited for six months and the doorman jerked open the cab door with hearty, “Hey, coffee guy!” The simple gesture of buying people a cup of coffee or tea can be such a powerful force.
Even in the modern era of Google Now and context-sensitive service information, a good concierge is hard to beat. Most hotels have done away with them, but you can still hire your own when visiting almost any big city. Yes, those services are expensive, and they mark up every service you order, but that phone number is better than the Bat Signal in a strange city. More than once I called a local concierge service and ordered limos, refreshments, and even a catered lunch when a convention center dropped the ball on meal service for one of my programs. If your life depends on having a helicopter waiting to whisk you across town over rush hour traffic, a local concierge service is how you arrange it.
These days everyone is operating a lot leaner for travel, but there are still ways to work large without breaking your budget.