Ten Tips from the road: from the lab to the air
The view flying out of Boston Logan Airport! Captured by yours truly on a flight to Baltimore MD.
We take a break from our regular career development programming to touch on a subject that often people who transition out of the lab are unfamiliar with: Business traveling. Given that I am flying back from our annual commercial meeting at 35,000 ft and over upstate New York on my way home to Boston, I thought it would be a good time to delve into this topic. Why do you care? Well, in the lab you may go to 1 or (if you are lucky) 2 conferences in far away lands. It's fun and exciting but you aren't a regular business traveler. However, if you move into a commercial role, for example sales covering a large territory, an FAS such as myself or a consultant, you may find yourself traveling more! Here are my best tips from the air: 1. Get TSA precheck as soon as you can! The longest I have *ever* taken to complete security screening was ~ 15 minutes and that included a longer then usual TSA pre-check line because it was 5am on a Monday (all the business people fly out early to get to meetings) in addition, the Tim Tams (an Aussie chocolate biscuit - find them than thank me!) I had brought for a friend looked suspicious on the X-Ray scanner and every single packet had to get swabbed for explosives.
Beware of Tim Tams and the TSA!
How do you get precheck? It's pretty easy - there are two main ways, applying for PreCheck itself with the TSA which is $85 for 5 years. For an additional $15 you can instead opt for Global Entry, an offering from the Customs and Border Patrol Agency, which also gives you access to an expedited customs process AND precheck for 5 years. The Department of Homeland Security has a nice comparison chart that also goes into eligibility here. One trick for quicker approval: For either program, once you submit your application online, pay the fee and wait for the application to be reviewed which may take 2-3 weeks for it to be processed. You are then asked to schedule an in person interview with TSA or CBP (depending on which program you enrolled in). Often the interviews available to be booked are months out. The trick is to book an appointment and then check back periodically to see if an earlier one has opened up as they often have cancellations. I was able to push my interview to only 2 weeks after getting approved (and I happened to be flying out that day anyway) - there were people in the waiting area that had waiting *6 months* for their interview. You can also walk-in to an interview center for an interview and potentially accelerate the process as well. Check out this blog post that describes getting PreCheck in ~1 week! 2. If you travel frequently: pack smart & have two of everything important One of the best pieces of advice from my roaming colleagues was to duplicate my toileteries bag so I don't have to unpack and repack it - and it's been a timesaver. I can often pack in ~15 minutes because I only need to add clothes to my suitcase. My chargers (including laptop charger), toiletries and other essentials are already there. No more forgetting toothpaste (hotels don't give it to you anymore!) or a hairbrush. I also have: - Melatonin tablets: great for falling asleep when you are in a foriegn place and stressed from traveling - Pain killers & bandaids: never know when you need them! - Antihistamine tablets: I am allergic to feathers and some hotels have down pillowcases which means I don't sleep well! In addition, I also use packing cubes. At first, I admit, I was skeptical on their utility but on the odd occasion that TSA needs to open your bag (because you brought Tim Tams that look like suspicious items on an X-Ray) or it bursts open, your crap doesn't go everywhere. It's also a good way to pack and keep everything organized. I am still not sold on the rolling vs. flat packing... need more testing there! 3. Stay loyal As a business traveler, you often have the opportunity to accumulate reward points that can lead to free accommodation, flights and more. It's difficult to hit critical mass unless you have stuck to one airline or hotel chain and sometimes the perks can make your life a lot easier. It's recommended that you pick a preferred provider and try to stick with them. I know some people recommend for air travel to make the most connections possible because it equals more miles, but that also means a longer travel time and increased possibility of missing flights. I value my time over increased miles! Of course - please ensure that you are booking within your companies travel expense policy. Talk to your manager to understand what your policy entails and what your responsibilities in conforming to that policy is. ... However getting free nights in hotel rooms and free flights is definitely an nice perk for traveling. 4. If unsure - ask! As with everything in work & life, I highly recommend that if you are unsure of something, just ask the best person! There are often times were you aren't sure whether you are allowed to do something while traveling, for example a last minute flight change that might cost $100 - is that okay? Hopefully you can touch base with your manager in a quick fashion and confirm that you are allowed to spend company money in a certain way. 5. Bring something from home & use technology to connect. Traveling for work is *tough* and you do miss out on a lot of events that happen during the week. I have started to bring an Amazon Alexa Dot with me on the road as it can set alarms for me while on the road, read me my news like I do if I am home and give me a fact about the day (say "Good Morning"). Alternatively, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime are among some great tools you can use to keep in touch with loved ones while on the road. 6. Stay Healthy When you are traveling for work, you are working ALL THE TIME. Even if you have breaks, you are often with customers or colleagues for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you very rarely have facilities to cook for yourself. I always pack a very light pair of exercise shoes and clothes so that I can destress and get some exercise. I would also recommend the Les Mills On Demand series which gives you a spin class (RPM), yoga and many other exercise classes to wherever you are (& you get 30 days for free!). 7. Don't drive a rental car off the lot until you have done two key things: A) Adjusted your seat and mirrors so you are comfortable B) Worked out how to turn on the headlights, often if they are automatic, they turn them off when they clean the car. It may seem obvious - but after personally accidentally opening the car trunk while about to turn onto a freeway trying to turn on the headlights - it isn't!! 8. You often don't need full outfits for everyday Another great piece of advice from a colleague: Often you don't need to change your skirt/pants and can just change out your top. I try to have one additional top in case something happens to one (like you get deodorant all over it...). Another tip is that most business people fly in casual, comfortable clothing if they aren't going straight into a meeting. They usually also pack a pair of jeans or a more casual outfit to change into for night activities to "dress down" and be more comfortable, but of course, this depends on your field and company! 9. Know the system so you can use it to your advantage! It's always a battle once you get on the plane to get overhead space, especially if you have to get to meeting as soon as you land and can't wait for baggage claim (although they are getting much much faster!). Many airlines board in a specific way. JetBlue (my airline of choice), always boards from the back of the plane, so unless you have Mosaic status (halfway there!), sitting in the last 5 rows (20-25 on most JetBlue planes) means you get on the plane first (after the Even More Space seats, which are in the middle) and have all of the bins to yourself! Alternatively, if you are booking through a business travel agent like most companies do, Delta airlines recognizes this and bumps you to Boarding Class 1 (which is still after their 2 frequent flyer classes and Comfort+, but you are almost assured of having overhead bin space).
10. Most importantly: TRACK YOUR TRIP!
I use an app called TripIt to keep track of my flights and make sure that I am on time. I have been able to avoid incredibly long (5hr+) delays because I noticed that my flight was listed as delayed and could quickly call and rebook my flight (some airlines even let you rebook via their app if there are delays). It always pays to be informed - knowing alternative airports you could fly out of or other times you want to fly. Try to NEVER book the last flight home, especially if you are trying to connect to it as those flights may and will be delayed.
Many of these apps also let you nominate people that can track your travels so you can give it to a partner, parent or someone picking you up so that they can see if you are delayed etc.
These are my tips (for now) on traveling for business, if you have any others, feel free to share in the comments - and please, if anyone knows a secret to sleeping on planes, PLEASE enlighten me!!!
My collection of magnets! Everywhere I go, I try to buy a magnet to reflect the state or city!