Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tips for Solo Business Travel

There’s nothing like a solo business trip to leave you with a million questions – figuring out what to wear, how to act, what to pack, and how to get there in one piece can suck up hours of preparation.

I’m not a travel pro by any means, but my trips to Memphis, Chicago, Orlando, and Seattle have been great learning lessons about what to expect when you’re representing your company by yourself.
Travel Basics

There’s some steadfast advice everyone should know when traveling – book early, have your documentation in order (ID, flight pass), get there early, and dress comfortably.  But you may not realize these:

·       If you are food sensitive, such as need to eat on a regular schedule or have allergies/intolerance, it’s wise to pack a small, portable meal. You never know when you’re going to encounter a meal you can’t eat or run into a delay and have to skip food altogether because you’re sprinting across an airport. My go-to is beef jerky and shredded wheat cereal – unglamorous but both provide enough protein and fiber to last a few hours and I can avoid a drop in blood sugar.

·       Same goes with water. While you can’t take a full bottle of water through airport security, you can take an empty one. Throw an empty container in your carry-on and fill it up once TSA has cleared you. This is invaluable if you have to wait a long time to board, have an extended flight, or get stuck on the runway.

·       You know you need to arrive early, but if your flight is overbooked and you’re the last person to check in, you will be bumped.  This can wreak havoc on your plans so avoid hitting snooze too many times before your flight.  
Clothing Options
I think I genuinely need to write a post about the difference between business formal and business casual, but here’s my number one rule – always dress more formally than you’d like, particularly if you’re a woman.  Men do run the chance of looking stuffy if they overdress, but I can’t imagine a single business situation where someone would have a negative impression of a woman in a suit (properly fitting, of course).

Thus far, I’ve never felt like my salary gives me the option to invest in a true business wardrobe, partly because I only need it for special occasions and largely because my income is just not enough.  However, that doesn’t get me or any other low-paid lackey off the hook from looking smart in public.

Your best bet is to save up for one nice outfit that you can customize – your basic suit coat, pants, and dress shoes.  From there, you can fill out your outfit with low-cost items like shirts, blouses, and accessories.  I have a standard pair of black dress pants and was delighted to pull out a black suit jacket that still fit from the nether regions of my closet.  Paired it with a wine-colored tank and I was one sharp-looking cookie.  
One of the nice things about traveling solo is you can get away with more comfy outfit choices en route to your destination.  When by myself, I travel in tanks, throws, sneakers, and yoga pants.  If I were with a colleague, I would certainly spruce up.
Be Prepared

This differs by industry, but when you’re representing your organization solo, it’s all on you to ensure everything is up to snuff.  There’s no safety net, no wing colleague – just you and your bright smile.
When I travel, I typically need my laptop, a notepad + writing utensil, and a healthy knowledge of whatever company/clients I’m meeting with.  This means remembering every PR person who I was communicating with, background information on the company’s main objective, having my schedules on hand to reference, and an empty bag to lug all of the press kits I pick up.  Then there’s accessories, such as phone and computer chargers, so I’m reachable at every turn of the trip.

The one thing I always forget is my business cards <forehead smack>  It’s not that I don’t have a box of 5,000 of the little suckers, but I just don’t need them that often.  And when I do, I can never find where I left the card holder I have.  So that’s something I need to work on.   

Post-Trip Courtesies

Remember how your mother forced you to write thank you notes for every Christmas and birthday gift?  Now is the time to brush off those skills and leave a lasting impression.

Particularly if you went somewhere invited, make sure to send a thank you email (or call, if that’s better for your industry).  Include specific details instead of generic adulation so your thanks are genuine instead of obligatory.  Here’s a simplified one I used for a recent trip:

Dear X,
Thank you so much for inviting me to <insert company’s name> event!  It was very well organized and I feel I have a much better understanding of <insert company name>.  I really appreciate all of the experts you had on hand to interview and the portable press kits.  It was also nice to have such healthy food options for dinner and lunch!
After you’ve expressed your thanks, you can wrap up any business points.  For me, I’m typically telling a company I’ll be running a product in a certain issue, setting up an opportunity to interview one of their experts, or suggest they contribute some material.  Obviously publishing is a really specific field, but you get the general idea.
Don’t forget about internal communication post-travel too.  Brief your boss/supervisors about how it went and contacts you made, share any relevant information with colleagues, and turn in any receipts to accounting for reimbursement within a week of getting back.  You want to make sure all the hard work you did on a trip is recognized by your own company.

What are your trips for solo business travel?


  1. Thanks for all the advice - I travel occasionally for business and have definitely learned that the more thought you put into planning and preparation, the easier and more pleasant your business trip will be.

  2. Thanks everyone! Planning is truly key - that way, when things get off schedule for uncontrollable reasons, you can respond with grace. No meltdowns in the airport!