When traveling for business, your absolute top responsibility is to be in the best possible mindset for your meeting or presentation. As an author and keynote speaker, I'm on the road an average of 46 weeks a year, and I've made my share of mistakes.
Ready to see how I do it? Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen... We are about to depart.
1. Never confuse business travel with tourism.
Hardcore business travelers need a different plan of attack. Your success depends upon your ability to arrive on time, in top form, with little room for error. The stakes are higher. You must fascinate your client, or you will fail- and that requires planning and focus.
2. Your meeting begins from the moment you leave home.
Treat all business travel with respect and care, because it can make or break the result of your meetings. An almost-missed flight can take a toll on your ability to focus and perform at your best.
3. Decisions create stress, and stress ruins confidence.
If you need to be in a confident frame of mind, avoid having to make any decisions that will create any sort of uncertainty in your mind. This can include big decisions (whether or not to hire someone) or small decisions (how to get from hotel to meeting location). Remember: Your job is to keep yourself in the right frame of mind so you can captivate your listeners.
4. Figure out what your body needs to be most productive, and then prioritize that.
For me, sleep is precious. I do not do red-eye flights under any circumstances. Ever. (Unless I'm traveling internationally, in which case there may be Ambien involved.) This is not a matter of personal preference; it's simply a fact that productivity is directly linked to the quality and quantity of my sleep. Of course, for you, sleep might not be the "must-have," but exercise or meditation might be. Find what works for your body, and then give your body what it needs.
5. Find your carry-on formula.
Experiment with different ways to carry your bags, to find what requires the least effort for you. Me, I always check my main bag, because it's a hassle to lug a suitcase through the airport and worry about whether my toothpaste tube will make it through security.
6. You have a finite amount of energy while traveling.
Your energy level is like a gas tank. It's your responsibility to conserve your energy for its best and highest use. Spend it wisely, because once you're exhausted, it's hard to get back into top form. Plan each step of your travel so that you can stress as little as possible about the travel itself, which will conserve your mental energy, your trip's ultimate goal.
7. During intense travel, the so-called "luxuries" are not luxuries. They are insurance policies.
Find services that allow you to shortcut waiting and exhaustion. If you travel seriously for work, you need professional-grade tools. My favorites: Clear Pass (shaving off 15 - 30 minutes wait time in many airports), Starwood Amex (1.25 points earned per dollar spent), and Cinnabon (just because).
8. Assume a 20% failure rate.
Flights are cancelled. Taxis don't show up. GPS is rarely accurate within office parks. Take all this into account. I usually book 2 flights to an event, so that if one is cancelled, I can still make it on time. And on that note... For absolute essentials, carry backups of backups. I travel with 2 power cords (one in my carry-on, one in suitcase). Why? Because if one gets lost or breaks, it kills my work. Put the presentation on a thumb drive, and, upload it to Dropbox or other cloud service. For critical meetings, I've been known to fly with two laptops.
9. Pick a travel uniform.
Identify what's most comfortable for you in your travel, so you don't have to invest mental energy in even thinking about it. A friend of mine who is also a keynote speaker has this down to a science. He packs 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, etc. Having a very consistent set of travel clothes eliminates a whole category of uncertain (see above: "Decisions create stress").
10. Master the art and science of packing.
Some people enjoy packing, but I find it stressful. It's rife with potential mistakes of forgetting something or worrying about what's needed. I avoid the whole mess altogether by keeping a set of toiletries and accessories in my suitcase at all times, so that I only need to think about what I'll wear at the location (see above: "Pick a travel uniform").
11. Prevent a wardrobe faux pas by including alternatives.
You might anticipate that your event is "business casual," when in fact there is nothing casual about it. It might be unseasonably cold that day, or unexpectedly conservative. I always pack a couple of options, in case I need to step it up a notch in any direction.
12. TSA considers peanut butter and yogurt to be "liquids" when going through security.
Okay, this might not be life-changing news. But if you're bored in the security line and looking for an entertaining diversion, try quizzing your TSA official about other semi-solid substances. For instance, "Is pudding a liquid? How about strained peas?"
On that last one... hey, at least if you lose your bag or your flight is delayed... you've had a little fun getting through TSA.