by Adrienne Asselmeier | I was talking to some of my former colleagues about silly adventures we’ve had while out of town, and it made me reminisce about my business travel days. After learning the hard way, I no longer use my carry-on exclusively for additions to my coffee mug collection, I give plenty of time between layovers (I often wished I was Kurt Wagner, but I am merely human), and dress in a way that is practical and comfortable, but that would not make me feel completely ridiculous if I ran into the keynote speaker at my destination airport (I looked like I was coming home from the gym).
I traveled a lot for conferences, and I certainly remember the stress of it, but I also remember what made those times a lot of fun. Looking ahead to some special events that I need to attend, and for which I will be speaking on panels or running information tables, I want to share my top five tips for making the most of business events and conferences.
- Plan ahead. Sit and think about the things that you will need and make a full list at least a few days before the event (or longer). Your list should include personal items (what will you pack in your suitcase?), business items (laptop, cards, pamphlets), and miscellaneous gear (especially if you are tabling—blank sheets of paper, markers, tape, tacks, clips, nametag, a rolling bag or cart). For the rest of the day, keep your list near you, and write additional things down whenever they come to your mind. Things will pop into your head when you’re not actively thinking about them—Oh! Remember phone charger and vitamins. If you are speaking, make certain that you know exactly what will be expected for time to arrive, content, length, and any other aspects of the agenda, like if you will answer questions or announce the next speaker.
- Checkout Hotels. If you know you are going to have a long flight layover, and know you cannot stand the thought of sticking around the airport for hours on end, check out nearby hotels for long stays. The Hyatt for example, has plenty of hotels within walking distance of many major airports. And, if it’s not right across the street, you can bet there’s a free shuttle service you can take advantage of and you’ll be there in a matter of minutes. Offering great features such as free Wi-Fi, apartment-style hotel rooms, and plenty of R&R areas throughout the hotel so you can kick back and relax, extended stay hotels are often the perfect solution for business travelers.
- Make a binder. I’m guilty of a Leslie-Knope-level of love for binders, but they’ve saved me more than once, especially in the days before my smart phone. I once had a whirlwind business trip that involved three large events in a row, and you better believe I had one central location for confirmation numbers, receipts, travel expense forms, copies of instructions, and maps. Now that I have a smart phone, I make this into a .pdf and download it to my phone. I will keep it in my Google Drive, too, but you can’t count on an internet connection or data to always be available. Things happen!
- Talk to people. Ask questions if you’re not sure where you’re going. Get a recommendation from a local person. Network with people at the event and spend free time being social with them. I made lifelong friends at conferences. It will make your trip more enjoyable if you are not cooped up or hiding in your shell. If you’ve got more than a little down time, see if you can find a Meetup or interesting event to go to. Sure, you might not ever see those people again, but it’s better than getting a pizza and watching HGTV alone.
- Stick to healthy habits. I knew people who would dehydrate themselves so that they didn’t need to get up while on a plane, and there were a few times when I was so hungry and unprepared that I broke down and ate food I would never eat at home (Taco Bell = always a mistake). Straying from normal, healthy habits will make you feel gross, tired, and more stressed out. It’s part of planning ahead—see what food is available at the airport before you arrive, carry a few granola bars, and drink water. Make sure to get enough sleep, and consider time changes when necessary. You may be able to alter your schedule ahead of time to feel better during the trip.
- Have fun! Business travel is just that: business. But you usually have a choice of where to eat, who to talk to, and what to do in your down time. Have fun with it! See some sights. Try food you haven’t had before. Ask people about their city. Bring a journal and reflect on your experiences. If something goes wrong, follow life rule #1: don’t freak out. Chalk it up to a learning experience and add it to your journal of “notes for next time.”
If you’re gearing up for business travel and conferences, just take time to think ahead and make sure you’ve got everything you need. Be polite and prepared and you’ll never dread a business trip again!
Adrienne “Dren” Asselmeier is a writer and marketing specialist. Dren has a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature and is a blogger, runner, over-achiever, and friend to everyone. She likes to write about science-based health and fitness, small business ownership, and motivational topics.