What to Know Before Your First Business Trip
tl;dr: Headed on your first business trip? Here are some tips to help you prepare.
Your first business trip. So exciting! However . . . traveling for business is not the same as traveling for personal reasons. It’s not about you, it’s about your company and the business reasons behind your trip – whether it be a sales meeting, a conference, or a speaking opportunity. So whether you’re already a frequent flier or this business trip is a first for you in more ways than one, here’s what you need to know to make the most out of your first work trip.
- Sign up for airline and hotel rewards programs.
Chances are your company prefers to use certain providers, but most employers will allow you to retain the miles and points you earn during business travel. So sign up for the loyalty programs for each provider your company uses to start collecting miles and points. You can use these for business travel upgrades (access to airport lounges, hotel room upgrades, or business class seats, for example) or for personal travel.
- Check the weather where you’re headed, so you can pack appropriately.
Make sure your business travel wardrobe is weather-appropriate for wherever you’re headed. You don’t want to be the one that shows up in Chicago in January without a proper winter coat.
- If you’ve never been to your destination airport, go online and check out its layout.
It’s nice to have an idea where terminals, gates, food, and restrooms are located, especially if you will have to make a connecting flight. (Tip: frequent business travelers always book direct flights whenever possible.)
- Chat up your colleagues who are already regular corporate travelers.
Frequent travelers’ insider tips can save you time and untold frustration when traveling for work. Ask to borrow items that will make your trip less cluttered and more productive – things such as a power bank. If you’ll be traveling more often for business from now on, you’ll want to invest in these tools for yourself.
- Look into TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.
Both are government-sponsored Trusted Traveler Programs that provide expedited security and customs lanes. There is an application process, so you may not have time before your first trip, but if you will be traveling more for business in the future, investing in PreCheck and Global Entry (for international trips) is a must.
Read and follow the company travel policy
Corporate travel policies explain what your company allows (and expects) traveling employees to do or not do. The rules are there to ensure your safety and comfort — and protect the company’s travel budget. Compliance is expected.
Study the whole thing, to learn both how to handle “everyday” travel and how unusual situations are treated – when you’ll need pre-approval, etc. Pay special attention to the lists of expenses that are reimbursable versus those you’ll have to pay for yourself. And make sure you understand the daily spending limits for meals, ground transportation, etc.
Book right away
Last-minute bookings are risky and expensive. Your company’s travel coordinator will show you how to use the corporate booking tool. If your employer uses Lola.com, you’ll really appreciate how fast and easy it is to book a flight and hotel that work well for you. Plus, you won’t have to worry about not following company travel policies because the booking options you see will automatically fit within those rules.
Understand the expense reimbursement process
What receipts are required? Is there a corporate credit card you will use, or will you have to use your own card to pay up-front, and then wait for reimbursement? Save all your receipts, and submit your expense report right away after you return. If your company uses Lola.com, you can submit receipts with the app as you get them.
Make a business trip packing list
Where you are going and what will you be doing determine what you will need to take with you. You’ll need:
- Tech devices and accessories
- Travel accessories – book, headphones, etc.
- Travel documents
Go to the TSA’s website and learn the screening rules so you don’t inadvertently pack something that’s not allowed.
Do not take a suitcase you have to check. This is the #1 mistake first-time business travelers make. Instead, carry-on luggage is a must to save time and hassle.
Along with your carry-on bag, use a backpack as your personal item instead of a purse or briefcase. Backpacks are more convenient to carry and business-centric styles offer features such as protective laptop sleeves and plenty of quick-access pockets for your travel docs, headphones and other things you’ll need in transit.
You might want to get a few trips under your belt before spending big on travel accessories, though, to get a better feel for the features that will work most smoothly for you. Meanwhile, ask to borrow some.
Keep travel docs together. Pawing around in your bag to find your boarding pass, passport, etc. holds up the security and boarding lines and increases risk you’ll lose something critical.
Be on your best behavior
Know the proper business etiquette for wherever you’re traveling to. You’re representing your company, so act professional. As you go through security, be nice. TSA agents are doing a serious job that they take seriously and your wisecracks or fit of temper won’t make the line go any faster.
The same goes for airline personnel and others you’ll interact with along the way. It’s not their fault if your plane is late, your flight is cancelled, or you’re tired from a long travel day. Learn to roll with these things – challenges are an inevitable part of the business travel experience.
You can have fun, including hoisting a beer at the bar with colleagues or even the client. But do not ever allow yourself to over-imbibe on a business trip. At the very least you will embarrass yourself and your employer, and there’s no telling what else might happen. Wait till you get home, then raise to toast to yourself and your first – and so successful! – business trip.