Business Travel: A Guide to Hassle-Free Domestic Trips

Business Travel: A Guide to Hassle-Free Domestic Trips

Making preparations probably constitutes the biggest aggravation of any journey. Even when travel does not cross U.S. borders, entrepreneurs embarking on business trips must tackle a welter of extra details. Industry experts say the secret to smooth travel lies in allowing ample time before departure to plan details and to tie up loose ends. Whether you're turning to the pros for help or opting for a do-it-yourself approach, the following strategies can make business travel a treat.

Travel Arrangements: The Right Agent

The Internet offers many services once exclusive to travel pros, but some business owners may find themselves regretting they haven't used a travel agent. The time needed for booking flights and hotels can interfere with other preparations; and airlines, hotel and itinerary glitches may sap energy and build frustration, undermining the traveler's ability to focus on business.

Agents do charge a commission. On the other hand, they have the capacity to cater to specific needs and preferences, offer money-saving deals beyond what's available via the Internet and are a blessing in emergencies. For companies with employees, an agent also can guarantee that personnel stick to the owner's travel policies.

To find an agent, do a quick Internet search or ask friends, family and colleagues who they've dealt with successfully. When interviewing agents, ask how long they have been in business, with five years of experience being desirable. It's also a good idea to inquire about:

  • Qualifications.

    The highest certification for an agent is a Certified Travel Consultant. This designation requires five years of full time travel industry experience and the completion of 12 courses. Other certificates are Certified Travel Associate and Destination Specialist. These credentials demonstrate in-depth industry knowledge and dedication, though they are not mandatory.
  • Booking fees.

    The agent should be forthcoming about general rates and fees for special services, such as ticket delivery.
  • Specialties.

    Some agents deal primarily with group travel, while others focus on individual travelers.
  • Availability.

    An agent should be able to offer on-call round-the-clock emergency assistance.
  • Deals.

    Top-notch travel agents typically can find ways to save money for regular clients, such as preferred supplier arrangements in the hospitality and airline industries.

"Do-it-yourself" Travel the Easy Way

While travel agents can be worth the investment, some business owners prefer to make their own trip arrangements. Aside from the time commitment, using the Internet makes the task eminently doable. That said, there are some strategies targeting reservations, expenses, safety and other business-travel related issues that can be helpful to keep in mind:

  • When making airline, hotel and car-rental arrangements, check out companies that offer special deals to business owners.
  • Run online price comparisons using Web sites such as travelocity.com, expedia.com and orbitz.com. These allow price comparisons on airlines, hotels and rental cars, often at rates better than the providers advertise.
  • Check organizations such as AARP and AAA for member travel discounts and help with itineraries.
  • When booking air travel, make sure there's adequate time in between connecting flights.
  • Set up a destination list, complete with places you plan to visit. This might include the hotel, convention center, restaurants, etc. Then, enter the address, contact information and a map for each place.

Change Voicemail and E-Mail: Electronic Messages Mean Happy Clients

Extensive travel can mean lost phone messages, ignored e-mails and missed opportunities at home. The trick for avoiding potential catastrophe is simple. Small-business owners must notify clients and customers of their pending absence - by telephone, e-mail or short written correspondences - at least seven days prior to departure. Office productivity programs frequently include e-mail management features such as automatic response, an effective way for a computer to shoot back a reply once the owner is out of the office. And virtually all land-line and cellular phone providers offer user options regarding greeting, messaging, call forwarding and other functions.

Checklists: Before Departure

Even the most organized business travelers can get stranded in airports due to cancelled and delayed flights, or in strange cities minus critical computer files. To forestall these headaches, utilize checklists in the 24-hour period prior to departure. The following suggestions will serve as a starting point:

  • Personal luggage:

    Try to get everything into one carry-on bag to avoid lost luggage, additional charges for checked items and long waits in baggage claim. Make sure to follow TSA regulations regarding carry-on items, too, especially for liquids and gels. With tighter security measures that may include pat-downs and AIT screenings, improper packing will add to potential delays.
  • Personal items:

    Include duplicates of sleepwear and toiletries, and pack easy-care, basic clothing to mix and match. Pack non-liquid prescription medications in their original bottles in a carry-on bag.
  • Briefcase:

    Include a travel folder for files, presentation materials, travel itineraries and other business must-haves. Pack extra notebooks, pens, a calculator, business cards, a mini-stapler and paper clips. A large envelope or zippered pouch for receipts and expense forms is a good idea, too.
  • Computer:

    Pack an adaptor, extra diskettes and CDs, a flash drive or memory stick, and a system boot disk. Include a note card with emergency repair numbers or Web sites.
  • Remote PC Account

    . Software such as GoToMyPC, allows users to securely access an office computer from almost any location via the Internet in a matter of seconds. Remote PC solutions can cost as little as $10 a month and provide an invaluable safety net. Make sure to keep a copy of your Remote PC address and password on hand.
  • Phone:

    Travelers should carry a portable battery pack for their mobile devices. Since the lifespan of a battery generally runs anywhere from one to three days, having this backup is extremely important on long-distance travel.
  • Wallet:

    Carry separate credit cards for business and personal purchases. Instead of carrying large cash sums, opt for traveler's checks or use an ATM card at your destination.
  • Air travel:

    Before heading for the airport, check for flight changes or cancellations. Most airports host sites that offer this information in real time. For electronic purchases of domestic flights, airlines typically allow passengers to print their boarding passes within 24 hours before departure. Once again, check with individual carriers for changes in check-in times and baggage requirements; and always allow extra time for security procedures.
  • Rental cars:

    Investigate dealerships located off airport property. Usually, these are less expensive and within a short cab or shuttle ride. Take advantage of coupons and special offers, too.

Online Travel Resources

Conducting business out-of-town often proves to be a wearing task, but online resources can reduce the stress. Below are a few helpful services, with many offering smartphone apps:

  • Online mapping services:

    Web sites such as MapQuest let business travelers chart the best route before heading out of the hotel for a big meeting. These online services provide interactive maps, driving directions, road trip planners, phone number search engines and more. Others providing door-to-door directions are Google Maps and Yahoo! Maps. A few sites also offer business-related solutions, including mapping software and platforms that allow companies to systematize location-based services via Web sites and mobile technology.
  • Weather:

    Online resources such as the National Weather Service highlight current atmospheric conditions all over the world. This information lets business travelers determine what clothing to pack, how to prepare for potential flight delays and more.
  • Flight status:

    The Federal Aviation Administration provides up-to-the moment information on general airport status. Using a map of the U.S. and color-coded bullets, the site lets visitors know what airports are experiencing general arrival/departure delays taxi delays, closed airports and more.
  • Food ordering and delivery:

    Delivery.com provides access to a network of nearly 10,000 restaurants, caterers, grocers and other merchants that provide food delivery services to weary travelers in more than 50 major U.S. cities.