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$30 for a checked bag, but this service is included.

$30 for a checked bag, but this service is included.

In certain ways going on a business trip is like having kids. When you make the decision to have another one, you have forgotten the most painful parts of the previous ones. And on the day you make the commitment to do it, the actual event is far enough in the future that it doesn’t seem real — until you wake up in a strange room in the middle of the night and realize “this is happening to me right now and there’s no going back.”

I spent 11 years as a road warrior working on client sites, flying 2-8 times per week  and eating dinner in restaurants more than 250 times per year. I’m not trying to claim victory (if you feel the need to comment that you have traveled more, please do, we’ll all be impressed). Similarly, I’m not asking for any pity; it was a choice I was willing to make at the time. The reason for citing my travel pedigree is to suggest that I have learned some of these lessons the hard way and that the tips I’m offering are effective. I hope you enjoy your future travel a bit more as a result.

  1. Be nice. The ticketing agents who collect baggage fees, TSA agents who inspect your toothpaste, and rental car clerks who tell you the only car left in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is a Chevy Impala that costs $300/day are people who got up in the morning and went to work just like you. Call it “the Golden Rule,” “catch more flies with honey,” or one of many other cliches: in the heat of the moment we can forget basic respect for others. Smile and address people by name. Read Carnegie’s classic for more similar techniques.
  2. Bring stuff home for the people you miss. The cost isn’t important; making the effort and as a sign that you were thinking of them while you were away really does count.
  3. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. Stuck in a middle seat and the map looked totally full at check-in? Stop at the service desk on your way to the gate and ask if anything has opened up (this got me a free aisle seat in Economy Plus last week). Hotel room on the club floor? Rental upgrade to the convertible? Help someone else have a little bit better day and they are likely to reciprocate (see #1 above).
  4. Soak in the experiences where you are, rather than wishing you were home already. If you catch yourself burning energy and attention on where you were yesterday or where you’re going tomorrow, try to bring your attention back to the present. Who knows, this might be your only chance to experience Cedar Rapids in this lifetime. Thousands of people have actively chosen to live there: find out why and enjoy it.
  5. Embrace the unexpected. Terry Leahy quotes British military strategists frequently in his great new book, including this one from Sir Michael Quinlan during the Cold War: “What does happen is what we did not deter, because we did not plan and provide for it, because we did not expect it.” Laugh instead of crying or yelling. You and the people around you will enjoy the unexpected situation much more.

Whether you travel for work once a year or every day, it is easy to catch yourself thinking “why me?” when plans go awry. Business travel doesn’t have to be agonizing, and I hope these tips help you.

Cedar Rapids is one of hundreds of locales I was fortunate enough to visit during my first stint in consulting. I’ll never forget the Amana beef cookoff, Hibachi, and the friends I made there. I joke because I love.
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