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The art of business travel

When I worked in advertising, I used to travel the world; visiting clients, potential clients and various suppliers. It was great fun, educational and absolutely knackering. At the beginning I was living the dream; hanging out in business lounges at airports, flying in seats with loads of legroom, free food and booze and basically the general feeling of being a rockstar.  

After a few years, however, it began to pall; 12 hours flying for what might end up as a forty-minute meeting, which could in theory have been conducted by phone. But getting the right people on a phone conference was difficult, so we all flew from different countries to one suitable destination. The bonus was, of course, airmiles, and loads of them.

Then technology and accountants changed the game somewhat. Advanced technology (Skype anyone?) and the march of the spoilsports (accountants) meant it was more cost-effective to meet disembodied people in the ether to make the important business decisions.

Soon after, I left advertising and upon enquiring with various airlines how I could spend the next year or so travelling business class around the world for free, was informed my company (ie, their accountants) had reclaimed all my airmiles. Pah.

However, with the advent of cheaper airfares, the realisation that nothing can replace face-to-face meetings and the always-present itch to leave the office and travel somewhere new, overseas travel for business purposes is firmly back on the agenda and still seen as a company bonus of sorts.

However, frequent travel is not for everyone; some are disturbed by the thought of their daily commute, let alone a flight and a few nights in a strange hotel in a foreign country.

Well here’s some advice for anyone who needs to go overseas for work; whether it’s just for the day or a longer stay.   

“Keep yourself safe”
Security is paramount for business travellers, with incidents such as the recent Paris attacks highlighting the need for employers to keep in touch with their travelling colleagues. “Traveller security is going to be very high on the agenda in 2016, particularly in light of the recent Paris atrocities, the Russian airline disaster and the indiscriminate attacks on hotels in Africa,” says Paul East at Wings Travel Management.

Business travel pros use tracking apps linked to their employers – but leisure travellers (particularly gap year students) can also use them to reassure their families. New safety app Companion is popular and features GPS, while the ICE app allows you to store medical details in case of emergency – and translates them into ten different languages.

“Make sure you’re rewarded”
Business travellers are experts at ensuring they get air miles and other loyalty points. Signing up to airline loyalty programmes and using reward credit cards such as BA’s Amex card can reward you with free flights.
But beware – some reward cards have a huge annual fee, so check you are going to use the benefits before you sign up. You can compare reward cards at moneysupermarket.com.

“Don’t neglect the sharing economy”
Business travellers are now getting wise to Airbnb and Uber, as well as other ‘sharing economy’ apps, and as proof of this Uber recently overtook traditional taxis for business travel for the first time. David Chapple, director of the Business Travel Show, says the “affordability, convenience and high customer services” offered by these apps are attractive to travellers.

“Ask for more”
Business travellers use their spending clout to get them upgrades and extras on rooms and flights – but there’s nothing to stop regular leisure travellers doing the same. Apps such as Booking.com have special deals for ‘Geniuses’ (regular travellers). “You should always ask for more – free Wi-Fi, airport transfers, gym access, etc,” Mr Chapple says.

“Use your smartphone”
With a smartphone in their pocket, a business traveller has a host of information at their fingertips, from local restaurants (via sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor) to instant maps and the ability to take pictures of receipts for expenses.
But such a toolkit of apps to get you through your trip can sometimes come at an expense, so to prevent running up your data usage bill, data roaming packages such as Vodafone’s Worry-free Roaming which allows customers to use their UK data, minutes and texts abroad for a small, set daily cost, could be a good idea.


“Wise up on local customs”

Business travellers take time to research local customs before jumping in, using Twitter feeds such as @WingsTravelMgmt which offer insight into local customs.

Knowing how much to tip – and when not to (such as in Japan, where it is seen as unnecessary) – is vital, so read up before you go.

“Stop the germs”
No one wants to be ill on a trip, so many business travellers are cautious about hygiene.
“Airplanes are cauldrons for germs,” says Daniel Pink, regular business traveller, author and blogger. He recommends travelling with a bottle of hand sanitiser, and cleaning your hands and other items such as aeroplane food trays before lift-off.

“Don’t travel heavy”
How many business travellers check a bag in when they fly? Business travel blogger Roadwarriorette gives tips for keeping luggage weight down – even if you’re expecting a variety of climates.
“Plan to layer,” she advises. “Can you add a cardigan to a gauzy blouse and slacks combo and wear it in the colder location? What about warm tights, a scarf, and a blazer with a dress? Wearing the same base pieces in each location means you have to pack far less.” She also suggests that travellers consider doing laundry at their location and use packing cubes (available on Amazon and at travel stores) to keep things compact.

“Buy a local paper”
Want an instant snapshot of life at your destination so you fit in better? Buy a local paper, advises travel blogger and author Daniel Pink, pointing out that even if you don’t speak the language you’ll get a feeling for what’s important where you are travelling.
Carrying a paper will also make you look less like a tourist, he says, which might make you slightly safer.

“Be polite”
Regular business travellers know a smile and a polite attitude can get them a long way, and it’s a maxim that applies to us all.
Business coach Karen Southall Watts says “It’s amazing how much more you can get accomplished on a business trip if you are simply nice and polite to everyone you meet.”

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