Saturday, August 23, 2014

On the road again...

Summer is basically over. I know we technically have a few more weeks left according to the calendar but here in the DMV, it's already getting cooler (damn summer polar vortex) and the kids are already starting back to school. School supplies are everywhere and I saw a display of candy corn at the grocery the other day.

When I joined the admissions staff of my alma mater in 2004, I began my career in work travel. Admissions counselors travel from mid-August to mid-November and again in the spring after reading season is over. I covered Nebraska, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and North-Central Louisiana so I earned a lot of frequent flyer miles and learned to love AM radio on the drives to Monroe and Shreveport. Since moving to the company I work for now (for eight years y'all), I have logged even more miles and hours in airports. I think I know a few things about traveling and how to prepare for weeks and months on the road.

In honor of travel season, I thought I'd offer my tips for making travel less horrible. Face it, work travel stops being fun the first time you're delayed and have to sleep in the airport. Or the hundredth time you spill coffee on yourself on your way to a school or meeting. Add your own tips to the comments!
  1. Make a packing list. I know you think you don't need to do this but you do. This is especially important if you are going to be gone for longer than one week. You need to plan outfits accordingly or make sure to account for dry cleaning or laundry services during your travels. My list also included items for the actual purpose of my trip: business cards, copies of presentations (if needed), banner, name tag. Making a list helps.
  2. Have two sets of all of your toiletries, medicine, chargers, and other accoutrements. I learned after my first trip that this is the only way to travel. You think that you're going to just throw in something you use the morning you leave but then you forget about it. Invest the money in two complete sets of makeup, other toiletries, medicine, chargers, hairbrushes, and anything else that you regularly need in a day. It's a bit of an investment up front but it will save you packing time and ultimately money in the long run. It's easier to keep track of what needs to be restocked or replaced if you do this. You can also keep the travel set in your preferred suitcase or overnight bag so your only packing is clothing. Two items to add to your kit: a Tide stick (or wipes) and binder clips. The Tide stick will come in handy (trust me) and the binder clips can be used for tons of stuff. My favorite: clipping the curtains together so no light comes in.
  3. Pack in a the same color family. This is especially important if you have to wear suits or more business professional clothes when traveling. If you bring the brown and the black suit, you have to bring the shoes to match. Don't do this. Pick one color family and accessorize appropriately. This cuts down on space in your bag and the number of things you bring that you ultimately won't wear anyway.
  4. Know the rules for whatever form of transportation you are taking. If you're new to traveling and don't know about TSA rules, read up on them. One of my biggest travel pet peeves is people who don't know about their liquids have to be in a quart size bag and that they have to take off their shoes to go through security. Do I agree with these rules? Not really but they exist and as a traveler you need to be aware of them. Same goes for policies on trains and what you're really signing in a rental car agreement. Literally everything is online these days so there's no reason not to be informed before you travel.
  5. You will experience a delay or cancellation at some point - Don't Panic! Delays are annoying and inevitable. Please don't be rude to the airline staff (even if they're being rude to you) and calm down. You will eventually make it to your destination and more than likely, you'll get something for your trouble. Make sure to check in and then go get a drink (alcoholic or otherwise).
  6. Bring something non-work related with you to occupy your time if you end up living in the airport. Did you know that the average American only reads four books a year? I read four books a month (and that's a slow month). Yes, you may need to use some of your time to do other work things but also make sure to bring something with you to allow yourself some decompression time. Books, knitting, your Netflix account - whatever works for you.
  7. Experience the cities you travel to as much as possible. I've had the good fortune to travel to some pretty fun and interesting places in my ten years on the road (and some creepy and horrible places too). If your schedule allows, do something that you can only do in that city or town. Go to a game, visit a museum, go to a local famous restaurant, see a play. The internet makes it so easy to find something to do wherever you're going so don't waste the opportunity.
  8. Embrace the chain restaurant. As a child of the suburbs I'm here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with chain restaurants. I also lived the majority of my life in New Orleans so I know that locally owned and operated restaurants are the best but sometimes all you need and want is a cheeseburger from Chili's or some breadsticks from the Olive Garden. You want the familiar because that's what we crave when we're away from home. Just do it; embrace the chain restaurant. And don't feel bad about it. I have an admissions counselor friend who used to plan trips around Cracker Barrel locations because there were no Cracker Barrels in his home state. That's how he got through travel season. Do what you have to do.
  9. But also make healthier food choices. And exercise. It's a lot easier now to eat healthier when you travel. Airports, restaurants, and even gas stations are getting on board with having lots of options when it comes to fresh food. Have a salad occasionally or some fruit. Don't eat fast food every day. Use the fitness center at your hotel or ask about trails around the area. Don't be a slug; it makes you more tired and less pleasant to be around.
  10. Embrace the Food Bed. Do you ever feel silly when you book a hotel room with double beds and you're the only person there? Don't. You've just been hotel-ing wrong. One bed is your Sleep Bed and the other bed is your Food Bed. Why eat dinner in the same bed you're going to sleep in? Do you want to smell like Chipotle first thing in the morning? You could also use your extra bed as a storage area and a work space if you want to separate work from sleep. 
  11. Invest in a great suitcase. Baggage fees are astronomical and ridiculous. Make sure you have one suitcase (with wheels) that will fit all of what you need for two weeks of travel. Mine version is purple BUT professional so it's easy to spot if I do have to gate check my bag.
  12. Postcards! I buy postcards when I travel. Sometimes I send them from my trip. Sometimes they come back with me and I send them at a later time. Or I use them for decorating my work cube. It's an inexpensive way to remember where I've traveled and I can use them to send people actual mail. Everyone loves getting actual mail.
It should go without saying (but I'm saying it anyway) that you should have fun when you travel even when it's for work. Today you're in sunny Omaha and tomorrow in snowy New Haven but at least you can say you've been there.

What did I miss? Anyone have other travel tips to share? Post them in the comments.

Next week on the Island: We say goodbye to summer by giving it the Lazy Movie Weekend treatment with a viewing of Wet Hot American Summer. I'll also unveil my plans to open a camp exclusively for indoor kids. You won't want to miss it!

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