Businesses spent 1.3 trillion dollars on business travel in 2017. That’s double the U.S. Defense budget.
Businesses don’t tend to spend frivolously. They spend on travel because spending reaps rewards. You travel in-person to a conference and come away with connections, education, and new ideas. You travel to China to broker a deal, you gain a trade partner and a ton of money you wouldn’t have if you’d tried to broker the deal over the phone.
If you’re a freelancer or an online entrepreneur, travel might not always be part of your budget. You might prefer to hole up and do the client’s bidding from the comfort of your own home office. And that’s ok. But business travel could increase your connections and increase your income.
If you are heading to a client’s conference or to a client sponsored training for the first time, it might be overwhelming to bring your business with you. This is especially true if you’ve been working from home for years.
Here’s how I survive traveling as a freelancer.
1. A Sturdy Well-Organized Backpack
While rollaway bags are all the rage, they’re impractical for travel. If you’re like me, you try to save as much money on travel as possible. That means public transport over Uber. It also means that if you’re pulling a rollaway behind you in a city, you stand out like a sore thumb. Plus, your arm gets tired.
Unless your client uses corporate transportation services (tell me who you work for then!), you’re going to want to be as mobile as possible as you travel. A good urban travel backpack will keep you mobile.
You want a backpack with a waist strap just in case you have to walk far to get to the next bus or rush across a busy terminal to catch your flight. This will save your shoulders and your back.
Your backpack should be compartmentalized. This means easy zippable access to each compartment. And you should have at least four compartments.
If you can’t find a compartmentalized backpack, try using packing cubes. These handy buggers allow you to neatly pack and separate your clothing from your toiletries. Separate your underwear from your other clothes. Keep valuables zipped tight in small packing cube.
You want to be able to quickly snatch your laptop out for work or to run it through the airport xray machine. You should also have a place to store your travel documents.
And the best backpacks have side pockets for water bottles and other quick access needs.
2. Dress Better Than You Normally Would
I was at a conference in Florida last year with some fellow freelancers. We all dressed to the nines because we wanted to impress our mutual client and potential clients. Someone came up to us and asked, “Are you guys Republicans?”
I guess they thought we were rich politicians. Hey, it’s better to be mistaken for a rich politician on your business trip than a dumb kid out partying.
Not only will your clients be impressed if you dress well, but the airline attendants will be too. You’re more likely to get treated better by airline employees. You’re more likely to get upgrades or special perks.
People who say they don’t judge by appearance are liars. Everyone does it whether it’s conscious or not. So don’t give anyone an excuse to treat you poorly while you travel and you’ll have a better experience.
3. Take Advantage of Location
Unless you’re heading out to middle-of-nowhere Kansas, most business destinations include some sort of tourist attraction. Whether that be nature, excitement, relaxation, or adventure, there will always be something you could stay and do while you’re on your trip.
If you can afford it, tack a day or two onto your trip. Stay around and visit the city or location where your conference is located. Often, big conferences will give discounts on local attractions.
When I was in St. Petersburg last year for a conference, I stayed an extra day and wandered around the city. I even scheduled a mangrove kayak adventure and was able to see more of Florida than I’ve ever seen in my life.
Life is too short to not take advantage of business travel. If you’re able to write off your plane ticket as business travel, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t get some adventure in while you’re at it.
This really depends on the culture of the conference or the client. Is the client more professional and business-like? Or are they a hip young company? Either way, behave yourself.
Alcohol is a strange drug. In small quantities, it will lubricate your conversations. You can quickly make connections over a bottle of wine with your clients. But drink too much and suddenly you’re saying too many things too loudly.
You might end up baring your soul to your client about something you would never talk about while sober. You’ll wake up the next morning wondering why in the world you behaved so oddly.
A good rule of thumb for business travel is to only drink as much as you would if your boss were around. Now, that’s not always a good metric. I had a boss in New Mexico who drank more than anyone on the trip.
Discretion is the real rule of thumb. Stay sober and behave well. You’re not there to party. You’re there to make connections.
It’s entirely possible to act professional and have fun.
5. Don’t Be a Downer
No matter what happens in your travels, chin-up. It’s a privilege to travel. That’s especially true if your client or boss is paying for you to travel.
Get delayed or stuck overnight somewhere, take a chill pill and go to the hot tub. Make the best of every situation.
Once you do make it to your conference, you’ll be a happier person. Force yourself to smile even if you’re grumpy from traveling. Eventually, your emotions will catch up with your face.
And even if they don’t, your client will appreciate your disposition. You’ll be more likely to garner more work and more clients if you’re a pleasant person on your business trip.