At least every six months I'll empty my laptop bag and suitcase and remove items that I don't regularly use. There are tons of travel and technology gadgets that seem like good ideas, and it can be tempting to pack backup clothing, batteries, and a half-dozen pairs of shoes, but at some point you're going to be dragging, lifting, and hauling those items while they contribute nothing to your trip. In all but rare cases, items from clothing to chargers are available nearly anywhere in the world, so six pounds of backup gear is probably not worth hauling for a year on the off chance you will need it and can't find a local replacement.
If you're going to be traveling routinely, it's worth buying duplicates of key items and leaving them in your travel bag, versus remembering to repack them after using them at home. For me, this is things like laptop and phone chargers, toothbrushes, and basic toiletries. I rarely forget these necessities since I have a travel set that's always in my suitcase or laptop bag.
Download the Google Translate app before you leave and use the camera feature for translating menus, signs, posters, and anything else you need to read. You simply press the camera icon, aim your phone at the text, and it translates it all in real-time for you. This was so unbelievably helpful for menus in Taiwan, where I had no idea what anything was.
Sure, you should have a rough plan for your trip, but don’t book everything in advance or you’ll likely feel too restricted and end up regretting it. Book a one-way ticket and your first few nights of accommodation — you’ll figure the rest out along the way. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re in a tourist destination there’ll always be someone who’s willing to take your money by giving you a place to stay.
Careful planning is the secret to every successful trip, and work travel is no different. It’s actually even more important to be uber-prepared when you have the eyes of your boss and co-workers on you. So map out the route to the hotel and double-check the dates on your rental car reservation. Bring an extra alarm so that you don’t miss your flight or show up 20 minutes late to your meeting. Try to carry on your luggage so that your bags don't end up in Anchorage when you're headed to Atlanta.
Traveling with kids like us? Then spend more time in fewer places. Don’t try and go everywhere and do everything – that’s a recipe for burnout and blowing your budget! Instead of racing from one end of a country to another, or tearing through 6 countries in 6 weeks, slow down and take more in. Constantly having to pack and unpack, spend time searching for flights and accommodation and transport, and deal with different time zones, currency changes, and even visa issues can be exhausting.
Everyone knows that jet lag feeling: You’re groggy at dinner, but unable to sleep at night; you can’t muster hunger at socially appropriate times and even your digestive system doesn’t seem to cooperate. And some studies have linked chronic jet lag (jumping time zones on at least a weekly basis) to increased risk of some cancers and quicker cognitive decline. In other words? It’s time to get with the (local) program fast.
Hotels & Motels: Hotels and motels are the tried-and-true standard for most vacations—providing a safe, clean, and comfortable place to go to sleep at night. They’re important here. Remember, California invented the motel back in the 1920s. Top chains are well represented statewide, and are often located in larger metropolitan areas and near tourist attractions and travel routes. Boutique hotels tend to offer a more intimate and luxuriously stylish environment for travelers. In more rural areas, consider independently owned lodgings, some in historic buildings.
No-where did we find this more frustrating than in Cambodia. Like a lot of countries, Cambodia is quite cheap to travel when compared to Western countries, but are they still largely dependent on using the US Dollar, with the Riel only used for very small transactions. However, all the ATMs seem to be loaded with $100 bills, and don’t charge a % fee, they charge by transaction! This means it makes sense to get larger sums out, to avoid being charged multiple transaction fees.
When possible, even on business trips, I try to avoid hotels and stay with a member of one of my homestay networks. I find the genuine contact and family atmosphere a welcome change from conference hotels. Yes, there's some transportation logistics, but generally, I find it worth the schlep across town to make new friends and get my batteries recharged.
Recently, for example, a nursing mother was told by a TSA agent that she couldn't bring a breast pump with empty milk bottles on board the plane. (Legally, she could.) In 2007, the TSA lifted its ban on regular lighters, but many screeners still confiscate them. (Legally, they can't.) The moral of the story: Familiarize yourself with the TSA's rules and regulations, because you can't necessarily expect your security screener to be well informed.
A common mistake many people make is to ignore or shy away from the importance of social customs overseas. Be open to accept hospitality and engage with respect and patience and understanding of the challenges inherent to life in their country. Try the local food, seek out conversations with varying members of the community, and take the time to sit and listen. This type of focus on business trips has helped me learn about the culture and people with whom I would eventually manage an international charity empowering hundreds of women.
If using room service, be nice to the order taker and make him or her your friend. When they tell the chef about the nice person from whom they just took an order, you’ve assured yourself of getting good food. If the food is great, call back and ask the order taker to thank the chef. I’ve had chefs call me back and say that no hotel guest had ever said thank you to them in their career. Always be nice to hotel workers and go out of your way to greet them with a good morning or good afternoon. They deal with loads of jerks and rude people. Visit the bank before your trip — hotels never have money to make change — and change $100 into $5 bills.
When booking flights, particularly between US & Canada & other international destinations, compare booking 2 one way flights vs. roundtrip. Due to different taxes, I've saved hundreds of dollars on business travels (when I was an agent, I did it for my clients) by taking this route. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but for the few minutes it takes to compare, always check it out. And don't always feel the need to fly both ways with the same airline. I've also saved hundreds by using 2 different lines each way.
It also helps to know which items are, according to the TSA, considered liquids or gels and thereby subject to the 3-1-1 rule. This isn't as simple as it sounds. Foods such as peanut butter, pudding, mashed potatoes, and icing are classified as gels. Mascara, lip gloss, and aerosol items are also classified as liquids or gels. But keep in mind that liquid prescription medication is exempt. (Read more on that on The TSA Blog.) See a more complete list of liquids and gels that are not permitted in carry-on luggage in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces here.