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The Joys of Business Travel

One of the questions I get asked most often about my job is some variation on “Do you travel a lot?”
Yes. Yup. I do. Usually in spurts—this time around, I’ve been away from home for six days for two sets of meetings, after a two-day trip just a week ago. I am most often on small planes via small airports. Sometimes with little notice, for very short periods of time.
Business travel can be a gigantic pain in the neck. Delays. People. People experiencing delays. Traffic. Bad sleep (it takes me days to adjust to sleeping somewhere other than home). Small beds. Cars only slightly larger than sneakers.
But even at the most frustrating of moments, I try very hard to remember that business travel is also an enormous privilege. It allows me to meet phenomenal campus leaders and faculty members. It allows me to learn more about beloved cities (hey, Chicago!) and visit new states (looking at you, Iowa!). I now have favorite restaurants all across the country. There are moments, looking out of an airplane window, when I am staggered by the diverse geography of our country. And sometimes I’m lucky enough to step off a plane or a train to see the smiling face of a coworker.
So as I pack up in another hotel room to head for another airport for yet another flight home, here are a few of my top travel tips:

  1. Get PreCheck. You know about PreCheck. You’ve heard people rave about PreCheck. Get PreCheck. The price is right ($85 for five years), the convenience is amazing, and if you’ve ever been randomly selected for PreCheck, you need to know that program is coming to an end so best apply for the real deal now.
  2. Be loyal. Pick an airline. Pick a hotel chain (or two). Pick a rental car company. Beyond the miles and the points you can use for personal travel, having loyalty status means you are (at least somewhat) more likely to get the attention of your travel partner when you’re in a jam.
  3. Pack wisely. I don’t care how far behind you are on work, or how many unopened emails you have—pack a book and a magazine or two. You’ll need something to amuse you during takeoff and landing when laptops are verboten, and most reading material is better company that the fellow business travelers you’ll encounter at the hotel bar or restaurant.
  4. Understand your limits. As an introvert, I don’t always have the stamina to go from a day’s worth of meetings to a team dinner. I’ve let my team know that if I decline dinner or drinks for a night in my room, it’s just me understanding who I am and what I need. Get comfortable asserting what you need to be successful and productive while on the road, from downtime to workout time to a good breakfast to 30 minutes of email triage.
  5. Stay connected to the important stuff. I make time on every trip to FaceTime my nephew, text with friends and talk with my mom. These things center and ground me, help shake off the stresses of travel, and keep me connected to my “real” life.
  6. Have a sense of humor. Into every business traveler’s life, a little aggravation must fall. We’ve all seen people at airports, restaurants, hotels, rental car counters, or coffee shops who cannot or will not handle curve balls with grace and humor. We don’t want to be those people. We want to be people who understand that anger and hostility get us nowhere. We want to be the people who understand when we’ve been bested by circumstances beyond our control. We want, at the end of the day, to be the guy who, in the face of borked travel plans, remakes a Celine Dion music video in the deserted Las Vegas airport.

As we head into Thanksgiving week, I wish you safe and aggravation-free travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure. And if you see me in the PreCheck line, please say hi!