Long delays, cramped hotel rooms, wondering just how much those airport body scanners really reveal. Travel has its drawbacks, but it’s usually more than worth the hassle to spend a few enjoyable days with your family or friends.
But what about work trips? Suddenly, the inconveniences of travel are mixed with the potential awkwardness of spending 24/7 with your co-workers. Like it or not, though, you’re bound to have conferences, client trips, or company meetings on the calendar at some point. So before you pack your bags, here are a few tips on making it tolerable and even—dare we say it—fun.
1. Stay Ahead of the Game
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.
Acting on the theory that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” will help keep the trip running smoothly and avoid you being pegged as the one co-worker who couldn't get her, ahem, stuff together.
2. Pack Smart
Don't forget to bring a few essential items to help save your sanity while traveling with co-workers. A pair of earplugs can be a lifesaver if you need to catch some zzz's on a flight or block out the sound of your snoring roommate at night. Headphones are a universal “I don't feel like chatting” sign, great for when you just need five minutes of quiet time. And a pack of cards are easy to fit in the pocket of your purse and can keep you and your officemates occupied during a layover or a lunch break.
3. Dress the Part
While we're on the subject of packing, remember to fill your suitcase with clothing appropriate to the occasion. Most importantly—if you're going to be flying with co-workers or meeting clients at the airport, make sure that your travel outfit can’t be described using the words "velour" or "sweatsuit." Ditch the Uggs and opt for something cozy yet professional—ballet flats and a soft maxi skirt, for example.
Sharing a room with a co-worker? Don't count on the hotel providing you with a robe. Pack a pair of respectable PJ's, even if you normally sleep in your skivvies.
4. Make it Fun
Even if you aren’t headed to a beachside city or major metropolis, work trips don’t have to be total snooze-fests. Every destination, no matter how small, has something to keep you and your co-workers entertained. Find the local hot spots using TripAdvisor and Fodor's, or search by city on the Food Network website for restaurants featured on shows like Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. At the very least, you'll avoid an overpriced meal at a mediocre chain restaurant, and you may even become the office hero for discovering that the sleepy southern city you're visiting is home to the world's best hickory-smoked ribs.
For something a little more unique, pay a visit to www.RoadsideAmerica.com. This website lists unusual landmarks and tourist attractions by state. (Headed to Omaha? Get your photo taken in front of the city’s 6-foot bronze statue of Chef Boyardee!) Convincing your co-workers to do something silly or partake in the local culture will provide some surprisingly good team bonding time (not to mention photos for the break room).
5. But Not Too Much Fun
That said, remember that a work trip isn’t your own personal spring break. Even if you’re technically off the clock, after-hours events with your co-workers are not the time to ride the mechanical bull, challenge a local to a drinking contest, or re-enact your favorite scene from Coyote Ugly. What happens at the regional sales conference doesn't necessarily stay at the regional sales conference—and you don't want to run the risk of your bad behavior making it back to your boss. A good rule of thumb is not to drink more on a work trip than you would at any other business function.
6. Keep Smiling
Ask any experienced traveler for tips, and they’ll probably mention the benefits of having a positive attitude. Flight cancelled? Accidentally reserve a Smart Car instead of a rental van? Instead of having a meltdown, try to calmly look for ways to solve the problem. Anticipate that there might be a few delays or uncomfortable moments during your journey, and resolve not to let them get to you. Attitudes are infectious, and a good one or a bad one can set the tone for everyone on your trip. Plus, not only will your positive attitude impress your co-workers, it’ll increase your chances of getting an upgrade. And hey, that’s the real key to business travel! Have fun!