If you’re like me and log a lot of miles for work, the “romance” of business travel has likely been replaced with an endless barrage of uncomfortable hotel beds, flight delays, missed connections, and sub-par coffee. Life on the road can be especially tough for entrepreneurs and startup owners who need to travel for networking and fundraising presentations, but don’t have a big corporate travel budget to foot the bill (or score endless free perks).
Smarter, more affordable business travel doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. While I’m still trying to master the art of sleeping on a plane (who isn’t?), these tips have made business travel a bit more enjoyable, easier on the bank account, and––most importantly––helped me be a better networker on the road:
- Maximize your time. When I’m on the road, I don’t waste time sitting in the hotel room working – I can do that anywhere! Instead, I research the area I’m traveling to and look for business conferences, lectures, seminars or other industry events that will be taking place at the same time I’ll be in the city. On the other hand, when I’m on a plane I typically avoid purchasing in-flight Wi-Fi and instead use the flight as a distraction-free time to catch up on creative projects, like working on blog posts or an eBook.
- Be smart about travel planning. While apps like TripIt are great for keeping itineraries organized in one place, these apps are less helpful when you find yourself stranded overnight at an airport debating whether you should pony up the cash for a hotel room or just drive to your final destination. Chasing travel deals can feel like a full-time job, even with an online search aggregator. My personal favorite is Hipmunk since it instantly searches the widest selection of travel sites, including Amtrak and AirBnb. Tim S. from Ohio says, “Really well-designed app that’s easy-to-use. I had to book a last minute business trip, and it made my compare shopping a lot easier since it has all the prices in one spot. Agony and Ecstasy sorts were great for giving me affordable options that aren’t crusty motels or flights with painfully long layovers. Airbnb options also a huge plus. All in all a great and wonderful quirky app.”
- Connect in real life with LinkedIn contacts. I like to go through my LinkedIn contacts that are a based in an upcoming travel destination and suggest we meet in person for a short coffee, especially if we’ve never met in real life or only connected briefly once before. To save the time (and expense) of running all over a major city, I typically station myself at a quiet coffee shop or shared workspace and invite folks to drop by during set hours (e.g., 3 to 5 pm on a Tuesday afternoon), so I can chat with as many people as possible. Face time is truly invaluable and while I may not be able to justify the expense of a plane ticket for a 15 minute coffee chat, there’s no reason I can’t schedule these chats around an existing meeting. If you’re in New York, Boston or San Francisco, consider booking a quiet “breather” space for a few hours in the afternoon to act as a temporary office for hosting meetings.
- Get a good meal (and a business deal). Let’s be honest: most room service is not only inedible, but it’s also downright expensive! Unfortunately, busy business travelers don’t have time to comb through Yelp reviews to find the perfect under-the-radar affordable dining destination. Your solution: tap your network. Everyone loves giving advice about the best places to eat! Tapping into your network for food recommendations when you’re on the road is a great way to alert folks that you’re visiting their city and even turn a virtual recommendation into an in-person lunch or dinner meeting.
- Use a checklist. Like most folks, I keep a travel checklist in my Evernote with all the essentials I typically pack for business travel (e.g., clothing, chargers, backup energy bars, etc.). I also keep a separate list with my networking goals for the trip. After a long day of meetings, it can be tempting to just crash at the hotel room. By quickly scanning my networking list, I can see if I’ve met these goals (e.g., connecting with three LinkedIn contacts for coffee, dropping by two networking conferences, etc.). This list keeps me focused on maximizing my time and getting the most out of my travel budget.
- Know when to stay home. With Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts and a plethora of other free video and conference call services, sometimes more can be accomplished by staying home rather than meeting in person. If a possible trip doesn’t offer enough secondary networking opportunities and you’ve already connected in person before, suggest turning the meeting into a virtual one.
By approaching business travel like a networking game, I’m more likely to create new opportunities to connect with contacts in real-life and reach out to folks I’ve never met before. This helps me maximize the value of every business trip and get the biggest bang for my travel budget.