5 tips for business travel

In the airport a fight attendant said to my six-year-old son, “Where are you going today?”

He said, “California.”

She said, “You’re a lucky boy!”

He said, “Actually, I’m really tired of going to airports with my mom.”

This is because I’ve been taking him on all my business trips. And he is learning something important about business travel: It’s really, really hard to do a lot of it, and you need a strategy. To be sure, there are people who travel almost every day of the year. I think they’re nuts. They don’t have a life. I’m talking about people who travel two or three times a month, which I’ve done, on and off, for a long time. Those trips take a toll, and you need a plan to keep yourself sane.

1. No sightseeing.
Forget museums and other tourist hotspots. If you travel once a year, sightseeing is exciting. If you travel enough to wonder if your home is really your home, then you need to keep a semblance of routine so you feel like you do have some sort of life outside of work. The trick, when you’re traveling a lot for business, is to stay sane in the midst of constant new surroundings, not to pile new stuff on top of new.

I try to stay on one time zone the whole trip, eat the same foods each day, wake up the same time each morning, and go to the gym. I book hotels according to how good the gym is. I used to book private Pilates lessons if I was missing my Pilates lesson at home. Now I book cello lessons for my son if we are gone for one or more lessons.

2. Buy two of everything. 
Duplicate sets of clothes means that you can stay packed all the time. Packing and unpacking constantly is really annoying if you travel for business. It’s just sort of a way to extend the trip even longer because the transition times are longer. And forgetting stuff on the trip makes the trip hell. If you have duplicates you avoid all these problems. Bonus: the second set of this stuff is usually tax deductible because you wouldn’t have bought it if you weren’t traveling for work. (But check with your accountant or tax software to make sure you’re incorporated.)

Another thing you can do with the duplicate stuff is leave it in a place you go to a lot. I go to NYC a lot, so my son keeps a skateboard, helmet and pads at my friend’s apartment. That way he can maintain his skating routine without having to schlep the equipment back and forth.

3. Meet a friend.
I’m going to tell you about the time I spoke at the Natural Products Expo.

First, you should always look at the list of people who will be at the show and figure out who you want to meet. You should contact those people beforehand to ensure that you get to meet them. I did not do this. But my friend, Heather Stouffer, did, and she texted me.

I said to my son, “Let’s go visit my friend!”

Heather is the CEO of Mom Made Foods. She is the person who gave me tons of coaching on how to launch a food business, when I was going to sell goat cheese. In fact, she was so generous with her time and information that I decided I’d rather die than deal with the shipping issues surrounding perishable food.

My son did taste tests while we talked.

It’s draining to meet all new people all the time, and I’m always careful to limit interactions with people I don’t know. But seeing a friend is different. Tom Rath’s research at Gallup shows that if we have a friend at the office, it’s almost impossible to hate our work. I have found that when traveling, if I have a friend in that city to meet up with, it’s almost impossible to hate that day of travel.

4. Be a tyrant about your hotel choice.
When you travel, the fewer surprises the better. So you should pick a hotel chain and stick with it. When I had really well funded companies, I stayed at a Westin hotel wherever I went. The beds were so fluffy and cozy. Staying at a high-end hotel can make you feel a little better about missing out on your whole life back home. Which is why companies are often willing to spring for the higher hotel rate.

When I travel for speaking engagements, I have less control over the hotel, but I always end up in a good one because it’s where the conference is. When I stayed in Las Vegas, I was at the Cosmopolitan. With my son, of course. A nice hotel in Vegas means naked women all over the walls, condoms all over our room, and casinos at breakfast.

Which reminds me that fun stuff you don’t usually do, you should save for home. Stuff is fun when it’s a break from your routine. Stuff is not fun if it’s adding to the already unpredictable and tenuous life of a constant traveler. That includes shopping, movies, and even gambling. You don’t need to gamble at a casino. You can do it at sites like this.

So don’t pick a hotel because it’s fun. Pick a hotel because it allows you to create more stability during your travel life.

5. Avoid the Red Eye at all costs.
It’s so enticing to book a Red Eye. When you look at the landing time it looks like you almost won a free day. And on top of that, companies will almost always upgrade you to first class if you take the Red Eye.

But there’s a reason for that: The Red Eye is impossible to sleep on without drugging yourself, and you are basically losing a night of sleep in order to gain a day of work. So it’s a great bargain for your worklife at a terrible cost for your personal life. Every time I get home from  the Red Eye I’m a grouch, and I have to sleep in the middle of the day, and I vow to never do it again.

But of course, I do book the Red Eye again. And here’s what happened last time I booked the Red Eye, and we were standing in line to board a plane at 11:50 pm:

42 replies
  1. Andi
    Andi says:

    I didn’t travel much for my job when I worked outside the home, but the commute was long enough that I did keep a separate change of clothes, makeup, & other toiletries in my car — I called this my “Jump Bag” & jokingly said I’d be prepared in case of any impending zombie apocalypse. The first time I had to travel for my work, I didn’t think through the hotel choice, & went with el-cheapo. Many things are equally great whether brand name or generic, but Hershey’s Syrup & hotels are two things on which I insist we spend the extra dollar. And as for the Red Eye, well I’m lucky enough that I can sleep anywhere! But, if I had to take my kid with me, I’d definitely think twice. My sympathies on your hardship — but I do think it’s awesome you make it a priority to spend time with your child as much as possible. That’s why I quit my job. :)

  2. Amy parmenter
    Amy parmenter says:

    So funny. Just got back from LA. Took the red eye. And drugs. Got in at 638am. Went home and crashed unti 1p.

    I did see friend though…


  3. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    I only travel ~1 week/month, and while I *love* personal travel I only tolerate business travel. Your points about routine are dead on. My suitcase looks the same every trip. I am in the same hotel every trip. I even park in roughly the same place in the parkade at the airport.

    This last trip I actually met up with people I “knew” from a forum, I’m putting it in with your #3 Meet a Friend. It actually helped! It was a bright spot for the week.

    My company is pretty understanding about work/life balance, and so I never book the red eye. I have been on some late flights coming home though, and am still trying to figure out how to consistently avoid getting in after 1am.

    Also, if you cross the Canada/US border frequently, sign up for Nexus. Best. Thing. Ever.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I”m gonna come clean here and say yes. I actually get paid for stuff a lot. Sometimes I say I’m getting paid, like this one:


      And sometimes I don’t, like the one today.

      My rule for myself is that if no one can tell I got paid then it doesn’t matter that I got paid because my job here is to write consistently engaging, smart blog posts. And if I do that, then who cares how I got paid?

      And I think that if I am not going to write great posts, then announcing that I’m getting paid for a link doesn’t make up for me making you read a sub-par blog post.

      So, I think this post is probably an example of a bad choice on my part.

      I like this comment though. It’s smart. Thanks, HSG. And thank you for pushing me to keep the bar high.


      • Ensign
        Ensign says:

        I think most of your readers could infer that the poker site was a sponsored link. I certainly did. It was pretty heavy-handed, especially in light of the fact that your post immediately preceding this one bragged about your writing credentials.
        Underestimating our intelligence is probably not the best way to gain our trust and respect.

        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          Yep. I think you’re right. This didn’t work.

          But here’s some insight into how I operate:

          I have, at any given time, a list of like 20 links that I really want to include in a post for various reasons: I think the link is cool, I’m helping a friend, I’m getting paid.

          My editor never knows why a given link is in a post. And his job is to edit to keep my posts interesting. He just cuts everything that is boring without knowing which links I really wanted in there.

          So, for example, I really wanted to promote a project my friend Ramit Sethi was doing. And every time I put the link in, my editor would cut it. Til it was a joke, and I just started putting Ramit in every post, in totally stupid ways, just to make my editor laugh.

          Wait. I just realized. This is a great time to tell you to sign up at Ramit’s site. Even though I told him I’d include this link in my blog like, I don’t know, ten months ago:


          So anyway, my point is that the only way I can keep writing this blog is to make being interesting my number one thing. Sometimes I might falter, but it’s only a mistake.


  4. Mary
    Mary says:

    Yes on the same hotels, no on the no museums: I spent five years living on the road (as in high status frequent flier on three airlines at the same time) and when I stopped doing anything “extra” that was when I knew it was time to stop traveling. I ended up being the manager of the woman who replaced me. Her first trip she sent back pictures from the ranger lecture at some random park in Idaho. I knew we were all in our right places.

  5. Heather @ Mom Made Foods
    Heather @ Mom Made Foods says:

    Loved seeing you in Anaheim, Penelope! The photo of me and your son makes me smile. He was such a joy.

    With routine I would add, see if you can always get the same color car. When I travel for business, I often cannot remember what my car looks like in the parking lot.

    And, you’re so right on the red-eye! It is torture! We always take it back from LA after the Natural Products Show just because we want to get home to our families. And every time, I think there is no way I can do this ever again. Then I do…

  6. Kashif S. Malik
    Kashif S. Malik says:

    As always, your advice is spot on. Having travelled frequently for last six years, I have unconciously done all that you mentioned. I even ended up carrying my hobby items with me just so that I can have some sense of contunuity between my ‘travel’ life and ‘home’ life.

  7. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Great idea for a post Penelope. I don’t think you’ve ever blogged about business travel and it’s a great topic because so many people have to do it.

    I agree with everything you said.

    A couple tips I’ll add (I live on the west coast and regularly travel to the eastern time zone).

    1. Try to arrive in time to see the sunset. Flying east, if I catch the 7AM flight, I’m in downtown at the hotel around 4PM (4.5 hour flight and a 3 hour time zone, plus taxis). I find this helps a lot with being able to get to sleep at a decent hour. When I have to fly later in the day, and arrive at midnight, I never adjust and end up more sleep deprived.

    2. You can make the time zones work in your favour. Because I have kids roughly the same age as Penelopes, I will catch an 8PM flight back to the west coast after working all day (whereas many colleagues wait and catch a flight in the morning). I’m in bed by 11PM west coast time, and able to have breakfast with my kids. This is sort-of a red eye, but it works if you are traveling east-to-west.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The advice to arrive to see the sunset is such good advice. I think I’ve heard it before – a long time ago. And I brushed off the advice. But now that I have traveled a lot I realized that it makes a huge difference in terms of orienting yourself quickly. Thanks for the reminder, Wendy.


    • Rebecca
      Rebecca says:

      I completely agree with your 2 tips. I live West and fly East and do the same thing. Get out as early as I can and end the trip by flying home around 5 or 6. Totally works.

  8. LonerByChoice
    LonerByChoice says:

    Penelope, you are ace. This is hands-down one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. It is human comedy at its finest and bracingly refreshing. Thank you for your brazen honesty and for sharing your talent with us.

  9. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    eat what’s good where you are. “eating the same food each day” sounds like hotel buffets and applebees. yuck and yuck. america was so varied and different when I grew up. my boys see less of it now — there’s a whole foods every place we go — but I make them see it because when they’re grown up it will be gone. get thee to the local dive or taco stand now before it’s all gone.

  10. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    Travel is my fave topic and activity:)

    I want to keep it fun by limiting business trips to 4 a year. maybe 6 would work but 8 or more and it would start to feel like a business trip instead of fun:)

    I’m getting invited on travel press trips now which is fantastic. Going to places that I’ve never been to before like Japan and Canada on all expenses trips with sightseeing and being wined and dined the main activities.

    These are fun business trips but very tiring. yes, meeting new people takes it out of you. I always try to meet friends too or if I don’t know anyone try to make connections with the other travel writers before I leave.

    But a trip without family is always a business trip. I want to take my family, or at least one family member, on my trips too.

    Not the red eye though. Business class please;)

  11. Violeta
    Violeta says:

    Great post, Penelope!
    I used to work for a company that considered 100 km one-way commute to be “reasonable” and they refused to pay for a hotel when I needed to do business in that town. For me that commute was horribly tiring. Leaving my house at the crack of dawn and arriving back from work around 8 pm not c

  12. Violeta
    Violeta says:

    …Sorry, I must have pressed the Post my comment button by error…
    Leaving my house at the crack of dawn and arriving back from work around 8 pm not capable of doing anything. So, I ended up paying for hotel out of my own pocket to be able to perform at work in that other town – 100 “reasonable” km away from my home and my head office. So, what I am saying is that sometimes staying overnight in a hotel is better than enduring long daily commutes. But I definitely agree with you, Penelope, that business travel can turn even the most sane and high energy person into a wreck if one is not careful.

    • Business travels
      Business travels says:

      It’s fine and a reasonable position for your company to take. But if your company chooses that policy, you should be making yourself available at your usual starting time at the home base, and leaving the other end at the time you’d need to to return to base. Accepting it once or twice to help the company is being a team player. Accepting it often enough to make the decision to pay company expenses out of your own pocket is being a patsy.

  13. Jake
    Jake says:

    Another strike against Red Eyes is safety after you land. If you have drive somewhere after landing, it does not take much to fall asleep at the wheel.

    After a close call or two, I would rather get some sleep and catch the early bird. I have never been a business trip that is worth the risk of death or injury.

  14. JPC
    JPC says:

    I travel a lot for work and I have made it a point to work in a fun or educational activity when I am in a city for more than a day. Sometimes its is a local restaurant. Other times a museum or a play. I found that I was traveling to fascinating cities and only seeing the inside of an airport or a chain hotel. Sure the hotels are nice, but I was missing out on all that a particular city has to offer.

  15. Tim
    Tim says:

    Be careful when deducting business clothing from your taxes. The IRS seems to be very strict that if you can wear it in your personal life, it’s not deductible, even if it was bought for work.

    But keeping two bags packed is a great idea! I don’t even travel that much and I’m already thinking about how I could make that happen for the monthly overnights to family gatherings and such.

  16. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Good post! Travel tips! I always regret red eyes EXCEPT we did one to go to the Caribbean last summer on vacation (West to East), we got to the resort at about 2pm or so. Laid in the sun, swam and drank. Went to dinner, then went to bed. Got up the next day, ready to go.

  17. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    On my last business trip to Scottsdale, AZ I tried something a little drastic but it worked out pretty well. I sent my clothes, toiletries etc via Fed Ex to my hotel and sent them back to my house the same way instead of taking them with me on the plane. It saved me almost $100 in check bag fees….

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This strikes me as a similar situation to when I was working at 31 Flavors as a scooper in high school. We were all so sick of ice cream that we never ate it while we worked.


  18. David
    David says:

    I heard that in Las Vegas hotels you can ask to have the pictures turned around so you can see pictures of flowers instead.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Fascinating. The only time I have wished I was back in Las Vegas was after reading your comment – so I could peek behind the photos to see if there were flowers.


  19. Jakub @ Destination Pro
    Jakub @ Destination Pro says:

    Travel a lot for business (mostly to Amsterdam and other big cities in Europe) and it’s really good tip to leave some necessary things at the places, I do it so well… Of course, you need to make friends first :-)

    Btw. lucky son to have a possibility to travel with you.

  20. Melanie Hochleitner
    Melanie Hochleitner says:

    Hello Penelope,
    I also travel a lot – and I also try to do the best out of it. I like your tip to “buy two of everything”. I do it the same way. Unfortunately we can not deduce it from tax here. But: it is very very stressavoiding. I even have two suitcases: one on the trip, one at home packed and prepared. Weekends I simply swap the suitcases.
    Regards, Mel

  21. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    This article is just amazing! It made me think about my own travel routine. I have to improve a bit… ;-) Thanks for your very good tips!
    Me and the kids often accompany my husband when he’s on business trips and we always try to create a certain routine.

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