So, your boss just told you to pack your bags because you are heading out on the road. It’s your first business trip. Exciting news! Besides the thrill of new places and adventure, business travel can be good for your career!
But now what? What do you bring? What if something goes wrong? Should you sign up for the rewards programs? How do I pay for all of this? What can I spend on food? All great questions!
Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! In this article we provide 11 tips designed to help you crush your first business trip. So let’s dig in!
Note: this post was originally published under the heading of 5 travel hacks for the first time business traveler. We’ve recently rewritten and expanded the # of essential trips you need to for your first business trip!
Definition of a Business Trip (and what to expect)
Let’s start first with a quick definition of what a business trip actually is. A business trip is nothing more a visit somewhere for work purposes. This visit takes you someplace other than your normal “office” – often places that require air travel to reach.
Maybe it’s to visit a customer for the purposes of selling them something. Or, perhaps it’s to attend a conference. Maybe it’s just for training. There could be a variety of reasons why your company is sending you out on the road.
You can expect a few things to happen when you travel for work:
- The company will pay for your travel – you may have to pay first, but they will reimburse you (if they don’t…run away from that company)
- There’s likely a company travel policy somewhere – you should go read it. It will give you the rules of the road so to speak. For example, how much per diem do you get a day? Or do you NOT get per diem and need to keep track of every single meal receipt, etc. What leeway are you allowed in picking flights, hotels, etc. All of this will likely be covered in the company travel policy. If this is your first business trip…read it.
- You likely have to book your own travel – in many cases through a custom travel portal although some companies just use something like Travelocity. Your travel policy is your guide.
- You might be traveling with colleagues or alone. If traveling with colleagues it might be worth coordinating your travel itineraries a little tighter. Often, the life of the road warrior is a solitary exercise. Just you, your carry-on and another airplane seat…
Hopefully that gives you a little insight into what to expect on your first business trip. Other terms you might occasionally hear business trips or business travelers use/refer to that all more or less capture the same idea:
- Business Travel
- Road Warrior
- Work Trip
- Travel for Work
Alright, let’s now shift this conversation to some detailed tips on how to slay your first work trip.
First Business Trip – Let’s Crush It
There are lots of different things you can do to make your first business trip go smoothly. Here’s a few important suggestions worth taking into consideration for your first work trip:
Tip #1: Register for frequent flyer programs.
It’s probably way too early to pledge allegiance to a specific airline, hotel or rental car company, but you should go ahead and sign up for a few – especially the ones you intend on using on this trip.
All major travel companies offer rewards programs that allow you to earn miles or points based on usage (e.g. stays, rentals, mile/segments flown, etc).
Even if you are not sure you will be traveling on a recurring basis (beyond your initial business trip) sign up anyway.
Get those points.
Many companies will allow you to transfer points to other programs so every little bit helps.
With the accumulation of points (or miles) you can start to redeem them for free trips, hotel stays or car rentals (all of which come in handy for that personal travel trip you might take with the family later).
Moreover, with lots of usage (e.g. when/if you become a serious road warrior) you can earn status.
Status will help ease future travel adventures by giving you better boarding options, room upgrades, freebies like water and snacks, or even an upgrade to the convertible rental car.
As someone who’s on the road most weeks of the year, these little benefits start to add up and help make the business travel life (which can be less than glamorous at time) much more palatable.
Key takeaway: Make sure you sign up for the airline, hotel and rental car rewards program. Often folks skip the rental car, but some of the programs (like National) are really strong.
- Protip: Sometimes your company will have an arrangement with one of the travel companies that allows you to jump start your status. For example, at my last company, they had an arrangement w/ National Rent a Car that allowed me to jump right up to the first rung of the ladder – regardless of how many cars I’d rented. But, I had to sign up for it. It immediately allowed me to get some of the benefits of a normal frequent traveler without having to rent 69 cars over the course of the year (or whatever it was).
Tip 2: Use your personal credit card – if you can – to get the points (or register for the rewards program with your company card).
Your company might issue you a company card and they do you may or may not get access to the points program. Either way, chances are you can qualify for a better rewards program w/ your own credit card (unless your credit is shite…lol).
Moreover, credit card companies routinely offer all kinds of programs to get you to sign up for their card. Southwest often offers giant piles of airlines miles for their Chase Card (often enough for a free flight or two immediately!).
The website “The Points Guy” might be worth a peek as they often aggregate and identify current credit card deals.
Whatever you do, do your best to use a credit card that gives you SOME sort of rewards for the trip. My trips often cost up to 2,000 or more for a week of domestic travel. Those are points that you’d be missing – even if it just your first business trip.
Protip: If you can use a separate credit card – just for travel and separate from the rest of your monthly expenses it might make it easier to do your expense reporting. Hard earned lesson on my end from muddling through expenses picking out which was my Applebee’s meal in Denver vs my kids piano recital. 🙂
Tip 3: Sign up for TSA Precheck (if there’s time)
There simply may not be time to get this done before your first business trip actually gets underway, but IF YOU CAN…sign up for it. And even if you can’t get it done before your trip starts, do it anyway – you can use it on your next trip.
TSA Precheck is a pre-screening program offered by the US Department of Homeland Security. After a short application, a background check, a very affordable $85.00 fee (for 5 years!), and an in-person interview where you are fingerprinted you can get access to a separate airport security check in line.
This line is almost always significantly shorter than the main security lines. It’s usually filled with business travelers…all of whom know what they are doing and move fast. AND…you don’t have to remove your shoes or take your gear out of your bags.
I’ve gotten through TSA Security checkpoints in literally 2 minutes before…where the normal line would have taken at least 20 minutes.
If you learn nothing else…do this. You can send me a Christmas Card later.
Tip 4: Don’t Check your Bag under any circumstances (which implies: don’t overpack!)
This is a major rookie mistake. As a young child you probably went on a big vacation with your family at some point during which your dad probably lugged all of your giant suitcases out your families mini-van and checked them.
Yeah…business traveler’s don’t check their bags – at least the smart ones don’t.
Checking a bag simply adds more time to your trip because you have to wait in line to check your bag and then wait for it to come down the conveyor belt at baggage claim. It can easily cost you an extra 30 minutes or so each way and sometimes more.
Moreover, when you check your bag you are introducing risk into your trip. Risk that your bag might simply get lost, damaged or something stolen from it.
Checking a bag also usually indicates that you over packed. A common denominator in checked bags is that people simply bring too much stuff. A savvy business traveler knows that traveling light allows you to be more efficient.
It’s less wear and tear on your body lugging a larger bag around and you can almost always go quicker when you don’t check a bag. Running behind for your flight? If you don’t check your bag you can simply go straight to the security checkpoint saving valuable minutes.
And it stems from bringing too much stuff. You really don’t need as much as you think. Learn how to pack light, bring only what you need, and fit it into a piece of carry-on luggage.
Speaking of good packing skills I recommend you check out my article 11 Packing Tips Every Traveler Needs to Know for some ideas on how to improve your packing game.
Caveat: While I strongly advise against checking a bag (like really, seriously, don’t do it), the truth of the matter there are a few times when it might make sense:
- You are a traveling work technician and have a bunch of tools that probably are going to have the TSA checkpoint giving you the special treatment (or frankly may be prohibited from being in the passenger part of the plane)
- You are traveling for a conference and have the conference gear to lug around – sorry you gotta check that stuff as it’s always huge
- You are bringing your golf clubs – I occasionally do this.
- You are traveling for an extended period of time – like 2 weeks. Because of my packing skills I can get a lot of clothing into my TravelPro 11 Crew and Ogio Metro Backpack – but occasionally its just too much forcing me to go to a larger suitcase and check it. I hate it every time…but sometimes you simply have to.
- You have something medical to deal with. I once traveled with a colleague who had a very large CPAP. He chose to check it because it was just too much to deal with for his clothes, laptop and machine.
Aside from those reasons you really ought to avoid checking a bag whenever possible. Since this is your first business trip start building good business traveler habits by learning to pack right, travel light and use a good carry-on and backpack configuration.
Tip 5: Bring a backpack – NOT a roller briefcase
When traveling for work you likely will issued a laptop that will allow you to work more efficiently while on your trip. Fight the temptation to buy an old school wheeled laptop roller briefcase.
Instead, buy a business-traveler grade backpack. Something that is intentionally designed with safe laptop storage and the business traveler in general in mind. Personally, I use the Ogio Metro Backpack and you can read my product review here.
For the female readers you may find a backpack a little less practical and instead turn to a laptop/purse combo that offers style and function.
The key point here is you don’t need another thing to roll around. Instead get something you can sling over a shoulder and easily set on top of your rolling carry on for easy airport navigation.
Additionally, if you are heading to a big city a backpack will be your salvation. Ever tried rolling a briefcase through the streets of NYC!?
Tip 6: Don’t over think the “travel gear situation”
You don’t need any of that crap. Perhaps you might at some point need some of it, but you need to learn to go fast and light on the road first before you start gearing up.
Let’s be honest. It’s your first business trip. You are not going to sleep on the plane. No pillow needed. Packing Cubes? Literally stupid. You are adult…learn to pack your suitcase. Save the $$ for a nicer meal on the road.
Fight the temptation to waste money (and valuable packing space) on frivolous items.
You are also going to be tempted to go buy really nice luggage. Don’t do that either. If you actually become a serious road warrior, then yes, by all means do that. Good luggage is critical (and I wholeheartedly recommend the TravelPro Crew 11). But, if this is your first business trip and you aren’t even sure it’s going to happen all that often save the money.*
*Caveat: if you don’t have a small carry-on suitcase go buy one of those. Under no circumstances should you go check a bag. Amazon offers incredibly affordable >Amazon-brand spinner-style carry-on’s that are perfect for a first business trip. Or borrow your wife’s.
The only additional gear you really need to get dialed in for your first business trip is a set of good headphones and a portable power charger (like the Anker PowerCore 20100 which I review here). Add a backpack and a suitable carry-on suitcase and you will survive just fine.
Note: if / when you start really hitting the road hard it will become necessary to build yourself a little traveller’s first aid kit of sorts (stuff to deal with colds, headaches, etc). You can read all about it here.
Tip 7: Figure out your airline’s boarding process (and try to avoid a middle seat).
Each airline boards their planes a little different and since this is your first business trip you likely don’t have any “status” (see Tip #1 for clarification on what “status” is). Not having status means you just might get screwed on the boarding process if you are not paying attention.
For example, Southwest requires you to check in no earlier than 24 hours before your flight. If you wait much past that time you will wind up w/ a C Boarding Pass (hence the name of this blog. Haha). If that happens it may be hard to find a spot for your carry on and you will likely ride middle seat which is never fun!
By the way, speaking of Southwest you might be interested in checking out 14 Travel Hacks for Picking the Best Seat on a Southwest Flight.
Other airlines board using boarding groups prioritized based on the class of your ticket and status. You might get your assigned seat, but not have any where to stow a bag. Not good.
Whatever airline you choose, go to their website and learn their boarding process and adjust your activities accordingly. If you find yourself stuck in a middle seat read my guide on how to survive the middle seat.
Tip 8: Show up to the airport a little early.
It’s your first trip so you might be a little bewildered by the security process. Show up a little early to give yourself plenty of time to get through security.
Go to the TSA’s website and learn the screening rules and/or ask a colleague for any of their detailed security tips.
Tip 9: Review your company’s travel policy
Hopefully you did this already – but just in case, make sure you review your company’s travel policy. It will give you critical information on what is allowed / not allowed while traveling for work.
I had a boss once that told me “If I ever need to fire someone I just look at their expense reports. I guarantee there’s a problem somewhere.”
Not great leadership there…but a lot of truth. It’s hard to stay compliant sometimes with the company’s policy. Maybe you lose a receipt. Or forget that you can’t buy that employee a meal. Or maybe your meal was too expensive. You name it. Lots of places to really step in it.
So do you best to stay compliant and since this is your first business trip – read it 2x.
Tip 10: Keep track of your receipts (the expense report is coming!)
Speaking of company travel policies….
When you return from your first business trip you are going to have a fun little expense report waiting for you. Think of it like a visit to the dentist. Necessary…but never fun.
The expense report is your opportunity to submit all of the costs of your work trip to the company for reimbursement. The longer you wait to do this the more chance you might get stuck floating the bill with your own money while waiting for the reimbursement cash to come in.
So, get them done quickly. And while on the road, keep your receipts!
I recommend immediately taking a picture of them for easy uploading later. Some company’s travel booking / expense systems may include mobile apps that allow for easier receipt tracking (like Concur).
Other companies may have a sillier process…like filling out spreadsheets and mailing in physical receipts. Ugh! Lame…but I’ve done it.
Whatever the process, keep your receipts, and get that expense report done quickly when you get back.
Tip 11: Research the area before you go, stay safe and get out (if you can)
Where else can you find an opportunity where someone else pays for you to travel!? How cool is that. Yeah, you gotta do a little work on the trip (or a lot…lol), but you are getting to visit someplace on this great earth!
With that in mind, take the time to research the area before you get there. I like to learn about the history. Maybe you want to find out what the hipster coffee scene is. Or maybe it’s that cool diner you saw on the Travel Channel.
There’s stuff to do, places to see, food to eat, etc. You may not be able to squeeze it ALL in on this trip, but I bet you can get something in.
While you are researching here’s a few other things to look up too:
- Weather – for packing purposes. No fun showing up with no coat.
- Safety Risks of the area you are visiting. Check the area around your hotel or final destination. If you are concerned about safety, you can read the 9 Travel Safety Tips to help you stay safe on your next trip.
- Your destination airport. After a while on the road you will get pretty good at knowing what to expect at certain airports. But for now, see if there’s anything unique about your destination airport (like the rental car facility is a 20 minute shuttle ride away or something).
A little research goes a long way!
**A Bonus Tip for your First Business Trip**
I am throwing in one extra for you – free of charge. My suggestion to you is this: have fun! You are gonna be a little nervous. And some stuff might go wrong – that’s ok. Have a laugh, we’ve all been there. Heck I forgot to take a bottle of water out of my backpack the other…and here I am running a road warrior blog and making dumb mistakes like that. Doh!
Speaking of laughs, make sure to check out our travel memes section which is full of some hilarious travel memes that once you get past your first business trip will really start to resonate. Like these:
Are you ready to graduate to the Advanced Road Warrior Class!
After you’ve slain your first business trip your head will be abuzz and if you are like me you will chomping at the bit to get back on your next work trip. If you managed to survive you might (I say…might…hehe) be ready to graduate to the advanced class!
My article, 147 Business Travel Tips is literally the largest list of business travel tips on the internet and it’s full of every conceivable tip you need to know to become a master road warrior. Read it and start #LevelingUp!
Final Thoughts on Crushing your First Business Trip!
I hope these first time business traveler tips have been valuable to you. If you employ the tips we’ve pulled together here you will #slayingit on this first work trip.
So, go start packing! Enjoy that first business trip. We want to hear all about it so join the conversation below and leave us a comment!
By the way, if you are interested in more travel tips and travel advice, you might be like these great articles:
- How to get over jet lag while you travel – 11 Tips every traveler needs to know
- The 7 Habits of the Healthy Business Traveler: How to Stay Healthy While Traveling for Business
- 11 Packing Tips Every Traveler Needs to Know
- Hilton Honors Rewards Program – a Fresh Look
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