Take the Stress Out of Business Travel by Planning Ahead

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Business travel can be a stressful time.  Getting to the airport, finding meeting locations, networking and staying in contact with the home office are all considerations while on the move. No one wants to forget something or be unprepared.

While employers and employees both want business trips to be successful, each has a different set of concerns and responsibilities. Employers focus on the need for travel and what it necessitates, especially when it comes to costs, while employees concentrate on preparation and execution. Here's what each party needs to know to make the most out of any scheduled business travels in the coming year.

Tips for employers

Consider your costs. When you send your employees on a trip, airfare and lodging aren't the only costs you'll have to cover. Depending on where your employees are going and what they need to do during their travels, you may also need to compensate them for other incidental expenses, such as ground transportation, baggage fees and parking.

"Beyond the obvious lodging and transportation needs, many companies offer a travel per diem to compensate employees for the additional personal costs they incur from travelling," said Cory Jones, vice president of global marketing at SkyRoam. "For example, business travellers typically eat out at restaurants rather than eating at home, and per diems can help cover that difference as well as gas, laundry and other small expenses."

Stacia Pierce, CEO of business coaching firm Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises, said that companies coordinating business trips should be aware of out-of-pocket expenses, and be clear about what they will and will not cover. Employees should understand the procedures and protocol for reimbursement so there's no confusion or complications on either end.

Sign up for business travel programs. If your company plans business trips regularly, you can significantly reduce your expenses by taking advantage of travel programs, such as frequent-flyer memberships, travel- rewards credit cards and AAA. Booking your trips through a travel agency can also help you ensure that you're getting the lowest possible prices. Randall Warren, CEO of Global Travel International, said that some organisations are able to offer low rates by passing their group booking discounts on to clients. This can be especially helpful for smaller businesses that don't have large travel budgets.

"Large companies are often able to negotiate discounts [with airlines and hotels]," Warren said. "[Travel agencies] enable small businesses to achieve the same buying power larger companies have. Go with a known source to try and get the best deal."

Be mindful of employee workload and travel plans. Although mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi access have enabled workers to stay connected nearly 24/7, the reality is that your employees may be unreachable at certain points during their trip.

For this reason, it's important to not only adjust your expectations of the traveling employees but also to know when and where they will be at any given time so you can pass any urgent matters along to someone back at the office if that employee won't be available, said Tiffany Paul, founder and CEO of Sleeper Scarf.

Tips for employees

Plan ahead to save time. The best thing you can do to maximise efficiency and minimise stress is to plan as many details in advance as you can. These details include all the documents, files and devices you'll need, as well as your essentials for travelling.

"If you travel frequently, consider creating a business travel checklist," said Lais Pontes, owner of public relations and marketing agency The Pontes Group. "When in a rush or under pressure, it can be easy to forget the little things, and you don't want to be stuck without your phone or computer charger while away on business."

"From toiletries to technology, add it all so that nothing is left behind," Pierce added. "Include things like computer, headphones, toothbrush, hair products and proper attire. While it may seem tedious, the more you prepare at home, the more successful you'll be on the road."

For international travel, Pontes recommended applying for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry program to expedite the security process upon your return home. Domestic and global travellers can save time by ensuring that all their travel papers are organised and that their bags are ready to go. Similarly, Jones advised using services like Clear to bypass TSA lines entirely.

Use travel apps. In this digital age, there is an app for everything, so use it to your advantage. Yelp or TripAdvisor can help you find hotels and places to eat. CamCard scans business cards so you have one quick and easy place to see all the cards collected on a trip without carrying them around. Apps like Expensify allow you to capture receipts, mileage and other expenses all in one place.  There are even travel itinerary apps, like Tripit, that create your schedule based on confirmation emails.

Clarify expectations with your supervisor. In the days leading up to your trip, set clear goals and objectives. Paul advised writing down these goals and discussing them with your manager beforehand to hold yourself accountable when you return. You should also do your best to stay connected when you can.

"Keep an eye on your email, and respond to urgent matters or delegate where necessary," Paul told Business News Daily. "This will not only be appreciated by your colleagues but will improve productivity for your company and help keep you caught up on work while you're away."

Take advantage of downtime. You might feel like you have to always be available when your colleagues are, especially if you're travelling to a different time zone. But spending every single moment of your trip doing work will only add to the stresses of travel. Maura Thomas, the founder of productivity training and time management company RegainYourTime.com and author of "Personal Productivity Secrets" (Wiley, 2012), recommended using any short lulls in your trip to disconnect and rest.

"Downtime during travel — [such as when you're] waiting for the flight, taking the bus to the rental car facility and sitting on the plane before takeoff — are perfect opportunities to recharge," Thomas said. "Use these moments to let your mind wander; take in your surroundings; experience the world with your head up, rather than bent over your device. Take some time to be inwardly focused. Do some thinking, meditate or close your eyes."

Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

First published by Marci Martin on Business News Daily