Happy Canada Day!
You see a lot of stuff out there on how to travel appropriately for business trips, but I find the majority of it seems to be geared towards the business MAN as opposed to the business WOMAN. Sure, there’s some stuff out there. But I thought I’d add my two cents to the mix, and tell you the things I’ve learned as I’ve adapted from being a sloppy student to a smart businesswoman traveling the continent. Some of you smart gentlemen out there might find some of these tips useful, too.
Before I started this job I was no stranger to traveling across borders alone, and a lone female pretty much always attracts extra attention from border security. Once, on my way from Ottawa to Providence RI, I noticed that I was being tailed through the Newark airport by a genial security official. When I turned around to ask if I could help him, he asked me to follow him and I ended up in an interrogation room. The conversation was cordial, and everything was in order, but the nice security official told me that young females traveling alone tended to raise a few flags because it’s a less than usual circumstance and historically women have been used as mules for all sorts of weird stuff simply because they tend to look less suspicious. This was shortly after 9/11 mind you, and I haven’t been followed through an airport in a while. Anyway, in the intervening time I have picked up a few tips and tricks for traveling easily and lightly that you might find useful in your own travels, be they for business or pleasure.
Checked versus Carry-on Baggage
If you’re traveling for business, chances are you’re only going wherever you’re going for four days or less, and you’re probably going to be on a schedule. Plus if you travel often, your tolerance for sticking around airports waiting for suitcases and for paying extra cash to check your bags is pretty low. So I always vote to carry on all my luggage. When it comes to carry-on bags, there are a variety of available things out there that you can use, but a little roll-able suitcase will be your most versatile option. There’s debate as to the practicality of four wheels versus two wheels, but I opted for four, as being able to shove the suitcase in front of me in crowds is definitely a benefit I didn’t have with my old two-wheeled version. A caveat of the four-wheeled cases is that the wheels stick out more, which take up more space, and they’re more likely to get damaged when you check the bag (but of course we’re not checking our bag so we’re cool).
When buying a new carry-on bag, do your research first. Check out the baggage size limitations for all the airlines on which you travel, and select a suitcase that will fit requirements for all of them. I brought a measuring tape with me when I bought this one from Swiss Gear and made sure that even with the wheels included it conformed to the smallest standards of all airlines. I also picked a case with soft sides to ensure that it could be crammed into tight spaces with a little extra force.
I also never carry a purse on board with me when I travel. I have to bring my laptop with me for work so that’s already two items on board including my suitcase. If I had to deal with a purse as well I would get totally frazzled, and I never understand it when I see ladies getting on planes carrying purses, suitcases, laptop bags, and then a series of shopping bags. I like to get to my seat as soon as possible, jam my stuff where it fits as quickly as I can (I always take advantage of sky-check or gate-checking if it’s available), and then I’m in my seat and out of the way so others can board the plane and we can leave on schedule. So all my travel documents, wallet, Kindle, etc., get shoved in my laptop bag. That way I only have two bags to worry about when getting myself around.
I do bring a smaller bag for going out and about when I’m at my location. Usually it’s a small clutch like this one, or it’s a larger canvas purse that rolls up easily to fit into my suitcase. Once I reach my destination I decant some of my personal items out of the laptop bag and into the clutch or purse.
Packing light, packing right
Here is where I think business women have the advantage over business men – our clothes tend to be smaller and are more often made out of stretchy materials that don’t wrinkle. That means that I can simply roll up all my favourite work dresses (always roll all your stuff – it takes up less space and prevents a number of wrinkles) and shove them into my suitcase and they’ll be ready to go, no worse for wear, when I arrive at my destination. Men’s dress shirts and suits tend to need to be carried in a separate garment bag and then ironed once the travel is done and that is way more work than I am willing to put into my clothing while on the road.
I always wear sneakers when I’m doing the actual travel – I’ve done my fair share of racing through airports to make connections or adjust to gate changes and I know that doing it in heels is a recipe for disaster (I also have the slightly pessimistic view that if I survive a plane crash I’m better able to negotiate the crash site and surrounding wilderness in comfy shoes). This also means that I can pack a pair or two of flats in my suitcase and they take up barely any space at all.
One thing I do recommend if you’re staying anywhere for more than one night is to unpack your clothes and hang them up or put them in the drawers made available in your hotel room. For one thing, it helps to air them out and let out any wrinkles they have from sitting in your suitcase, and it keeps them from mingling with any of your dirty clothes. Plus it beats waking up late in the morning and having to rummage through your case to find what you want.
Know your needs
Everyone is different, but we all have certain things that we aren’t comfortable doing without while traveling. Because I like to be prepared for every eventuality, and because I don’t want to run the risk of having to search a strange city at a late hour for some necessity, I tend to over-pack when it comes to my toiletries. I have a sizable toiletry case here that fits snugly in the bottom of my case because it’s rectangular. I keep a whole double set of toiletries in here that are separate from my toiletries at home, so that when I have to travel on short notice I don’t run the risk of forgetting what I need. I also have small travel containers full of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Tums, etc. – anything I can anticipate needing at any time.
I also bring along my own shampoo and conditioner, because with my sensitive skin I can’t trust that I won’t react badly to the complimentary items the hotel supplies. When I do this I run the risk of dealing with leaked shampoo all over my other stuff due to pressure changes when flying or rough handling of my bags. So that’s why I use GoToobs, which I’ve had for a million years and I take them every where I go. These flexible tubes are made of silicone and have a tight seal so they never leak. They’re also really easy to clean out at the end of a trip. I highly recommend them.
I travel enough that I spend a decent amount of time sealed inside air-conditioned hotel rooms and more often than not the air is super dry after being recycled so many times. I don’t have a picture of this but I like to travel with one of my two travel humidifiers, which also fit nicely in my suitcase and require a standard bottle of water to function. I have this one from Bell + Howell and this one from Air-o-Swiss and they’re both great.
Another essential for me is my Kindle. The Pie bought this for me for Christmas the first year we were married so it’s an old-school version but for me it’s the best thing ever. I read very quickly and will easily go through three or four novels in a four-day trip. Rather than haul all those heavy and space-taking books all over the continent it’s easier for me to carry my Kindle with its thousand books. The bonus is that it charges with the same cable as my cell phone so that saves me some space as well.
The final item that I often bring with me but don’t always use is a bathing suit. Most (though not all) of the hotels I stay in have pools, and I absolutely love to swim. And especially when I’m traveling in [arts of cities where perhaps it’s not the smartest idea for a lone female to go out wandering about in the evening, the pool is always a good option to get a daily dose of exercise in a safe and secure manner.
As long as you keep your on-the-road practices simple and practical you should be just fine. Safe and happy travels!