Tips to surviving business travel

You're probably aware of this by now, but just in case it wasn't clear - most of us here, at Black Pepper, are techies. We live and breathe software and we are proud of that.

But that doesn't mean that we don't have other interests as well - quite the opposite, we’re curious about almost everything. As part of our Technically Anything blog section, our brilliant Account Director for Travel, Rowan Welch, put together some tips and tricks on surviving business travel. Her experience, having worked with the travel industry for a while now, is very broad. Especially when you consider she has lived and worked on three continents. Read on:

1. Red eye to Berlin

New to frequent European business travel? Here are a few observations that may come in handy.

The first must when catching the red eye is remembering to get up at 4am. This can only realistically be a success if you go to bed early! Attempts to stay up (because you have the presentation to finish anyway) generally end in disaster. From experience, there are two outcomes to this poor decision; you either fall asleep by accident at 3.30am and wake up to find that chartering a helicopter is your only chance of salvation, or you make it through the day and doze off in the 4pm taxi to Tegel. Embarrassed and confused, you will have to negotiate the flight boarding process in a state of bewilderment while harbouring coffee breath. The plan therefore, is to get up at 4, be out of the house by 4.30 (drive time to LHR 1 hour 15 - leaving you 1 hour and 15 before your 7am flight to Berlin takes off).

The next thing is valet parking. Booked enough time in advance, it's no more expensive than the short stay parking and will save you an invaluable 20 minutes on arrival.

In this day and age it should almost go without saying but the third “must” is to check in online and to choose a good seat. This renders the bag drop queue your only major obstacle on arrival. A good seat by my reckoning is based as close to the front of the plane as possible (you receive a coffee prior to descent) and is an aisle seat (you can perform alternate leg stretches). My desires to avoid crippling thirst and deep vein thrombosis are personal preferences but I would none the less highly recommend both.

If you are doing this trip often, invest in a Priority Pass membership. It’s relatively affordable and the complimentary newspapers, wifi and breakfast in the Business Lounge will alleviate your depression and encourage moderate productivity.

On full flights, it never hurts to enquire at the check in desk about bargain upgrade availability. If you are going to be travelling a lot with work this year, sign up for all available airline loyalty cards. Possession of one of these will often secure you preferential treatment when competing for an upgrade.

Next up, what to take? For this trip it’s just the basic hand luggage: A good book, chargers (phone and laptop), the address of where you are going (the absence of a 4G signal can lead to an embarrassing client phone call), a credit card, a few Euros, a passport and your presentation and meeting materials).

In overview, a “one day” trip is likely to last 15 or 18 hours so the more you streamline the process, the better chance you have of preserving your mental and physical well being.

If on the other hand you get the chance to stay for the evening - do! Berlin is an amazing city. The winter brings with it beautiful markets, while during summer months the “open to all” waltzing by the river is a must see - or must join in - depending on your energy levels and consumption of Berliner Weisse!

2. Long haul to Hong Kong

Looking to take a long haul trip? How to survive the flight and a few small things you can do to avoid getting taken for a ride.

Surviving the flight.

A long haul trip requires a whole new focus when preparing to travel. Firstly, your seat becomes of paramount importance. Location, adjacent passengers (I prefer none), in-flight entertainment, food and beverage offerings (some of the white wine can be fascinatingly bad) and the cleanliness or otherwise of the toilets all play crucial supporting roles. Choose carefully and if you can stretch to it, buy Premium Economy or Business. If you book far enough in advance, business seats are not necessarily extortionate.

For the purpose of this humble survival guide, let’s assume you are flying Cattle. Study the seat plan and try to select a seat (window or aisle) with only one space next to it (these are the most likely to be left empty). Enquire at check in about the passenger numbers for the flight and the availability of “on the day” upgrades.

Avoid babies! The extended leg-room seats (situated before the toilets) are often capable of housing a cot. The close proximity of a baby will almost certainly carry intrinsic links to a disappointing flight experience. I am reliably informed that the statistical probability of this holds firm even if it is your baby!

On a more obvious note, get a seat as far to the front of the plane (or relevant cabin) as possible, and get served first throughout the flight.

Take water onto the plane as you rarely receive enough to retain hydration levels. (Remember to buy the water air-side so it doesn't get taken off you at security). Drink wine in order to thin your blood and avoid a clot. Remind yourself of this reasoning before each glass.

Preparing for your stay.

I familiarise myself with my upcoming habitat by looking at a map of the area around the hotel, the meeting location and the airport. Don’t ever look lost! I have perfected an “I know where I’m going and I am late” walk and face over the years in order to deter opportunists of all kinds.

Read up about local traditions, habits and get to grips with the currency and associated exchange rates. Your first job is to understand in detail (day of the week, time of day, public holiday or not) the cost of a cab from the airport to your hotel. You are fresh off the plane and ripe for the picking. In New York I have heard drivers refer to this scenario as “the big shaft”.

In spite of the above warnings, don’t forget to make your few days memorable. Embrace the local culture, taste all of the weird and wonderful food and drink and walk whenever possible (you will see, hear and smell things that you’d miss from inside a taxi).

Speak to people and learn something new, you may only be there once. Hidden behind Hong Kong’s coastal beauty is a vibrant melting pot mixing east and west in terms of culture, cuisine, design, religion and technology - a truly amazing place.

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