(Almost) Everything You Want to Know About Travel Planning

There’s definitely something in the air around our neighbourhood this week – and on peoples’ lawns, where ghoulish creatures may be seen arising from carefully crafted front lawn “cemeteries”.  Faux skeletons are flaunting their style, and glow-in-the-dark cobwebs with giant spiders are wrapped around porches and verandahs. Witches abound, although some of them, such as the one below, appear to have had a little difficulty with their GPS.

While all the excitement around Halloween may be surprising to assistants reading this from beyond North America, it’s become a major event for adults as well as the kidlets. So, with this writer’s thanks to you for indulging the allusions here to All Hallows’ Eve, here’s a look at some aspects of your travel planning that can help make business travel – your own, or that of your executive – as comfortable, cost-efficient and productive as possible.

It all begins with open communications, the key to any effective EA-executive partnership. If you’re new to your role, that’s the ideal occasion to draft up a list of travel-related questions for discussion. Does your traveller thrive in an electronic world, or does s/he prefer the comfort of hard copy documentation? Alternately, check in with your executive as you plan the next round of travel, and ask what’s been working well, and what aspects of travel arrangements could benefit from some tweaking.

Flight Planning
Help ensure friendlier skies by subscribing to airlines' loyalty programs and paying close attention to seat maps to ensure your travellers aren't seated ringside of the line ups for facilities.

Help ensure friendlier skies by subscribing to airlines’ loyalty programs and paying close attention to seat maps to ensure your travellers aren’t seated ringside of the line ups for facilities.

  • When booking cross-continent or international travel, keep in mind the efficiencies achieved by ensuring you or your executive have sufficient opportunity to adjust to time zone changes and prepare to be on top of one’s game in meetings. The cost of an additional night’s accommodation pales alongside the advantages to be had.
  • Register for airline loyalty/reward programs and take advantage of them for seat upgrades and travel lounge access.
  • Wherever possible, book early or keep an eye out for seat sales in order to achieve the best possible pricing.
  • That old real estate adage about location being everything is true for flights, as well. Check the seat map; it’s less than ideal being situated near the line-up to the facilities, and long-limbed travellers will want to take advantage of emergency row or bulkhead seating if they’re not travelling executive class. Do your travellers appreciate window seats for the view, or prefer aisle seating?
  • If your executive is travelling overseas or across the continent, consider the merits of booking an extra night’s hotel accommodation on the closing day of meetings or conference before the return flight; s/he will likely be far fresher upon return, and ready to dive in to the next round of meetings or challenges.
  • For the electronically inclined, take advantage of travel apps such as Tripit (free or $0.99) and Tripit Pro ($49/year). You may also be interested in apps such as FlightTrack (free), FlightTrack Pro ($9.99) and FlightBoard ($3.99); take a look at my article, Travel Apps for Exceptional Assistants, for a list of assorted apps you may wish to consider.

Accommodation

Check the fine print, and make the time to call the hotel to ensure your travellers aren't overlooking the hotel lane or find themselves hearing elevator activity all night long.

Check the fine print, and make the time to call the hotel to ensure your travellers aren’t overlooking the hotel lane or finding themselves hearing elevator activity all night long.

Location is everything, with services and facilities hot on its heels. You may be booking people into one of the hotels recommended by conference organisers or, depending on the purpose of the travel, you may be focusing on securing accommodation in the business district, which is likely to result in good proximity to transportation, dining and shopping – all of which have potential to reduce reliance on cabs and increase the likelihood of your traveller having a chance to stretch his/her legs.

You likely make a practice of guaranteeing reservations for late arrival. Does the hotel have a business centre available at no charge to all guests, or is that yet one more reason to secure membership in that chain’s loyalty program? Is Wi-Fi available without additional cost? Are you or your executive keen on ensuring ready access to fitness facilities, or a good running route?

On travels to Washington, DC earlier this year, a mishap of no one’s fault led to the unanticipated need for some dry cleaning. When I reviewed the hotel bill and realised that this high end locale charged significantly less for dry cleaning than the dry cleaner at home, that led to a shift in my approach to packing for travel. Now, I’ll of course have my wardrobe for the first day or so of a conference ready to wear, but I’ll defer cleaning of a suit I may wish to wear later in the conference until arrival at the hotel. After confirming in advance that the hotel does offer dry cleaning services, I simply turn over to the hotel a second suit I may wish to wear on day two or three of a conference. No matter how carefully we pack, a suit will always look better fresh from the cleaner’s.

Well Informed Travellers: Itinerary Overview

You or your executive may have all your key information stored in Tripit. Otherwise, you may want to download apps to the Smartphone or tuck into your traveller’s electronic calendar a document containing an overview of key points. Depending on the traveller’s working style, you may want to duplicate the information in a single hard copy document containing:

  1. Airline and hotel confirmation numbers
  2. Coordinates, during and post-office hours, for the travel agency on which you’ve relied
  3. Ground transportation: As with airlines and hotels, it may be practical to register for car rental loyalty programs. While many prefer to travel from airport or train station to hotel by cab or reserved car, others are open to shuttle bus service or local subway/rapid transit, which is readily available from some major airports. Again, it comes down to communications and having such conversations with your executive before you begin booking such arrangements.
  4. Area travel guides and maps, either electronic or in hard copy format. I rely on Google and will incorporate links to its maps within a two- or three-page itinerary.
  5. Restaurant/dining options, and local amenities that may be of interest if there’s any down time
  6. Conference apps, which are becoming increasingly popular. Taking the time to download such an app in advance of travel can help the busy traveller identify which concurrent sessions to attend, and how to locate meeting rooms within the conference site.
  7. Weather forecasts and/or updating the weather app on your Smartphone to include the destination. Again, check my article, Travel Apps for Exceptional Assistants, for a list of apps you may wish to consider.

The International Traveller

  1. Immunizations: Depending on the destination, it’s worth checking whether advance immunizations are in order, and then booking the appointments and inserting them in your traveller’s calendar.
  2. Passport: Check expiry dates, and ensure your traveller’s passport is current. Canadian travellers may also want to secure a Nexus pass for convenience.
  3. Travel Visas: Check turnaround times for securing travel visas, and arrange for the requisite photograph and form completion
  4. Embassy Coordinates: This is one of those instances in which you can provide coordinates you hope need never be used.
  5. Cell Phone Voice, Text and Data Roaming Packages: Have a conversation with your boss to assess needs, and then secure the appropriate package.
  6. Currency Exchange: I like  XE Currency Converter, which also has useful tools for post-travel preparation of expense claims. You can secure rate conversions for specific dates, reflecting historical values, and it also offers an online travel expense calculator.
  7. Informing Credit Card Company of International Travel: It’s likely that your corporate banker already anticipates corporate travel, but an assistant or executive who anticipates using her/his personal credit card while away will also want to touch base with his/her personal credit card company to alert them to international travel. Otherwise, you could wind up in a similar situation to a usually highly organised traveller I know who recently arrived in Peru and realised, to his dismay, that – unaware of his travel, and in the interests of protecting the account – his credit card company had blocked use of the card outside his own country.
  8. Travel Insurance: This is just one more element of an assistant’s role: watching over the wellbeing of both your traveller and your company or institution. Some people will purchase travel insurance along with the flight but, for executives who travel internationally even only twice a year, all involved may be better served with the acquisition of annual coverage. Some peoples’ property insurance providers offer such options, and there are numerous additional providers.

Safe and happy travels, all!

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