It was just two short months into my first role after graduation when my manager came by my desk and asked me, “Do you have your corporate card”? Two weeks later I was stepping into the Tallahassee heat with a carry-on bag and an agenda. It was hard not to smile as I put on my sunglasses and hit the road. 22 years old and on my first solo business trip; maybe four years at university were already paying off.
It would be a lie if I said that I didn’t think that this week would be more play than work. But by the time I was boarding the plane home on Friday I had already learned several valuable lessons on business travel. These lessons I am sharing with you today will help make your next solo business trip a resounding success!
Lesson 1: Embrace the Lone Ranger Spirit of the Business Trip
When you’re driving down an empty highway in rural Georgia to a visit a key supplier, it’s hard not to feel like a young gunslinger headed to the next dangerous mining town. Whether or not you grew up watching old westerns, there is an undeniable feeling of daunting independence mixed with exciting freedom when you are on solo business travel. My advise to ensuring that this business trip is a success: Embrace the Lone Ranger spirit!
Maybe you’re visiting a supplier, or a customer, or a potential new business partner. Maybe you’ll be discussing contracts, or product development, or manufacturing capacity. Whatever the purpose for your trip, solo business travel means that you are representing your organization. Your company badge is your stamped tin star. Your briefcase is your saddlebag. Your words are your Colt Single Action Army.
Customers and suppliers certainly do not want to see a cocky young upstart walking into their facilities with the impression that they think they know much more than they do, let’s make no mistake here. That being said, as the representative of your company on a solo business trip, recognize that you are a lone ranger and don’t be afraid to put a little swagger in your step when you walk in the door.
Lesson 2: Don’t Walk Through the Door Without an Agenda
Picture this: A customer shows up to your offices for a week-long business trip. Apparently, they have arrived with no itinerary to speak of. What is the true purpose for the visit? How should you and your team prepare? What kind of rumors will start spreading through the office ahead of this mystery meeting? It’s hard to imagine this business trip playing out well for the customer or the supplier.
When you are preparing for a solo business trip of your own, it is absolutely essential to travel with an agenda for the visit. Moreover, this agenda should be established before you even head to the airport, and not when you are sipping your drink on the flight at 7 a.m. In my business travels, I have found the greatest success in following these basic steps to setting an agenda:
- Establish your agenda with your internal team first, and ensure that management has signed off on the objectives you have laid out (Note: Oftentimes, in your early business travel experiences management will often be setting the agenda for you)
- Discuss the agenda with your customer or supplier before the trip – I have often used both conference calls and emails in conjunction to allow an opportunity to discuss the agenda in real time and provide a written digital copy
- Review the agenda again with your customer or supplier upon arrival to the site
While the contents of your agenda will vary and change, these simple steps will help ensure the best results from the cost and time spent on your business trip.
Want to learn more about how to crush your big meetings during your business trips? Check out our helpful article here:
Lesson 3: Embrace the Local Culture
Okay, this one might sound a bit cheesy but hear me out: There are few better ways to begin building relationships with your suppliers or customers than to make a sincere effort to immerse yourself in the local culture during business travel! Don’t let your next solo business trip be a wasted opportunity to improve these relationships.
You’ll want to educate yourself on your company’s gift-giving and meal policies before offering or accepting payment for any extra-curricular activities, but seize on opportunities to get dinner at the local diner or catch a show. During my business trips to Georgia, I had the chance to join our supplier in eating at a famous local barbecue joint.
Traveling for work is an exciting opportunity to drive real results in the business, and a rising young professional realizes that this includes the opportunity to improve these customer and supplier relationships.
Lesson 4: Rock Your Business Trip in Sleek Style
Maybe you’ve seen George Clooney in “Up in the Air”, or maybe you’ve just seen well-dressed businessmen or businesswomen striding through the airport with a compact carry-on and wondered if it was time to ditch your heavy and clunky hard-case luggage. The fourth and final lesson we will talk about today is how to pick luggage that is stylish and sleek enough to allow you to glide from the security gate, to the boarding ramp, to your rental car.
Please note: The following will include general observations I have found in the luggage and bags that I have owned and used on my business travels, as well as brief reviews of specific aspects of these products.
Let’s start with what to look for in luggage for business travel. Chances are, your business trip is not going to last longer than one week. And so, chances are the only luggage you will need is a carry-on bag (whether you decide to check it or use it as a carry-on is up to you). But what features does a good carry-on bag for business travel have? Personally, the three most important qualities were the following:
- Lightweight – I want my bag to be portable and ergonomic when sprinting across the airport
- Durable – I want my bag (and its contents) to survive any bumps, drops, and scrapes
- Compartmentalized Space – I want my bag to offer numerous compartments for various travel items
Together, these elements allow me to zip through the airport with comfort and confidence. If you are interested in knowing, the carry-on bag that I regularly use is the Swiss Gear Sion. For a reasonable price, this bag offers lightweight durability with several compartments for dress shirts, laptops, and small accessories, as well as including a clear. It is absolutely my go-to bag for air travel. If you are interested in checking out this item for yourself to see if it fits your needs, you can find its Amazon link here:
In addition to your carry-on sized bag, you will want a personal bag that is just as appropriate for a business trip! For the duration of my business travels, I have carried a backpack along with my suitcase. If you are travelling for work, there is a strong chance that you will be bringing along with you a significant amount of electronics, chargers, folders, and notebooks. In similar fashion to the important qualities in my luggage, I looked for the following three characteristics when choosing my backpack:
- Compact – I want my backpack to be just big enough, without feeling too clunky to fit under my plane seat or navigate an escalator without knocking someone over
- Durable – I want my backpack to be resistant to the elements (and while canvas backpacks may be stylish, it is not a material that handles water or dirt well)
- Laptop Sleeve – A bit self-explanatory, but if I am going to be carrying my work laptop I would like a space to store it away from my other important travel items
If you are interested in knowing, the backpack that I have used on all of my business travels is the Swiss Gear 2762 Laptop Backpack. Not only is it sleek and remarkably resistant to getting dirty, it also offers plenty of compartmentalized space including a laptop sleeve and an excellent pouch for papers and notebooks. You can check it out and determine if it seems like a good choice to upgrade your business travel storage at the Amazon link here:
There is little more exciting in the career of a young professional than your first opportunity to travel for work. The location may change, the purpose of the visit may vary, but the same lessons apply to each and every business trip. Embrace the lone ranger spirit as a representative of your organization, arrive with an agenda, immerse yourself in the local culture, and travel in sleek style. Apply these lessons to your next solo business trip and watch your success soar!
Do you have thoughts on the business travel lessons above? Have you learned lessons of your own in your early business trip experiences? Please share in the comments below!