Some time ago, while a senior editor at another leading business travel magazine*, I got the brainstorming idea of running a story on the many challenges of women traveling alone, especially on business. I say “brainstorm” because what might have seemed like an obvious topic had, to date, hardly been touched by the media.
I was doing a lot of traveling alone on business at the time, and I found that “getting ready” for a corporate conference or national convention was just as challenging as attending the actual event. Sometimes, more so. There were just so many things to think about and so many things to worry about at home beforehand – before I departed on the actual day of the designated business trip. I decided to investigate and then, got quick approval to run the story.
The published article was titled just that: “Women Traveling Alone.” It was mostly about what female executives should and should not do on a business trip in order to promote their safety and security, as well as their professional status. It was well-received by the meetings and hospitality industry, and I do believe it was the first time any one of “the trades” ever ran such a story.
In doing the initial research, I soon found that my office was the perfect Petri dish consisting mostly of traveling editors and sales staff, many of them female. At the time, an increasing number of professional women were just starting to branch out and travel alone on business trips for a variety of reasons, on a regular basis, and with much success. Some were married, and some were single. No matter. The trend continued onward.
Today, glance into any conference room and chances are that approximately 50 percent of attendees are female. Just about all of the travel-related associations agree on that estimate, too, generally within a difference of only two or three percentage points. The thing that sets us apart from the opposite sex, however, is that we have also developed an almost exhaustive list of things to do before leaving the home front. And so, gradually, most of us women created a list of “things to go before you go” to help us achieve peace of mind.
My own personal list of “Commandments of Business Travel” has been narrowed down to 10 self-imposed mandates which I wish to share with you. It’s a light-hearted review of “to dos” that I obey before I even leave the front door for a corporate conference or convention, whether it’s domestic or international.
Commandment 1/Home Matters!
I need a clear head for business travel and, consequently, I think ahead to make sure that all weekly domestic chores are accounted for by me, or assigned to someone else. From my experience, I’m not alone on this. Most of my female counterparts generally like to leave their homes neat and organized before they go anywhere. I know, sounds like 1950s America but even C-Suite executive women agree on this. They say, if you’ve got the organization gene, it shows up everywhere in everything you do. (There was one woman, however, who once confessed to me that “Actually, I do that more for myself than my family because I want to relax when I return and not be faced with a total mess.”)
Commandment 2/Provide and prepare for the people who depend on you! A traveling woman doesn’t have to be married with children to have others depend on her for serious things on the home front. While it is true that some of us may have husbands and children, others may have significant others, elderly parents at home or at a nearby nursing facility, or they might be single parents with children, and so on. For me, that’s more in the past than the now but, what I have done in the past is to create a support system of dependable friends, family members, and professionals to help with that. I find that they are very obliging as they know I will do the same for them when the need arises. Have names and cell numbers on hand for constant contact, as needed (ah, another list).
Commandment 3/Treat your pets like family!
To me, pets are family and that’s how I treat mine. They deserve the same amount of attention and time in order that their needs are met too. So, before a business trip, I ask myself, has Chewy made its monthly delivery of dog and cat food, or is a trip to the supermarket necessary before I head out? And who will be walking the dog or who will be changing the kitty litter in my absence? I must be 500 percent certain that the designated caregiver for my pets will do just that, especially after what happened to my friend who went on a business trip. She paid a teenage girl who lived next door $12 a day to come in and walk her dog only to find when she returned from her business trip that, somehow, the dog’s leash was in exactly the same place and position where she left it. Upon investigation, it turns out, that the young girl just let Rover do his business in the backyard and never took him for an actual walk to get the exercise that he needed in her absence.
Commandment 4/ Be ready for blastoff!
Before departing for the airport, I make sure that I have a reliable limo service to get me to the airport on time and to pick me up when I return – one that I’ve built a relationship with over time. I confirm the dates and times before leaving, and I confirm it again upon returning.
Commandment 5/ Feed the hungry!
Maybe it’s part of my Italian heritage, but I worry about food. That is, what are the people I leave behind going to eat? Frozen dinners? Are meals prepared ahead of time? Take-out? Delivery? Or, let them figure it out? Well, just be sure to provide plenty of choices and, as a colleague likes to remind me, pizza night is always a hit.
Commandment 6/ Pack with a purpose!
The days of overpacking are long gone. Women execs have it figured out as to what they will need and will be wearing for various events. No. 1: The outfit I leave in is the outfit I come back in. No. 2: In between? I take three other outfits that mix and match, and an extra outfit that is formal. It all works out in the end. Once, I did have to go to one of those hotel boutiques to buy a special dress for an unexpected event. It wasn’t too expensive, and I got a lot of use of it afterward. It was sort of a souvenir, and I fondly remembered the business event it was attached to every time I wore it.
Commandment 7/ Keep the lights on!
Remember, have no last-minute details on your mind when traveling on a business trip. That means paying all the bills ahead of time before you leave. While as a female business traveler, I might be fortunate enough to fly first class to attend an annual meeting in Paris, the light company back in New York City wants the bill paid on time and so do I.
Commandment 8/ Have adequate cash flow!
Although we’ve become an almost cashless society, I still need greenbacks in my wallet to get around quickly so a trip to the bank or cash machine cannot be overlooked as a trifle thing. Don’t assume you can do it at the airport. It’s too crowded and busy, and you’ll be running around looking for a cash machine.
Commandment 9/ Don’t Be an Easy Target!
Sometimes the Golden Rule of “Don’t Talk to Strangers” doesn’t apply. When you travel, you talk to plenty of strangers. Personally, I need to ask directions and I often have questions about flight arrivals and departures, weather issues, and more. Still, I’m mindful about it and try hard not to be an easy target. That means:
No earbuds, walk steadily, know your sources of transportation, be cognizant, maintain a professional manner at all times, put the cell phone away, don’t flash money and credit cards around, be careful with your personal identification, and know where everything is on your person.
Commandment 10/Have a Good Time!
Finally, once I arrive, I am ready for a productive meeting, conference, or other event. I reconnect with colleagues, make some new business relationships, and, most of all, make sure that I learn something significant so that I can bring innovative ideas and information back to the office.
*Ziff Davis Publishing Co., “Meetings & Conventions,” NYC