Be a Productive Road Warrior. Travel tips from the trenches.


Professional speakers know that travel comes with the territory—it’s a job hazard, so to speak. But not everyone has the natural ability to live out of a suitcase or do business from a laptop bag. With a little practice, you can make the most of your travel time. If you travel a lot, this primer will be a good reminder. If you’re new to the game, this overview will provide valuable tips on how to be productive while traveling.

The mobile office

The late Art Berg, CSP, CPAE, who was a pioneer in using technology to help speakers simplify their lives, once counseled the audience during a convention breakout session to “Never waste your time on the plane. The more you get done while you’re traveling, the more time you’ll have available to be with your family when you return.” I took his sage advice to heart and now plan on being able to knock out a bunch of work while I’m away from home.

I don’t sleep, watch the movie, or mindlessly play computer games on the plane—I work. I read client materials, write thank-you notes and articles, complete paperwork, create PowerPoint® presentations, review large reports and board materials, or spend time planning. Take your office into the air and hotel and use the uninterrupted time to work.

Pack Efficiently

How many times have you stayed up too late with last-minute packing, and then spent the entire trip exhausted and frustrated from having forgotten something? Instead of packing the day before (especially for longer conferences like NSA’s annual convention), start thinking about your trip several days in advance.

Find an out-of-the-way spot to leave an open suitcase and drop things in as you think of them. When it’s time to get ready to go, you’ll be practically done. Keep your obligatory one-quart

Ziploc bag packed with duplicate items of everything in leak-proof containers, so you only have to pack outfits.

Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC, photographs her assembled outfits—shoes, jewelry, purse, etc.—so she can quickly pull together what she needs at the hotel. She packs the clothing items in outfit groupings (skirt, blouse, jacket), and then puts a dry cleaning bag over that outfit with a tag identifying the day to wear it.

As long as you don’t see the same people over and over again, you don’t have to wear something different each trip. Keep favorite outfits in one location together, so you don’t have to search. I have a rotating set of six outfits—including jewelry and accessories— that I wear for traveling and speeches. I generally wear St. John knits on the platform, because they look great, pack easily, don’t wrinkle, require no ironing, and are as comfortable as pajamas. When I’m flying, I wear the Travelers line by Chicos. Again, no ironing, no wrinkling, and machine wash/dry. Guys, keep your ties, belts, shoes, etc., together in your closet, and wrap your dry-cleaned shirts in the plastic bags they come in, which will help with wrinkling.

Always bring a clean copy of any important documents or a thumb drive in case your laptop crashes. Bring an empty water bottle to fill when you get past security. Take your trusty GPS to avoid stress when driving in unfamiliar places (built in app on most Smartphones).

Arrive early

One of my speaker buddies works right up until the last minute he can possibly leave and still expect to catch his flight… IF…there’s no traffic, he doesn’t need to check bags, he can find a parking spot, there’s no line at the security counter, etc. It’s no wonder he’s always the one desperately running down the terminal, bursting on to the plane, pouring sweat, and sometimes watching as his plane pulls away without him. Sure, the airlines tell you to arrive 60 minutes ahead of flight time if you don’t have baggage to check, but give yourself more cushion than that. Check in before leaving and print your boarding pass (or send it to your phone). By giving yourself plenty of time, you won’t be stressed even when there is a long line at security.

Don’t check your briefcase or laptop

Carry on your luggage if at all possible. I can carry on for several days but have to surrender and check for a weeklong conference. But always carry your essential business information. Stuff happens. Bags disappear—usually not permanently—but for long enough to make you wish you had them. While there’s not a whole lot you can do if this happens, you can at least be confident your computer and other work essentials are close at hand. Don’t be tempted to tuck a stack of folders in with your suitcase. If there’s a baggage mishap, you can probably handle business in yesterday’s clothes, but not without your materials. My mentor, Dianna Booher, CSP, CPAE, told me to always wear business attire when checking a bag, so that I could speak in those clothes, if necessary.

Have a plan before your trip

You’ll usually have a pretty good idea of how much downtime you’ll have during your trip, so set some goals for your travel time before you leave. How long is the flight each way? How long will you be alone in your hotel room in the evening? Know what you want to accomplish during various parts of your trip. When you sit down in your airplane seat, you should know exactly what to do next. Maybe there’s a report you want to read or a proposal you want to write. Be ready to dive right in. Until I can turn on my computer, I generally do light reading or review audience evaluations and then I get to work.

Embrace the smartphone

You don’t need to become a full-fledged Crackberry addict to enjoy the benefits of a Smartphone of some kind. It just isn’t an option anymore. I use a Droid, others love their iPhones, and still others use Blackberry. While it shouldn’t hijack your life, it’s an invaluable tool while you’re riding in a taxi, sitting at the gate, or taking a quick break at your program. Use your downtime to keep up with email and keep up with the office; it’s comforting to know it isn’t piling up while you’re away.

However, I’ve discovered your phone can still leave you hanging when you least expect it. Unable to get reception from my hotel room or an Internet connection (to use Skype), I’ve had to resort to using the hotel land line, which can be absurdly expensive. So grab a $10 prepaid phone card or calling card service to make needed calls from your room without racking up phone charges or wandering around the parking lot searching for a signal.

Use a thumb drive

What’s tiny, inexpensive and just might save your speech? Answer: A thumb drive. It’s an emergency backup for files essential to your trip. If your laptop is stolen, your battery is fried, or you come face-to-face with the infamous Blue Screen of Death, you’ll have a backup of the presentation you came so far to deliver. I had a computer refuse to start up once, but was able to load my presentation to the client’s laptop and carry on. Or use to upload to the cloud. Also make sure to set up remote access to your office files and programs on your computer with or, just in case. If can get to the Internet, you can operate your computer as if it were right in front of you.

Simplify with a docking station

Do you transfer files between your desktop and laptop computers when you hit the road? This was one of my biggest frustrations, until I stopped using a desktop altogether. Unless your work requires some serious computer resources, use your laptop as your CPU with a docking station (Dell has some nice options). You’ll still keep your nice big monitor and full-size keyboard in the office. When it’s time to fly, you simply pop your laptop out of the dock, slip it into your briefcase, and have all your same files in one place. It’s the best of both worlds. Ruby Newell-Legner, CSP, doesn’t dock, but swears by to keep her files synced between desktop and laptop.

Use the latest tools and technology

Get the necessary tools to stay in touch with your home and office, so you never use the lame excuse, “I was on the road.” By keeping up with phone calls, email, and clients while traveling, you won’t have a pile of work waiting for you when you return. I use a hosted Microsoft Exchange service, so

Outlook is the same on my Droid, my laptop, and any computer in our office.

My staff can check my calendar and email remotely and add appointments and tasks. With Exchange, you’ll only have to process email once (instead of reading it on webmail and then pulling it into Outlook when you return to your desktop).

You don’t have to pay the outrageous wireless charges in the hotel room.! You can get Internet access from anywhere by using your phone as a hot spot or getting an air card through your wireless network. If you pay for connection charges a few times a month in a hotel, the convenience is worth the extra monthly cost (if applicable).

Carry a pocket folder or portfolio

Conference materials, client notes, receipts and articles can all end up mangled, mixed up or lost if you don’t keep everything together and organized until you get back from your trip. Print a separate envelope for receipts for each gig, so they don’t get mixed up. For multi-day conferences, like NSA, use a seven-pocket folder to keep documents separated by day.

Finish one trip before starting the next

Try not to load up your schedule the morning you return to the office. You need time to unpack, reorganize and process all information through your system and get it into the right place. Refill toiletries so they are ready for the next trip. Immediately reorganize your briefcase and office. Write reports, complete documentation and generate invoices while the information is fresh in your mind. Otherwise, if you have multiple trips, you’ll get confused about what goes with what. As soon as you return from an engagement, immediately enter all business cards into your CRM and schedule follow up. By giving yourself some space and not scheduling too much upon your return, you’ll feel more confident during your travels.

Spending money means saving time

I don’t drive to/from the airport. Some speakers think it’s a bit lavish, but I create more value working for two hours than I pay the driver. I use inclusive travel, so my clients don’t need to concern themselves. Plus, I avoid the stress of finding a parking spot, walking to the terminal, and paying for parking. Stick with one preferred airline to gain the highest status possible. Pay for airline club access for the best travel experience. The CLEAR card went bankrupt, but its assets were purchased, and it’s back in business at some airports, including Denver and Orlando at this point (good for people who live or fly to those locations frequently). For rental cars, upgrade to gold aisle or the equivalent to avoid waiting in lines.

A second saved is a second earned

There are many small ways to make life easier for yourself when you’re traveling by laying the groundwork before you leave, spending your travel time effectively, and getting organized when you return. You can become a productive road warrior when you’re away from the office and enjoy time with your loved ones when you return home.

The Professional Speaker’s Gig Bag Should Contain:

Personal items:

  • Two alarm clocks (in case one malfunctions)
  • Ear plugs
  • Bose noise-cancelling headset
  • Melatonin for sleeping when traveling west to east or internationally
  • Cough drops, moisturizing mouth spray, chewable Rolaids, cold medicine, ibuprofen, lip balm and Imodium AD
  • A color copy of your passport and driver’s license
  • Shout towelette or Tide stick for spots
  • Extra pair of stockings (for women)
  • Tuna packets, fruit, and protein bars
  • Reading material and music for plane
  • Notebook/journal
  • Stamped thank-you notes to write on plane

Business necessities:

  • Business cards
  • Remote PowerPoint controller/pointer
  • Extra battery for your remote
  • Laptop or iPad
  • Extra laptop power supply or a universal charger like a Targa
  • Extra laptop battery for long-haul trips
  • Extra phone charger that stays in your bag
  • Air card for Internet access or smartphone as hot spot
  • Microphone headset like a CountryMan
  • Small portable mouse
  • Flash drive for backing up your presentation
  • Portable travel alarm clock or app that doubles as timer during speech
  • iPod/iPhone/iPad/Droid/Kindle loaded with your music, books, blogs, MP3s, etc. and royalty-free entrance music
  • USB connector cord for above
  • GPS or GPS app on phone if driving
  • Printed copy of your introduction printed in large type
  • Printed master copy of handouts (in case they forget)
  • Post-program summary sheet to note stories told, outfit worn, gifts to send, etc.
  • Preprinted mailing labels for shipping unsold product back to the office or next engagement
  • Printed event-detail report with contact information
  • Train whistle (to get audience’s attention after activities)
  • Rubber door stopper for crooked projector
  • Flip camera or phone for recording testimonials
  • 3-outlet adapter plug to share sockets with airport friends
  • Copy of your book to “read” from on stage
  • Alligator clip to hold drapes together (Crown Plaza gives these away)
  • Laminated product signs for books
Laura Stack

Laura Stack

2011-12 NSA president Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is a personal productivity expert and the author or co-author of five books. She is president of Productivity Pro, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress environments.
Laura Stack
Laura Stack
Laura Stack
Laura Stack

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