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Preparing to hit the road probably constitutes the biggest aggravation of most business trips. Even when the journey doesn’t cross national borders, travelers face a welter of details – enough to render the whole experience a nightmare.
Industry experts say the secret to smooth travel is to allow ample time before departure to plan for last minute details and unexpected loose ends. Whether turning to the pros or opting for a do-it-yourself approach, an organized strategy can make the task a whole lot easier.
Travel Arrangements: The Right Agent
The Internet offers many services once available only to travel professionals. Even so, some business owners may find themselves regretting they didn’t hire a travel agent. The time needed for booking flights and hotels can interfere with other preparations – and airlines, hotel, and itinerary glitches may take time from needed business functions and build frustration, undermining the ability to focus on business.
Agents do charge a commission. On the other hand, they have the capacity to cater to specific needs and preferences, offer money-saving deals beyond what’s available via the Internet, and are a blessing in emergencies. For companies with employees, an agent also can guarantee that personnel stick to the business’s travel policies.
To find an agent, do a quick Internet search or ask friends, family, and colleagues who they’ve dealt with successfully.
Once you’ve identified some likely prospects, use these guidelines to make your final choice:
“Do-It-Yourself” Travel the Easy Way
While travel agents can be worth the investment, some business owners prefer to make their own arrangements. Aside from the time commitment, using the Internet makes the task eminently doable. Sites such as Kayak (http://www.kayak.com) can search hundreds of travel websites for the best deals in airfare, lodging, etc., with a few taps of the mouse and keyboard.
That said, travel industry experts do suggest some strategies targeting reservations, expenses, safety, and other business-travel related issues:
Change Voicemail and Email: Electronic Update Messages Mean Happy Clients
Extensive travel can mean lost phone messages, ignored emails, and missed opportunities. The trick for avoiding potential catastrophe is simple. Small-business owners must notify clients and customers of their pending absence - by telephone, email, or short written correspondences - at least seven days prior to departure.
Office productivity programs frequently include email management features such as automatic response, an effective way for a computer to shoot back a reply once the owner is out of the office. And virtually all land-line and cellular phone providers offer user options regarding greeting, messaging, call forwarding, and other functions. Here are additional tips to help avoid frustrated clients and staff:
Checklists: Before Departure
Cancelled and delayed flights can strand even the most organized business travelers in airports or strange cities – minus critical electronic files. To forestall these headaches, put together a checklist in the 24-hour period prior to departure. This process may take a bit of time initially, but once the basic format is in place, travelers can return to these “to-do” forms again and again.
The following suggestions will serve as a starting point:
Be stringent about packing liquids and carry-ons properly. These regulations are constantly changing, so visit http://www.tsa.gov for updates.
Many standard insurance policies cover losses and thefts that occur on the road, but business owners who travel extensively - both in the U.S. and abroad - may find additional insurance useful and comforting. Travel plans typically cover:
Some business insurance plans also provide protection for:
While travel insurance can be useful, it’s not for every business owner. Check with your agent for more information on how these products can benefit you.