Secrets of the Most Productive Travelers

Your list of countless invaluable tips that promise to speed your travel and increase your comfort on the road.

When Rick Burton goes on the road, his rituals create a kind of cocoon that moves with him. The David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University, Burton has flown an average of 100,000 miles a year for the past 30 years. He has taken to traveling with zest, boasting about his "squishy pillow that conforms to my neck" and his change of comfortable clothes that he wears on long flights.

"I bring a baseball cap to pull down over my eyes, and slippers, since feet expand at altitude and I don’t want to walk into a bathroom in socks. It may not be quite like at home but I want to be comfortable," he says.

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg of Valerie Wilson Travel, who was on the road 155 days in 2011, travels with a cape that doubles as a blanket because "it has my scent… and it's clean," and she wipes down her seat and the remote with Purell before each flight.

Burton and Wilson-Buttigieg are fairly typical in their quirkiness. The most predictable thing about travel is its unpredictability. To be truly productive when the rhythm of life is literally in the air, most road warriors create routines, rules and rituals that provide a grounding sense of control and comfort. They plan for a myriad of contingencies, accept what is beyond their power with Zen-like equanimity, and get on with their work.

The following is a list of how they do it—stay in the air while staying productive—and comfortable:

Stay Connected.


Carry extra batteries, battery powered chargers and adapters, advises political consultant Carl Silverberg, who logged 131,000 miles in 2011 alone. "They're inexpensive and a lifesaver when you can't find an outlet."

Bring a high-quality hands-free set for your phone so that you can answer calls in noisy places and be able to hear and be heard, advises John Barrows, vice president of corporate communications for Avis Budget Group, who took 40-plus flights "in everything from a 747 to teensy prop planes" last year.

Advises Bill Stewart, founding partner at strategic advisory firm Avondale, who traveled about 250 miles last year, mostly from coast to coast, "Get a long-battery-life laptop and get the extended battery, because I never know when I’ll be away from a power outlet for an extended time. Six to seven hours of battery life is my new minimum living standard."

Back yourself up.


When you can’t connect, you can still use your email program to clear out your in-box, Barrows notes.

Since you can’t always get to everything you need from your laptop or smart phone, "print out back ups and/or put them on a flash drive," suggests Silverberg.

Carry a print out of flights before and after each departure, including those on other carriers, in case a meeting ends early or goes late, or a carrier cancels a flight "so you’re not starting from zero to reschedule if you can’t get it on an app," suggests Wilson-Buttigieg.

At the ready.


Minimize the stress of last minute packing by keeping toiletries, technology kits and other basics ready to grab and go.

Stewart advises investing in a tablet, instead of clogging your carry-on bad with books. "I read one to two books per week, and now I no longer have to worry about carrying around the latest 1,000-page Dances with Dragons, or think about the weight differential between hardcover and paperback. Also, I pay Amazon prices for books now, not airport prices, so the tablet has paid for itself already. The added benefit of the tablet is that I can read while on the elliptical or treadmill at the hotel gym; I just turn up the font size and no longer need to sweat all over my reading glasses and try to juggle a book while I’m exercising."

Barrows keeps a spare set of all his laptop cords, flash drives and connectors in a heavy duty Ziploc bag so he never leaves behind something important.

Wilson-Buttigieg maintains an "emergency red vinyl folder, in both digital and paper," by her bedside with contacts, a copy of her passport, insurances, and everything she might need if she couldn’t get access digitally.

Appoint a troubleshooter.


Designate someone to coordinate what you can’t manage while traveling and have set times to check in and deal with questions, advises Mauricio Millán Costabile, vice president of Coraza Corporación Azteca, who flies domestically about three times a month, and to Asia or Russia once a quarter.

A trusted travel consultant is invaluable, asserts Gary E. Hayes, PhD, managing partner, Hayes Brunswick and Partners and author of Leading in Turbulent Times. Hayes, who averaged more than two trips a month last year, says his agent usually can arrange early hotel check in at no charge, and knowing she is on top of potential travel issues like storms and wildcat strikes allows him to stay focused on his mission.

Tune in to your time zone.


"Change your watch at take off," advises Wilson-Buttigieg "It gets you into the right mind set."

Stu Strelzer, who is on the road more than 180 nights a year handling broadcast operations for shows on ABC Television Network, says if he’s heading west, he works and reads until about 11 p.m. local time so he can "synch up and then get a good night’s sleep."

Heading east, Strelzer prefers to get on the plane tired and sleep. "I bring noise canceling headphones. That really helps."

Ann MacDougall, COO, Acumen Fund, who frequently flies to Pakistan, India and Africa, agrees. "Especially when heading east overnight, take an Ambien (if needed) as soon as you take off to try to replicate a night’s sleep."

Another approach: Avondale's Stewart says, "I always stay on east coast time, even though I live on the west coast. All my clients are Eastern or Midwestern, so it’s easier to stay on one time zone clock than constantly try to switch back and forth. As a result, I typically go to bed at 8 p.m. pacific time on a Friday night and get up at 5 a.m. pacific time on a Saturday morning, so I’m not exactly the life of the party! Of course, I can fix this any time I want by moving east, but my family and I really like living in California, so it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. I guess the general tip would be pick a time zone and stick to it.

Plan time to recharge.


Pushing relentlessly can be counter-productive.

"If I land in the morning and go for a run, preferably outside, that can change the first two days of my trip," says Hayes.

Stewart agrees, "An hour’s exercise is always better than an hour’s sleep! As I’ve gotten myself into shape over the last few years (I now do about 30 miles per week of trail running and gym ellipticals), I’ve found that I need less sleep. I’d rather get five to six hours of sleep and an hour of exercise than seven hours sleep. It’s always hard to get up at 4:30 a.m. to hit the hotel gym, or to work out at 9 p.m. after a dinner with the client, but the payoff is worth the price. I’m down nearly 40 lbs from where I was in 2006 and I'm have so much more energy.

MacDougall advises doing at least one thing that is fun or enriching on each trip. "On day three of five days of non-stop meetings in Madrid, I 'stole' 45 minutes to go to the Prado museum—that was really fun and re-energized me."

Stewart adds that, if you can, take an extra day for yourself. "I completely "veg out." I explicitly force myself to relax and not think about work."

Burton, whose first novel, a World War II thriller, was recently published, says it’s important to him to have time to be creative while traveling. Traveling as much as he does, he says he views his trips “as endurance races, not sprints. The modern business traveler needs to ask, am I operating my body as a sustainable entity just as I would any business asset.”

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