Like Bambi endearingly finding his footing on ice, work travel in my early 20s was something of a learning curve. As a green, young buck, my very first work trip felt amazingly glamorous. It came with a ski villa and an unlimited expense account. I was a development coordinator at a major film studio at the time, sent to Sundance Film Festival on the company dime to scout talent, take in the best yet-to-be-sold fodder, and report back from the front lines. I had attended the festival multiple times in film school as a mere voyeur, making my officially sanctioned, full-credential status seem all the more legit. It was an easy gig to say yes to. It held all the glamour. The alpine setting invited the opportunity to pack like Audrey Hepburn in Charade. Park City may as well have been the French Alps to my wide-eyed naiveté. My packing list wasn't a problem. There were deeper lessons to be gleamed.
Perspective is a natural advantage of age. As a young gun on my first work-sanctioned adventure, I was far less proactive in communicating with my higher-ups. The words “expense account” were enough to send my brain into cruise control. Don’t let the perks trump your mission. Before you get on a plane, set tangible goals for your journey. Map out a crystal clear agenda of what work is to be completed before, during, and after your travel. You want concrete timelines in play so that you know exactly when you're on the clock, and when you're off the grid. For example, if the goal is landing new clients, that requires you to network. If you're there to meet people or hunt for new opportunities, that goal will not be served with you chained to a computer. Don’t leave your day job in the dust, just have the forethought to take day-to-day work off your plate in advance. Arrange for a temp to cover administrative duties or reassign tasks to another co-worker in your absence. Don't try to be superhuman. The last thing you want is to miss out on bigger opportunities by being preoccupied with completing tasks that could have been delegated elsewhere (if you’d asked).
Our trip was specifically about landing new writers and scoping out competitive projects. We were in town for a week, with carte blanche to see whatever movies or short programs we wanted. It was a lot to absorb. To execute this efficiently required quite a bit of research on the front end. If you are attending a convention or festival from SXSW to Sundance, review the itinerary with your supervisors in advance. Get a game plan, then get ready to pivot.
We didn’t have work due during the fest, but we did have a huge department report due within a week of our return, on top of our regular workload. If you're reporting back, take copious notes during events and screenings.Even if it's jotting down random thoughts in the Notes section of your iPhone, make digital footprints as you go. Set aside an hour each night to polish them into a more formal report. By the time you land at home, you won’t be hung up on trying to remember the details of every occurrence; instead, you can focus on finding cohesive themes, spotting trends, and analyzing your data. You'll have perspective.
Every HR department has a separate travel policy in play. Most companies allow for a per diem that will cover your travel and meals. We made the mistake of being gifted an unlimited expense account. Naively racking up hefty grocery bills and expensive dinners makes for an awkward exchange with your boss when you’re back. Luckily for us, our supervisors thought it was hilarious and borderline impressive that we managed to accrue such a bountiful haul from Whole Foods daily (maybe that’s an L.A. thing). Even with just a slap on the wrist, it’s far better to negotiate a per diem in advance and work out what's covered and what's not. Save all your receipts, and whenever possible, get an email copy as a backup. Uber and other car services like Lyft are a godsend, as they forever eliminate the ever-so-tiny taxi receipts that inevitably fall out of one’s wallet—they are the spare socks of business travel.
Schedule daily check-ins with your supervisor. Have a set time. If you’re on the move, you may not always have access to WiFi, or you may have your phone switched off at an event. Let them know when they can reach you, so that you don’t have to be on call. Each day make sure you're tracking toward the overall goal of the trip. Are their any new goals that have popped up on the radar? Don't be afraid to pitch a deviation from the original agenda. Oftentimes once you're on the road, be it at a seminar, festival or convention, and new partnerships and possibilities show up on the fly. That’s why you’re there. Don't get so caught up in your initial assignment that you forfeit the bigger picture. You’re on the front lines. Your access is privileged. Own it, and have the confidence to pitch your team new ideas as opportunities arise.
This is not the time to travel in your Lululemon. If your attire won't reasonably earn you an unsolicited upgrade to business class, consider yourself underdressed. Has this happened to me repeatedly on trips? Yes. Getting hand-plucked from the security queue and squired through the first class boarding line is the ultimate gold star for business airport attire. Invest in sleek tech accessories and streamline your luggage. Dress efficiently and professionally. Keep it chic and edited, avoid trends, flashy colors, or anything that will slow you down. Landing in the snow? Wear the right shoes. Be the boy scout. When we got off the plane in Park City, I chucked my heels in my bag and tossed on snow boots. A seasoned skier, this was a no-brainer to me. My co-workers were lamenting their wet toes already by the time our car service arrived. Preparedness in the way you carry yourself and dress reflect well upon your company.
Never underestimate the value of making connections while traveling. During my first work trip, one of the biggest surprises was how much business happened at cocktail hour. Social events were the prime real estate for landing new contacts and building key relationships. It goes without saying, you’ll want to limit your cocktail intake at work functions. You can keep it loose, but stay professional. Whatever you do, don't stay in every night and do your homework. Take full advantage of dinners, parties, and brunches. I literally landed a meeting with an up-and-coming writer by walking up to him at a CVS. Industry-centric events are a target-rich environment. Opportunity is everywhere. As my former young co-worker, now a senior creative executive at the major studio where we both worked puts it, “The biggest lesson for us in our twenties was work trips aren’t really about the work. All the business goes down at the after-party.” Party like a professional.
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