Travel Tips for Public Speakers

Posted on by Rachel in advent speaker tips.

It’s like a co-working space where some residents have decided that 7am is a fine time to start on the champagne.

For many speakers, speaking means a lot of travel. I possibly travel more than most, being on the road for half of the year. In this article I’m going to round up some of the ways in which I make this amount of travel work reasonably smoothly, most of the time!

Finding and booking Travel

Booking my own travel is one of my requirements when people ask me to speak. Having someone else book your travel sounds like a great idea at first, but after a couple of trips where I was booked on a completely bizarre routing, adding hours to the trips, in order to save pennies, I soon realised it was in my interest to take charge of this. This has also enabled me to play the travel game to some extent, thus making my traveling life much easier.

Build your airline status

Try to fly as much as possible with the same airline or group of airlines. Airlines are formed into Alliances, which are groups of airlines who code share flights and typically points and miles can then be credited to your base airline. My main airline is British Airways, they are in the One World Alliance. This means that if I fly with American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or any of the other airlines in the group, I can credit my Tier Points and Avios (airmiles) to BA. This is useful, the Tier Points get me status which means things like lounge access, the Avios can be used to book and - most importantly to me - upgrade flights.

Use a travel credit card

There are various credit cards which are designed for the frequent flier. These are often linked to airlines, and can earn you airmiles. However some cards also have benefits such as hotel status, or travel insurance included. What is available depends on the country that you live in, however the American Express cards tend to be top of the list for most travellers. I also find Amex most reliable for not getting blocked because I travel a lot. HSBC seem to be unhappy about my frequent location switches!

Keep the organiser informed

If you need to link up trips, or are going to take a more expensive flight but intend to pay the extra, or are going to do anything other than the expected out and back from your home location then let the organiser know your plans before booking.

I quite often save conferences money because I’m linking up two events. In that case I will typically split the costs between the conferences. This can be a decent saving for them if the trip is a UK to USA return. This is also fair to organizers. If your expenses are being covered by one conference and you then drop in another gig where they would otherwise have needed to pay your travel, it seems a little cheeky for them not to help cover some of the costs of you being in the location.

An exception to the above would be going to speak at a local community meetup because I’m in the area already. They are typically not in a position to fly in or pay speakers, and I’m donating my time to speak there. My aim is to be fair and open with organisers in the same way I expect them to be fair and open with me.

Paying for the extras

I’m over 40, I travel half of the year, if I can upgrade myself to business on a few long flights or otherwise make all this travel less harsh on myself I will do. I typically try to upgrade red eye flights, as on a daytime flight I’m going to sit and work, but being able to sleep on the overnight makes a huge difference. Airline pricing is changeable and so it can be tricky to prove what the economy price was at the time of booking for example. I always grab a screenshot of what that price would have been, and submit that along with my receipt, explaining that I only expect to be refunded economy as agreed.

Making air travel bearable

There are a few things that can make a huge amount of difference when you travel a lot.

Know what is happening with your flight

I track my flights in two ways. Firstly, I put all of my travel into TripIt. I then get notifications of gates, or delays. Usually when I am making a connecting flight, by the time I turn my phone on after landing TripIt has already sent me a message detailing the next gate I need to get to, any delay, and how long I have to make that connection.

Secondly, the day before I travel I go to FlightAware, search for my flight, and get the notifications for that flight sent to me. As it gets closer to the flight time you can often track the physical aircraft, look for “Where is my plane now?” A lot of delays are due to the inbound aircraft being delayed. If you know that the inbound is still sat in Zurich when you are supposed to be boarding at London, you probably aren’t going anywhere soon. Very occasionally an airline will switch in another aircraft but this is pretty rare in my experience, there just aren’t spare airplanes sat around.

Most of the time this information just means you can sit in the lounge a bit longer, occasionally though it will give you the heads up that your flight is about to be cancelled. When a flight is cancelled everyone is going to try and get rebooked, being at the head of that queue may be the difference between flying that day and having a night in the airport hotel.

Lounge Access

If you have managed to build up enough status then you will get lounge access when travelling economy, something otherwise reserved for business or first class passengers. Having lounge access transforms travel. You can show up to the airport early, making things far less stressful, and go sit and work in a quieter space with WiFi, power, snacks and drinks. It’s like a co-working space where some residents have decided that 7am is a fine time to start on the champagne. Some lounges go so far as to have full restaurant quality meals on offer, however even the free coffee (or adult beverages) will save you money every trip.

Other ways to get lounge access are to have a credit card that includes it. Some of the Amex cards offer this. I have the Amex Business Platinum card, which has an annual fee that is probably only worth paying if you trave a decent amount but does come with some nice perks.

You can pay for many lounges at the door. It can be reasonably expensive (40USD or so) however if you have a very long layover the space to work, WiFi, and included snacks and drinks can be worth it. Consider how much you will spend in the airport just hanging around. A cheaper way to pay for access is to join a scheme such as Priority Pass, depending on your subscription level lounges are included, or you pay a lower fee on entry. Check out Lounge Buddy which gives you details of available lounges, whether they are pay for entry, and reviews of them.

If you can pay to enter the lounge of your airline, it can be very useful in the event of a delay. The desk in the lounge can often do things like get you rebooked on a flight when your connection is in danger. Twice now the American Airlines lounge staff have reserved me seats as a fallback just in case I missed the connection.

TSA Precheck, Global Entry, Trusted Traveller schemes

Many countries have schemes that are designed for frequent travellers. In the USA Global Entry for an non-US citizen means that you can go through electronic gates and miss the big immigration queues, this includes TSA Precheck - the magical “you can leave your shoes on” security status. If you visit a country regularly and they have one of these schemes I can highly recommend them. You will save a huge amount of time on arrival, and with PreCheck in the USA you save a lot of time at each security point.

Leave enough time for connections

Travel is far less stressful if you have plenty of time. Airlines will quite often book you on incredibly tight connections, a bit of checking the options when searching or calling up to book can get you a longer layover. Why would you want a longer layover? Because airplanes are constantly delayed. Add that delay to the situation you have when connecting in a country where you have to collect and recheck your bags at the point of entry, perhaps change terminal and go through security again and three hours between flights is very sensible indeed.

On the same subject, leave enough time to get to the airport. They are not going to hold that flight for you and it is a very stressful way to start a trip, racing through the airport hoping that they will let you board and then staggering down the aisle of the plane as the last person to board!

Have a mobile office

You are working on the road, and if you want to be able to get things done you need to be set up for it. Some sort of laptop stand, a nice mouse, an external keyboard can make a big difference when working in hotel rooms.

WiFi on the road

Some phone plans allow global roaming for free or for a daily charge, however they often limit tethering, and constantly hunting for WiFi is nuisance and means you end up picking places to have coffee based on WiFi rather than beverage quality. I love my Skyroam, which is a device with a virtual sim that works all over the world. I ran a workshop from it which required internet access in Hong Kong. It is quite often faster than hotel WiFi, and makes life much less stressful. You can go via this referral link for 20% discount.

You do you when it comes to checked luggage

I am a luggage checker. I don’t want to live half my life in two outfits. I want to bring fitness gear, my cycle helmet, more than one pair of shoes. The inconvenience of having to wait half an hour at the baggage carousel - where I just sit and use the airport WiFi to check my email - is fine, when it means I can have my things at my destination. Other people love to do the minimal thing. Figure out how you like to do things, and ignore people who tell you to do it a different way.

If you are going to check a larger bag however, get one that is easy to move around. I have had so many cheap suitcases with wobbly wheels, my life has been made so much better with my Briggs and Riley case. Yes it was horribly expensive, however given the rate I was replacing those cheap bags due to wheels falling off them, it seems an ok investment.

Pack some essentials in your hand luggage

If you do check luggage it’s a good plan to have some essentials - a change of clothes, the things you need to present - in your hand luggage. This is especially important if you are on stage the next morning. Most of the time your luggage will reappear, usually delivered by the airline to your hotel, but if it was left at your departure point it could well be 24 hours later and you probably don’t want to present in comfy travel clothes.

Keep your receipts!

If you are travelling as a speaker, then you are working. If you are freelance then a lot of the expenses you incur on the road will be counted as business expenses. Some of them might be reimbursed by the conference, others you can at least deduct from tax. If speaking is part of your job, then it is likely that your employer covers your expenses. Having an app that allows you to quickly snap a photo and log an expense will save you a horrible day of wading through receipts later. Take it from one who knows, you will never remember what that receipt in Japanese was for. I use the included functionality in our accounting software Xero, but there are standalone apps such as Receipt Bank available too - or just save then into Dropbox with a sensible filename.

Don’t forget to tourist a little bit

Finally, it is very tempting just to show up and see the airport, hotel room and conference centre. Don’t forget to try and experience a little of life in the city you land in. If your conference organiser is a local they will usually be more than happy to share with you a couple of must see ideas, or tips for great local restaurants. Even a morning walk - or run in my case - round some of the tourist places, snapping a few photos on your phone, can give you a little taste of the places you are lucky enough to get to see.

Advent speaker tips: this is part of a series of tips for public speakers that we’re posting throughout advent. Check back daily during December for more.

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