If you are somebody who loves to travel, then a public speaking career will definitely be appealing to you, because you’re going to get to travel A LOT. But maybe you’re not super experienced in traveling frequently and want to figure out how to make it the best experience possible. Here at the Speaker Lab, we’ve compiled a list of 9 travel tips for speakers that can be helpful for you in making your travel more enjoyable. These are drawn from The Speaker Lab Podcast episodes on travel with Grant Baldwin, which you can find here. Read on to learn more!
Speaker Travel Tip #1: Use a travel rewards program
Before you even book travel, the number one tip would be to become a member of every travel rewards program.
Frequent-flyer programs are one of the biggest perks of speaking. When you travel, you can often earn miles or points from clients. These points can be redeemed for free travel, such as free flights or hotel nights. Grant Baldwin has earned enough points to take his family on some amazing vacations, all thanks to the speaking work he has done.
“I have memberships with 10 different airlines and eight different hotel chains,” Grant Baldwin said. “They’re free accounts, and I generally only use a couple of them, but the others I earn points from time to time.”
When you make reservations for a flight or hotel or a rental car, always make sure that your rewards number for that company is connected to the reservation. Clients often book flights and hotels for you, so it’s important to call and check in every time you arrive at a new destination.
Consider keeping a printed sheet in your travel bag with all of your frequent traveler account numbers on it. That way, when you arrive at a hotel you can pull out your sheet and make sure all your numbers are connected to the reservation.
There’s a really helpful tool that can help you keep track of all your rewards accounts. It’s called Award Wallet, and you can find it at awardwallet.com. It stores all of your account numbers, as well as the updated totals for each one. Look them up!
Speaker Travel Tip #2:
Second, before you book travel, pick your preferred airline, hotel, and car rental company and stick with them. It’s not hard to do this online, so take a few minutes to select your favorite three or four companies. Then use those same companies every time you fly on business or vacation.
If you make the same choice from city to city and from year to year, the travel company will start to reward you with frequent flyer miles or hotel points that you can use for free stays in other cities around the world – or for upgrades to first class on domestic flights.
Status can mean getting free upgrades to first class. It means free checked bags. Free flight changes. It means an upgrade on hotel rooms or rental cars.
Most airlines don’t offer standby seating unless you have status. If there are 10 people on the standby list and only three seats available, then generally the three people with the highest status will get those seats.
You have to pick an airline based on your travel plans, the city you live in, and the airlines that connect through that city. The three biggest carriers are American, United, and Delta. You also have some smaller carriers like Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue or Frontier.
For example, say you live in Nashville and want to travel to Springfield, Missouri. As a smaller airport, Springfield doesn’t offer many direct flights. So you’d always have to travel through a hub—like Chicago or Dallas—to catch your next flight. If you lived in Denver, though, you might fly on United since there’s a United hub there, with more frequent service to more cities than other airlines operating at DEN.
Grant stays at Hilton Hotels almost exclusively; he loves the program called Hilton Honors. It has a lot of different brands within it such as Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree by Hilton, and a couple of others. Each time Grant stays at one of these hotels, he earns points toward free stays or other perks. The Hilton Hotel Group has a ton of properties, so this can really pay off in the long run.
Speaker Travel Tip #3:
Tip #3 is don’t book the last flight to an event. When you’re getting ready to book a flight for an event, you’re going to have a lot of different options, a lot of different airlines, a lot of different times, and a lot of different routing and connections. While every speaker is different in terms of when they want to arrive, you never want to book the last flight to an event. You always wanna allow yourself a little bit above a room in case things go wrong, which from time to time they inevitably will in a little bit.
One tool you can use to find flights is kayak.com. You can put in your dates, your times, when you’re flying, and where you’re flying from. Kayak will scour the internet and bring you back options for flights on various carriers.
Sometimes you’ll see if there’s a direct flight that would get you home sooner to the event or be significantly cheaper than what it would be on your airline of choice. Note that Kayak pulls in a lot of the major carriers, but one that they don’t pull in is Southwest. So you’ll need to go directly to the Southwest site for that.
Another tool that Grant will use a lot is tripit.com. TripIt creates an online itinerary for your trip. When you book a flight or a hotel or car rental, some other piece of travel, you’ll get a confirmation email for that travel. You can forward that email to your TripIt account and it will create an itinerary for you, which you can connect to your Google Calendar. Then you can have all your confirmation numbers in one location. It’s a free app, but there’s a paid version that’ll give you more bells and whistles.
Speaker Travel Tip #4:
Don’t book nonrefundable hotel rooms. When you travel, many things can change in your schedule. It’s good to remain flexible, and if you book a hotel room, you can get a refundable rate or a nonrefundable rate. If you get a refundable rate, it’s usually about a few dollars more but you can still cancel or change the reservation up to 24 hours before the booking.
So you will typically only book a non-refundable room if it’s just a few days from the event, and you know that everything is a go. But you wouldn’t typically book a non-refundable room like several weeks or months out because there’s, again, there’s a lot that could change and you may need to cancel or change that reservation.
When booking a hotel for your trip, be sure to consider where it’s located in relation to other places you need to be. Make sure the hotel is close enough to the venue where you’ll be speaking so that you’re not dealing with rush hour traffic on your way there. If it’s going to be in a different location from the airport, find out how far away it is from there so you don’t arrive too early or too late for your flight.
You can determine so many of these logistical details ahead of time by just looking at a map and realizing, “oh, the reason that hotel is significantly cheaper than that one is because I’d have a ridiculous drive to get to the venue.” So when booking hotel rooms, again, don’t book a non-refundable room, and then also just look at the map to figure out where it is in relation to everything else.
Speaker Travel Tip #5
When booking travel, do what’s best for the client. This rule primarily applies to how you’re booking travel. As we covered in our article on speaking contracts, there are basically, two ways to handle travel expenses with a client. you can bill all inclusively, meaning that there’s one flat rate that the client pays, and you’re responsible for covering your travel out of that. Or alternatively, you invoice travel separately, meaning that you would charge your speaking fee and then after the event, you would send the client an invoice for the exact amount of your travel expenses.
If you decide to invoice travel separately, which occasionally a client will insist on, always do what’s best for the client. If you’re invoicing a client for travel, and there’s a flight on your rewards partner airline that is $600 and an option on Southwest for $200, you need to do what’s best for the client and book the cheaper option. But if the price difference is less than $100, you could probably book whatever your preferred airline is because it’s not that significant of a difference.
Again, this situation is only if you invoice travel separately. If you do all-inclusive pricing, this is not an issue.
Speaker Travel Tip #6
Tip #6 is that travel rarely goes according to plan. So you should be flexible and always have a plan. You will likely experience lost luggage delays, cancellations, weather issues, mechanical issues, or crew issues. There are so many things that can and will go wrong. So one of the biggest things that you can do is to not only remain flexible, but always start preparing your plan.
Start to solve the problem before it becomes a problem. For example, if you have a connection that’s a very short connection, start figuring out what gate you’re coming into and what gate you’re going out of.
If you’re traveling through Dallas, for example, there are four main terminals, terminals A, B, C, and D. Learn how they connect to each other and which is the quickest way. Is it quicker to go on foot or is it quicker to take the train between terminals? If you have a tight connection and it seems like your flight may be delayed, start figuring out what your other options are.
Airlines can help you, but if you have high frequent flyer status, they will do a lot more to help you. That said, the more you can figure out ahead of time, the better. You know your schedule better than they do. So if you come to them with options, it will make your life and their life much simpler.
What to do if your flight gets canceled
If your flight cancels, show up to your airline’s helpdesk and say, “Hey, my flight just canceled. Is it possible to get on this flight or this flight?” So you’re presenting options rather than just showing up and saying, “My flight just canceled. I don’t know what to do. Can you just save my life?” Don’t do that, since they’re going to put you on the option that makes the most sense for them, not necessarily the option that makes the most sense for you.
One useful rule of thumb is to try to get one step closer to your destination when rebooking flights. Even if it’s not the airport you’re trying to get to, an airport a couple of hours’ drive away could save you half a day of sitting in the airport.
Speaker Travel Tip #7
Let’s keep moving on to tip #7: When traveling, don’t get upset over things you can’t control. When you travel, there are things that will go wrong and unfortunately, 99% of them are going to be outside of your control. You cannot control the airline. Or mechanical issues. You cannot control the weather. Or traffic. You cannot control much of what happens when you travel.
There will be things like weather issues that don’t go your way and you’ll be insanely angry and ticked off and pissed off and looking for someone or something to go off on, but you cannot get upset. Your attitude when traveling can take a crappy experience and turn it into a positive one.
You will be in a lot of airports and see a lot of people lose their minds over stuff that they cannot control. But you stay calm, stay cool. When things do go wrong, be cautious of how you treat employees of airlines and hotels. Oftentimes, it’s not their fault. They are frustrated too. They have highly stressful jobs with lots of angry people. Remind yourself that they are human too, that they can’t control many of the same issues that you’re upset about.
Say you’re frustrated about the weather. Do you think that gate agent had anything to do with the weather? No! So don’t go off on them because your flight got canceled.
Kind words can make a big difference in getting help. Tell the agent you’re working with that the last person who went off on them was a jerk, and it’s not their fault. Treat people with kindness, respect, and compassion. Not only is that the right thing to do because it’s just common courtesy; you will often get better help this way.
Speaker Travel Tip #8
Number eight, if you are having travel issues of any kind, keep the client in the loop. Keep the client in the loop. When issues happen, which they will happen from time to time, there’s a big balancing act in not causing a client unnecessary worry or panic, but also giving them adequate heads up when something is going terribly wrong.
For example, suppose you’re driving to an event that was only an hour or two from your house, but partway there, you get a flat tire and so you immediately contact the client. You tell them that you are changing the tire and will be there soon. The important thing is not to stress them out unnecessarily, but to just keep them in the loop. The only reason that you would need to really contact them and keep them in the loop is if it’s going to be a situation where you are going to be significantly late, or you may miss it entirely. That’s the type of thing that you want to keep them in the loop on. All right, so let’s go to the final point.
Speaker Travel Tip #9
Tip #9: Never miss an event. Do everything within your power to be there.
As Grant Baldwin recounted in an episode of The Speaker Lab podcast, “I remember a few years ago I was flying from Denver to Chicago. And then I had to drive a couple of hours into rural Illinois to speak, and there was this major snowstorm in Denver, and so we were delayed over and over and eventually took off, landed in Chicago around four or five in the morning, and so I got in my rental car.
“I drove a few hours to the place where I was speaking. I literally brushed my teeth in their parking lot, but you just don’t miss an event. If you think you might miss an event, just ensure that you have done everything in your power to be there, so you can be straight up with the client that the situation was genuinely outside of your control, but don’t miss an event because you didn’t try, because you had poor planning or because something else that you could control.”
So those are 9 travel tips for speakers! We’ve covered a lot of territory above. There’s a lot to consider as you go forward with your travels. You’ll figure out the details as you go, but be sure to keep these pointers in mind. This is just a thumbnail sketch of what it means to travel.
Want to go deeper? If you’d like to learn more about traveling as a speaker, check out this podcast on who pays for travel for speakers. Happy speaking!