If you are in a leadership position at your company, you may eventually experience the need to travel with your boss. Before you check your luggage, it’s crucial to be prepared for whatever may come your way during the business trip. Whether you are male or female, traveling with your superior may feel tenuous, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips to help you make a good impression and start your professional travel off on the right foot:
Know the protocol. Given that men and women carry the same weight in business, many of the social courtesies enjoyed when traveling with your spouse do not apply. For example, a woman may expect her husband to hail a taxi when they are on vacation, but as an executive, it is her responsibility to handle the details, which include transportation and tipping the taxi driver for her boss.
Assume nothing. Some bosses expect their junior executives to take care of everything from arranging transportation, setting up meetings, booking the hotel and securing reservations for dinner. Other bosses prefer to take the lead and expect you to keep up. Before packing your suitcase, it's up to you to figure out where your boss falls on the spectrum by asking what his or her expectations will be. This will allow you to plan and prepare accordingly.
Prepare neutral talking points. Since you may not know whether your boss will want to talk the entire flight (you have my sympathies) or read quietly, you’ll want to have a few conversational topics in your back pocket should you need them. Though you may talk business at first, expect the natural flow of things to head in a variety of directions. Knowing what his or her personal interests are will come in handy should you find yourself in this position. What was most memorable about his recent trip to Africa? What is on her bucket list for 2013?
Bring the company credit card, and your own for back up. Assuming your boss is relying on you to take care of details, be ready to pay for expenses along the way, including the rental car, the cab fare, and the hotel bill. If for whatever reason the company credit card explodes at the rental counter, have a Plan B in place so there isn't a delay. Tell your boss immediately that there is something wrong with the card but get the job done so there isn’t a hold up. It's more professional than asking your boss for "another credit card because the first one didn't work". At your first opportunity, call the office and alert them of the problem so they can take care of it.
Stock up on cash. Stop by the ATM machine before you leave and make sure to carry cash (small bills) for easy tipping. Especially if you are traveling with your boss, it is generally your responsibility to tip the valet, a skycap or the shuttle driver who assists you both with your bags. This is your first opportunity to show your boss you are in control and prepared for everything—handle with confidence!
Avoid alcohol on the flight and drink with discretion on the ground. Even if your boss sleeps through two time zones, it's in your best interest to be alert in the event your boss wants to talk business after his or her catnap. It also sends the wrong message to share a drink with your supervisor, especially if you are in mixed company. When you are at a meal, entertaining with your boss, stick to a one-drink limit. Switch to a club soda with a twist of lime or "mocktail" of your choice.
Dress professionally. Whether you are traveling by plane, train or car, choose your wardrobe with business in mind. Just because you are traveling through security or your destination is tropical doesn't mean you can let your professional guard down. Choose business casual rather than flip-flops and a t-shirt. Check the forecast for your destination and pack accordingly.
Assume you will eat meals on your own. Unless your boss suggests meeting for breakfast, order room service or go down to the hotel restaurant and eat your cereal solo. (It's a good idea to carry a few breakfast bars for emergencies!)
So what's the bottom line for traveling with your superior? By adequately preparing for the trip, you’ll avoid otherwise awkward encounters and instead demonstrate what a polished and reliable representation you are of their company. Be sure to give your spouse a big kiss when you get home too!
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.dianegottsman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.