Many administrative assistants understand the layered and nuanced complexities of successfully planning a business trip for their executives. While travel planning may seem like an easy task in the modern world of online booking, it is actually a deceptively difficult one. Planning a trip takes forethought, preparation, flexibility, and empathy. A great assistant must be able to put themselves in the shoes of their leader and think through every detail of the trip to ensure the travel is as smooth and seamless as possible. That’s quite a task! Work travel can be exhausting and frustrating, from dealing with jet lag and an overly packed agenda to getting around in an unfamiliar city and handling the various curveballs that travel inevitably throws our way. When an assistant is able to plan a trip and consider these potential headaches before they happen, they can make their executive’s travel schedule one that isn’t inherently stressful. Getting this task right, I’ve found, goes a long way toward strengthening the bond between a leader and their assistant. A well-planned trip makes a leader feel like their assistant has their back and wants them to succeed and thrive, no matter where they may be.
There are three fundamental phases to travel planning: the pre-trip, the trip, and the post-trip. Each phase is absolutely critical. In this blog, we’re going to focus on the ever-important pre-trip phase. This is the first step in mastering travel planning and making sure your executive has a productive and stress-free trip. If you embrace these key tips, you’ll find yourself well on your way to successful travel planning.
Preparing for Success: Tips for a great pre-trip
Travel planning requires brain power! Just like calendar management, I often hear people ask, “Do I really need someone else to do this for me?” With a growing number of travel websites that claim to be able to handle every element of a trip, for business or pleasure, it’s a fair question. I believe strongly that the executives absolutely need an assistant to perform travel planning. Here’s why: A leader’s time is not well-spent performing tasks like booking flights and hotels, arranging transportation, and making restaurant reservations. It just isn’t. It’s the idea that “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” The role of travel planning is ideal for administrative assistants. It allows them to flex their skills and demonstrate the depth of understanding they’ve developed about their leader and their preferences. Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s take a look at some of the most essential tips to help assistants plan stress-free, seamless travel for their executives.
Create a travel profile for your executive
This step can and should take place before any potential trips are on the horizon. Sit down and meet with your executive. The goal here is to get an understanding of your leader’s preferences, must-haves, and things to avoid at all costs. Take copious notes and ask lots of questions. Get an understanding of travel budgets and spending limits. Make sure your leader has shared any login information (for airlines or hotel chains) with you, including rewards numbers. Think both big and small here! You want to know big things like preferred airlines and small things like preferred seating locations. It’s all about the details when it comes to travel planning!
Get all the details for an upcoming trip
When your executive does learn about a new trip, you want to sit down with them immediately and gather information about the trip. Where are they going? How long will they be there? With whom will they be meeting? What event(s) will they be attending? What is the dress code for each event? Do they want to incorporate any fun into their trip, or will it be business only? What you’re really trying to do here is develop a trip profile, much like you developed a general travel profile for your leader.
Create a trip checklist
Once you have the details for the trip, understanding that those may change over time, you’ll want to create a checklist that will help you as you plan the trip, ensuring that you cover every single detail. This will also help you track your progress, so you know what you’ve done and can quickly identify any outstanding tasks. You can use any platform you’re comfortable with to create your checklist system, including a handwritten system, printed template, Excel spreadsheet, or other programs. Your list should consider if the travel is international and any adjustments needed for that. Your checklist should really cover every detail of the trip, from dinner reservations to rideshare availability and options, from travel insurance to vaccination recommendations.
Do your homework
After you’ve created a complete and thorough checklist, you need to start researching. Does the location of the trip require the need for a translator? Is it in a city with lots of traffic where proximity to crucial meeting points really matters? Is the executive going to a city that does not offer rideshare services like Uber or Lyft? Will they need an international plan for their phones so they have easy access to cellular data? As an assistant, this step really requires empathy and forethought. You need to pretend like you’re the executive taking this trip. Carefully think through every detail and gather and organize as much information as possible. This step will also help you develop your plan Bs. Travel isn’t always going to go according to plan. It’s important to be flexible, and that means be prepared for changes, hiccups, and obstacles.
Draft your itinerary
Start big and then add the details. Develop a skeleton of your executive’s travel plans by including the main items like flight, meeting, and event times. Then, flesh it out. Add details like contact information, dinner reservations/options, and ground transportation information. When adding times, make sure you’re accounting for travel times like waiting for luggage or a cab. Consider traffic, too, and the time of day they will be commuting from the airport to their hotel. Incorporate some buffer time as well in case any of those unexpected obstacles arise. Consider formatting your agenda, so it actually serves a couple of different functions. There are times when your executive will just need to glance at the itinerary for a quick overview of the days ahead and other times when they need more detailed information. Think of the various ways your leader will need to access the information and then craft it, so it is flexible enough to provide what they need when they need it. This can be accomplished by taking advantage of basic formatting options like highlights, tables, font size, and collapsing sections. Once you’ve got the draft ready, sit down with your executive and review it together, walking through the entire trip. Make any needed edits before finalizing.
Make backup plans
Travel plans can shift on a dime, seriously affecting crucial trip elements like arrival and departure times, luggage location, and ability to access Wi-Fi and cell service. Don’t allow your leader to be left stranded without any alternative plans. Use your power of anticipation! Consider common obstacles of smooth travel, like the time of year they are traveling and weather conditions, but also dig deeper. Check the news. Is there anything going on at their destination that could impact their travel plans? If there’s an issue with their hotel or airline reservation, have you made a list of other locations or alternate flight options you can explore? Walk through the itinerary and ask yourself, “what could go wrong?” Then, plan to handle those “worst case scenarios.”
Compile the necessary documents
Next, you need to ensure your leader has everything they will require for their trip. This means running through your checklist to ensure they have the necessities like ID, passport, and airline ticket. You’ll also want to prepare a pack of other documents they will need, like hard copies of the itinerary, meeting agendas, and business cards. Even if your executive is tech-savvy, make sure they still bring this hard-copy travel pack with them. You can’t always count on having access to Wi-Fi, and in cases where they have limited access, make sure they still have everything they need. You should also keep a copy of this travel pack at the office in the same order in which you gave it to them so you can easily help them navigate it if needed and find what they are looking for. In addition, make sure you have copies of everything, like their passport and ID. Also, make sure you know their emergency contact information and have a clear understanding of who you need to get in touch with in the event of a medical emergency.
Just before your leader’s departure, you’ll want to run through the itinerary and ensure everything has been confirmed. Check-in on flights, ground transportation, dinner reservations, event registration, and meeting details. If any last-minute bumps in the road come up, address them before your leader takes off. This final step will mitigate many of those “uh-oh” moments that can happen during travel.
Remember this: planning a trip for someone else can be difficult and complex. The more you do it, the more accustomed you will become to ironing out key details and expecting the unexpected. Preparation is the key. When assistants devote the needed time and effort to this important pre-trip phase, they help their executives save time and travel like a pro.
If you’re eager to learn more, we can help. Office Dynamics has developed a huge library of resources that focus on helping administrative assistants master all the key functions required in their role, called the Success Store. The Success Store includes a massive library consisting of books, certification courses, eBooks, live virtual training, and on-demand training that can help assistants level up and reach new heights in their careers. The Success Store can help you do it all, from developing a travel itinerary that WOWS to becoming a powerful communicator. Click here to learn more!