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How to Handle Your First Business Trip

By Daniel B. Kline – Apr 18, 2018 at 4:31PM

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It may seem easy, but there's a lot that can go wrong.

My first business trip came late in my senior year of college. I had taken over a magazine when my editor got fired and I was balancing learning the job with (sometimes) going to class and serving as co-editor of my college paper. The trip was non-negotiable, however. It was the major trade show for the industry the magazine covered, and not going would have put my job in jeopardy.

At the time, I believe I had one suit, a few pairs of dress pants, and a couple of button-down shirts. Work at a non-entry level job was new to me, and a business trip seemed as foreign as if my boss had offered to send me to Venus for the week.

Back in 1995 there was more or less no internet. I could not do a web search for articles like this one, and instead had to rely on the kindness of co-workers. Fortunately, I had a few who took pity on me, but there are definitely some things I wish I would have known first.

A coffee cup with a plane drawn in the foam of the coffee sits on a map next to some travel documents.

A business trip can be intimidating if you have never been on one. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Dress the part

Ask your co-workers what to pack. In my case, I was aware that I needed business casual clothes and a suit. I was not prepared for the fact that the first day would be spent doing physical labor, putting our booth together and delivering magazines to every other booth.

Dress codes can vary, and you may need clothes you would never have considered. A suit can cover a lot of situations, but it's not so great at the golf or tennis event your boss wants you to play in.

2. Know how expenses work

Most companies have a specific policy on how much you can spend on things like meals or other needs. The company I worked for booked our hotel rooms and paid for them on company cards. We also got a cash stipend, and would be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. There was no specific number, but a modest breakfast, quick lunch, and nice-but-not-extravagant dinner were considered fair.

Since I did not have a company credit card yet, I had to submit receipts along with a write-up of where the money went. Many companies have similar policies, but know before you go, and understand how reimbursement works if you have to put out any cash.

3. Be professional

On my first night on that trip, our boss, a larger-than-life man who at the time had a taste for scotch, was holding court at the bar. He was buying, and a lot of my co-workers were taking part.

I wasn't yet 21, so drinking in a bar could have gotten me in trouble. In addition, because I was very young for my job, we were trying hard to not draw attention to my age (and inexperience). Being denied by a bartender and made to leave the bar would not have accomplished that mission.

Passing up on free drinks was easy for me that night. The same could not always be said of my co-workers. On that trip and others, I watched people get drunk, say the wrong thing to a client or a boss, and get sent home or fired. I've also seen some ill-advised hookups that made the office uncomfortable afterward.

Remember, it's a business trip. It's OK to have fun, but keep it under control and leave the heavy drinking for your own time.

Never hesitate to ask

It's better to ask a dumb question than not ask one you really need to know the answer to. You co-workers and human resources department almost certainly know that business travel is new for you. There's no shame in inexperience, and asking questions will help you quickly become a seasoned work traveler.

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