Let’s compare calenders. I don’t mean let’s look and see who has booked the most presentations or who speaks at the biggest venues. I’m just curious as to how many speeches or talks you’ve given in your hometown in the last, let’s say…ever.
For me the answer is one. The simple truth is that, in order to make a living as a professional speaker, our suitcases never really get unpacked.
Like me, I’m sure you saw the wonderful 2009 George Clooney film Up In The Air and thought to yourself “This is my life story.” All of the cards from various reward programs, the strategies for passing through airport security quickly and effectively and the countless presentations given in small hotel (or motel) banquet rooms struck a chord in every seasoned presenter.
Life on the road is a fact of life for many and I am going to share with you some ways to make it more comfortable. If you have reached the status of one who can afford a tour bus or your own private plane then stop reading right now. I am not on your level and continuing on would be a waste of your high dollar time. But if you aren’t there quite yet then these words are for you.
Since 2001, I have averaged over two hundred days a year away from home. Now, if I were a twenty three year old rock star this would mean that I am living the dream. However, I can’t sing, nor can I strum a guitar and I sure as hell am not twenty three.
Instead, I am a forty year old single father of two. Those of you that know me well are fully aware of the fact that there is nothing more important to me than my role as Dad. When my first child was born in 2001, I quickly realized that time away was inevitable and, therefore, I need to find a way to make it as efficient as possible. By efficient I mean I needed to make the most money in the least amount of time. Not an alien concept to my fellow achievers out there.
Before I share my secrets for making the most of your time away from home, let me say that I am happily un-married to one of the greatest women who ever walked the face of the earth. My ex-wife and I work in near perfect harmony as co-parents and share the same ultimate vision of raising our children to be happy and productive people. Without her support and understanding of my career over the years there is no way I could have emotionally handled getting on even a single flight and our lifestyle would have certainly suffered. To the best of her ability, she works with my schedule so that my quality time with my angels is almost uninterrupted. I am grateful to her for all that she does. My children are lucky to call her Mommy.
I never set out to be a “road dog.” It was never in my life plan to visit every motor inn and diner that small town America has to offer or view the Grand Canyon from the ever shrinking coach class airline seats that I frequently inhabit (I just saw it for the first time in person last year). But I’d be lying if I said it has been all bad. I’ve also dined at the world’s finest restaurants, flown First Class across several oceans, enjoyed the amenities of the award winning resorts and met some of the world’s most fascinating individuals.
If you do it right, business travel can actually be,,,dare I say it,,,FUN.
1) Pencil vs. Pen. I was recently in Cairo, Egypt and had the opportunity to sit on a discussion panel with other leaders in the field of personal development. An audience member raised his hand as asked me specifically how I managed to juggle two television shows, a radio show, my speaking engagements and my coaching schedule. I have been asked this many times so my answer was all locked and loaded. In January of 2007 I was in Nashville, TN training with Al Gore to be one of his selected presenters of An Inconvenient Truth. One evening, after hours of studying slides, listening to his scientific advisors and working with a speaking coach, Mr. Gore and his then wife, Tipper, took a few of us to dinner. Just after we had all placed our orders, Mr. Gore went to the bar to get a drink. Never one to miss an opportunity, I joined him and asked if I could trouble him for a piece of advice. Al Gore is the only man I know of who travels more than I do and his devotion to his family is legendary. I simply asked him “How to balance it all?” His answer literally changed my life and I am thrilled to pass it on to you. In that authoritative southern tone he said “Todd, it’s easier than you believe it to be. In your daily planner you write things like birthdays, recitals and first days of school in pen. Everything else gets written in pencil. Period. Stick to that.” I have stuck to it and it has changed my view on business travel completely and if people don’t respect it then they are not people I choose to do business with. I am proud to say that I have never missed an important family event. Not to say that I make every single soccer game but I am there for the majority of them and just yesterday, though only off from a Las Vegas engagement for less than forty eight hours, I was banging on the glass as my son made his goaltending debut in a little league hockey game here in New England. He was also named the game’s MVP. That has nothing to do with this article- that’s just me being a proud father. Schedule the important things first and you will feel more comfortable when it comes time to leave.
2) Convenience. It may cost a little more but your comfort plays a major role in your performance. I subscribe to the “last flight in, first flight out” mentality. This allows me to spend as much time at home as possible and, over the course of years, a few hours here and there turn into added days with those you love. This schedule does not always allow me to get the cheapest airfare but it is here where you must decide how much your time is really worth. Do I want to take my kids to the bus stop before I leave on a four day trip or do I want to save $30 on my plane ticket? That’s a no brainer, isn’t it? I am also a big fan of car services. There is nothing like stepping off a redeye flight at 6:30am and seeing a driver holding a sign with your name on it. Compare that feeling to having to stand outside and wait for a shuttle, get driven to the long term parking lot where you’re paying an average of $11 a night, dig your keys out of your bag and drive all the way home and you will soon realize that is well worth the (tax deductible) cost. Many car services offer door to door airport runs for around $65. When it comes to hotel accommodations my advice is to live a little! If, for some reason, your room and travel are not included in your agreement, remember what I have said in previous articles…you get what you pay for. Motels that advertise $39/night are not meant for professionals like you. You are a speaker who needs to be at your best. Your client and your audience expect you to be well rested and prepared. How can you possibly be at your best after tossing and turning on a disgusting, hard mattress all night? How can you appear presentable when your shower runs out of hot water after a minute and a half? I’ve been there. You can avoid all of this by simply spending a little more to stay in a nice place. You will be amazed at the difference paying an additional $40 (again, tax deductible) can make. Most mid luxury hotel chains offer comfortable rooms, fitness centers, wi-fi and laundry services for prices that will not destroy your travel budget. My team at Todd Newton Life Strategies, LLC utilizes http://www.hotels.com and http://www.orbitz.com for the majority of our travel booking.
3) Reward Programs. No offense, but if its good enough for George Clooney its good enough for us. Remember the scene in Up In The Air where Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, meets the pretty redheaded woman in the hotel bar and they instantly connect by comparing their collections of cards for award programs? They’re smart! Hotels, airlines and rental car agencies are very well aware that people like us exist and they will go to great lengths to get our business. Some of the best that I’ve found and use regularly are the Delta Skymiles Program (http://www.delta.com), Southwest Rapid Rewards (http://www.southwest.com) and Hilton Honors (http://www.hhonors.com). All three are free to join and offer valuable, easy to achieve incentives such as automatic upgrades, complimentary nights and priority check-in. My two main airports are Boston Logan and LAX and I cannot tell you how many times the priority check in line has saved me from almost missing a flight. Not that I ever run late, but unanticipated factors such as traffic and weather can sometimes throw even the best laid plans for a loop. Just about every company has their own program so I certainly encourage you to sign up for all of them and find the one that best suits your wants and needs. Soon, by showing a little loyalty, you will begin to enjoy the benefits such as saving money by paying for an upcoming flight with miles. Again, these “little things” add up over time. Become a member of as many as possible and you will see yourself beginning to gravitate to just a few.
Business travel is a double edge sword. On one hand, we get to see and do some pretty amazing things on someone else’s dime. On the other hand, we see and do those things alone and are left to only bring home overpriced souvenirs from airport gift shops to enhance the stories we tell our children.
In this day and age, travel is unavoidable if we are to rise to the top of our field. No one knows this more than today’s professional speaker. Whether we present to motivate, educate or entertain our audiences do not come to us-we always go to them. By putting the important things in your life first you can travel with the piece of mind that comes from knowing that your priorities are in order. By spending a few extra dollars you give yourself the comfort that makes your time away more bearable. Remember, you deserve it. Finally, by simply allowing the big travel corporations to show their gratitude, you feel a sense of appreciation and get your fair share of the finer things in life. Affordable luxury is out there if you just take the time to look for it.
Many people don’t know this but I am pretty much tattooed from shoulder to elbow on both arms. One of my first tattoos, and probably my favorite, is a banner which reads Home Sweet Home. I think that pretty much says it all.
Now, from seat 12F (window) on the 2:40pm to Milwaukee, I raise my incredibly overpriced drink off of this undersized tray table in a toast. Here’s to your safe travel and may you meet plenty of pretty redheads in the hotel bar’assuming you’re single.
Todd Newton is a popular television personality and international keynote speaker. As the founder Todd Newton Life Strategies, LLC, Newton travels the world inspiring thousands of people from all walks of life to look within themselves for the keys to happiness, success and fulfillment. For information on TNLS life coaching or to schedule Mr. Newton to speak at your event please visit www.toddnewtononline.com