Key Clothing Items and helpful safety tips for women business owners when traveling alone.">

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Tips for Women Business Travelers on How
Keep Your Sanity at 30,000 Feet

By Susan McKee

“Good morning,” e-mailed Sally A. Brown. “I leave for Africa tomorrow to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!” Not every business traveler has such exotic destinations as the director of a travel club, but all of us have our own mountains to climb before getting on that plane.

On the one hand, traveling for business is a major league hassle. In addition to getting the work aspect of the trip arranged, there’s the home front. Who’s going to watch the kids? Clean the kitty litter? Water the plants? The household part never gets easier, and everyone’s situation is unique (not to mention constantly changing). In the office, there’s everything from the crucial (who’s going to make decisions for you while you’re gone) to the mundane (changing the voice mail message).

But, on the other hand, it’s a break with routine. You don’t have to fix dinner or bring in the mail. Somebody else makes the bed and worries about the dust bunnies in the corners. Your hotel room is all your own, with room service a touch-tone away. Sigh!

Sally Brown, who’s been to 120 countries in her 25 years with Ambassadair, says she never loses her zest for business travel. “Tomorrow I leave for Kenya and Tanzania,and I am as excited as if it was my first trip.” Marilyn Olsen, who logged thousands of airline miles doing public relations for a chain of retirement communities, looked forward to the chance to catch up on her reading, curling up in a quiet hotel room with a good book. Cheryl Carter-Shotts, managing director of Americans for African Adoption, just tries to keep her mind in focus – more on that later.

All three Indianapolis women travel with suitcases they can schlep themselves. “My luggage is definitely on wheels,” Sally says. “I check my suitcase so that I only have my carry-on with me for long flights.” Olsen also likes wheels on her checked bag, and has stopped trying to take everything on the plane with her in a carry-on that needed “six pro wrestlers to stuff it into the overhead compartment.”

It’s essential to have a good book — preferably disposable. One friend of mine buys a thick paperback novel at a second hand store, then she tears off and discards the chapters as she finished them. Another way to lighten your load is to leave the book behind when you’re done reading it for another traveler to enjoy. “There’s never anything good on television in hotel rooms,” Olsen said. “And a book is great to hide behind when somebody’s bothering you on the plane.”

A water bottle is crucial for in-flight hydration (not to mention refreshment during endless waits in airports). Brown adds a granola bar for a snack to her carry-on as well as a wash cloth for a quick face-refresher. Carter-Shotts' carry-on includes “my camera and laptop, along with my prescriptions and makeup, plus one set of clean underwear and a book.”

Frequent travelers have similar traveling wardrobes (look around you in the airport lounge if you don’t believe me). Brown finds that mixing and matching with khaki and black works for her. Olsen swears by black Tencel knit separates, which “wear like cast iron” and take up little room in the suitcase. I also wear black when traveling: it doesn’t show wrinkles or dirt, everything matches and you don’t stand out in a crowd. When in Africa, Carter-Shotts' wears “non-gold or non-silver-appearing earrings, non-fancy eye glasses, cheap wedding band, no diamonds, nothing that looks expensive.”

A key piece of my travel outfit is a black blazer with inside zippered pockets. That’s where my passport, credit cards, extra cash and other essentials go. Several years ago I lost my wallet (lifted from my purse on a crowded bus) in Munich, Germany, and had to go through the hassle of replacing everything in it. Never again. Now my wallet has only my “walk around” money and one credit card.

Speaking of which, the photocopy machine is a business traveler’s best friend. Copy your passport, credit cards and airplane tickets, and stash the copies in your suitcase. Copy your crucial presentation documents so you can put one set in your suitcase and the other in your carry-on bag. Copy your itinerary and hand out extras to your boss, significant other, children and parents.

Office “debris” is a persistent dilemma. “I keep paperwork for business trips to a minimum,” Brown said. “In the states, I do carry my cell phone as well as my laptop. It makes communication so much easier.” I have a zippered case with a small stapler, paper clips, tape and such that I stash in my suitcase, and if I’m driving I’ll take my laptop. I hate the extra weight in my carry-on when I’m flying.

Other "must haves" for Brown include her running shoes and workout clothes. “I exercise an hour a day and there is no exception when I am traveling. You can always do a lot of stretching and yoga in the hotel room or go for a swim in their pool.”

When you rent a car, take the time to note the make, color and license plate number. “You will forget which car in the lot is yours,” said Olsen.“Especially if it’s the third rental in a marathon business trip.”

Brown recommends taking small gifts for people with whom you’ll be working closely on the trip. I like to bring something particularly “Indianapolis” — the Robert Indiana “LOVE” paperweight from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example, or a box of K.P. Singh note cards with sketches of local landmarks.

What about money? With ATM machines just about everywhere, you can get what you need when you need it. Brown says, “I'll carry a couple hundred dollars, often splitting it to carry half in my waist pack and the other half in my backpack.” Olsen counsels leaving inessential cards at home (do you really need that Nordstrom’s charge card in London?). Cheryl still relies on “cash, hidden in several places on my body. There are no ATMs in the parts of Africa I go to — I'm lucky if a bank is still standing. I take only $100 bills, as new as possible — because the black market will not exchange torn, worn or dirty bills and the exchange rate for less than $100 is horrible.”

Now for Carter-Schotts need for mental focus on her business travel. Because of her work, she journeys through some of the most dangerous territory in the world. What does she need? “Truly, common sense and, hopefully, a rested brain — so I don't make mistakes.” She means things like not taking dirt roads in third world countries to avoid buried land mines, and knowing when to wear a bulletproof vest. “I don't need it for Ethiopia, but I like to have it with me in Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

Happy traveling!

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