Traveling for Business

I spent this past weekend photographing on location in Washington, DC. The job was somewhat last-minute, and it was my first time travelling that far for business on my own. Luckily, I’m pretty organized, things went smoothly, and Washington is a beautiful city. But as I watched the baggage handler chuck my bag roughly onto the cargo belt, it got me thinking about things I’m glad I did, and the things I would do differently next time.

  • I’m so glad I had a valid passport. With less than three days between landing the gig and flying out, there was no time to be mucking around with customs.
  • Next time I would make sure I had a photo of my passport on my phone, or in my email inbox. That way, flights can be booked without the physical passport needing to be present, and if it gets lost or stolen I have an easy backup.
  • I updated my insurance list to include all of the things I would be taking with me. I borrowed a few pieces of gear and made sure to include the serial numbers on my list.
  • I charged all of my batteries. Your flight is supposed to get you there in time to go to the hotel and get ready, but what if it’s delayed? You should be ready to walk off the plane and go straight to your shoot/job/interview. You may have to.
  • Print everything you need. The concierge at my hotel was kind enough to print the last-minute addition to my shot list when I arrived, but I could have been up a creek if he hadn’t been so friendly. Assume you won’t have a printer at your hotel/hostel and plan ahead.
  • Confirm with your client who will be paying for what. You may be responsible for booking your flight, or the client may want to go through their travel agent. Either way, make sure everyone is clear. Also, agree whether your client will be reimbursing expenses or paying a per diem; if your expenses are being reimbursed, you will likely have to turn in receipts for everything (food, cabs, etc) purchased for the trip. A per diem (Latin for “for each day”) is a set amount, like an allowance, budgeted for your stay.
  • Pack your gear properly. Just because your bag is carry on size doesn’t mean the airline is going to let you take it on the plane with you. I encountered this twice out of my three flights; the plane is too small for additional luggage. You can take your purse and that’s it; everything else is going under the plane. Know that this might be a possibility and plan accordingly.
  • Next time I would keep my cards and  vital equipment separate from the rest of my gear. This only occurred to me when my carry on bag was suddenly separated from me and had to be stowed under the plane. As I watched the baggage handler toss my bag roughly on the conveyor, my first thought was “oh crap”, and my second thought was “I wish I had my cards in my purse.” That way even if my laptop and hard drives were damaged, at least I would still have the images from my shoot.
  • Make sure you’re prepared for the job. The client may not be on set with you, so make sure you have their notes in advance. You don’t want to get to another city and find yourself waiting for direction that never comes. Make sure you take the project brief, or rundown, or itinerary with you so you’re prepared to work on your own if that ends up being the case.  Be clear about what you’ll be doing, and what they expect as a final product.
  • Think through your process and make sure you have everything you need, both software and hardware. Your computer at home has a built-in card reader but your laptop doesn’t. Be sure to pack one. And make sure you have installed the latest plugins and updates for your laptop before you leave. I spent hours troubleshooting when I remembered that the version of Photoshop loaded on the laptop couldn’t open raw files from the Canon Mark II. Go figure. Try to solve that stuff before you leave.
  • Get some local currency. I was only in the US, so I was able to use my bank card at an ATM when I arrived to take out some cash. But you may need to pay for a cab before you hit an ATM, or you may be headed for a country where that isn’t an option. Think about going to the bank before taking off, at least to have enough cash to pay for a cab from the airport to your hotel.
  • Register your items before you leave your home country, otherwise you may have to pay tax on them when you return home. When you first arrive at the airport, before you like up for tickets, or boarding passes, or personal searches, be sure to register your valuables with customs. Basically, it’s a list that says “I owned the following things before leaving the country”, and customs on both sides of the border know you’re not trying to sneak any new ears across.
  • Get a letter from your client or employer explaining your trip. Border guards can be suspicious of business trips if you don’t have a work visa; why do they need you to photograph in Washington- aren’t there any American photographers who could have done the job? A letter that includes the dates of your trip, who hired you, and the fact that you’re working for a Canadian company, and will be paid in Canadian dollars is pretty helpful in a pinch. Bonus points if it’s on their company letterhead.
  • Next time, I would pack more snacks; cliff bars, candy, water bottle. Something. I ended up being delayed for over an hour once we boarded the plane; there was nowhere to go, and they weren’t going to serve those little pretzel sticks until the security risk was cleared up. It would have been nice to be more self-sufficient.
  • Keep your documents handy. I had a bright yellow file-folder in my purse with all of my travel related documents; passport, boarding pass, itinerary, hotel reservation and address. I needed most of it, and it was awesome to not have to be digging through my luggage to find anything.

Have you been on a business trip recently? Or are you heading out soon? How do you keep things running smoothly?



image source: Dankarl