Business travel can be a hassle for anyone, but women have special needs on the road, says Kathleen Ameche, an executive with a Chicago management consultancy who used to log 75,000 miles of travel each year and still regularly jets around the U.S. on business.
Feeling safe, comfortable, and in touch with home are big issues, says the 45-year-old author of The Woman Road Warrior: A Woman's Guide to Business Travel (Agate, $12.95, womanroadwarrior.com).
Often while traveling, she tells readers, she wished she had been given a handbook on how to negotiate "the business-travel maze" instead of one of the once-ubiquitous dress-for-success manuals. So she wrote one. BusinessWeek Chicago Bureau Manager Joseph Weber recently spoke with Ameche, who offered some tips for female travelers (though many of the ideas could be helpful for male road warriors, too). Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
How are women's needs on the road different from men's?
We pack differently. We're different sizes physically. That doesn't mean we're porcelain dolls who are going to break, but that does mean we're aware of safety issues. And when women have families at home, they have to plan for child care and running the household. It's a matter of coordination.
Share with us your worst experiences as a traveler.
I had all my jewelry stolen out of a hotel in Wisconsin. I had a gun pointed at me on the way to O'Hare International Airport by a cab driver. I had my room accidentally posted as a hospitality suite for a conference at my hotel -- a conference I wasn't even attending -- and everybody was coming by.
Looking back, how could you have avoided those things?
With my jewelry, I should have locked the top lock on the door when I went out to the pool. Also, I will never stay on the first floor of a hotel anymore because of the number of people coming in and out of the area.
After the handgun incident, I always found a driver I trusted [at a car service] and asked for him by name. When that isn't possible, some women I know set their luggage on the seat next to them, instead of in the trunk. If you feel uncomfortable, you just get out of the cab.
On the hospitality suite thing, I'm not sure what I could have done differently, but it makes for a good story at a cocktail party.
In your book, you refer to the discomfort of dining alone. What should women do when they're eating out by themselves?
I will bring a book or a BlackBerry (RIMM) or work, so I don't feel that I'm sitting there and people are staring at me. I've also had the experience of walking into a restaurant and getting a poor table, near the kitchen. When that happens, I say that the table isn't acceptable.
How should women approach room service to make sure it's safe?
I don't follow the waiter into my room. I tell him where to put the tray, and I wait by the door. You may also ask room service to call you when the server is leaving the kitchen.
How do you protect yourself when you sign dining-room bills or health-club registrations?
Use an initial, not your full name. When you pay the bill and put down your room number, hand it back to your server -- don't leave it on the table. You just never know who's watching.
Is theft a particular concern?
Thieves target people who look more vulnerable. If you're carrying a lot -- say you're weighted down with a laptop, as well as your bag and purse -- you can't react as quickly.
Any other hints?
When you go out at night, put a note in your hotel room about where you're going and what time you've left. Check in regularly with home or an administrative assistant or friend. If you have to check your bags, put a copy of your itinerary in your checked bag.
MORE WISDOM. Ameche also sprinkles tips throughout her book. Among them:
Always remain calm and professional, especially when something goes awry. "Don't allow yourself to be dismissed as 'just another hysterical female,'" she says.
If traveling on a short trip, pack only clothes with colors that match, so you can manage with just a single pair of shoes.
Use a local dial-up access number for Internet access, not the usually costlier hotel high-speed Internet service.