7 Ways to Maximize Your Travel Experience as a Consultant
August 10, 2016
When I was looking for a job out of college, I knew that travelling was of particular importance to me. I wanted to be able to see and experience a lot of new places while also having a job that was challenging and offered a lot of options for after. Management Consulting was probably the only job that could fit all of these criteria. When I joined McKinsey, I travelled a lot. One of the first things I did was talk to my staffing manager and let them know that travelling was a priority for me, and they were able to send me on projects that were in a lot of interesting locations.
Below are the top 7 things I learned from taking 2 flights a week for almost 2 years straight:
1. Don’t sacrifice the project for the location
I really wanted to spend time in Hong Kong and ended up taking a horrible project there. I worked really long hours for a financial services client and barely got to see the city. My 8-week Hong Kong experience was mostly seeing the inside of my client’s office, with the occasional team dinner. If I had to do it over again, I’d prioritize the project first — a bad project will make even the best locations seem sub-par.
2. Hotels — Starwood or bust
One of the reasons that consulting is viewed as a high-paying job is for all the perks that come along with it. The best way to get perks out of travelling is by signing up with Starwood, one of the world’s largest hotel-loyalty programs. Starwood hotels are found almost anywhere… from client locations to vacation spots. This makes it ideal for saving up points while on consulting trips to use later for free luxury-travel. Nothing like getting a few free days at the St. Regis in Mauritius!
3. Flights: 3 hours and 1 minute vs. 2 hours and 59 minutes
Most of the big 3 firms offices have rules about when you’re allowed to upgrade to business class free of charge. Most of the time that’s 3 hours—so if you’re especially fond of travelling in style, this is the threshold flight time you should be looking for in your projects.
Business class has perks beyond just being a nicer experience: often times you’ll get points based on the dollar value of your ticket, and obviously business class would help you rack up points a lot faster. Also, working in economy class is a nightmare. If you want to make your work-weeks a bit more manageable, getting a few hours in while being in the air is a good way to do it.
If you like remote locations, it also makes sense to investigate the travel schedules before accepting projects there. The worst-case scenario is a client city that doesn’t have many incoming flights on Monday, and is lacking outgoing flights on Thursday. The last thing you want to do is cut-short your weekend by having to leave your client on Friday instead of Thursday, and departing from home Sunday night instead of Monday mornings.
4. Food — Don’t let what you’re eating be a surprise
This might not be as important to some as others… but especially if you have dietary restrictions or personal eating goals, this is worth looking into beforehand. Consulting is a demanding career, so you’ll want to try to be as good to your body as possible when travelling. Not all hotel room-service menus are as unique and diverse as your home city.
As an anecdote: I really wanted to experience some remote locations when I was at McKinsey. What I learned was that even though somewhere is scenic, it isn’t always worth it when it means eating Subway twice a day, four days a week. Bad food can make a grumpy team!
5. Luggage—Duffel Bags over Traditional Luggage
This is a controversial statement, as a lot of older consultants are very protective of their overpriced luggage. Duffel bags are significantly friendlier luggage to transport, carry around and also stow away. They’re also a lot lighter than traditional luggage, which means you can store a lot more stuff (this is important when you’re packing a week’s worth of clothes into a carry-on). You can get great duffel bags with laptop cases these days as well.
6. Perks – Treat yourself, and your partner
One of the greater and less-well known perks of travelling as a consultant is the weekend choice. At McKinsey, you could choose to fly to another city instead of your home one over the weekend. There’d be no extra charge as long as your flight was cheaper than your home flight. This gives you a ton of flexibility—it’s always worth checking last minute flight deals the week you’re travelling.
You can also fly your partner out to your location instead of heading home for the weekend (NOTE: You’ll often still have to pay the tax on the flight, for legal reasons). This is especially fun when you’re posted in an exotic location and get to fly someone out for a weekend of fun (for free!).
7. Expenses — Do them sooner rather than later
The biggest drawback to travelling (by far), is racking up expenses and having to track/claim them. Most of the time you’ll have to enter each receipt in individually, and will have to wait a few weeks before you get paid back for expenses and can clear your corporate card.
My biggest advice here is take care of your expenses early. Do them as often as you can, for two reasons. First, because you need the physical receipts, the longer you wait the more chances you have to lose some. Second, you can be carrying thousands of dollars on your card at a time—no point in paying interest on behalf of your consulting firm.
There’s no doubt that one of the best parts of being a consultant is the opportunity to travel. That being said, not every travel project is perfect—in fact, some travel projects can be downright terrible unless you do the pre-requisite research to make sure it’s for you. If you do the research and travel smart, there’s no reason why away-projects can’t be one of the best parts of the job as a consultant!
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