As the adage goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having been a MSL of large territories for three years, I’ve admittedly learned many lessons… the hard way. Ideally, reading this mixture of advice and experiences will spare you some travel strife.
Breaking this down into categories:
Never assume that you will receive the type of rental vehicle that you originally selected. The best that you can hope for is to avoid the “manager’s special,” which is a malodorous giant van that is purportedly the only vehicle left on the lot (yes, this happened to me).
Keeping that in mind, bring a wide variety of phone charging systems that can accommodate any kind of rental vehicle port (in the case of that “manager’s special” van, the charging port also moonlighted as a cigarette lighter).
The first thirty minutes in a hotel can make or break your night of sleep.
My motto when I enter a hotel is, “never accept the first room offer.” When I enter a hotel room, I spend five minutes just listening quietly for potentially offensive sounds, like street noise, nearby neighbors, etc. If my spidey sense suspects that the room will provide anything less than peace and quiet, I turn around and request a new room. (Typically, I receive a better room with the second offer).
After obtaining a satisfactory room, I then check the alarm that is inevitably next to the bed. I’ve noticed a terrorizing trend in hotel chains lately, wherein the alarm clocks are automatically set to six am. This is seldom my desired time to rise and shine, so after two too many times of being ineluctably woken at six am, I’m hyper-attuned and switch off the pre-set alarm as part of the “settling in” routine.
Next, I don’t have to immediately rush off to an event, I will iron the next day’s intended attire. (You never know when you’ll receive an iron that spurts water or gunk all over your clothes, so it’s best to complete this sartorial chore sooner than later). Better yet, if able – pack business clothes that minimally wrinkle.
Lastly, speaking of clothes, ensure that you are dressed respectably when checking into a hotel affiliated with a conference or congress. You will likely run into KOLs in the lobby, and you don’t want to regret looking haggard in baggy sweatpants.
Air travel has rebounded and is even exceeding pre-pandemic levels; if you live near or travel often to a major airport, invest in TSA Pre-Check and CLEAR to minimize delays in getting to your gate. Also invest in airport lounge access, as a quiet lounge with snacks and drinks can be an oasis in a crowded and loud airport, especially when your flight becomes delayed. Assuming that your company will not foot the bill, the most affordable way to accrue all these near necessities is to select a personal credit card that provides lounge access as well as discounts for priority TSA clearance. (I use Amex Platinum, though this by no means is a brand endorsement!)
Whenever possible, opt to fly with the same airline to accrue status, as this will reduce or eliminate fees for luggage and/or flight changes. Higher airline status can also lead to free seat upgrades, priority boarding, and better customer telephone service.
Charge all electronics to full before starting your trip. You cannot count on being able to charge anywhere besides your own home. (I once spent a hotel night in complete darkness due to a city-wide power outage).
Besides having sufficient charge, you also cannot count on being able to have reliable internet, so download all key presentations or articles before you leave home. (This too I learned the hard way, from a long wifi-less evening stuck at an Idaho airport).
Finally, these are the lightweight, indispensable sundries in my carry-on:
1+ packets of instant coffee
set of disposable silverware
eyemask + earplugs
GUM dental picks
extra business cards
Hopefully these tips and tricks of the trade help you to make your MSL summer travel a success!
Elise Fields, PharmD, BCPS, CDCES
Elise is a Seattle-based Medical Science Liaison (MSL) working for UCB. Prior to becoming an MSL in 2020, Elise worked directly with underserved patient populations, overseeing a diabetes team and clinical pharmacy programs. She graduated from the PharmD program at the University of Washington and was the first pharmacy student to concurrently complete a certificate in Global Health. She completed a hospital residency and holds board certifications in pharmacotherapy and diabetes education.
In her spare time, Elise hosts a podcast that raises awareness of fertility research.