Road warrior

Laura Sen, CEO of BJ's Wholesale Club, shares some budget-friendly tips for life on the road.

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By Eugenia Levenson, writer-reporter

A GPS device is an essential travel tool for Sens.

(Fortune Magazine) -- It's only fitting that Laura Sen is always thinking about keeping costs low, even when she's traveling. After all, Sen has spent the bulk of her career with BJ's Wholesale Club (BJ, Fortune 500), the discount chain where she started 20 years ago as vice president of logistics. Even then, she jokes, her life on the road was decidedly unglamorous.

"I'd be traveling to our lovely warehouse in Jersey City, or to other industrial bellies of the world," she says. These days Sen, who became CEO in February, drops in unannounced on roughly 15 BJ's club locations a month to check out store conditions. (Yes, there's one in Jersey City.)

She recently shared a few budget-friendly tips.

1. Days on the road: Sixty days a year or so. Sometimes we fly, and sometimes we drive, because we have a lot of clubs within driving distance.

2. Dress code: We don't wear suits or anything like that. I always have a pair of black pants, a black sweater, and a couple of Hermès scarves to change the outfits. I also like those wrinkle-free shirts from Brooks Brothers.

3. Always with me: I travel with my Mossimo backpack, which is big and square and fits a lot of stuff. I put my gym clothes in the bottom so that if I can get to a gym at some point during the trip, I'll have those with me.

4. Favorite way to fly: We mostly go by price - we're a low-cost operator, across the company. If somebody pays $600 for a flight that he could have gotten for $300, I am not happy. But I do like JetBlue (JBLU) - they're friendlier.

5. Airport trap: Avoid Newark. You just can't seem to get out once you get in. It seems like a place with more than its share of delays.

6. Hotel basics: I'm looking for clean, convenient, reliable, and consistent. Usually it's the Hampton Inn or the Hilton near the airport or near a retail center.

7. Must-have gadget: GPS is an invaluable addition to the travel repertoire. Most of the time when I go by car, my travel companion is a guy from our store planning group, and he always brings his TomTom.

8. Travel tip: Take public transportation. Last fall we went on an investor trip to Europe. It's not our way to spend $100 on a taxi from Heathrow to Picadilly when you can take the tube. Same thing in Paris. We went all over, and we took the Metro.

9. Pit stop: I avoid chain restaurants at all costs. The independent restaurants are always a better experience, whether it's the local deli or a steakhouse. Last time I was in Maryland, I ate at Wet Willy's Crab Deck. It was kind of a dive, but it was great.

10. Top pub: Digger O'Dell's in Riverhead, N.Y., is a favorite.

11. Rule of thumb: As long as you have your ID, your credit card, and any prescriptions or eyeglasses that aren't replaceable, you're fine. You can buy anything else when you land.  To top of page

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