Ten Tips for Smooth International Business Travel
Travel for work can be challenging, but it doesn't always have to be a hassle. Whether you are embarking on your first business trip or you are a seasoned pro, below are tips for making a domestic or international business trip more enjoyable.
1. Getting Into Travel Mode: Prepare for Flight and Accommodations
Depending on the length of the flight, you may retain water. Plan to drink lots of fluids. Flights to countries like Asia and Europe will pad you with pillows and gel packs to reduce swelling from cabin pressure. If you can avoid alcohol, you will reduce the likelihood of swelling up like a blowfish. Add herbal melatonin to the mix to help with difficulties sleeping inflight.
When you book your hotel, call ahead and try and book more than one option. I've booked high priced hotels in New York, London and the south of France only to find them to be 2 stars at best. If you find that accommodations are not up to your standards, you will always have a Plan B.
2. Do Your Research: Contact Your Airport Business Lounge
As a female marketing executive, I was traveling through Asia once and had a layover in Tokyo's Narita Airport. Eager to relax before the next leg of my 17-hour flight, I took a short shuttle train ride from the plane to the airport, heading past several restaurants and duty-free shops to the Japan Airlines lounge.
When I stepped inside, I saw a lounge, a full sushi bar in the center, complete with sake and desserts. The room was dark and steamy. As my eyes adjusted, I was surprised to see several perfectly coiffed, geisha-like women look up in alarm. I saw that on the periphery of the room were about 20 men, many disrobed and receiving massages from the women.
Clearly out of my element, I backed out of the lounge, hungry and rather amused at how different the airport culture was from my travels elsewhere. Moral of the story: If possible, call ahead and ask about the membership profile of the airline lounge—it could save you some measure of embarrassment.
3. Find Local Contacts, Both Personal and Professional
Before I travel, I try and figure who my 'team' will be by asking colleagues and clients who might have friends, family or coworkers residing in the area in advance of my trip so that I have someone to reach out to in case of an emergency. For personal contacts, I inquire who has an Uncle or Auntie that lives there. Then I get their cell phone number. It is amazing how often it ends with me having a meal with the family.
4. Follow the Customs
This is a no-brainer: If you are in a country where there is a fine for disobedience, obey the laws. This means no unauthorized pictures, spitting or defiling property. You should also wear appropriate, respectful clothing. In other words, represent, and don't give anyone a reason to criticize your cultural conduct.
5. Pack Light and Bring Sturdy Luggage
If you travel for short trips (10 days or less) skip big, huge bags of luggage. Unless you are staying at someone's home, in all likelihood, no one is going to see you twice in the same time period; therefore wearing some more than once will not impact how people perceive you. If you need to have a different outfit for work each day, fine. But be smart and pack clothes you can mix and match easily to create different looks using less clothing.
Also, be aware that if your luggage is too heavy, you may incur additional fees to transport it. Or worse, if your bags are old or not well made, your luggage could fall apart during transit as mine did once in the UK. I happened to be one of 12 US travelers pulled aside in a lounge (one of the passengers was an older, now deceased, Hollywood actor). I had overpacked a bag and it split, with the contents falling between the ramp and the plane onto the ground. The celebrity couldn't stop laughing as I scrambled with the crew to collect my disgraced underwear, shoes and toiletries before boarding.
Want to avoid the chance of being detained in customs while traveling on business? Dress like you are on vacation.
6. Dress Like a Tourist
Want to avoid the chance of being detained in customs while traveling on business? Dress like you are on vacation. When I started traveling abroad, I would wear black and dark colors a lot. Invariably, I would wind up in a small, dark room with customs officials for hours, where they would grill me as if I were a spy, allowing me only a small window of time before I had to scramble to catch my next flight.
I learned over time to wear brightly colored shirts, sun hats and sneakers when flying. Reduced stress and customs checks by almost 100%.
7. Use Local Currency Whenever Possible
You may have a company card, but the bank will likely charge fees if you use U.S. currency in a foreign country. The best rule of thumb is to use local currency whenever possible. You can also get prepaid credit cards that act like traveler's checks for convenience.
8. Make Your Per Diem Matter
Yes, you will be fed and probably have an expense account to eat out or have room service every day. But if your company has a per diem that you can't exceed and you have a fridge in your hotel, it's fun to just venture out and do some light food shopping. It's a great way to see how the country operates.
Likewise, if your hotel does laundry, great. If you are staying in a smaller, boutique space, ask where the nearest laundromat is (may of them do not use coins anymore so you might need to find out where to get a payment keycard).
9. Plan Your Tech Strategy
This is vital if your work requires being connected to a laptop all day. Find out from your IT team what computer/phone equipment is required in the country you are visiting in and order BEFORE you get there. It will save time, money and aggravation. Even better, befriend an IT "guru" in your company who can support you along the way in that time zone.
10. Plan an Outing . . . or Two
International business meetings and conferences can be long and extended and you may not have much personal free time (after all, you are there to work, right?). However, sightsee if you can—after all, you don't know when you may get an opportunity to visit again.
During my travel time for business, I was often asked at the last minute to hop on a plane to a foreign country. If you have the presence of mind and can stay an extra day or two, it's a nice way to wrap up a busy travel schedule and treat yourself to the delights of an exotic location.
If you travel during warm months, see the countryside. If you are in a country for weeks in winter, as I was in Europe, explore excursions in warm, heated places like museums and clubs, meet new friends colleagues, rub your hands together and have a pint.
© 2018 Nicolle Ross