Tips when travelling abroad on a business trip
So your boss asked you to gear up and get on site at the Client location for a sales meeting. Or you were asked to travel for a strategic assessment of operations to a new country. Or maybe your client asked you to come over and help with collaboration meetings between on shore and off shore teams. How do you prepare yourself for short business trips announced to you at a moment’s notice?
Here are some tips which might help you make it a professionally successful and personally satisfying trip abroad.
Visas and Flights
1. First things first, either research yourself or get in touch with the company’s travel desk and figure out the visa requirements for visiting the country. Initiate the ticket reservation, fill out appropriate forms, obtain necessary approvals and get the booking process going. All these tasks are usually simple but also follow a workflow process, lots of form filling and so it is better to get a head start on the same. Be aware of visa processing timelines so you can set realistic expectations on when you will be ready to fly. Most business travel visas need client invite letters too.
2. Again, if you have a dedicated travel desk that takes care of flight options, you might be better off, but in case you don’t, remember there are a plethora of airlines out there and with various options on prices, airports, timings, connections etc. Spend some time on researching what suits your needs best in terms of destination, cost and flying time.
Sunny and lost
3. Weather check- we live in a big world and it is round! So, don’t assume, it is the same season where you are headed versus where you reside. Get on the web and check for local weather conditions in the country you are travelling to. It is important to be knowledgeable about the temperature, so you can pack accordingly and carry the right set of clothes. Being comfortable in your clothes and shoes in a foreign land is one starting point to being successful at your work deliverables. You don’t want to be worrying about the heat or cold and your inappropriate attire when you have an important business meeting to attend.
4. Do some homework on where the office is located or the place you need to be for the business meeting. This will help you decide which hotel you want to stay at. Even if you have recommendations either from a dedicated travel desk or client, do your own research on which place you feel safe and comfortable staying at and also how much will be your travel time from hotel to office and back. Does the hotel have cooking options or a kitchenette or are there close by places to eat meals at? How will you move around in the foreign country? Can you rent a car or do you need to take public transportation or can you walk it? Being well informed on these data points can help you prepare well in moving about while you are in the foreign land. You don’t want to be late for meetings and scurrying around finding a way to get to work or going hungry with no eating out options.
Today, you can find out all this information beforehand thanks to the internet, make use of it!
Communication and manners
5. Depending on your native language and your fluency of other languages, if you are headed to an ‘exotic’ country, check on language requirements. Do not assume everybody speaks even English. Be prepared for this and maybe carry a dictionary or learn some basic sentences like “need to go to airport”, “need to check out of hotel” “need to find a restaurant” so you are not totally stuck and lost. There are places around the globe today, where sometimes to explain that you want to check in to the hotel and have a prior booking can take a long time to communicate! No jokes!
6. Etiquette- it is always nice to be respectful of the norms in the country you are visiting. Adhere to local customs and traditions and you will find yourself in better terms with your business partners. You can read up on travel guides or on the internet and learn the Do’s and Don’ts of the country you are visiting. I once learnt much later into a business trip that tipping is NOT a norm. That in some countries you don’t shake hands with the women counterparts if you are a man. In other countries it is customary to hug. Don’t be caught on the wrong foot or offend someone ; even though in ignorance, by being aware on social etiquettes of the local country.
Wandering and spending
7. If possible, take time out to explore the new country. Either in evenings, after work and if time permits, head out, walk the roads ( as long as it is safe), check with the hotel staff on nearby shopping places or areas of interest and get some relaxation into your business schedule. Sometimes you have business partners who will show you around but sometimes that may not be the ‘norm’, so be prepared to explore solo! Pick up a postcard or a refrigerator magnet or small gifts to take back and mark your business trip once back home. Take pictures!
8. Currency – you cannot mess this one up! Don’t rely on international credit and debit cards. Always, know the local currency of the country you are travelling to and the conversion rate vis-a-vis your home country. Know your expenses!! Always carry some foreign currency in cash and some in traveller cheques. Get your corporate or office issued credit card limits enhanced as appropriate. It is never a great position to be in – a foreign land and no access to mullah!
9. For all business trips, companies will expect you to do your travel expense management or expense report. You will need to submit bills and receipts for meals, cab fares, entertainment etc. Be prepared for this from the start and don’t lose or misplace bills which may have you scramming later for approvals or shelling out money from your own pocket for an eligible company paid expense. Carry an envelope and keep your bills safely or stick them at the end of the day on a sheet of paper. Whatever works for you, but be prepared to do this on most business trips!
10. Lastly, you are all done at work and it is time to go home, make sure you have your paperwork and tickets with you. The last thing you want is losing travel documents in a foreign land. One usually carries the passport or a copy of it whenever stepping out in a foreign country. That is your legal stamp for being there. So always be careful about your wallet and important identity papers, especially passport.
Even though it maybe for a short period, I have always cherished my company paid business trips to different countries. It is such a pleasure to meet and work with folks from various nations and to complete a successful project or meeting together. You are a richer person for being witness to another country, its culture and people, and are left with a whole new wonderful experience and memories, good or bad!