After travelling frequently for business over the last 15 years I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, including:
- Giving myself 2nd degree burns on my foot in HK and subsequently doing a week’s worth of presentations on crutches (to date I’m still the only person ever to make a medical claim on the company travel insurance policy)
- Running training on zero sleep and large quantities of Imodium (a diarrhoea medicine) after eating some bad sushi from a hotel buffet
- Ambitiously scheduling back-to-back 1-hour training sessions for seven hours straight with no time for lunch or toilet breaks
- Lugging a huge suitcase around four countries in five days and only using 40 per cent of the items I’d packed
To make sure you don’t repeat my mistakes here are my tips for ensuring a seamless business travel experience:
1. Set clear outcomes that you want to achieve from your trip. Business travel isn’t cheap and your company will want to see a return on their investment. Setting clear outcomes will also keep you focused to maximise your time. I’d recommend limiting yourself to three main outcomes from the trip.
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2. Create a detailed schedule for your trip at least three weeks in advance and lock in meetings with the individuals or groups you need to catch up with to achieve your outcomes. Agree in advance the key agenda items you need to cover for each meeting.
3. When creating your schedule allow space in-between meetings to:
- Breathe, think, grab a coffee and go to the toilet…
- Follow-up on actions agreed in the meeting
- Complete work not related to your business trip.
If you are running around like a headless chicken, things will pile up, you won’t achieve your outcomes and you will quickly become exhausted and unproductive.
4. Make friends with the local office manager/secretary and use them to prepare in advance. For example you can:
- Get them to arrange a security pass so you aren’t stuck at reception each morning
- Get their help arranging transfers to and from the airport (mind you, trains are often cheaper and quicker than taxis)
- Leverage any corporate deals you may have with local hotels
- Email them any printed material you need and ask them to print it for you locally to save hauling it with you
- Book meeting rooms and arrange catering if required
Remember they are usually extremely busy so always go out of your way to thank them for their help and if possible buy them a little thank you present such as chocolates. A little gratitude goes along way.
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5. Pack multiple power adapters for the country you are travelling to. This will help avoid having to choose between charging your electric toothbrush or your phone.
6. Travel light. It sounds obvious, but limit yourself to a case that meets the size restrictions of hand luggage. If you are travelling for more than a couple of nights this will mean some pretty ruthless packing by making sure you limit yourself to one outfit per day. If you are going for longer than a week, use the local laundry facilities.
Not only will this save your back, it will also save at least an hour waiting for checked-in luggage.
7. If you’ll need to sleep, take ear plugs, an eye mask and an over the counter sleeping tablet. I prefer antihistamine-based tablets such as Restavit but other people I know have had success with herbal remedies. The airport pharmacist will have them all.
8. For any plane trip over three hours, select your seat, even if it means paying a little bit extra. Use Seat Guru to make sure you avoid the worst seats on each plane and airline.
9. Make sure you have joined the airline’s frequent flyer program and registered your number. It might sound trivial, but the points add up really quickly and can often get you into business lounges which can be a godsend on long trips.
10. Plan to be at the airport an hour earlier than necessary to allow for any unexpected delays. Take it from someone who has missed more than one flight due to a traffic accident, It’s better to be early than to have to go through the hassle of arranging an alternative flight and re-schedule meetings.
11. At security, choose the line with the most stressed looking solo business travellers. They tend to be more prepared and get through security quickly. Strictly avoid any line with couples who look like they are on holiday and have all the time in the world.
12. To beat jet lag, focus on three key things: time, food and light.
- Re-align your body with your destination’s time zone by resetting your watch (or phone) as soon as you’re on the plane
- Sleep only if its night at your destination
- Limit eating on the plane to when it is daytime at your destination
Even if you’re exhausted when you land, never sleep unless it’s night time. Go for a walk and explore, have breakfast, lunch and dinner even if you aren’t hungry and do whatever it takes to stay awake.
13. To avoid boredom on long haul flights, set yourself a goal. Whether it’s to catch-up on sleep in preparation for when you land or to learn something new by reading a business book, having a goal for your journey will ensure boredom doesn’t set in.
On the ground
14. On arrival, buy a local sim card at the airport that has a decent data limit, if not unlimited. Depending on the country, data often works out cheaper than phone calls and you can leverage services such as Skype and Facetime to communicate as well as using your data for checking email on the run or ordering an Uber.
15. If you travel regularly to one location, find a hotel you like, negotiate a corporate rate and build a relationship with the manager. This way:
- You can store things there – every hotel has a baggage storage area, you could leave a trunk with spare clothes to save packing every time
- Your name is on file, making it easier and faster to check-in
- Loyalty will help you earn upgrades over time
- You will get settled more easily in familiar surroundings
16. If you have a local contact in the office, ask them for insider information about the location, office politics and best places to go after work.
17. If it is your first trip to a new office, make sure you schedule time to introduce yourself to as many of your colleagues as possible. Get your local contact to walk you around and instigate the initial conversations. If you’re nervous about networking, these tips will get you started.
18. Be culturally aware, and make an effort to fit in. Observe the behaviour of others and if unsure of protocol, ask.
Make sure that these three key areas are covered if you want to have a seamless business travel experience:
- Plan well - Set clear outcomes that you want to achieve from your trip and allow space in between meetings to breathe
- Travel smartly - Plan to be at the airport an hour earlier than necessary to allow for any unexpected delays
- Know what to do on the ground - If it is your first trip to a new office, make sure you schedule time to introduce yourself to as many of your colleagues as possible.