by - Monday, January 25, 2016

with an international business trip coming up quickly, I've been reflecting down memory lane on a few of my very first international business trips. I have traveled a fair amount across many different cultures - from malaysia to dubai, brazil to sydney. between work travel and undergrad/graduate study abroad trips, I have visited five of the seven continents (antarctica and africa, I am coming for you!). to say I have learned a lot would be an understatement. one of the best parts of international travel is the ability to experience different cultures. you may assume that all people are mostly alike as a species, in terms of our motivators, goals, definition of happiness, etc - of course, this can be true but this can also be very untrue.

they say sometimes you have to learn things on your own through experience, but I believe some advice from someone who's done it before can be very helpful. so here's what I've learned over the years about international business travel, in no particular order. I think this is one of the best posts I have ever written (if I do say so myself) - it's long, but worth the read. when I first started traveling, there wasn't a printed guide or tips sheet - I took advice from my parents and a few colleagues. hopefully these tips, all in one place, will help you feel comfortable and ready to hit the ground abroadrunning!

1. pack lots of black and layers
I learned this one the hard way. I showed up to a meeting in hong kong wearing a silky sort of 70's patterned dress from anthropologie. a total winner in atlanta, not so much in hong kong. I definitely stood out and felt uncomfortable. I like to err on the safe side by bringing mostly black apparel and dark pieces. if you want to throw in a patterned scarf, go for it. the other bonus about black is that if you are on a long trip, your outfit repeats will be less noticeable and you can mix and match all your pieces. also - make sure to pack one business outfit in your carry on in case your luggage is lost.

2. get cash at your home airport
unless you've traveled to the country before and know you can get by with all plastic or you are only spending a short time there en route to somewhere else - you should have a small bit of cash on hand. use a travelex machine at your home airport before you take off. you should also carry two different types of credit cards, some countries still don't widely accept american express so make sure you have a visa too. photo source

3. master your carry-on kit
hopefully you are flying business and the airline will provide you with a well equipped personal kit. either way, I don't take chances. I always bring my own kit with ambien, earplugs, eye mask, headphones, allergy medicine, hair tie, and kleenex.I'm not a doctor - so this is not medical advice, but it is my strong recommendation - go to a travel doctor before you leave and get a prescription for ambien. take it on the plane over (wait until you're in the air), take it the first few nights abroad, and take it the first few nights when you get back home. I do not mess around with sleep. even though you may be exhausted, you might find that your body will not allow you to sleep.

4. get with the program
make sure you are maxing out your earning potential with credit card and airline programs. for example, if you are able to book travel on your personal credit card, make sure you're using the right card for the rewards you want so you get points for both the price of the ticket and the actual miles. my choice: american express delta platinum card, no foreign transaction fees and you don't have to alert amex when you travel. [be sure to alert your other credit card companies when you travel abroad.] at a minimum, make sure you join the skymiles program for the airline you're using and try to stay consistent by booking all travel with the same air carrier in the future. if you plan to travel a lot internationally, join theglobal entry program by paying $100 for 5 years of hassle-free customs entry. so worth it! offer below not valid, photo source

5. pay attention to cultural norms
if you're traveling to asia, you should always have business cards to present during meeting introductions. if you're going to europe, expect a greeting to include a kiss on the cheek or even a double kiss on both cheeks. go with it - and pay attention to what others who may be more knowledgeable are doing in these situations. if you are in dubai with a significant other, do not show overt displays of affection. is it an election year where you are traveling or perhaps a religious holiday period? this can make a huge impact on the country, definitely worth the google search ahead of time. pick up a paper abroad to get a pulse on what's going on locally.

ok, now for a few smaller tips...

6. be careful about displaying your company's name
don't let strangers know that you're traveling on behalf of a corporation by advertising this on your belongings unknowingly. you may not realize your carry on says your company's name on it - but criminals will. don't invite a potential kidnap for ransom situation; sounds harsh, but depending on where you're traveling - you can't be too careful. photo source

7. walk with your driver
if you are being picked up at the airport by a car service with the driver inside of the airport waiting for you - insist on walking with him to the car. if the driver leaves to get the car and you are standing outside waiting, there is a high chance you will not remember what the driver looks like or know what kind of car to look for. walking with the driver to the car will reduce the odds of a kidnapping situation.

8. adjust for language barriers
this is a funny one. the hardest accent I've experienced is australian. I called a female colleague "bold" as a compliment, she also happened to have very short hair. she had been talking about a date she went on with a guy who was "bald." I was trying to say they were both bold people but instead I effectively called her bald, thankfully we figured out my error. this also happened when I called a pair of pants "crop" and my australian colleagues assumed the pants I was selling were "crap." good times! remember, no matter the language, a smile is universal.

9. always pack a scanned copy of your passport and credit card in your carry on bag
just in case your passport is stolen. don't carry your actual passport when you're out and about abroad. leave it safely tucked away in your suitcase in the hotel.

10. register with STEP
smart traveler enrollment program from the US department of state, let the government know where you are going and where you are staying in case of any emergencies. you will also receive travel warning updates.

phew! that's it for now [I think]. to anyone embarking on your first business trip - try to carve out some time to see the local sites wherever you are going. you may never have the chance to visit again.

I snapped the below shot on a run in sydney, I passed by a cafe with this amazing neon sign and had to hop in for a photo. which brings me to another point - always have your camera on hand. good luck and bon voyage! 

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