If only business travel lived up to the myths of five star hotels and unlimited expense accounts! These days, you’re lucky if you get a glimpse of the city you’re staying in, or find a taxi driver who can locate the address of your next meeting. Staying cool and collected while on the road for business requires a certain set of essential skills, no matter which profession you work in. Master these and your next corporate trip may feel closer to a vacation than an obligation
1. Packing: The first essential skill for any business traveller comes into play before you even set foot in an airport. Conquer this hurdle and you’ll save yourself time, money, and energy in the long run. Very few trips require checked luggage – so stick with a professional carry-on bag with space for your laptop and documents. If you’ll need a pressed suit immediately on arrival, you can carry a suit bag and lay it in the overhead compartment. Check what your hotel or serviced rental offers to eliminate the need to travel with toiletries, and maximise space by packing small items like rolled socks into shoes (this will also help keep their shape). If you must check a case, tag it with your email address in case it doesn’t appear when you arrive.
2. Planning and organisation: Nothing ruins a perfectly ordinary business trip like bad planning. Gone are the days when a secretary organised everything and handed you an itinerary. Now, it’s probably up to you to get to and from the airport, schedule meetings, locate accommodation and ensure that you have all the files you need when you need them. Before leaving town, ensure that your laptop and phone have full batteries, and that you’ve packed the chargers. Just like any kind of travel abroad, secure insurance; an accident in another country will cost you – whether you’re there for business or pleasure. Email yourself important addresses, meeting times, and phone numbers so you’ll have them on hand in an emergency. Allow time for delays and do not underestimate the importance of punctuality – it’s an ordinary, busy workday for the professionals you’re meeting, and they may not be understanding of the fact that you got lost between your hotel and their building.
3. Cultural sensitivity: This is true for travellers of any kind, but business travellers are often held to a higher standard than 19-year-old backpackers. It never hurts to learn a few words of the language if you are travelling abroad, and with the multitude of apps, podcasts, and software programs out there, there’s really no excuse. Learn a little about the business practices of the city you’re visiting – many of us expect there to be major differences between New York and Tokyo, but forget that there may be many more subtle differences between NYC, Montreal, and Sydney. On a business lunch? It’s rude not to tip in North America, but the practice is not commonly practised in Australia or Asia. If you’re staying in a corporate apartment with a Guest Service Specialist, he or she can tell you everything you need to know about local customs – so take advantage and ask if you’re not sure.
4. Independence: This one is often taken for granted by seasoned corporate travellers, but many first-time business travellers are surprised by how isolating this kind of trip can be. Without friends in your destination city, professionals often find that when the work is done, evenings stretch out before them. Get used to being on your own and enjoying it. Take the peace and quiet of a hotel room to catch up on work or reading, or check out what’s happening in the city and catch a concert or grab a bite at an acclaimed restaurant.
5. Professionalism: Although you may be very aware of your status as visiting consultant/client/colleague in the boardroom, new business partners may invite you out for dinner or drinks after the day’s work is done, and here, things have been known to get…well…out of hand. Feel free to enjoy the hospitality of your hosts but don’t forget that you’re there to represent your company – and while you may have forgotten everything the next morning, your hosts may not. Loosen your tie and enjoy the night, but don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your own boss!