No one knows what to expect on his or her first business trip across cultures. If you’re like Nicole, a professional preparing to embark on a short-term rotation to Shanghai for the first time, you’re probably experiencing a mix of emotions. Anticipation, dread, confusion and unrest are common as you think about your upcoming trip. It’s exciting to explore a new part of the world through your work, but it’s not the time to neglect proper preparation.
Nicole leaves for Shanghai in a week, and she’s been preparing for her short-term business trip since she learned of it two weeks ago. Nicole began to prepare for her corporate trip by conducting research and utilizing the resources available to her. Through Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart®, an online cultural inventory, Nicole found information on China’s core values and implications for business, advice for giving presentations, dining etiquette and office attire, as well as travel tips on money, safety, passport/visa, and health.
Nicole also realizes her upcoming trip can be much more than a work experience. It isn’t the same as planning a vacation, but if you’re a wise traveler, you’ll know how to make the most out of a business trip. You don’t have to be a seasoned traveler to be a wise traveler, either. As author of “Global Dexterity”, Andy Molinsky notes, the tumultuous pace of short-term business travel can leave you feeling disoriented — which often leads to a less-than-ideal overall travel experience.
A guide for short-term business travel can help you properly organize and execute a successful trip. Molinsky explains that business travel isn’t glamorous, and traveling across cultural boundaries takes knowledge and preparation.
However, if you approach this type of travel correctly, it comes with many benefits, such as:
- Gaining confidence with every trip across cultural borders
- Magnifying your creativity
- Building your capacity to handle challenging situations
- Increasing your empathy
- Learning adaptability as you’re pushed out of your comfort zone
- Further success in your position as you learn to navigate short-term business travel and gain cultural intelligence, global leadership skills and new perspectives on how business is done around the world
An extended business travel checklist will help you navigate your business trip without feeling perplexed or unprepared. Consider the following tips from Aperian Global as your guide to business travel.
Know Before You Go
Familiarize yourself with your company’s policies before your trip. Your company should provide you with all the details you need, but be sure to ask the following questions about travel policies:
- Does the company have a preferred airline, hotel, or car rental policy?
- Are there any policy exceptions?
- Will I use a corporate credit card or be reimbursed later for my travel expenses?
Awareness of your company’s policies before you leave will minimize the chance of potential problems during and after your trip. Travel policies vary greatly at global corporations. Some companies require you to save every receipt, while others require you to use an app to track your expenses. You should prepare yourself beforehand to avoid surprises or unexpected hassle as you travel across cultural boundaries for work.
You should also consult the appropriate resources before you travel, ensuring you’re well prepared, including:
- Visa requirements. If you’re traveling to a country that requires a visa, you must acquire the visa in advance. The application process can take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the country. VisaHQ provides visa requirements by citizenship. Be aware that embassies may close during holidays. You can check local embassies for specific information. Also, be aware that some embassies require personal meetings.
- Weather. It’s important to pack appropriately for the weather conditions, which can often change quickly depending on the travel region. Many weather sites exist to deliver global forecasts in real time, such as Intellicast.com and Forecast.io.
- Travel and general info. Familiarize yourself with the region before you travel. Learn about the geography and climate, as well as customs and safety precautions.
- Local business culture. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the local business culture before your trip. Learn about communication styles, giving feedback and handling meetings in your destination. You can also read about gestures, body language, greetings and dining. Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart® is an excellent resource for travelers. You can, for example, print a pdf report on best practices in business culture for a particular a destination, and then read it on the plane.
Before your trip, you should also contact your bank and credit card companies so they’re aware of your travel dates. Sometimes credit card companies will decline a purchase if they believe it could be a fraudulent overseas transaction. Avoid this scenario and make them aware of your travel plans before you leave. Also, some credit cards include foreign transactions fees and possibly have a daily cash allowance for ATM withdrawals. Be aware of these policies before you travel.
It’s also wise to enable international calling on your mobile phone before you travel. Ask your carrier about international data plans. Roaming charges while traveling internationally can be particularly expensive. If you’re planning to use your phone while traveling for business, organize ahead of time so there are no surprises when your bill arrives.
You should also call your health insurance company to ensure you’re covered while out of the country. Health insurance for short-term business travel is a necessity, as accidents and emergencies can occur at any time. Many health insurance companies will pay for hospital stays abroad, but most won’t cover a medical evacuation back to your home country. Your company should ensure you’re properly covered at all times, but be sure to check with your provider, as well as your company, so you’re aware of your exact coverage.
Keep your travel documents organized and make copies of your visa, passport, airline tickets, hotel confirmation, and credit cards. Keep these documents, as well as local currency, on your person as you travel.
Once you determine your visa requirements, are aware of the possible weather conditions of your travel dates, and learn what to expect as you traverse across cultures, you should focus on the nuances of your unique trip. Aperian Global recommends:
- Figuring out how much free time you’ll have between business-related obligations. Some trips have your entire itinerary planned out for you, down to each meal and every minute of your stay. For example, in China it’s common for headquarters to create a carefully planned schedule for guests. Other destinations, however, may leave you lots of flexibility. Knowing this information beforehand will help you pack and plan appropriately.
For instance, if you’re expected to attend a business lunch and formal dinner in the evening, it will affect what you pack. If you’ll be working eight hours a day, then given leniency to do as you please after working hours, you can plan short sightseeing adventures in the evening or choose to retire to your hotel room and order room service. It helps to know what’s expected of you and how much free time you’ll have in advance.
- Determining your contacts before you arrive. Figure out if there is anyone you know in the area before you arrive. Perhaps an old university friend lives nearby, or a former colleague will be visiting the area while you’re also there. Check your LinkedIn connections and take advantage of social media check-ins when you arrive. If you can, try to connect with possible contacts before you arrive. It’s helpful to know someone in an unfamiliar setting, so consider planning a quick meeting — even if it’s only for a short meeting at the airport — just to see a familiar face.
- Saving important information in your phone before you leave. It’s always a smart idea to save important information to your phone, such as your hotel’s address and phone number, a phone number to reach the airport and airline, and contact information to reach your embassy. Many places offer mobile apps, which can simplify your travel experience. Consider downloading a translator and storing some information in the local language.
- Checking for recommended vaccines. The World Health Organization provides recommendations for routine vaccines and selective vaccines for travelers. Consult the website or your physician before you leave on your business trip.
Proper planning before your business trip is crucial. It’s likely that something won’t go as planned as you’re traveling, which is why it’s important to control what you can about your trip. If you plan appropriately and know what to expect before you leave, it’ll help you be flexible when problems arise. You can’t control flight delays and cancellations, but you can react to those situations quickly and knowledgeably with proper planning.
Be Smart During Your Stay
Once you arrive at your destination, it’s important to be smart and stay organized. Jet lag can be especially hard to deal with, especially if you’ve never experienced it. Jet lag is more than extreme tiredness — it’s a breakdown in your circadian rhythm due to traveling rapidly over time zones. Your body needs time to adjust as your internal clock resets to the local time. Sometimes, it can take several days and come with numerous possible side effects, including fatigue, confusion, lack of awareness, indigestion, headache, or irritability.
You probably can’t eliminate jet lag, but you can employ these strategies to help you lessen its effects:
- Know that jet lag is usually worse when traveling west to east. Because you’re losing time, it’ll likely take your body longer to adjust. If possible, give yourself a longer recovery period when you’re traveling west to east, and consider this recovery period when planning meetings and other tasks.
- Adjust your schedule before you leave. Gradually adjust your sleep schedule before you leave for your business trip. If you’re traveling east, move your bedtime earlier. If you’re traveling west, move it a little later. Continue to adjust your schedule in the days or weeks leading to your business trip. You can also consider adjusting your meal times, too. While in flight, sleep on the plane if it will help your adjustment period.
- Consider arriving early. If it’s possible, try to arrive to your destination early. An extra day or two can help you adjust to the time difference and can make a positive difference in your work performance and overall experience.
- Take good care of yourself. Be sure to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Get up and stretch and move around on your flight, but avoid strenuous exercise after you land and before bed. Eat sensibly and minimize sleep distractions as you try to adjust to your new schedule.
Once you’re adjusted to the local time, you can focus on a successful work experience and navigating a positive short-term trip. Keep these tips in mind to stay smart during your travels:
- Track your spending and save all your receipts. Every year, millions of dollars are lost as travelers fail to submit receipts for everything they’re entitled to expense. Consider taking pictures of your receipts in case you misplace them.
- Be aware of the electrical voltage. Your laptop, electric razor, phone charger, and other electrical devices may not plug into the outlets in a foreign country. Visit WorldStandards.eu for a complete list of countries and their respective plugs and voltages for domestic appliances.
- Adhere to the data plan on your phone. Hopefully you planned for data usage or international roaming on your smartphone. Regardless of your data plan or roaming parameters, stick to your plan to avoid unnecessary costly charges while you’re traveling.
- Use key phrases in the local language. Knowing a few key phrases in the local language will make a positive impression with the people you encounter, as well as enhance your overall experience. Learn the obvious, such as “hello, “goodbye,” “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” and “my name is.” Also consider learning to ask the cost of something, the word for “water” and how to express that you don’t understand something. Consider using a language translation app, referencing a translation dictionary, or purchasing Rosetta Stone.
After you arrive at your destination and make smart decisions about navigating an unfamiliar area, you can focus on making the most of your short-term business trip. Amidst the exhaustion and confusion that often comes with traveling for business over the short term, you can gain a great deal of experience and come home refreshed and stimulated with new ideas and insights.
Immerse Yourself When You Can
Make time for local exploration during your stay. The local culture should define your trip, even though you’re working. Learn from the locals, get to know the history of the location and aim to experience the setting instead of simply seeing it. Consider the following tips for immersing yourself in the local culture during your short-term business trip:
- Try local food. Many seasoned travelers say food is the gateway to submersion into a culture. Ask colleagues or even your hotel concierge for recommendations, research and read reviews online, search out regional options and avoid eating near the biggest landmark and attractions — it’s possible they’re too touristy to enjoy an authentic dining experience.
- Stay at an AirBnB property instead of in a hotel. AirBnB designates certain properties as “business travel ready.” To be qualified as such, the property must offer Wi-Fi, a space to work, guaranteed 24-hour access, a maximum of 5-star ratings with 60% of reviewers and no cancellations within seven days of a trip. Staying in a home instead of a hotel offers a more authentic guest experience, often providing a more relaxed and personalized experience.
- Attend a cultural event in the evening. Typical cultural events to enjoy include plays, concerts, and performances. You might also consider other options such as a sporting or religious event for an immersive experience.
As you submerge yourself into the local culture when there’s time, it’s important to pay attention to your body and its needs. The excitement of the new location paired with your job responsibilities can easily be a recipe for exhaustion. Listen to your body and make smart decisions when it comes to your health while traveling.
Don’t Neglect Your Health
Your health should be your top concern while traveling abroad. After all, you won’t be able to fulfill your job responsibilities or experience the benefits of a successful trip if you fall ill. After your plane lands, set aside time to stretch to alleviate any stiffness from your journey.
Short-term business trips often seem like a whirlwind of culture shock, work responsibilities and new experiences. It’s vital to get enough sleep while traveling. Allowing yourself enough time to decompress and sleep well will help you process the day’s events as well as mentally and physically prepare for the remaining days of your trip.
Experiencing local food should be part of your travel experience, but remember general hygiene tips as you brave a new menu. Contaminated food and drinks can cause traveler’s diarrhea or worse, so keep the following tips in mind:
- Steaming hot food is usually safe. High heat kills the germs and bacteria that cause traveler’s diarrhea and other illnesses.
- Raw food can be risky. Raw meat and seafood could contain harmful germs. Nothing is certain in an unfamiliar setting, but raw fruits and vegetables are usually safe if you wash and peel them yourself.
- Choose the right street foods. Most street foods aren’t held to the same standards as food in restaurants, so be selective when choosing food vendors on the street. Opt for something you see coming straight from the grill instead of something cold.
- Know your drinks. Tap water, ice, fountain drinks, and fresh juices can be risky, but bottled drinks, canned drinks, and alcohol are usually safe. It’s crucial to stay properly hydrated during your trip, so keep bottled water with you at all times.
- Choose reputable establishments. When it’s possible, ask for recommendations and do your research before choosing to eat at a restaurant. When you’re trying to experience food like a local, you may have to step outside of your comfort zone a bit — but be smart about your food choices when you’re uncertain.
- Opt for healthy food choices. It’s harder to maintain a healthy diet while traveling, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar new setting. Airport food is notoriously processed, and you’ll likely be tempted with happy hour, indulgent dinners, and room service. Remember to experience the local culture through your cuisine choices, but avoid late-night sugar fixes, excess amounts of alcohol, and overeating.
Remember to stay active while you’re traveling as well. Make time to maintain your workout routine, even if that means modifying it to fit your traveling schedule or environment. Consider doing yoga in your hotel room or going for a walk or jog if you don’t have access to a gym.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
There’s a great deal of information to organize and retain when traveling for short-term business trips. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with everything you have to remember, all while performing work duties in an unfamiliar setting. Use the technological tools available to ease the stress of your many responsibilities and let your smartphone and computer do some of the work for you. Consider the following:
- Time zone converters. There are plenty of time zone converters to choose from. We like EasyTZ because it synchronizes with your Google calendar.
- Currency converters. Use a currency converter app such as XE Currency or Currency – Simple Converter to quickly calculate prices and alleviate the chance of making a mistake.
- Language translation apps. A translation app will help you work your way through situations where language poses a barrier. Consider Rosetta Stone, iTranslate, or Waygo.
- Review sites for local restaurants. Remember that food safety is important! Check review sites like Yelp and Google for the best local restaurants.
- Navigation apps. A reliable navigation app like Waze or even Google Maps will help you get around your travel location with minimal confusion.
- Apps for tracking receipts. Even if your company doesn’t use a tool to track business expenses while you’re traveling, considering software like Concur or an app such as EverNote, Receiptmate, or Office Lens.
- Tools to stay in touch. Use Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, FaceTime, or Zoom to stay in touch with your family, friends and colleagues while you’re away.
- Tools for cultural intelligence. GlobeSmart can help you before, during, and after your short-term business trip. Simply choose your locale and access a plethora of intelligence related to business skills, culture, and customs as well as travel and general information.
Approach Your Business Travel with Confidence
Confidence emerges with proper preparation — and this fact holds true when you’re traveling for business, especially short-term business. Plan appropriately before your trip, and you’ll have more time to focus on getting the most from your experience while you’re there.
Traveling anywhere is an opportunity to step outside of our comfort zone. Many challenges come with short-term travel — you learn to adapt to unfamiliar situations, which can be a huge confidence booster. When you spend time in a new, unfamiliar setting, your brain is forced to think in new ways. You’re forced to innovate to find solutions. You can learn new problem-solving skills and ways of approaching a task, and then bring those new skills back home with you.
You can read all about traveling abroad for business, but nothing can compare to real-life experience. Don’t dread your upcoming trip. There are numerous personal and professional benefits to short-term business travel, and with the right tips for short-term expats, you can experience each of these and many more. Download our Quick Guide below to receive free 2-week trial access to GlobeSmart®. We also welcome the opportunity to discuss how our virtual country briefings can help you build a foundational understanding of the cultural and communication factors that can impact business relationships and extended business travel.