Learned by trial and error: My tips for the international business traveler

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

selfiesIn 2015, I ended up traveling in 19 consecutive weeks. Only once for the entire week. Most trips were 1-3 days. Two international trips. 12 U.S. states. Three of the four U.S. time zones. Two foreign countries – Canada and India. Who knows how many selfies? Ha.

There certainly are things that can be learned from that much travel, but first: Was it worth it?

Absolutely. I was able to help people get started or continue on their paths to share their authentic stories. That’s always a worthy cause. But it can be a strain on family, routine (there isn’t one) and being healthy.

time zones on iPhoneFamily – What would we do without FaceTime and Skype? I was able to chat with my girls at home most days. They do that like it’s a face to face conversation. Digital natives, I guess. On my iPhone I actually show all currently relevant time zones so I know when is a good time to call or text and when it’s not.

Routine ­– This one is hard. Flights leave at different times. There are different meetings, speaking engagements, etc. etc.  The routine is that there isn’t one. I’ve actually woken up in a hotel before and wondered where I was. Once I did a two-city hop in one week and actually went to the hotel room number I had two days earlier in another city and state. Whoops.

Health – There are ways to work out and eat healthy. It’s possible but it certainly is harder. I’m used to my gym in Iowa. In India, where everything weights and speeds on the treadmill are shown in the metric system that was quite interesting to figure out if I was running faster or slower than at home. I did actually grow up in Germany with the metric system, but that was in the 1980s and 90s.

Other things I’ve learned and that might be useful for other business travelers – especially international:

I prefer to fly in and out.  Even on the long trips. The one-way trek to Mumbai, India, where I was keynoting a conference and holding a hands-on workshop was 26 hours. That’s a ways. I arrived three days early to get acclimated, which I decided to do before I knew I prefer the fly-in-and-out approach. Well, I didn’t get acclimated at all and basically slept the week away. I did do a little bit of sightseeing, but could have done some of that on a shorter trip, too.

I do like to arrive at least the night before speaking engagements and most training sessions. That way I have a little bit of cushion in case airplanes aren’t taking off or landing on time. Or in the case I miss a connection.

When I can take a direct flight from my home airport, I’m a bit more comfortable leaving early that morning and arriving right before the session.

I did do two out-and-backs though during this 19-week stretch. Once to Toronto and once to New Orleans. On both trips, I left Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the first flight out, arrived at the venue, spoke, had about 30 minutes to drive around town (we’ll call that sightseeing) and then head back home to arrive back in Cedar Rapids on the last flight in. Whew, tiring.

Family is important, so when I travel that much, I really don’t treat it like I’m there to vacation or even sightsee at length. It’s a business trip. Fly in. Do what needs to get down and fly back out. It’s the only way to see the family at least some amount of time. I make time to call them or get home asap.

sleeping in business class on american airlines with a lie flat seatStick with one airline. I know, I know. There are plenty reasons to hop around airline because a flight appears to be cheaper. But once you earn enough miles, points, status, whatever on one, some things (while still not cheap) actually start getting cheaper. For example, since I’ve flown over 50 legs on American Airlines this year, I was able to get an upgrade to Business Class for both legs to and from for the London – Chicago legs. I still had to pay what American called a “co-pay” but it was a lot cheaper than an actual Business Class ticket. The lie flat seats were awesome and I was actually able to get some sleep. Totally worth it.

Batteries and devices. I constantly seem to be running out of juice on trips – in the United States and internationally. Have a game plan on how to keep things as charged up as possible. American Airlines sometimes uses car chargers in Business Class to stay charged up. Interesting, especially since not even my car uses those anymore. That has USB outlets. Anywho, the guy next to me let me plug into his so I was good to go.

Many countries have their own outlets. India’s are different from the United States and England has its own versions, too. Quick research online (Amazon is a good solution) will help you get that figured out. I found some adapters on Amazon, send a link to my local contact for verification and bought three for like $12. They worked just fine. No problems staying charged up abroad.

Communication. While many speak English – I’m just assuming that’s what you speak, communication issues can happen in foreign countries. Don’t be so sure you heard that correctly or that you were understood correctly. Follow up, be aware of body language and other signs that something was lost in translation.

Airplane time. 26-hour trips are a bit different, but in general, I treat airplane time as work time. I respond to emails, even when there’s no wifi. They will just send the next time I connect to the Internet. Sometimes I hammer out a blog post or two or three. I finished editing my upcoming book on authentic storytelling almost entirely while on planes to India and back. You are stuck on an airplane anyway. Better to work there than when you get home. Spend that home time with the family.

Those are probably the main things I’ve learned. Would I do 19 straight weeks again? Yes. Voluntarily? Ha. Yes. I have a choice and my choice is try to make an impact and help people share their authentic stories. Sometimes you have to go see them in person to do that.