While to those back home, business travel may seem like a perk, there’s no denying that it can be stressful. Hours on the road, delays, jet lag, soulless hotel rooms, difficult meetings, dealing with unfamiliar food and cultures – it’s certainly no holiday. But there are plenty of simple ways to reduce or minimize stress. Here are a few of our top tips:
1. Be culturally aware
Think before you speak. The person you’re about to shout at, or negotiate with, is from a different culture. They may not be empowered to make the decision you want them to. They may be from a culture where maintaining the status quo is better than saying ‘no’. They may not understand your accent. They could be from a culture where shouting equals a loss of face. You want them to be on your side, not shutting down, so acknowledge whatever the crisis is by saying something like: “I know this is not your fault but please can you help me?”
2. Do your homework
Understand before you leave what situations you are likely to encounter. For example, will you be invited out to dinner, or drinks, or karaoke bars? Should you travel armed with gifts for overseas colleagues? Make sure you know the protocol about who pays for dinner, what to wear and how to behave. Prepare for what unusual dishes may be presented to you – and have a feasible excuse ready if you think you won’t want to try them. Learn about table manners in your destination, suitable topics of conversation and what to expect if you are invited to someone’s home.
3. Be kind to yourself
Don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure, for example, by cutting it fine to get to the airport, booking flights with tight connections or cramming too many meetings into one day in multiple locations. Look after yourself physically; this way, you will be more effective on the road. So use the hotel’s pool, or research safe jogging routes before you leave home. Take home comforts with you – music, books, downloaded movies or box sets. Do whatever works for you to minimize jetlag.
4. Manage your mental state
Try not to get everyday travel stresses like crowds and airport delays get to you. Breathe, meditate, stop to think, smile. Or plug in your headphones and listen to music. Make time in even the most hectic of days to stop and think, and be peaceful.
5. Have strong support back at base
A good travel manager can be a life-saver when things go wrong on the road and you’re left with no wifi, missed flights and dwindling funds. Knowing someone is on hand to manage your itinerary is enormously reassuring. Similarly, support in the office is important; if you need quick decisions made, or access to someone senior in your organisation while you’re away, make sure a communication system is set up, including out of hours.
6. Pack smartly
Think about the impression you want to make if your overseas counterpart meets you from the flight – or how you will look if your luggage goes missing (which, if you travel enough, it will one day). Travel on hand luggage if you can and either way, pack spare clothes and wash kit in your carry on, as well as all important documentation. Learn about the dress code of the companies and the countries you will be visiting, which may be more conservative than the style you are used to at home.
7. Use technology
Pack a universal adapter. Charge everything before you leave home. Use apps on your phone, so you can check in online, scan business cards, track expenses, order taxis and even track your health and diet. Back up your laptop and phone before you leave home.
8. Avoid isolation
Business travel can be lonely. Schedule times to chat via Skype or FaceTime with family. Use the time away to catch up with emails to friends. Stay active on social media so you feel a connection with home. Be sociable in your destination; accept invitations to dine out with colleagues (and make sure you have the authority to sign off entertaining bills if you reciprocate).
9. Earn status
If you’re on the road a lot, it’s not difficult to reach more than the basic loyalty tiers with your favorite airline or hotel group. Even at the most basic level, for example, British Airways’ silver grade, you get lounge access with food, drink and wifi; priority boarding; free seat selection; and the (usually unrealistic) hope of an upgrade. Loyalty with hotels means room upgrades and often, access to executive lounges for breakfast, or cocktail hour. Some credit cards come with perks like airport lounge access. Make sure you know before you leave what you’re entitled to.
10. Broaden your horizons
Yes, you may experience culture shock while on the road but you can also make new friends and broaden your professional network. Show an interest in people. Ask for introductions. Offer to buy a colleague lunch if they’ll show you around. If you have downtime, make the most of it, even if it means doing something like booking a day trip somewhere, or getting last minute tickets to an event. By doing this, a business trip carries positive memories and becomes more personal.
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