How to Survive Extreme Global Business Trips (Part 1)

Business trips around the world are starting to become more common. Learn how Terry Wohlers managed to survive one extreme business trip where he traveled from the U.S. to Europe, to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Tokyo, and then back to the U.S. again to complete a loop around the world in just nine days.

Terry Wohlers

"Viewpoint" is a monthly column authored by Terry Wohlers for Time-Compression Technologies
This column was published in the May/June 2007 issue.

I don't recommend circling the globe in nine days, but I had little choice if I wanted to capitalize on some opportunities that may not have developed in the future. I had made a commitment to be in Frankfurt and later discovered that I really needed to be in Asia the following week. The trip went well, but it was exhausting. You might not take such an extreme business trip, but there are lessons that I have learned over the years that you can apply in the future.

Planning and Packing

I've found that the most important part of any global business trip, especially with multiple stops, is advance planning. Don't leave anything to chance. Be crystal clear on meeting times and locations and have contact details with you in case something unexpected develops.

A couple of years ago, I was supposed to meet a person at a very large facility in Tokyo. We agreed to meet at the main entrance. As it turns out, there were two main entrances and we never did meet that day. So be sure to check and double check meeting places and times to reduce the possibility of problems.

Know the Requirements

Most business travelers have a passport, which is sufficient to enter most countries. However, some countries, such as China, require a visa that you must secure prior to departure. You'll normally want to apply for a visa far in advance.

Many years ago, I was traveling to Joinville and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When I was about to board my connecting flight in Miami, Florida, the United Airlines agent collecting boarding passes asked for my visa. I gave her a puzzled look, followed by, "What?" No one had told me that Brazil required a visa for U.S. citizens. Needless-to-say, I did not board the plane that evening. Later, I was told that United should have made me aware of the visa requirement when issuing the plane tickets and that the airline should not have let me board in Denver without first seeing a visa. A United employee told me that if I had arrived in Brazil without a visa, the airline would have been fined $10,000. (Recently, a friend said that a passenger arriving into India without a visa would create a fine of $25,000 for the airline.) United took care of me Saturday and Sunday while I waited for the Brazilian consulate's office to open on Monday morning. After waiting my turn, I pleaded to receive a visa the same day and not later in the week. After paying an extra fee, I received the visa and was on my way that evening - just prior to the arrival of a hurricane into the Miami area. So, be sure that you know what is required for the countries you are visiting. Even if you've traveled to a country in the past with just your passport, check and make sure that the laws have not changed.

Develop a Packing Checklist

My checklist for the trip around the world was longer than most others and I started it further in advance. When mixing business with some recreational activities, planning items to pack can be challenging. On top of that, it was December in Frankfurt, but warm and humid in Singapore and Malaysia. The business overcoat did not fit in my roll-aboard, so it stayed home. I really didn't need it, but I was lucky.

In the winter, I often see people lugging coats and other warm clothing onto planes. If you're going snow skiing or plan to spend a lot of time outside, you'll obviously need this gear. But if you're on a business trip, chances are that you won't. Typically, you spend 99 percent of your time inside. You travel to the airport, and then spend time inside planes, hotels and meeting rooms. I've attended meetings in Minnesota in January and not taken anything more than a business suit and was glad I did.

Checking or Carrying on Your Luggage

Whether I'm gone for two days or two weeks, I take two bags: a roll-aboard for my clothes, etc., and a carry-on for my laptop, papers and other small items that I might need in flight. If what I'd like to take does not fit into one of these two bags, it does not go with me. I have made a few exceptions over my 25 years of business travel, but rarely. I almost always carry both onto the plane. In all those years, the airlines have never lost or misplaced one of my bags because I don't give them the chance.

How Much to Take

My advice to inexperienced travelers going abroad or to a beach destination: list what you want to take and then cut it in half. Many travelers take far more than they need, especially clothing, and later regret it.

Buying Tickets

When buying plane tickets, I recommend that you not purchase the more expensive refundable/changeable tickets. It's usually not worth it. If your travel plans change or you need to cancel, you can apply the value of an inexpensive ticket (minus a $100 airline service fee) to the purchase of a new ticket. United Airlines charges $200 to change an international ticket, but this is still less expensive then buying a ticket at a much higher fare. Note, however, that you must pay the difference if the new ticket costs more.

Connecting Flights

Missing a connecting flight due to a late arrival can be frustrating. Try to book flights so that there's a minimum of 90 minutes between the scheduled arrival and departure times. Two hours is better. I always have work to do, so it's not wasted time. When connecting through another city on your return home, be sure to allow sufficient time to get through passport control and customs. Sometimes, the queues can be horrendous.

Getting to and From the Airport

I look at a lengthy business trip as an opportunity to catch up on reading and get some work done - away from a sometimes chaotic office. I arrange to have someone drive me to and from Denver International Airport (DIA), giving me the chance to read, make phone calls, check e-mail, chat with the driver or relax, as I wish. I especially appreciate having someone meet me at the airport after circling the globe. The car ride from DIA to Fort Collins is only one hour, but it can feel like three hours when you're driving after an exhausting trip. In heavy traffic, it's not safe.

Mobile Phones

Beware of mobile phone charges when you're traveling abroad. They can range from $1 to $3 per minute and can add up quickly. A friend recently paid $480 for calls made when he was in Germany and Israel. Needless-to-say, he was shocked when he received his monthly bill. The same guy is also a Skype user and recommends it highly. It allows you to make phone calls anywhere using an Internet connection and is also known as "Voice over IP" (Internet Protocol). One Web site claims that there are now 170 million Skype users worldwide. I've not tried it yet, but it's on my to-do list.

In the Airport

The airport is another place where you can crank out some work. I tend to get into a zone where I am almost oblivious to what's going on around me. The time you spend standing in lengthy queues can be unproductive unless you have a handheld device that permits you to receive and send e-mail. I recently upgraded my Treo 650 to a Treo 700 and love it. The broadband connection makes it much more practical to view Web pages, weather reports and scores of your favorite teams. However, the phone and Internet functions in only a few countries, so I have to arrange for another phone if I want to make and receive calls when I'm abroad. For the December trip around the world, I went without and got by okay.

Also, airport lounges can be an oasis in an otherwise crowded and frenzied terminal, concourse or boarding area. I belong to United Airlines' Red Carpet Club, which gives me access to the lounges of its partner airlines around the world. The lounges can also be crowded at times, but they are usually much better than the alternative. Most offer complimentary snacks and beverages, as well as newspapers and magazines. Internet hookups are also available, but they usually cost extra. The Red Carpet Club at Tokyo Narita offers complimentary wireless Internet service, which is a pleasant surprise to some. Note that depending upon the type of ticket you are traveling on, you may be able to enter a Red Carpet Club, or one of the partner lounges, for free. TCT

Industry consultant and analyst Terry Wohlers, is principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates, Inc. (Fort Collins, CO). Visit http://wohlersassociates.com for more information.

Part 2 will continue the topic of how to survive extreme global business trips. It will discuss resting on overnight flights, Internet services at hotels, free time that you may have and buying gifts when you're abroad.