International business travel is a different animal when compared to a quick domestic trip. Flying for extended periods of time alone presents its own unique challenges for those who have not done it before. Still, international business travel does not have to be the grueling sort of ordeal that first-timers anticipate by following a few simple guidelines.
For our purposes here, we assume a) you do not have a huge corporate travel department taking care of the details for you, b) you care how much elements of the trip cost and c) can accept a seat in coach.
- Booking airfare- Book air far in advance for the best seat selection. Keep on top of fares by registering flights with AirFareWatchdog (before buying) and Yapta (after). If the price goes down later, a refund or credit for future travel may be possible. Also, reduce travel stress by insisting on a minimum of 2 hours between connections, especially on the return flight to the U.S. If the arrival airport is not your final destination, you’ll need time to recheck luggage and go through security screening again.
- Periodically check reservations- Once flights are booked and seats assigned, return to the airline website to get a feel for how flights are filling up. You may wish to pay more closer to travel day for an aisle seat. SeatGuru can help with this. Also, be sure reservations have frequent flyer numbers on them to get credit for long flights. Be extra safe by saving boarding passes as proof later that you were on the flight.
- Know what documentation is required- In addition to a valid U.S passport that expires a minimum of 6 months after your international travel, you may need to satisfy other entry requirements. The U.S Department of State‘s Smart Traveler Program offers all the information needed to enter and experience any given country in the world. Registering travel plans with Smart Traveler brings travel alerts and background information in advance of travel too.
- Explore communication options in advance- Molding options on a cellphone plan to fit where your destination can make using your cellphone abroad a viable option. On extended trips a new sim card to match your destination might work best, but simply customizing options can work well too. Adding an international data plan, for example, will let you use smartphone apps that can be invaluable navigating foreign soil. Another option is to “Cheat On Your Cellphone Service With Tep Wireless.”
- Fly in a day in advance of important meetings- Have some plans in place but have the flexibility to spend the first day overseas adjusting to the time difference and getting used to new surroundings. If everything goes well, you may be able to hit the ground running. If a few parts of your travel plan don’t come off as anticipated, all is not lost, just a bit behind schedule.
- Start focusing on getting plenty of rest and eating right several days before the flight- Unless you’re headed to Canada from New York, most international travel translates to some long flights. Sure, maybe we can’t “bank” sleep but starting a long flight with a full tank of rest is always a good idea. Also see: “How To Deal With Jetlag.”
- Consider the allowed personal carry-on item your “flight bag”- and have everything that might be needed during the flight in it. Having at hand, under the seat in front of you, is huge and a must-do for all international flights. Also, finish packing (at least preliminarily) a week in advance. That offers the opportunity to be sure critical items are packed and allows time to source those items not packed first time around.
- Enjoy the experience that international flights can offer in and of itself- Flight attendants or other passengers have wonderful stories to tell that can add a richness to our travels. Engage the world with smartphone apps like HipGeo and FourSquare to share your experience and record your journey step by step. Bringing along the new app TagWhat is almost like having a personal travel guide along for the ride.
- Know a little of the language- While you’re apt to kick yourself for not knowing more once on the ground, basic words and phrasing is a must. Questions like “How much?” and “Can you help me?” go a long way, along with: “Please,” “Excuse me” and “Thank You.” A smartphone app for translating languages is a good idea.
- Money matters- Like language, have a good idea of how the local currency converts to dollars, not that you can do anything about that but just so you will have an idea of value and maybe not pay the equivalent of $10 for a Coke. Onanda’s Currency app for iPhone is a good one to have handy. Use a credit card that will work internationally (not all will) and does not charge an extra fee for doing so. Be sure to notify card companies when you will out of the country too, otherwise they may shut you down, thinking your card has been stolen.
There are plenty of other tips for international business travel, including Gadling’s International Travel Tips In 100 Words Or Less, but these have helped me quite a bit and some were hard lessons to learn.
One more: do not forget a power converter. I spent the good part of a day in Venice on my first international business trip, looking for a device that would allow me to stick my U.S. plug into the odd-sized electrical outlets in our hotel. Since the only Italian words I knew were from working at the Olive Garden decades ago, I walked around the city with a hand written note from the hotel desk clerk to help. I assume that note said, “This man wants a power converter,” but it might have said, “Laugh at this silly American,” because most people I presented it to did.
[Flickr image via || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL ||]