With more Indian women travelling internationally for work, here are some essential business travel tips to make your next trip smoother.
By Meera Ramanathan
Have you ever walked into a conference room filled with people from different countries, your heart beating at a rapid pace wondering if you picked the right outfit, hoping to speak appropriately when spoken to and wishing the trip would get over soon so you could get back to your favourite sambhar and rasam?
No matter how many times we jet set across countries, unless we learn from our experiences the same fear grips us and make us even more hesitant to travel.
Here are a few business travel tips based on my experiences.
Business travel tip 1: Be open-minded
This is truly the age of the global workforce. But as much as we learn to work with different time zones, we learn very little about the way of life on the other side. Our dinner jaunts are always about finding the closest Indian restaurant. Why not taste the local cuisine out of respect?
In Hong Kong we let our Chinese colleagues take us out for lunch to their usual spot. As vegetarian travellers we gulped hard while navigating through streets strewn with cow meat and goat heads but the Dragon Head restaurant served delicious dumplings and egg rolls. On our own, we would have ended up eating food cooked in fish sauce or found shrimp at the bottom of the bowl while finishing the soup.
Business travel tip 2: Learn the art of small talk
We can converse proficiently about work during meetings but what about the lunch breaks and dinner parties? Small talk is an art and unless we invest in that, awkward silences have to be dealt with. Lunches with my American manager were a great time to discuss the previous night’s football game instead of simply explaining to him how India is not a land of elephants for the hundredth time.
Business travel tip 3: Be punctual
Indians are known to follow their own standard sense of time. But I cannot stress enough on how important it is to watch the watch. For a project kick off in Germany, invitations were sent out, agenda published and meeting points finalized a week ahead. So when we walked in 7 minutes late I sincerely wished the earth parted ways and swallowed me alive. Unless you are stuck in a hospital bed, no excuse is good enough; so plan ahead and be on time.
Business travel tip 4: Dress appropriately and comfortably
There was a snowy winter night in Germany where I was stuck with a pair of sneakers and no winter coat to wade through three inches of snow. In many parts of India the weather hardly changes and we are blessed with warm, hot and hotter days. But temperature fluctuations are commonplace in the rest of the world, so always look up the weather information and be prepared. After a couple of trips I learnt the nuances of dressing not just to impress.
Business travel tip 5: Don’t be defensive
No matter how well travelled we are, unless we sport the right attitude, travel can be a disaster. During our Christmas party, when American colleagues enquired about the rape in Delhi that was rocking our nation, we wondered how to respond. India does not make it easy but we learnt to speak about the positive changes that the nation and people are embracing from this horrific crime. It is never apt to resort to the Mera Bharat Mahaan speech or wax eloquent about Incredible India. Every nation has its flaws but you learn not to fixate on that.
Business travel tip 6: Explore
The best way to learn about the place is to explore it on your own. This could make for interesting conversations before and after and make you understand the people you work with better. Striking bargains with my American colleagues in Commercial Street not only made me look street smart but also ensured that I got to see all the spots during my trip to NYC. If that isn’t a sweet deal I don’t know what is.
Business travel tip 7: Safety is important
The streets are not always safe, especially for a newcomer to a city and as much as we love to live like free birds, it makes sense to first get one’s bearings in a strange place. Keep friends and acquaintances on speed dial, let somebody know of your exact itinerary and keep a can of pepper spray in your clutch. While travelling to Paris late at night by bus, my only comfort was the scissors in my handbag.
Travelling for work can be fun and challenging, as Indian women are discovering. With every trip you can relax a little bit more and gain more confidence. Let’s hold our heads high, click our heels together and power stride our way in.
*Photo credit: Send me adrift (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)