In recent years, webinars, video conferencing, and online collaboration tools have lessened the need for business travel, but there are still some instances when meeting face to face is best. For instance, many people still prefer to meet their new clients or partners in person before signing a deal or contract. Likewise, working with your company’s overseas team may be easier if you’ve connected face to face first.
Regardless of whether you’re courting clients or meeting business partners, it’s important to make a good impression. This can be challenging if you’re traveling to a foreign country with different customs and etiquette. To help, here are some tips to make your next business trip run smoothly.
1. Hang on to Your Luggage
Seasoned business travelers will tell you to never check your luggage. You don’t want to run the risk of the airline losing your bags, particularly if you have an important presentation that afternoon and need your best business suit.
Carry-on luggage is also useful if you miss a connecting flight or need to change your itinerary at the last minute. Checked bags usually remain on the scheduled flight, so you would need to either pick up your luggage at the airport at a later time or arrange delivery to your hotel. What’s more, if your flight is delayed and you’re running late for a meeting, having a carry-on bag allows you to save precious minutes by skipping the baggage carousel.
If packing light is not an option for you, at the very least keep your laptop and other electronics in your carry-on, along with any important notes or documents you’ll need upon arrival. It’s also a good idea to keep your toiletries and a fresh set of clothes in your carry-on bag, in case your luggage is lost.
2. Make a Trip Plan
Some travel delays are unavoidable, and although you can’t be held accountable for a canceled flight, your boss or client may not be as understanding if you overslept and missed your flight. To that end, it’s important to plan your itinerary.
If you’re driving, be sure to plan your route in advance and give yourself enough time for stops along the way. If you’re driving directly to the site, account for potential traffic delays and parking.
If you’re flying (or taking the train or bus), leave for the airport ahead of schedule, in anticipation of traffic, long lines, or being held up at security. Red-eye flights are common for international travel, so if you can, book a flight that arrives the day before your important meeting to account for travel delays and jet lag.
3. Practice Punctuality
If you’re arriving at the last minute, make sure you have a plan to get where you need to be. Will you go to the hotel and freshen up before you meet clients? Or do you have to race right over to a meeting? In case you don’t have time to check in at your hotel, have a change of clothes and toiletries on hand to freshen up and ensure you make a good first impression.
When traveling from your hotel, give yourself enough time to drive, get a taxi, or walk to the site. Again, some delays are unavoidable, but planning your route in advance can prevent you from arriving late and having to start a meeting with apologies and excuses.
4. Dress like a Professional
It’s a good idea to start a packing list at least a few days before you leave so you can add items as you think of them. When picking your clothing, opt for wrinkle-free items that mix and match so you can build multiple outfits from a few pieces. This will also minimize how much you need to pack, and save you from having to check your luggage.
You can avoid wrinkles by rolling instead of folding your clothes, and packing items made of wool, cashmere, and synthetic fabrics like polyester. Use the iron provided by the hotel (if you don’t have one in your room, you can ask if the hotel offers a pressing service), then hang everything, as opposed to grabbing a rumpled outfit from your bag every day.
First impressions matter, so it’s best to dress as professionally as possible considering you’re living out of a suitcase. Even if you’re headed to a tourist destination, remember that you’re not on vacation, and stick to business or business casual attire, even for your flight (you never know when you might meet a prospective client).
5. Be a Business Etiquette Boss
Most business trips won’t take you outside of the country, but if you’re traveling to a foreign location, it’s important to brush up on local business customs. Paying attention to etiquette can go a long way toward putting everyone at ease and impressing your potential clients, and can prevent awkward encounters or embarrassing missteps.
To get you started, here are a few local business practices you should know about:
- In Japan, business cards should always be presented and accepted with both hands.
- In China, business relationships grow out of personal relationships, so it may take some time to win your clients’ trust.
- In Germany, communication in business meetings is direct, and humor is not appreciated.
- In France, it’s polite to apologize for a lack of fluency in the French language.
6. Learn the Local Dining Customs
Dining is an important part of business culture everywhere, and you’ll likely enjoy a meal or two with your international team or with prospective clients. As with local business practices, learning the local dining etiquette shows respect for the culture and reflects well on the organization you’re representing.
Here are some rules to keep in mind that are applicable in most areas of the world:
- Let your host or boss take the lead when it comes to ordering alcoholic beverages. Limit yourself to one or two drinks, even if they’re drinking copiously.
- Avoid discussing controversial subjects such as religion and politics.
- Allow the host to take care of the check without argument—simply thank them.
- Practice using utensils before you go (even holding a knife and fork is different in Europe). If you’re visiting a country that uses chopsticks, avoid placing them upright in your food, crossing them, or using them to spear food.
The Conscious Traveler
Making a good impression is always important, but when you’ve traveled a long way to serve as the face of your company, it’s crucial. Being punctual, professional, and prepared will go a long way to impressing prospective clients and partners, as well as guaranteeing further travel opportunities.
What advice do you have for business travelers?