I've spent the past 15 years working in regional and global roles at Autodesk. Toward the end of my last job, I was traveling half the time. Traveling for business may seem glamorous, but when you're spending half your time away, it turns out to be less so. That said, I'm excited to share a few tips on making the most out of your business trips.
1. Believe in Yourself
: This is the most important. Your company specifically chose you to go on this business trip, which is a testament to your talent. Having deep knowledge and a strong belief in your own skills is the foundation of not only a great business trip, but also a great career. Know what you're undeniably good at, and own it . . . because sucking at your job is hard to fix, while learning a new culture while traveling is fixable. Maybe you're intimidated or feel unprepared since you're not familiar with the way business is conducted at your destination. You can help yourself by doing some advance research and calls with the local teams. Have a clear picture of what success will look like for the trip, and the key information you will acquire on the ground. Above all, believe in your abilities.
2. Establish Your Own Rituals and Routines
: In the early days, when I landed in a foreign place, I got hit quickly with information and sensory overload. At times, that left me feeling unsettled. Doing some of the same things I did back home helped keep me grounded. This applied whether I was on a one-off trip to a new city or visiting the same city frequently. For example, when I first started flying from home in Singapore to work in San Francisco, I'd workout in the hotel room or the hotel gym. Back home I only did group exercise classes. The contrast of hotel workouts felt isolating. The solution: I signed up to a yoga studio near the SF office and ended up there often enough that the instructors knew my name. It made me feel like part of a community to walk in and hear, "Welcome back Roohi, how's Singapore?". My other ritual is finding a Starbucks wherever I can. Say what you want about their coffee, but it can be grounding to walk into a place that looks and feels consistent around the world. This lets me go into autopilot as I place my order and take a coffee break. Think about what rituals and routines you can establish at your destinations. These small travel habits can have a big impact on your mental space, energy levels, and success.
3. BYO snacks
: The thing I love most about travelling is that I get to experience and learn a million new things. What's not great is when my body thinks it's still in our home time zone. Inevitably, I'll get hungry at weird hours like 3 a.m. in Tokyo, when there's no more room service. Bringing my own snacks is easy and overcomes the inconvenience of jetlagged hunger. If you have food allergies, bringing your own snacks also helps you avoid standing at that 24/7 convenience store at 3 a.m., worrying about ingredients listed in a language you can't read. I travel with the same protein bars I eat at home, since I can bring them through customs into most countries.
4. Invest in a cultural trainer
: If you'll be traveling frequently to countries you're not familiar with, get a cultural trainer. Large companies often offer one-on-one training, and if that's not available, explore on-demand training in-house and that you can pay for externally. I had a cultural trainer when I first moved from Canada to Singapore. My role was a new Asia Pacific one spanning 13 countries, and I only had superficial knowledge of the region. Although I minored in international business in undergrad, it paled in comparison to the in-depth corporate cultural knowledge I gained from the trainer. He was also a great resource to help "decode" situations that left me scratching my head. For example, I learned the right time and place to be direct in meetings in Japan, adjusting my behavior to local norms. Before that, I had only known that "the meeting after the meeting" was largely frowned upon in corporate America. Now I understand that in Japan there's often a "meeting after the meeting" and it's usually expected and appropriate.
5. Hire a good interpreter
: We've all seen comedies where the interpreter makes or breaks their client. Don't let an interpreter, or lack thereof, break you. Find out if the people you're meeting are truly fluent in your language, or if it's better to have an interpreter. Look into hiring an interpreter who regularly works with your company. Chances are, they'll understand your business and company-specific jargon. Make time to meet with the interpreter beforehand, whether you'll be giving prepared or unprepared remarks. Work with the interpreter to provide insight on your personality, to get an understanding of their preferred pacing, and to review your script, materials, key topics, etc.
I learned these tips from personal experience and wished someone had shared them with me before I became a road warrior. I hope what I've shared will help you shine even brighter. Cheers to being your best self, no matter where you are in the world.
Roohi Saeed is head of communications at Autodesk. She has 20 years of experience in technology communications. She has lived in six countries and recently relocated from Singapore to San Francisco. Roohi has a Bachelor of Commerce in marketing and international business, and an MBA in strategic management from McGill University. Find her on LinkedIn.
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