Taking your business global can translate into lots of travel. Unfortunately, braving long lines at the airport, chasing lost luggage and enduring bland in-flight meals are only half the challenge. There are foreign languages and customs that must be understood before your new partners sign on the dotted line--never mind all the paperwork worries: passports, visas and other documents you need in order to do business in a foreign land.
How do you keep your head when you're on the road? Here are 15 tips:
1. Avoid hot spots. They're everywhere you don't want to be. "Know which cities are safe to walk around in at night," advises Atlanta media consultant and business traveler James Caruso. Check with the government's Consular Information Sheets and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to steer clear of any dangerous areas.
- Insider tip: Private organizations such as Kroll Associates (800-824-7502) also offer reports on global hot spots.
2. Know your airlines. Code-sharing can confuse even the most seasoned travelers. This is when your ticket is issued through one carrier, but the flight is shared with another carrier, and may even use the other airline's plane. This usually doesn't make a lot of difference unless you're counting on a particular service or amenity. For example, you might pack a power adaptor that fits the outlets on a U.S. carrier but end up on its European code-share partner without the correct plug. Or, if you're counting on a favorite meal on a particular flight, you might have to go without.
Another downside to code-sharing is that sometimes there are dramatic price differences between tickets for the same flight. Terry Trippler, a consumer advocate with 1travel.com, a bargain travel Web site, found that for one particular flight, a ticket that cost $1,050 if you bought it through Continental was just $209 if you bought it through code-share partner Northwest.
- Insider tip: 1travel.com ( http://www.1travel.com ) gives you the lowdown on airline rules and regulations.
3. Phone home first. Rent a cell phone before you leave. Depending on which country you're traveling to, using a rented cell phone is probably less expensive than using the phones at your hotel. Checking with an expert before you leave will also ensure you'll have the right cellular for the country you're in.
- Insider tip: Most of Europe and Asia is on the GSM (global system for mobile communications) network, and their phones operate on a frequency that is incompatible with the majority of U.S. mobile phones.
4. Use the Web. The Internet is an excellent resource for business intelligence. Whether it's a pre-trip briefing using financial data from a service such as Dow Jones Interactive or a random Internet search for the best restaurants in an international city, logging on beforehand can help prevent problems. "You'll know what to do before you get there," says Malcolm Kaufman, president of online business travel service http://www.ontheroad.com The Internet is also a must-have tool for making lightning-fast airline, hotel and car rental bookings when your travel agent is unavailable.
- Insider tip: Web sites such as TheTrip.com ( http://www.thetrip.com ) can even help you track a flight.
5. Brush up on the language. New programs can help you learn to speak like a native. Berlitz Passport to 31 Languages, a CD-ROM tutorial that helps you grasp the essential elements of 31 major languages, is a great crash course. With the help of a microphone plugged in to your PC, the multi-CD set compares your speech to that of a native and lets you hone your pronunciation until you sound like you fit in. The set costs about $30.
- Insider tip: For more in-depth language study, Berlitz also offers CDs that teach you a single language.
6. Hedge your bets. Offset the risks of travel with adequate insurance. Traveling may be expensive, but insurance to protect you and your business in case you get sick on the road generally isn't. Figure on spending about $100 per year for the most comprehensive coverage. "People often don't buy insurance, and then they get hit with a large bill--anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000--if they need to be airlifted out of a country and brought back to the United States for medical attention," says Jeffrey G. Jones, director of the Traveler's Health Center at St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Indianapolis.
- Insider tip: Insuring your entire company or family is often cheaper than buying coverage for an individual.
7. Get your shots. This will keep you from getting sick on the road and having to use that travelers' insurance. Researching a country's endemic diseases is extremely important, says Bruce Taylor, manager of clinical services for online pharmacist Soma.com. "Because certain immunizations require more than one dosage to ensure effectiveness, travelers should allow at least 30 days before their trip to secure all necessary shots or medications."
- Insider tip: If you've never been a frequent flier, it's a good idea to see your doctor for a checkup, even if you're traveling to a well-developed country.
8. Pack like a pro. If you're going to live out of your suitcase, at least make it livable. Buy a durable carry-on bag, and invest in industrial-strength luggage. Never put all your important travel documents in a single bag; spread the risk among all your luggage. Bob Morgan, a professor emeritus at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, and a seasoned business traveler, suggests folding shirts and blouses into gallon-size freezer bags. "They won't get as wrinkled as they would be if you just folded them and put them in your suitcase," he says.
- Insider tip: Stuff your socks in your shoes. It conserves space.
9. Stay sane on the plane. Don't board a flight without the following items: a carry-on bag packed with a sleeping mask, earplugs, saline solution (if you wear contact lenses), moisturizer, lip balm, pain reliever, bottled water, a snack and, of course, something to keep you busy (a book or paperwork). Cabin air is bone dry, so above all, don't leave out the liquids, warns Ron Welding of the Air Transport Association. "Drink lots of fluids," he advises. "And stay away from caffeine and alcohol." They both dehydrate you.
- Insider tip: Try noise-canceling headphones. They really work.
10. Behave. International airlines are cracking down on passengers who misbehave. Virgin Atlantic Airways chairman Richard Branson has supported a plan to blacklist potentially dangerous "air rage" passengers from flights, and Vereinigung Cockpit E.V., the German pilots' association, recently suggested parceling out nicotine gum to smokers who get cut off from their cigarettes. The group also wants to limit the number of alcoholic drinks served to passengers.
- Insider tip: Book a seat next to the bulkhead, where there's less chance of an in-flight incident.
11. Get connected. Don't suffer without e-mail while you're on the road. A few years ago, you could afford to take a break from your inbox but no longer. The Europe Access Pack from 1-800-Batteries all but guarantees you'll make a connection. The package includes 20 telephone adaptors and six grounded power adaptors, plus an in-line telephone coupler, a modular dual telephone adaptor, a two-line adaptor and an RJ11 retractable phone cable. Use them anywhere from Austria to Russia. The whole kit costs $230.
- Insider tip: Too thrifty to buy the package? Pack a screwdriver and make the connections yourself. (You'll want to practice before you leave.)
12. Stay connected. Make sure your laptop remains in peak condition during your trip. Symantec's Mobile Essentials 2.0, for instance, is a nifty application that helps you connect to the Internet while you're away from the office. It handles complex and time-consuming tasks, such as troubleshooting, with ease and reduces your setup time significantly. At a cost of about $70, the current release will probably save you lots of headaches.
- Insider tip: A little know-how will make these kinds of programs unnecessary. However, if time is short, they're indispensable.
13. Remember your ATM card. Accepted in nearly every major international city, ATM cards are safer than carrying cash and less cumbersome than travelers' checks. "Using credit cards or ATM cards also helps you avoid the sky-high commissions banks charge to exchange your currency," says Paolo Mantegazza, president and CEO of tour operator Globus & Cosmos. In addition, he notes, ATM cards can help save you money by securing that day's exchange rate and allowing you to withdraw exactly the currency you need.
- Insider tip: Your bank can furnish you with a list of locations where your ATM card will be accepted.
14. Don't worry about the euro. You won't notice much of a change--for now. Travelers heading to Europe shouldn't give a second thought to the new currency being used in paperless transactions. "While the euro will mean significant changes in Europe, for business travelers using [credit] cards, it'll be business as usual," assures Mike Sherman of Visa International. He says his company's payment system has been handling euro transactions since January. For all intents and purposes, he says, the process of paying in euros on a credit card is now seamless.
- Insider tip: Euro notes and coins won't be in circulation until 2002.
15. Don't forget the chambers of commerce. There are 85 U.S. Chambers of Commerce around the world that can help make your international trips successful. "The chambers of commerce offer a number of insights and services for companies that want to go global," says John Howard of the U.S. Chambers of Commerce. The chambers will help a U.S. business owner get settled in his or her new country and give start-ups advice on everything from customs to the business climate. Call (800) 649-9719 for more information.
- Insider tip: A U.S. Chamber of Commerce is often an entrepreneur's first contact in a foreign city. The community of expatriates found there often becomes a de facto social club for travelers.
Christopher Elliott is an Orlando, Fla., writer and independent producer who specializes in technology, travel and mobile computing. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and online. You can find out more about him on his website or sign up for his free weekly newsletter.