“Are you ok?” asked my wife.
“Yes, my head hurts a bit and I got sick but I’m fine”. I said. I was surprised by the question, how did she know?
“Call a doctor” she answered.
The phone rang and I woke up.
“Who is this?” I asked, my head pounding and my eyes hurting.
“It’s me, call a doctor” said my wife, urgency ringing in her voice.
“I’ will.” I answered and felt
The phone rang again, and again it was my wife, and again my head was killing me.
“You need to call a doctor urgently” she said.
The best thing I did that day was listening to her and finally calling the hotel doctor. I was in Bolivia, where altitude is about 4,200 meters or 14,000 feet and the air gets thinner. You get “altitude sickness”, which basically means that you don’t get enough oxygen and you might end with cerebral hypoxia. There’s a simple remedy to that though, and a saying to go with it.
When you get to La Paz, Bolivians tell you to “comer poquito, caminar despacito y dormir solito”, which translates into something like “eat a little, walk slowly and sleep alone” and of course it just means take it easy, your body needs time to adapt to the low oxygen scenario. If you rush or eating a lot or run when you’re not used to it, you’ll end up like me, getting sick and passing out every few minutes.
That’s what happened by the way: I would hang up the phone, pass out a little, wake up to my wife calling me again worried because I was basically well, passing out. My brain was running out of oxygen.
This is just one anecdote of a trip, which after 15 years of traveling has made it to the top 5 I always tell. There are plenty more of course, but this one has drama and I make it fun when I tell it, so it’s a good story. I wasn’t feeling so talkative back then and altitude sickness was the worst I got on a business trip so it’s not that bad considering I did travel to Bolivia for 3 years in a row and I only got this once.
The thing with business trips is that as with any other trip, anything can happen. This story was just an example. Many more things can happen and they are not all bad of course, but I know that when I started traveling on business (which is not the same as traveling on Business Class mind you), knowing what I know now would have been really useful.
In the spirits of sharing more than a story of how I got sick in Bolivia, here’s a quick list of 10 things that make my business trips go smoothly…most of the times.
1. Read / re-check your Company’s Travel & Expense Policy. Even if you’re a seasoned traveller and know exactly what you’re doing…those documents can change from one year to the next. Your daily limit for meals may vary, or you might need to get an extra approval to rent a car, or the prince range for hotels might have varied. If there’s a document, you want to read it and you can take it with you, do it. It will help you spend only what you should when on a business trip.
2. Check your travel documents and credit cards before leaving home. I figured let’s start with a basic one. It does become more relevant if you’re traveling abroad. I’ve learnt that sometimes the passport + visa is not enough. Some countries require that you have a formal letter of a local company inviting you into the country. Same goes with credit cards: most banks will need you to inform them that you’re traveling abroad, else they might block your card for “security reasons”.
3. Pay special attention to whatever Corporate credit card (CCC) you have.
I wrote an article about CCCs on my blog, check it out here. Now, why should you pay special attention to it? Mostly because if you did get one of those, the Company you work will require that you pay most of your business expenses with that card, which is by the way your responsibility. Call the CC company at least 1 week before traveling if you can. Check for current and due balance. Make certain they know you’ll be abroad and even ask them if the card is ok to be used. This extra-simple question will give you some extra peace of mind, trust me.
4. Separate personal expenses from business expenses. Simply put, don’t use the Company’s card to pay for anything that’s outside your company’s Travel & Expense policy. Don’t buy souvenirs for your family with the card. Don’t pay for drinks if the policy doesn’t allow it. Do not play the “corporate tycoon” with the company’s finance, so no expensive gifts for anyone and no city tours with that card. Use your common sense, always. And remember: save all your receipts.
5. You’re not just representing your Company, but also your culture. As my experience has been mostly traveling abroad, I can’t stress enough how important it is that you behave as an employee to the Company that hired you while conducting business but also as a representative of your culture. All you need to do is be aware of that. Giving the wrong impression can be fatal for business, and presenting yourself in a poor manner can only be bad for your culture. You don’t want be the cause for what your countrymen and women are called something nasty.
6. Your Company covers your back, but it doesn’t mean you can incur in anything fishy. Easily put: when you travel away representing your Company, you are covered by whatever insurance company yours is using. That insurance is meant to help both you and your employer if anything should happen while you’re away. As what happened to me in Bolivia, my health-related expenses on that trip were covered by the company’s insurance. On another trip when my luggage was lost, the insurance granted me 300 bucks to go buy some clothes. You can only use these insurances for whatever cases described on the travel insurance policy your Company has taken. If you don’t know the details, you can always get them from your HR or corporate travel people.
7. Take good care of yourself, always.I am allergic to fish, shellfish and anything that comes from the water other than pasta and vegetables. I am also kind of picky with what I eat, and of course I do try to look my best. Food is important and of course physical activity is, unless you just don’t care a lot, which is also fine. My point here is do not change your routine a lot when traveling. If you don’t eat sushi at home, it might not be the best idea to eat it when on a business trip unless you don’t eat it at home because it’s awful and you’re traveling to a city where it is. If you’re not a runner, don’t go out for a morning jog, you’ll end up all cramped up. When on a business trip you need to be 110% alert and functional, so don’t risk it.
8. Always have a plan B, for everything related to the trip. No easy way to put this, so bare with me: any number of things can go wrong when you’re traveling. Sometimes they all do go wrong, all together and when they do, chaos breaks lose. I felt asleep when visiting a customer due to delayed flights and no sleeping at all in planes. It also got way colder than I had anticipated and I had no warm clothes. Then I had to speak at a public event, and I was so sleepy my speech was slurry and my metaphors didn’t make any sense. Of course when I got to the hotel it was raining and I had no umbrella. Some of those you can’t plan for, but some others can, like trying to post-pone a meeting, or asking someone to step-up for me in the public event. Always be prepared.
9. Learn how to pack. It doesn’t seem as much of a Corporate advice, but it can impact your business travel. If you’re attending corporate events, the dress code usually is “business casual”. If you’re visiting customers, then you need to take your “customer facing” clothes (that usually means at least one 2-piece suit for me, a few shirts, couple of ties, socks, belt and shoes matching), or if you’re going to a public even as a speaker then you need to get whatever’s correct by corporate standards to represent your Company. My point is that you don’t just throw stuff in your bag, or you might end up not using most of it because they are just not right for whatever business purposes you have, or you might end up spending your own money on new proper clothes, and who likes spending money that way right?
10. Always take a spare change of clothes with you if possible. As in, don’t always depend on your luggage. I always have a fresh pair of socks and underwear with me just in case my luggage is lost or delayed. I have to give my wife the credit for that, I always thought it was silly until some airline lost my bag and I was stuck with the same clothes longer than I had wished for. That’s also called being prepared by the way, and it’s something you’ll learn as you travel more and more. If you don’t travel that much, just be aware that sometimes being prepared only means that, being prepared. If you didn’t bring an extra pair of socks…be prepared to go out and buy some.
I’m sure there are a lot more but I thought I’d start with these. Some are real simple, some are a bit more elaborate but they are all meant for one thing: to help you a bit before your next business trip. Feel free to add your own!