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International Travel for Women

Cathy Smith, DeLeo Textiles

International business travel is a reality and requirement for many in the home industries. Being a woman travelling to foreign places, often alone, does create special challenges, but being ready to face those challenges with professionalism, good humor and a sense of adventure can be a positive image for your career. A few simple hints to ease the way:

 

The Basics

 

  • Have an up-to-date passport. You just don’t know when you’ll be asked to travel internationally. Have a copy of the information pages at home and perhaps filed with your boss, assistant or someone who would have access to it while you’re traveling.
  • Research visa requirements for your destination and for layovers
  • Maintain your health, and keep stock of medications and supplies, especially over-the-counter remedies and supplements.
  • Have good luggage: professional, the right size for your travels, sturdy and easy to move without help. Multiple bags should hook together. Practice packing and moving with them!
  • Understand customs regulations that will apply to your visit
  • Become comfortable with on-line check-in and how to use the airlines’ system for seat selection, frequent flyer bonuses and special requests
  • Sign up for a Frequent Flyer program (or several) and learn how to use it to maximize rewards. Be sure to do it for hotels, too.

 

Comfort

Food

 

  • Try to explore local cuisine
  • Bring a few staples: protein bars, nuts, dried fruit and snacks
  • Convenience stores are everywhere: look at gas stations
  • Try to maintain your usual die/eating habits. Nothing worse than an upset stomach because you’re being entertained and eating more/less than you usually do

 

Drink

 

  • Usual business cautions on alcohol apply, but are even more important if you’re a woman alone on a business trip.
  • Drink bottled water, even in a “first world” country. Unfamiliar water will upset your stomach. Make sure YOU open the water bottle!
  • In less-developed countries, use ONLY bottled water for teeth brushing, ice (if you’re not sure, skip the ice!), even face cleansing
  • Stay well hydrated throughout the trip. Drink water on airplanes, and as much as possible during your visits
  • If you have your soda fix, make sure bottles/cans are sanitary. Use disinfectant wipes if necessary. Learn the local terms for your favorites! Coke is everywhere, but diet coke is “light Coke” in some locations or may not be available. Likewise, 2% or not-fat milk is often “diet milk.”

 

Clothes

 

  • Plan your wardrobe to avoid over/under packing. I bring one extra top in case of emergencies
  • Use coordinating mix and match outfits
  • Layering allows temperature control, re-use of certain basics
  • Try to find out ahead of time what the dress expectations are. Take into account where you will be each day (factory, showroom, office, travel and /or sightseeing?), your role and how you want it perceived, and local customs. Dress NOT to offend of make a political statement, be aware of footwear requirements. Your colleagues and local “agents” may be able to help with them.
  • When in doubt, dress a step up the management ladder.
  • Check weather reports for temperature and rain forecasts.
  • Always have at least one fresh business-appropriate outfit in your carry-on luggage, plus basic toiletries, change of undies and nightwear. Bags do get lost!
  • On the plane: wear comfortable but presentable clothes that can go through security without having to take off belts, jewelry, and scarves
  • Bring your brands of toiletries and basic first aid supplies. Ultimate luxury: have a set of makeup, toiletries and grooming supplies just for your luggage. You’re ready to go at a moments notice.

 

On the Plane/At the Airport

 

  • Arrive in time to avoid last-minute stress
  • Know your itinerary, how long your layovers are and plan accordingly
  • Get up and move when possible. Do leg exercises in your seat
  • Plan how you’ll spend your time. Work? Read? Movies? There’s a gadget for every need
  • Be observant: looks for signs in the airports telling you where you are, where you need to be. Key signs: Passport Control/Immigration, Customs, Security and Gates are almost always in English or universal symbols

 

Safety

 

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Cooperate with all authorities with a smile
  • Know the basics: fire safety, room security, and airplane safety
  • Pay attention to your instincts. If you’re uncomfortable, move to a safer location or well-traveled area, them figure out why you’re uncomfortable
  • Do not allow hotel desk clerks to announce your room number
  • Consider what floor of a hotel you’re secure in. higher levels usually have better views, less chance of break-in, but would require stair descent in an emergency
  • Make sure you use an up-to-date firewall, anti-virus and malware, and that you adjust settings for security. No file shares, outside network visibility!
  • Be aware that receipts may contain credit card numbers. Keep your cards in sight in restaurants, etc.

 

Professionalism

 

  • Keep you business goals in mind
  • Treating people as you would like to be treated is the best cross-cultural policy: respect, consideration and politeness
  • Do some research into cultural basics: what is considered polite, how people should be addressed, the basics of business ethics in the country you’re travelling to
  • A few worlds of the language will get you a long way; it shows you are respectful of their culture. My top five list: thank you, please (sometimes not appropriate in business setting!), good morning or greetings, yes and no. Learn to pronounce your associates’ names properly.
  • Business travel is not the time to make political or religious statement with words, clothing or attitude             
  • Women are not treated equally in many counties. Don’t try to change the culture, but do expect to be treated respectfully. If you are the one responsible for an aspect of your business, make sure you are the one this is addressed regarding it. Speak up politely if you are being bypassed for a male colleague.
  • Respect the boundaries imposed by religion or culture. If you are not welcome inside a colleagues’ office or a section of the factory, find another area to conduct your business, but do not be left out of the loop!

 

Having fun and learning while traveling

 

  • It’s an adventure. Try to lean something new all the time
  • Consider how to explore within your schedule. Can you leave the airport? Or just have a French pastry if you’re stuck in Charles De Gaulle airport.
  • Bonding while shopping: find a like-minded colleague with the companies you visit or with your travelling companions. Natives are the best guides past tourist traps.
  • Get to know people beyond their business roles. Ask about families, share your favorite interests, and ask about what you observe in their city or town. Give compliments and be appreciative.
  • Let you hosts know what interests you. Do you live history, or architecture? Let them show you what’s unique about their area
  • Being low-maintenance, low-drama is the best way to stay focused on the experience, not on your self. Whether you’re satisfied or uncomfortable, it’s a learning experience.

 

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