Alright then… here’s the last entry, Part 3, in my series on my tips for international business travel. Everyone’s got their own stories and techniques so I might not be breaking any new ground here, but, it’s the Internet so who doesn’t need some more random opinions, right? There’s a Part 1 for Getting Ready and a Part 2 for En Route if you’re interested.
Just suck it up cupcake. There’s probably not a lot you can do. Tons has been written about this. Some say to manage your sleep cycles in a certain way, take this pill or that pill, use various types of blue colored light therapy, etc. etc. Any or all of these may work for you, but just realize… you’re in for some crappy times. Your circadian rhythm controls your body’s daily agenda. So the comings and goings of the sun define our days and nights. When we mess with our time zone, we’re just going to feel it one way or the other. And then there’s just the discomfort of travel in general. Maybe you’ll love catching up on some books or movies in all that in between time. But basically, even in the better seats you’re going to have hassles. You’re going to be either bugging the person on the aisle because you have to use the bathroom or you’re getting your elbows smashed by the drink cart or whatever because you’re in the aisle. You weren’t so sloppy in planning that you ended up in a middle row for 10 hours, did you? Wow. That sucks. (Done it. Hate it.)
Basically, you’re going to have interrupted sleep, (even with your fancy blow up pillow, headphones and eye mask), you’ll possibly face delays, layovers will be a hassle, etc. etc. If vitamins help you, use them. But really, you just have have the attitude to power though it. Personally, I’ve gotten off an overnight flight with huge time changes and headed straight to the office and just worked through the day before passing out solidly that evening. This will acclimate you pretty quickly. Supposedly, it takes three days for your circadian rhythm to adjust to your new time zone, pretty much no matter what you do. So try what you might to mitigate the effects, but instead of fighting it too hard, just embrace the suck for awhile. And if you can end up just exhausted by evening time at local destination, you’ll sleep and wake up in the morning. Even if you’re technically jet lagged, you’ll be acclimating to the cycle. If you get in at 3:00 PM local and you nap, you may just end up awake all night and that’s not going to help. Or, maybe you can deal with anything for a few days, but this isn’t your goal if you’re going to be someplace for a week or two or more. It’s better to get acclimated asap.
The other way I do this, by the way, is a bit childish. I’ll indulge a bit in some things like licorice or M&Ms or other things that I probably SHOULDN’T be having and that I usually don’t eat that often. But if it makes me happy on a long haul flight? Fine.
Using Maps & Getting Around
Using Google Maps in some interesting ways can be useful. Though it can be challenging in non-native languages.
- Even if you set Google to English, items on maps may be in other languages / characters.
- You can use Google Maps and street view to virtually walk down paths and get a sense of what things will look like in the places to which you may be traveling.
- When using the street view, note that various places where this is available may have been updated yesterday or years ago. If there’s local picture options, try those as well and compare them to street view. If they’re not the same, then you have a sense that something’s changed, though which is true may be in question. (Or maybe something has changed again and neither picture is true.) In any case, try to compare the pics to one another and their surroundings. This can help you find target locations as you approach them.
- Use things like physical print outs or screen captures maybe saved in Evernote or whatever. This gives you a reference when you get near your destination, which can be especially useful if you can’t read any of the signs.
- Know some boundaries. For historical reasons through the history of humanity, a lot of – maybe most – large to medium size cities are near rivers or other large bodies of water. These are a great orienteering reference points. Whether it’s a river or a mountain or a clearly identifiable structure, having those signposts can be useful. If the river is on my left and I know it runs roughly north/south and there’s the sun or moon or the main part of town, ok, I’m oriented. Just a fun side note then as well… you can kind of tell time by the sun. Every 15 degrees or so above horizon is about an hour. (360 degrees divided by 24 hours is 15 degrees.) Now, this isn’t perfect because at different places on the planet and different times of year we’re not seeing a perfect circle and where there’s mountains you could be off in terms of judging how much light you have left, but it works as a rough estimate. Why is this useful? I don’t know. Maybe it’s not. But if you’re doing something where the amount of useful daylight you have left matters, then there you go. (Of course, if your iThing is working, you can look up specifics.)
- Make your own mini metro map if you’re going to use a train or bus. That is, know the terminus points and your stop. Take a pic or write down, (in the local language even if you don’t understand the symbols), your stop and the end points on the main line you’ll be traveling. You don’t have understand the language or the writing. To you, “these are the end points and this is my desired stop.” That should be enough to tell you – when you’re at some other location – which direction to go and when to get off the ride.
- Consider having paper as a backup. Your phone my crash due to lack of battery. Or get stolen. Or whatever. By the way, you should have a back up battery pack. Personally, I use a MyCharge Adventure Plus, which works for my iPhone and iPad Mini. It gives me 3-5 top offs on my cell, which – unless I’ve been really negligent in charging – should be enough to get me through the in between places. Yes, you should be able to function in the world without your iThings. And while I’m personally perfectly capable of navigating backcountry with old fashioned map and compass, today’s reality is that our iStuff items are hugely, hugely useful tools, even when there’s no connectivity. The limiting factor often becomes the battery. Anyway, there’s tons of charging solutions out there. Some guys carry around huge bricks good for hours, but those are heavy and you want to keep your kit somewhat reasonable in terms of weight. To each their own in terms of that choice.
Whatever ride service apps you like to use, have them loaded. They are among the best ways of getting around and maybe even getting out of trouble if you need to get back to someplace safe.
- Even leaving aside the international aspects of things, ride services had already killed off some major pain points of riders. You don’t have to worry about hailing a ride, knowing – generally – when one will show up, cash, tipping etc.
- When international there are some additionally critically important benefits and potential benefits.
- If you’re in a country where the exchange rate is favorable, this may be the best reasonable and economical way to travel.
- If the street names are such that you can’t even read them, much less pronounce them, a ride app in conjunction with Google maps or whatever may be able to help. You might even be able to lookup landmarks and your hotel by name so you don’t even have to worry about street addresses.
- If your battery is low or dying, Uber – for example – will know about this. (The company that is, not the driver.) Some have claimed they’ll charge you more because they believe you may be desperate at this point. But Uber has refuted these stories as untrue. And the app itself supposedly does burn through battery pretty good. If your phone dies after calling any ride sharing service, if the driver got the request, they still should be on the way. If you’re sure the request went through, just wait there the amount of time the app said they’d get there plus a few minutes. Ideally, they’ll see the usual customer waiting around. Stay near where the original pickup dot was on the map. If you’re lucky, the driver can let you charge your phone. Just don’t leave it in the car.
- Now, it’s also possible that your driver’s phone could die as well! It would be rare bad luck to have both of these things happen at once, but it’s not inconceivable. Bottom line is if you’re waiting far past when they should have gotten you, then you’ll likely need to find another ride. Make sure to check to make sure your ride was cancelled and you don’t get charged. Similarly, if their phone dies during your ride, make sure they actually end the ride once they have a working phone again or fill out the form about a problem.
Usually even when I show up I’ve still got a handful of granola bars left. If you’re in an even average hotel there should be some kind of restaurant and room service.
- Check the menu in the room and if you don’t have one in English you may need to call to ask for one or just go downstairs and ask. When you pick up the phone and dial room service, the first thing you should probably say is “Room Service please,” so the person answering can either switch to English or find someone who can speak English or… well… you may need that translation app.
- If you’re experience is typical, you’ll likely end up having lunch with co-workers or otherwise having access to some form of lunch. Dinner may be different. Maybe you’ll go out with co-workers or business partners as part of usual business activities. But that’s likely going to fade fast. Local folks may enjoy meeting you, (or not), and maybe you’re even friends. But they have their own friends and families and lives and you will be on your own a lot. Most internationally oriented hotels have a wide range of interesting guests. There’s often plenty of people to meet at the hotel bar or in the restaurant. If you don’t feel like eating alone, do some international networking! If you don’t care, then just find any ole’ place to eat. But ask going in if they have an English menu. By the way, even if they do, the words may be a bit “off” somehow and it may still be hard to understand. You may need to just point to things. Thankfully, most numbers are just written in Roman/Arabic numeric characters so at least you’ll be able to pay the bill. (Again, make sure to have some local cash. Your credit cards might not work here even if they accept them.)
- The Market: For longer term trips there are some points when I personally just don’t want to go out to eat. And I don’t want prepared food. I want some plain fruit. Or just less processed food. So it’s off to the market. There’s a few issues here. For starters, anything in a package you can’t see into and can’t read and doesn’t have a picture is going to be a problem. Again, we have these amazing translation apps that can sometimes do a passable job of scanning and translating text. Amazing. Get one. Sometimes you can find someone who can speak a little English who can help you. Otherwise… well… you’re going to be limited. You’ll probably note that there’s plenty of places in the world that have somewhat different standards then in the U.S. Chance are you weren’t going to prepare meat in your hotel room anyway. But in plenty of places you’ll see all kinds of cuts of meat sitting out in the open air, but not refrigerated. Flies, bugs, etc., all over. This really isn’t a big deal. This is how humans did things for a long, long time. But, depending on how long it’s been there, maybe it starts to be a big deal to your delicate American intestinal situation. You’ll often find this in smaller stall based marketplaces. More and more places increasingly have larger modern supermarkets. Anyway, at checkout you should still end up with a number you can use to count out your payment. If not, when you indicate you’re a clueless foreigner, they’ll usually just hold up a calculator with a number or write down a number for you so you can pay.
- McDonalds and Starbucks. Ugh. Here’s the thing… I’m not a huge fan of McDonalds. It’s ok, but it’s not the best food, right? Every so often, I’ll just have a craving for a quarter pounder with cheese and I just have to do it though. Starbucks? Again, not a big fan. Coffee should be 50 cents or a buck or whatever. Though on occasion I’ll indulge here too. But these two venues give you something else when traveling internationally; two things actually. 1) Mostly known quantities, 2) Navigational landmarks.
- Known Stuff: Anywhere in the world I see those golden arches, I have a sense of about what I’m going to get. It might not be my first choice, but if I’m tired of “working” too hard to hunt/gather snacks in languages I either don’t understand or have only maybe Level 1 proficiency, it can just be easier to say, “Big Mac.” Yes. It’s pretty much the same as saying, “I surrender.” And you still have to sort out the money, but… well… there you go. Maybe I’m not proud of it, but I’ve done it!
- Navigation: There’s different mapping software out there, Google, Waze, etc. Doesn’t matter if you can’t read the maps. However, if you can find a known landmark, like a McDonalds, it actually becomes a beacon of sorts. If you know where your own dot is on the map, and can find the McDonalds, you have a line of position with which to orient. I was actually semi-lost once and knew kind of where my hotel was – generally – and where I was in relation to a couple of landmarks. Yes, I could have used a map app and walked 30 seconds to orient myself, but I was feeling disoriented and wanted to try this instead. Once I had the McDonalds pegged, I pulled up my compass, not a map, to orient as to direction. Then back to the map to match up the map representation with my now clearer known position and directional sense. Yeah, I know, this section was about food, so just consider this a bonus tip or something.
Trying Not to Die
Some things are obvious. If you’re in a part of the world where they drive on the left instead of the right, then you’d better look both ways before crossing the street just as always. But you’d better also have a sense to not be casually stepping out right into traffic coming from a direction you didn’t expect. Even in places like London when they have clear markings as to where to look – though not everywhere – your muscle memory may overcome this and you might step out to where you shouldn’t. It’s no different than when there’s a handle on a door and you go to pull it even though there’s a giant sign that says, ‘push.” So, be much more aware. And as to traffic laws in general. There’s plenty of places where people park or even drive a bit, on the sidewalk. You may not be used to that. Be aware.
Also, be aware there’s places where you shouldn’t be crossing anything on the surface. When there’s an overpass with stairs, it’s pretty clear this is a way to cross. But what might not be obvious is that there’s places where what appears to be an entrance to a metro/subway station is really just an underpass. (Or it could be both.) So if there’s some major roadway that does’t appear to have any clear way to cross, (no lights or crossing lines), look for underground passages.
One time, I actually rented a plane in England to fly down south with some friends. (Of course, you need to be a licensed aircraft pilot for this so this story doesn’t apply to that many folks.) Anyway, I was in a kind of older light aircraft with no GPS and one single kind of shoddy VOR beacon navigation radio. (Meaning it’s fine to fly based on pilotage and just looking at a map and the ground, but it can be a bit harder to triangulate your position with just one nav radio., etc. Easy enough to do, but… extra steps.) Anyway, the whether started getting bad towards where we were going so I turned around to head back. I’d wanted to fly over Stonehenge and do some other sightseeing, but some yellow flags were going off. I was out of my comfort zone in an under equipped aircraft over unfamiliar territory with deteriorating weather. One of my passengers who’s a long time friend happens to be a Priest. But the thing is, I really didn’t want to have use of his services during this flight. So instead, I called up their air traffic control to confirm my headings/navigation and made my way back to our departure airport.
This is not a situation you’re likely to face. The point? Trust your gut a bit if you’re feeling those yellow flags. Be aware of your surroundings and make choices accordingly. The other point is this. Walking around anywhere is typically just like walking around anywhere unless you’re someplace clearly really potentially rough. For all the crap on the news, the world is generally a safe place. And the good people of the world are generally just that; good people who will try to help you out if you ask, even if you have to play charades to try to ask your question. (Signaling “I gotta’ pee” is pretty universal as is someone laughing at you and pointing to a toilet.) Still, you’re in places with different customs, different rules, traffic laws/patterns, levels of safety and protection. While you don’t necessarily have to be hyper vigilant spring loaded every second, you should probably try to be more actively paying attention then when you’re in your home comfort zone.
That’s it for my list. And again, this is just my own little group of stuff I’ve found useful. If others have more tips, by all means, please share them along.