I pulled my trolley bag along as I walked across the airport lobby for the 5th time this month. The familiar lounge welcomed me as I waited for the final boarding call.
I handle business development and sales for Middle East and Africa at Freshworks.
My focus is on business development for the region and my team focuses on field sales. Although my team and I work out of the Chennai office, we all travel to the region very frequently.
It’s an effective model as we keep our salary costs low but get the benefit of having feet on the street. The upside or downside is that this means a lot of travel!
Usually people prefer travelling for leisure. But I’ve been business-traveling in about 70 countries and have learnt to love work travel as much as leisure travel.
Here’s how you can too.
Enjoy and embrace travel – Don’t fight it!
Let’s get something straight: Once you get rid of the glamour of Facebook posts and check ins, you’re left with flight delays, stolen wallets, language barriers, bad hotel food, and cramped economy seats.
Once while I was travelling on behalf of Freshworks, I got stuck in a middle seat on a 15-hour flight with no vegetarian food — I’m a strict vegetarian — but once I got to the city and had a few good meetings, the smile on my face returned.
I realized that this is a glass half empty/half full kind of situation. If you fight this experience, you’ll find yourself unable to enjoy it. Happiness starts with that perspective so go on, enjoy the little things.
Plan your budget properly
I think we can all agree that Ubers are easier than public transport; getting laundry done is more comfortable than being in dirty clothes or washing them yourself.
Here’s another point we can all agree on: Eating fresh food is always a better option over fast food.
To be able to pick these options, we need to plan our budget properly. If you think something doesn’t require too much money, then cut down.
This may not be everyone’s idea of travel, but I recommend it. Save your money for something that will make your trip more comfortable.
For example, I prefer cheaper flight tickets. I’ve come to understand that the right flights will save a few hundred dollars. This has been my option, ever since. Also, I’ve figured out how to love the low cost carriers – once you work with their constraints (luggage control and online check ins) – you can truly take advantage of having a great flight at very little cost.
The truisms holds true – try to eat right and get some exercise and sleep well
During business travels, a lot of our physical and mental energy is invested in meetings. It is essential to eat healthy food and get a little bit of exercise to stay sharp. The best way to do this is to find a hotel with a gym or a park nearby. Always schedule your flights and meetings in a way that you have the extra time to do this.
Try picking a healthier place over fast food outlets and pre book healthy meals on flights. Take sleep aids or plan your schedule to get the right hours — take a quick doze in the flight.
With all this in place, you’ve again got yourself a bright face!
Pack light and pack properly
A lot of us get excited when we get opportunities to travel — be it work or leisure, and tend to overpack. But trust me, it’s best to keep the essentials and important things.
Don’t carry too much stuff.
Always carry the basics like minimal clothing, footwear, electronics, toilet case with medicines
Besides, the more space you have, the more souvenirs you get to carry back!
Get organized and be efficient
Have you seen George Clooney in “Up in the Air”?
It’ll help you as you traverse the maze of airport security. You can take my word on that.
One of my biggest pet peeves while travelling is always ‘that guy’ in front of me in the line who takes 8 long minutes to empty his pockets. I have the whole routine clocked under 30 seconds. Everything is in my jacket pocket. I remove my jacket/laptop and place it on the tray and I’m good to go.
This way you’ll have more spare time for yourself.
Find friends or make new ones
For the first time, I made full use of my alumni circle from during my MBA, while traveling through Middle East and Africa, representing Freshworks.
In Nairobi, one of my classmates comes from an old business family. There is a saying that goes around in the Nairobi village – everyone knows everyone. It turns out, that one of the main prospects was my friends’ squash partner. A quick word from him smoothened my work a lot.
Business travel gives you an opportunity to use those Facebook and LinkedIn connects to meet old friends and also to connect you to new ones. I always ask people for introductions to anyone they may know in a new city or country that I am going to.
Do explore the places you go
I think the one thing that enhanced my travel experience was experiencing the culture of a new place. Try the local food, explore their cultural heritage, find something that interests you in that place (scuba, music or just anything!) Engage with the locals, be curious, and be emphatic – try to understand why things are the way they are.
How is this going to make a difference to your business trip?
It makes a difference to the people who you’re meeting and doing business with. Once they realize that you’ve made the effort to learn a few words of their local language or culture, they soften up to you a little bit.
Let me explain this a little more.
Sometime ago, I ended up in Lagos, Nigeria for an important meeting. There was a famous musician by the name Fela Kuti, had piqued my curiosity.
When my meeting started, the Executive asked, “How do you like Lagos so far?”
I slowly mentioned Fela and how I was excited to see his shrine and hear the music he created. The executive on the other side was simply floored!
What followed was a 20-minute discussion on the history and culture of Nigeria, a discourse on today’s social challenges in Lagos and the role that politics plays within it. Needless to say, the last ten minutes were spent confirming that we will indeed proceed with the business I had come to ask for.
Through all my travel experiences, I’ve realized that as much as I do enjoy a good leisure holiday, business travels appeals to me as much. I enjoy meeting people in their homelands and experiencing culture shocks on the professional front as well.
I have cited a few business travel experiences that I have had through Freshworks. Feel free to use the comments section below to share how you make your business a lot easier!