The Business Rusch: International Travel Tips Part One
The Business Rusch: International Travel Tips Part One
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Initially, I thought of doing this topic as a separate post, part of the travel writing I did while in Germany. But then I realized that I left travel out of the Freelancer’s Guide (more or less), and I figured I needed to spend some time here, particularly after receiving a donation from a reader who is leaving for an overseas trip later this week. (Thanks and have a great trip!)
I used to travel a lot for business, mostly within the United States. In the mid-1990s, my husband Dean Wesley Smith and I spent traveled 26 weeks out of 52, which is just plain excessive. Travel has changed a lot since then—particularly airline travel—and I’m not going to call on those experiences to write this column.
I also don’t travel overseas as much as a lot of business travelers. Shortly after I had arrived at the San Francisco International Airport last Tuesday, I overheard the guy behind me on his cell phone. He said,
“I’m already in San Francisco. If you need me to go to Asia for a few days, then it’s not big deal from here.”
Okay. To me, Asia for a few days is a big deal. And it’s not a short trip from San Francisco, unless you’re a major traveler like this guy clearly was.
This column—and next week’s—are not for guys like that.
Instead, this is for people who haven’t traveled a lot overseas, or who plan to spend a lot of time in one place. I tend to do immersion travel, meaning I like to be part of the culture, if only for a brief moment of time, so I don’t have a guide, although I usually have a destination. Some of this has to do with my writing—I write better about places after having visited them, seen them, and thought about them. A lot of it is just me, however, and the fact that I prefer to see things on my own rather than have someone yammer at me about the “historical significance” of what I’m seeing.
So, some of this column will be how to travel like me. Even if you don’t want to do it my way, however, scroll through, and look for some of the other tips, things your guidebook might not tell you or you don’t know unless you’ve done this kind of travel a few times.
Before You Leave
I think you make some of the most crucial decisions about your trip long before you ever leave the comfort of your home. You pick your destinations, you book your flights, you figure out how you want to travel. If you join a tour group or go on a cruise ship, a lot of this early stuff will be sent to you in the form of a list. Pay attention to that list! It’s critical, because if you miss items, your trip will be cut short or it won’t happen at all.
The Day You Decide To Take The Trip:
When you know you’re going on the trip for certain, do these things:
1. Check Your Passport. Find it. Make sure it hasn’t expired. If you don’t have a passport, go to the U.S. Government website, travel.state.gov, and look at the information for ordering a passport. Getting a passport can take weeks, sometimes months. You’ll pay extra to expedite a passport, and sometimes that won’t come through before you leave. So do this critical step now.
2. While You’re On That Website…check to make sure there are no restrictions for the country you’re traveling to. Because we live in a dangerous world, there are always warnings about places being unsafe for Americans. Heed those warnings. If the government put it on the website, that means that Americans have run into trouble there. Make sure you’re not one of them.
3. Look Up The Health Regulations. It may be a small world, but you might not have been exposed to certain diseases because they don’t live in this country any more (like malaria) or they never have made it over here. To go to certain countries in the world, you’ll need immunization. Some of the shots take weeks to be effective, so look up this information now.
Also, look up the health insurance information. Some countries do not honor American health insurance. You must pay cash for treatment. Or you need special travel medical insurance. Your insurance company will reimburse you, even if you don’t have the travel medical insurance, but you don’t want to put out $40-50K for an emergency procedure because you’re in another country. If you need special insurance, order it now.
4. Buy Reputable Guidebooks—and Read Them. Don’t just rely on online sites. I have found a lot of misinformation about places I’m going to visit online. Fodors and Frommers have a reputation to maintain, so they vet their guidebooks. In each book is information about the country: weather, currency, the emergency telephone number (it’s not 911 in other countries), where you can get an aspirin, and what hours you can buy beer. This is valuable stuff.
Most guidebooks shy away from unpleasant information—they want you to travel to the country, not stay away from it—so if unpleasant information is in the guidebook, then there’s a significant problem.
For example, all of the guidebooks I purchased on Rome warned about pickpockets. Theft—and particularly pickpockets—are problems in every country if you end up in the wrong neighborhood (including in the U.S.), but the problem is particularly acute in Rome, so bad that the guidebooks not only mention pickpockets but how to avoid them.
I went into Rome with extra precautions—a small purse that’s tough to cut off my shoulder, a hidden pocket for my passport, an extra credit card, and some cash (I did not wear the one that they give you for around the neck—again, easy to cut off), and lots of real pockets on my clothes, where I would stash some extra Euros.
I did get pick-pocketed on that trip—not in Rome, but in Paris—and the robber got away with…crumpled up Kleenex from the outside pockets of my sweater. That, and a very sore belly because I felt her brush against me from behind more than once, and I always slam my elbow as hard as I can backwards into anyone who pushes up against me without apologizing. (That’s from a women’s self-defense course I took in the 1970s. It prevents sexual assault—and stops pickpockets. I learned in that course—and it’s proven true throughout my lifetime—if you’re a difficult mark, criminals move from you to an easier target.)
If a guidebook warns you about trouble, expect and plan for that trouble. But don’t cancel your trip. Anywhere you go—even down the street to your neighborhood grocery—can be dangerous. Just make sure you’ve thought the situation through before you travel, so you’re prepared.
Before You Book Your Plane Flight
1. Research. Don’t just research the plane flight. Figure out where you want to travel to.
For example, when I got invited to the convention in Leipzig, I knew I wanted to spend some time seeing Germany. I also knew that my travel time was limited.
I have several writing projects that I want to write about Germany. Two (maybe more) are set in Berlin. Three books are set in Munich. Then there’s the Nuremberg project. I hadn’t given Leipzig any thought—that was just where I was going for the convention itself. (Now there will be books/stories inspired by that.)
Because I’ve traveled in Europe before, I knew I wanted to take a train to my second city. So that was a given. But which city?
Logically, you’d think I’d chose Berlin. It was close—about 1.5 hours by rail—and it had a lot of things to see. Too many. I was restricted to three days in that second city, maybe four if I could manage it, and that included travel time. There was simply too much to see in Berlin for such a short trip—things I needed to see for my research.
Plus, Berlin is the most expensive city in Germany. Hotels cost twice the price of everywhere else for a comparable room. Public transportation, which exists in all European cities, looked like it would eat up a lot of my time as well.
I couldn’t do the research I wanted in the time allowed. I would end up frustrated, and I would need a second trip to finish the research.
So I ruled out Berlin.
Munich seemed more manageable, but again, time factored in. This time, it was the train ride. Munich was a six-hour train ride from Leipzig, if everything went as planned. That was nearly two full days on the train, which I simply did not have. I wouldn’t have been able to see everything I wanted, and I didn’t need to spend that much time on the train. I could have flown there, I suppose, but that left me in the hands of the airlines. (And we know how well that turned out.)
Besides, I was traveling near the beginning of Oktoberfest, and Munich is a prime destination for it. Tourists—the obnoxious kind—would have been everywhere.
A festival started in Nuremberg on the Thursday of my travel week, but there were still hotel rooms available, and at good prices. The train ride, on the express, was only three hours, which allowed me time to sightsee even on the days I traveled. Besides, I had a shorter list of things I needed to see in Nuremberg than in any of the other cities.
It got me out of Leipzig for a few days, got me on a train (yay!), and allowed me to see another part of Germany without frustrating me. I still wanted to see more after being there, and I missed some major things, but I didn’t feel like I had just started when it came time to leave.
In short, I researched the places I considered going to see if they were what I wanted. I also researched hotels and prices, as well as timing. I could have rented a car, I suppose, but driving on the Autobahn scares the crap out of me, so I didn’t even consider that option.
Don’t assume that just because you can drive you should drive. Remember the road signs will be in another language, and the customs are different. There are no speed limits in Germany—anywhere, or so they tell me—but certainly not on the Autobahn. My hair is significantly whiter than it was before I left just because of my one trip on that freeway. I can’t imagine trying to drive on it.
2. Investigate deals. The timing of my trip was dictated by the science fiction convention. Yours might be dictated by other business. But if it isn’t, then look for hotel/travel packages or the off-season. Do remember the off-season is an off-season for a reason, probably weather, which might be bad. So keep that in mind.
3. Look at more than one plane flight. People never do this, and I don’t understand it. Or they go by price.
I go by number of connections. The more connections, the greater chance of not getting to my destination.
Because I booked during the volcano crisis of the spring (again, dictated by convention timing), most of the flights over the pole were canceled, even in faraway September. So I had to connect from the East Coast. Normally, I would have spent the night on the East Coast before going to Germany—and would have, if I could have found a good connection through New York, where I could have done business. But I kept getting sent to Philadelphia (even if I flew out of New York), and I figured that I might as well go all the way through in one long day of travel. It worked out okay, even with the unexpected layover on the way home, but it wasn’t the best choice on my part.
I have no idea why I left myself with a two-hour layover in Philly on the way home. I know better. It might have been my only option, and I know that on the return trip, I’m hankering for home.
I won’t do that again.
How to Book Your Plane Flight
Price is not your only consideration. It should be a consideration, but it’s of less importance than these things, which will add to both your stress and the cost of your trip if you don’t plan for them:
1. Enough time to make your connections. Do not have an hour between flights. In the modern era, that’s just plain unrealistic. Chances are you will miss that connection, and then you’ll be stranded somewhere. (This goes for domestic flights as well as international ones.)
2. Plan for Trouble at Passport Control or in Customs. I haven’t had a problem going into the European Union, but on the way into Canada once, Dean joked with the passport guy and got us sent to Canadian Hell. We were in some bureaucratic nightmare with some poor other guy for two hours while we waited for an employee just to show up. And we were locked in. If we had had a connecting flight, we would have missed it. Fortunately, we were at our destination. We just couldn’t escape the bureaucracy until some little bureaucrat showed up, asked a few questions, rolled his eyes at the guy in Passport Control, and stamped our passports, setting us free.
3. Give Yourself at least Three Hours Between Flights When Returning to the U.S. or Going into Canada. Here’s what you have to do in the U.S. and Canada. You get off the plane. You go to passport control, answer some questions (and only those questions. Do not volunteer, do not make some polite or jokey comment like Dean did).
Then you go to baggage claim and wait for your bags to arrive. You all know how long that can take. Plus you need to assume that your bags did not get onto the plane, and you’ll need time to deal with both customs and the baggage people if that happens. You don’t want to miss your flight.
In Philly baggage claim was fairly efficient. I got my bags twenty minutes after the flight landed. The last time I went through Chicago, it took an hour. So plan for that.
Then you must haul your bags to customs and stand in yet another line. The customs official might just rubberstamp you and send you through, like he did with me in Philly.
He might want to search your carry-on. He might want to search your other bags. This will take time. At Heathrow once, I watched the officials search a very handsome man traveling with a U.S. passport. The customs officials searched his bags—all of them—and then made him take off his jacket, his shirt, and his shoes. I have no idea what they were looking for; they eventually let him get dressed, and left him alone to repack, which looked like a hell of a chore. Assume something like this will happen to you for some unknown reason, and plan the time.
After you go through customs, you drop off the checked bags at a designated site. Then you must go through security again. That means all the stuff you normally do before getting on a plane these days—let them look through your carry-on, taking off your shoes, walking through the metal detector—all of that will happen again. And if the security line is slow, like mine was in Philly (ten minutes from the moment I put my laptop in the bucket to be x-rayed, not counting the twenty minutes in the actual line), you’re screwed if you have a short connection.
The fact that I managed—even with the President delaying our flight an hour—to arrive four minutes after the gate closed was pure luck. I had no trouble at any of those spots, just the normal delays.
But if my bags hadn’t arrived or if I had to strip for the customs agent or if I got sent to some other part of Passport Control, I would have missed my flight as well.
Three hours should see you through, even with other problems. Add that in.
4. Do What You Can To Make Your Flights Comfortable. Business Class or First Class if you can afford it. Seriously. You’ll be on that plane for hours. The more comfortable you can make yourself, the better.
I am small enough to fit comfortably in coach most of the time. What gets me on the long flights isn’t the seats, it’s the confinement. So I insist on aisle seats. I can get up and walk around a lot, which I do. I double-check those aisle seats when the tickets get issued, and then in the week before the trip. That’s important to me. If I get squeezed against a window, I’ll be in hell. I even take a middle before I take window.
Know what you need and then book it right away. Don’t assume you can do it at the airport.
5. Check the airline regulations. My airline changed all the rules on me over the summer. They reserved the right to take away carry-ons, if you boarded the plane last. (You could have one small carry-on under the seat.) They charged even more for checked luggage than they had when I booked the flight. They canceled the meal on the domestic flight, but offered food for sale with a credit or debit card only. None of this was in existence when I booked the flight. But I checked the week before, and was prepared, if unhappy about it.
5. Build in time for travel trouble. If you need to be at a conference on Friday, like I did, make sure you arrive on Thursday at the latest. If you miss one connection, you’ll miss the reason for the entire trip.
Right now, airline travel is so arduous and so terrible that you have to assume you will miss connections and that your flights will be late. You must have enough money so that you can survive in the airport for a day or two. You also need to be flexible. I spent $50 to fly standby on my last flight home (San Francisco to Portland) because the flights were all running late at SFO, and I figured my 5 p.m. flight might not make it to Portland. When I arrived in Portland, at 4 in the afternoon, the arrival time for my former flight was 9 p.m., instead of the 6:30 that I had hoped for. This on a sunny day with no bad weather anywhere in the nation. That $50 was well spent.
There’s still more to do before you leave, and I’ll get to that next week. Some of it is common sense, some learned through hard experience.
If you’ve got tips to share about the above topics, please do. I know many of you who read this blog have traveled more than I have, and have either good tips (or horror stories) to add. So feel free.
I’ve added the donate button below. If this series on travel or on the discussion of business helps you in any way, please put a small tip in my donate jar. I’ll keep doing the blog as long as I get paid for it. Donations on this new blog have been uneven—a bunch at the beginning and only a few on the last few posts. So if you’d like me to continue, please add a few dollars to the jar.
“The Business Rusch: International Travel Tips Part One” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
One thing I found out from a musician’s blog. Call ahead to the custom’s office. A Seattle band was scheduled to play in Canada one night, but didn’t know they needed permits and that they needed to file for them 24 hours IN ADVANCE. So they had to cancel their show.
Great point, Amanda. Wouldn’t have thought of that at all. And calling ahead is just so…sensible.
Again I’m late to the post (what, was I at a workshop recently or something? lol) but I wanted to add in a few cents, having traveled overseas quite a bit and having lived in the third world during my youth.
An additional consideration for those renting a car in another country – not only may the driving laws and conventions be different, but the entire system of navigating may be different. We rented a car in the late 90s in Germany and drove the autobahn (yes, my gray hairs are from that trip…my husband drove and I was navigator.) While in the U.S. I’m accustomed to directing him by giving a highway name and cardinal direction (I-90N to 294S…) or by exit number and additional street name or street number (exit #7 onto Greenbay, or exit at 90S.) In Germany, the exits and other roads were labeled with what city or town the road would take you towards. They seemed unaware of the fact that sometimes we needed to pass through four towns to get to our end destination, thus I had to know not only the destination, but also the other towns we’d pass through on the way.
And all this while traveling at a speed just south of breaking the sound barrier. (Do I even need to mention how in my role as navigator I found an AWFUL lot of side-roads and small towns we needed to pass through instead of taking the more direct route on the autobahn? lol)
If you’re unable to get by in the local language, ask at restaurants for an english menu (or in Asia, a picture menu.) Most restaurants have one. Try to get by in the local language if you can, but fall back on English. Locals *really* appreciate that you don’t just assume they can speak English, and in most cases once people figured out we didn’t speak their language, they’d be eager to try out their english skills on us.
We had one situation at a restaurant in Baden Baden, German, where we were trying to puzzle out the menu options but failing. We had forgotten the guide book with the good German/English dictionary back at the hotel, but it was close so one of us went back for it while the other stayed at our table. A few minutes after the book-getter returned (I think it was me but I don’t recall) – a young woman from the table next to us leaned over, asked us if we spoke English, then let us know that the restaurant had an English menu. She and her tablemates proceeded to give us VERY good recommendations on what to try. It reminded us that a lot of times it’s just a matter of making the effort to understand that helps. Similar to comments from other posters about being kind to those in service positions, being aware that not everyone speaks English and being willing to try to hobble along in an unfamiliar language earns you points with most locals.
Some countries, I remember this particularly in the Czech Republic, don’t have any expectation that a foreigner will speak their language since it isn’t as commonly spoken as say French or German. There, instead of trying to learn how to get by, we focused on getting the pronunciation of please and thank you down pat, so we could thank everyone. It always brought a smile to the face of the person we thanked.
People in other countries walk a LOT more than we do in the U.S. However, they don’t generally do it in gym shoes. If you’d like to blend in, try to find a really comfortable pair of “regular” shoes that you can wear with your casual pants or jeans. Also note, people in other countries do not wear jeans as the casual uniform we do in the States. If you don’t want to stick out as an American, consider bringing other pants (and for women, medium to long skirts – depending on where you’re traveling.)
As Kris mentions, keep your money on you and close to your body. A money belt can work fine under clothes (when backpacking through Europe one hot summer, I would put all the money and passports/other docs in a ziploc bag first, so they wouldn’t get damp from sweat.) But also these days realize that you can often get a better exchange rate by using your credit card – check the rules before you go, you don’t want to be incurring fines for using your card outside its designated boundaries.
Another aspect of not being a target is to develop a habit of always resting your hand on your bag, not letting it flop along behind or beside you while you’re distracted with other things. Keep it pared down so it doesn’t look like a juicy over-stuffed target. And never, simply NEVER (no matter where you are in the world – this applies to Topeka just as much as Taipei) set your purse or bag down and walk away, nor hang a bag on the back of your chair at a restaurant. Not smart.
When we travel internationally, I try to have an anchor hotel for the beginning and end of the trip booked in advance, but I like leaving the middle open. We have found some of the most wonderful places to stay as a result. A small inn in the town of Doolin, Ireland just north of the Cliffs of Moher (and south of Galway.) We hadn’t planned to stay in the area, but we found it breathtaking and it was late by the time we left the cliffs. We asked at the tourist stand there, and were pointed to a town about 7km north. We stopped in at an inn that had a sign out and found a wonderful bed and breakfast at an unbelievably low rate. We walked into town and ate a great dinner at a pub, listened to some locals play music, and in the morning we had a fabulous home-cooked breakfast.
Being flexible about the places we stayed meant that when we got to one town that had been on our “must see” list and realized it wasn’t a place we wanted to spend more time in, we could drive farther and find another town and another B&B. When the one I had selected from our guidebook was full, we asked for their recommendation for another and stayed a bit up the road at what I think ended up being a MUCH nicer place!
Read up on local customs as much as you can. In Asia in some locations being “on time” means being at least an hour late. In some locations, leaving a bit of food left on your plate shows the host or waiter the food was so delicious you were stuffed to the gills and couldn’t even finish it, whereas in the U.S. we’d think you might not have liked it because you left some (the clean plate club and all…)
Ask at the hotel concierge desk or the innkeeper when you need an idea for a restaurant or directions for using the local public transportation system. And don’t be shy of expressing your opinions. When we go to D.C. (we go most summers) I have lengthy conversations with the hotel concierge as I puzzle through what the kids will want for dinner, or which train to switch to on the Metro. His first recommendation might not have been appropriate for us but when he hears that we want something walking distance and family-friendly with french fries featured prominently on the menu, he can steer us toward there instead of the nifty Lebanese place he knows I’d like or that everyone’s been raving about.
Oh, and if you are traveling on business to another country, be sure you THOROUGHLY understand the rules about working in that country. I spent a good 90 minutes in Canadian customs (part of me thinks they enjoy torturing Americans sometimes…) because I didn’t understand that the business trip I was on required a work permit. I was able to purchase one right there, but ugh. $150, I wonder if it’s still valid… 😉
I hope this is helpful! Traveling internationally has broadened my horizons throughout my life and I look forward to sharing the travel opportunities with my children as they grow up.
Really, really, really great stuff, Karen. Thanks! Wonderful points. And just to add, the concierge is always my best friend. I learn a lot about what’s good locally from them. Another good question for a woman traveling alone is “Is it safe to walk in this neighborhood at night?” You’ll get an honest answer, and it’s one you really need. I use that one in the U.S. more often than overseas, actually, but it has helped me avoid some truly terrible neighborhoods.
I did find a website that discusses the diet in full detail at
I have a pocket version, it’s called the Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet, and it goes something like this:
day 1 (feast) protein for breakfast & lunch, carbs for dinner
day 2 (fast) fruit for breakfast & lunch, broth for dinner
day 3 (feast) protein for breakfast & lunch, carbs for dinner
day 4 (fast) — this is travel day — fruit for breakfast & lunch, broth for dinner
caffeinated beverages allowed only between 3 & 5pm
Westbound: drink caffeine before departure
Eastbound: caffeine between 6 & 11 pm, sleep until destination breakfast, wake up and feast.
Thanks, Rebecca. The caffeine part I discovered on my own. The rest is fascinating–although I’m not sure I’d want to subject other travelers to me fasting. 🙂 (Or voluntarily fasting, since the airlines often force me into it anyway.)
Ah yes, jet lag. Good points about when to arrive. I can’t sleep on planes–I really wish I could!–and traveling back and forth from Britain was a PITA. I finally learned to force myself to stay up, as Rebecca noted, ’til past dinner. As close to my normal bedtime as I could, but if I went to bed a bit earlier (I’m normally a night owl), that was fine. It helped so much!
Also, when I get on a plane that’s changing time zones, I promptly change my watch and laptop to the time zone I’m arriving in, and just start thinking that’s what time it is. Period. Thinking “It’s 2 a.m. at home! No wonder I’m tired!” is a sure-fire way for jet lag to get its claws into me.
(The hardest part is crossing the International Date Line and arriving before you left. That just breaks my brain…)
I always stow my carry-on under the seat in front of me. I do not trust my fellow passengers and I like to have easy access to my stuff. It’s mainly an inconvenience to me and the flight attendant gives you the stink eye if you have an electronic device out during take off, whether it’s off or not. I usually just bring toiletries, a book, crafting (before they got fanatical about sharps), wallet and/or purse and some sort of electronic device for tuning out noises. All of that can fit under a chair, provided the airline allows it.
A couple of additional points.
Keep your eyes open when you are traveling through airports. There is often “shortcuts” one can leverage. For example, when coming back through Chicago from an International flight, one of the terminals has two separate security check-ins. However, foot traffic and most people use one of these so that if you head the other direction you can decrease your queuing time.
Depending on your temperament, sometimes you may want to research but not make all of your plans ahead of time. I travel frequently to Stockholm for work. My sambo (Swedish for SO) was able to join me after working for a week and we took a week of vacation. Initially, thought we would visit France or Italy (but as Kris works through in her examples, it was going to cost a fair amount of travel time and my sambo had never seen Stockholm, so I wanted to spend some time in Stockholm as well.) After working that week, my colleagues recommended visiting Visby, a Viking city on an island in the Baltic. Because we were flexible we could change our plans, and we enjoyed visiting Visby. Additionally, we weren’t traveling prime tourist season (for Swedish this is during the July/August month when most Swedes have 3-4 weeks of vacation) but in September. The weather was nice but because it wasn’t prime tourist season we had plenty of rooms to pick from and could wait until a day or two before our trip to get tickets thereby optimizing our weather for sunny days.
Lastly, try to find out where the locals eat. When in Stockholm, I work in Gamla Stan (Old Town, or the tourist district), which is known by the locals for more expensive food. I’ve found particularly good meals by leaving this district and eating where the locals eat. Also, even when in the tourist district, watch for a special for the day (at one place they called this the “local” meal) which may be 1/2 the price of the other dishes on the menu (and in my book less traditional, but far healthier than the other dishes they served.)
Great point on being flexible, Aidan. I always have waaaay too much to do every day when I travel, and tone back as the days go on. If I hadn’t been flexible, however, I would have missed Leipzig’s Town Hall, which was amazing, or the dip into the museum on the history of East Germany. I think happenstance is as important as planning.
Also good point on food. I’ve been lucky enough to have locals cook me spectacular home cooked meals when I’ve been overseas, and it’s really added to the trip. Plus they’ll take you to a restaurant you wouldn’t normally go to. I try to ask locals where they like to dine. I end up at fantastic places that way–and they’re usually cheaper than others.
Uhm, there are speed limits everywhere in Germany except on some parts of the Autobahn, usually rural areas without much traffic. And if you exceed speed limits, it can easily get expensive if you’re caught, and the police doesn’t look particularly kindly on people who go at 100 km/h through a village, where the speed limit is 50 km/h. The “But I’m a foreigner and don’t know better” excuse doesn’t work very well in such cases either. What is more, cash strapped communities, including many in former East Germany, like to use speedometers as an easy source of cash.
So when driving in a foreign country, always make sure to research and adhere to speed limits, alcohol limits and other traffic rules. Even in situations where I would exceed the speed limit at home where I know the terrain, I would never do so in a foreign country, because I don’t want to get in trouble with the local police. And if in doubt, don’t drive at all. For example, I’m terrified of left-side traffic, so I would never drive in countries that drive on the left.
See what I get for believing everything people tell me? I was told no speed limits. So…good to know. (Thank heavens I don’t drive in other countries.) Good points all, Cora. I think research and adhere to all the various laws, if you can. And I’m with you. Driving on the left just terrifies me.
I try to book my flights so that I arrive mid-afternoon. That way, I can stay awake at least through dinner and then get a good night’s sleep, which helps to minimize jet lag. If not, if I have to arrive early morning, then the “no-jet-lag” pills you can buy in travel stores (chewable, that you take on the plane) work really well for me and keep me going all day after arrival. Problem is, they catch up with me a day or two later. There’s also a no-jet-lag diet we used to take in the old days, and it worked perfectly, but you have to start it 4 days ahead of travel, which can be awkward.
I try to do the same, Rebecca. Late morning works as well. It’s easier heading east, but tough when you’re going west. I hadn’t heard of the diet. Do you have a link?
Lots of good advice there. My dad did a lot of international travel and taught me the mantra of “money, tickets, passport” – and to frequently check that you know where these are (ideally, on your person).
A couple of lessons I’ve learned: if you take prescription drugs, make sure you have more than enough for the trip. I had a week tacked on to a business stay in Australia, and while I managed to get my Rx refilled, it involved a visit to a local doctor to get it okayed, which was a time waster. (And be aware that some drugs that may be over the counter here may be prescription elsewhere, and vice versa (which is probably more true)).
If you’re taking more than one suitcase, or travelling with a partner, distribute your clothing, etc, around to ease the problem of a missing suitcase. I was very glad I’d done that on a trip I took to Russia (still the Soviet Union then, not long before the end). I had one bag that disappeared between Frankfurt and Moscow, and it followed me — always one stop behind — to Leningrad, Krasnoyarsk, and back to Moscow, where it finally caught up with me just in time to head back to Frankfurt.
Oh, and that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy advice: Don’t Panic! is invaluable. I’ve been temporarily stuck in some strange places (Novosibirsk, Siberia; Karachi, Pakistan) because of flight disruptions. Try to be patient but firm and polite while dealing with personnel who probably want you on your way almost as much as you do, but also have to deal with everybody else. (Knowing where your towel is is optional, but it couldn’t hurt. And it does make a great pillow for those airport benches.)
Great advice. I was going to mention prescriptions, Alastair. Glad you did. I make sure any pills I take–or might take (like cold/flu medications) are in my carry-on. I figure my carry-on has to help me survive (uncomfortably) for a few days, so I bring the things I can’t replace in that, along with my laptop…which I can’t easily replace.
Good point on language, Dayle, and I’ll expand on that next week, but here’s the key thing. If you learn to ask where the bathroom is, learn to understand the answer as well. 🙂
Rick’s point about pickpockets on planes is a good one as well. The money/tickets/passport is always with me. The bigger stuff–harder to steal–in my carry-on. I figure most people won’t frisk me while I’m sleeping…
I forgot about the international driver’s license, Christy, since I don’t drive overseas, but great point. And good stuff on research, money, etc. Same with Michael’s point about ATMs. I’ll deal with money exchange next week as well.
I had a lot of trouble with the name thing, Mary Jo. I knew first names were considered rude in Germany, but I hate using last names. So I struggled with it, often correcting myself. And I made sure I *never* used the informal “you” while speaking to someone. Sometimes I’m such an American. 🙂
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Please remember that pickpockets fly on airplanes, too.
When I am forced to use overhead storage (bulkhead row, etc.), I use the bin across the aisle. I once had someone move my bag four rows back while he was boarding the plane. Then, he continued to his seat in the back. It was very smooth. I couldn’t tell which of three people did it, so I could only alert the flight attendant (who shrugged) and move it back where it belonged.
The bag would have been empty by the time I arrived at my destination, since nobody four rows back would have thought twice about a guy going through “his” luggage. Watch your stuff every second that it is out of your direct control.
…and bring your earplugs and all the patience you can borrow. Good call, Randy and Matt…
I agree with so much of this. Yes, a thousand times yes to keeping your cool, keeping calm, and being nice and polite and saying “Thank you.” Smile when you say it, too.
I lived in Europe for 4 years and traveled all over (Europe, a bit of Scandinavia, South Africa, Korea). Remember, please, that you’re an ambassador for the US (or wherever you’re from, since I’m sure this blog has international readership!). Don’t expect a foreign country to be just like America. Enjoy the differences as part of your experience, and if you can’t enjoy it, at least shut up about it. (I’m talking about differences that just seem weird or inconvenient, not actual problems that can be fixed with a polite request.)
I always made a point of learning simple phrases: Yes, No, Please, Thank You, Where is the Toilet?* People appreciated that I made the effort, and almost always made an effort to speak English. (Want to feel humble? So many people speak English as a second language…many of them better than some English-as-first-language speakers I’ve met!)
*(If you’re a woman, you may not need this last one. Apparently we get a look on our faces, because all I had to do was glance around, and a passing waiter would point. I tried this with different women of different nationalities in different countries, and it worked for all of us!)
Ditto also to what Randy said about being nice to other travelers. I’ve given up my aisle seat in the front for a middle seat in the back for someone who was claustrophibic, for example. It was a short enough flight; it didn’t put me out much. I didn’t get any benefit from it except for a warm fuzzy feeling and some karma in my bank. 🙂
Good stuff, Kris. As to ATMs, we found them most useful in Scotland, particularly since all our B&Bs required cash. One caution: some ATMs don’t offer a savings or checking withdrawal option. At the Royal Bank of Scotland, money came out of our savings. We had to find an Internet connection to make the online transfer through our credit union between accounts. Fortunately, the Dumfries Public Library allowed us some Web time.
Oh, and I can’t say enough about staying in B&Bs. It’s one of the best ways to learn the local culture and get tips from locals. Our Scottish hosts and hostesses were universally gracious and pleasant — and I got to eat haggis!
I also make it a point to learn as much of the basic greetings, please and thank you sort of words as I can in the local language and use them. Everyone appreciates that.
I get maps in advance and study them.
I research aspects of culture, as was suggested above, and feel this is so important. When my husband and I made a business trip to Germany to deal with a famous male personage, we read that it’s common to bring flower for the woman of the house. We showed up with a pot of violets for his wife and it made a huge positive impression.
Learn the money and exchange rates ahead of time. Find out whether you’ll have access to and will be able to use ATMs at the point of origin.
I’ve driven a lot in other countries: Germany, Australia, UK. I obtained an international license ahead of time. AAA can do this for you. http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html
I never fly anywhere, domestic or international, without earplugs. The more you want to sleep on a plane, the greater the chance you’ll have a screaming baby in the seat near you. Best fifty cents you’ll ever spend.
A great website is seatguru.com because all seats are not created equal. It will tell you the amount of legroom, which seats don’t recline all the way, which ones are under strong a/c vents, etc.
As for making airline staffers life better, it can play off. I was on a flight to New York City and in the second to last row. A man and his daughter were in the row behind me, which had no window. The little girl was so upset that she would not see New York from the air she started to cry. I was flying alone and am from the NYC area so I offered to switch. The flight attendant spotted this, came up to me and said, “Sir, please come with me right now.” I was afraid I’d done something wrong, but she put me in first class and kept the free drinks coming.
Your travel tips are excellent, and I can’t come up with much more. With respect to business travel in a foreign country, it’s a good idea to do sufficient research, which gets easier by the day thanks to the Internet; otherwise you will experience surprises that will cost you unnecessary money or cause you inconvenience.
Having lived more than 30 years in Germany, I can perhaps list some aspects that a visitor or American hoping to do business in Germany should consider.
In Germany public transportation is excellent and extremely cheap, but only if you research the various special rates available. If time is of the essence, you are better off with a taxi.
In general, things in Germany are quite similar to the U.S., but the subtle differences can cause difficulties. They take Sundays and holidays (find out when the holidays are!!) very seriously in Germany, more or less rolling up the sidewalks and closing down the country. Don’t plan on being able to do much shopping on such days, and assume that there is less public transportation.
You can only buy any kind of medicine, even aspirin, in a pharmacy, not in a drug store, not in a grocery store, etc.
Germans are by far the nicest, most polite, kindliest, most helpful people you will ever encounter — until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Driving transforms them into aggressive, vengeful people, possessed with the uncontrollable desire to punish anyone on the road who causes them delay.
Keep in mind that the laws are different. Some things are legal in the U.S. but not in Germany, and vice versa. A driver’s license is not considered to be ID, since German driver’s licenses never expire, and the license of a 90-year-old driver has a picture of said driver at age 18. Traffic laws are different. In smaller towns, intersections have no stop signs or traffic lights. In that case, the vehicle on “the right” has the automatic right of way.
Then there are all the traps in social interactions. Most Germans still attach a lot of baggage to being on a first-name basis. Basically it is just for BFF’s. It (usually) involves using the second-person familiar forms of pronouns and verbs in direct address. There are all kinds of rules as to who is allowed to offer whom this familiar form of address. On the other hand, it is automatically assumed for people belonging to various kinds of groups (students, soldiers in a unit, members of some political parties, etc.). This familiar form of address enforces a kind of equality, is used among children, and when adults address children. The more formal type of address, using the formal second-person forms of pronouns and verbs and the title with the surname, expresses respect and not necessarily distance. It would be completely unheard of in Germany for a doctor to address a patient by his or her first name.
So, if you ask a German to address you by your first name, keep in mind that this may make him feel uncomfortable, since it would force a kind of closeness that may not be appropriate or desired. Many Germans do know that Americans feel differently about using first names, but if you want to do business with someone, you will want to be considerate of his feelings.
There are numerous sites on the Internet with tips as to how to behave in different countries. I guess I just want to say that it can be a mistake to assume that “people are just people” wherever you go. On the contrary, people have automatic feelings about what kind of behavior is considerate or appropriate or tolerable, and if you are the guest in the country, you should behave in such as way as not to annoy the natives.
Waiting is. The key to all travel is patience. I learned it while waiting for third world buses. I could either get upset or I could just wait. Those buses weren’t going to arrive until they did, no matter what the schedule. That’s where I came up with the phrase for myself, “Waiting is.” It just is. Most factors (other than things like your smart standby move) are simply out of your control. If you accept the wait, rather than let it eat at you, you are better off for a number of reasons.
1. You’re prepared for the potential wait. People who aren’t keep the airport bookshops in business at full retail.
2. You’re blood pressure stays lower.
3. When you do get to a ticket agent, baggage handler, etc. and you are patient and friendly, your service is fantastic. Why? Because everyone heaps their impatience on these poor people doing their $10-12/hr job. It has earned me free upgrades on standby, loading 80 pounds of bicycle & gear (though that was in the old days), I never once had to disassemble my bicycle and have it put in the dreaded box, my guitar was often hand-carried to baggage, and many other kind favors.
Waiting is. Patience counts. And patience leads to friendly, which gets you many bonuses, even if its just a smile and knowing you made some poor clerk’s day better.
Great points, Shawn. Great points. Read this comment if you fly anywhere, folks. It’s good stuff. I do all of it (and I haven’t repacked my purse yet), although I do carry a small purse and carry-on. I also pack a change of underwear in my carry-on and soap, since I’m allergic to most soaps. When I got stuck in Philly, I bought a t-shirt to get me through day 2. Most everything you need is at an airport or at the hotel, so if you get stuck you have it all. But really, good stuff. I’d’ve saved 15 minutes in security if other people knew these tricks. (I have slip-ons for security as well.)
Matt, wonderful post. A smile and a laugh get you so much. I figure things will go wrong, so I’m rarely surprised when they do. If I feel the need to bitch, I call Dean and get it out of my system. I got an upgrade on my hotel room because I was the only person who was nice to the lady in customer service. At the hotel, I didn’t sob or shout at the woman at the desk, which got me even more service (stuff I didn’t expect). Waiting is part of the trip, and if you enjoy traveling, it can be a good part–nice conversations, interesting people, and some really neat discoveries (I once found an out-of-the-way restaurant in O’Hare on a wait, a restaurant I go to on long layovers, even now).
I spent 3 years flying on a quarterly basis inside the States for business. A couple of things I learned during that time frame …
If you are a plus sized person, when you board the plane ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender. Also – the arms in coach, even on the aisle, can be raised. The aisle arms can be tricky; the flight attendant can help you. This will make you SO much more comfortable.
I live in tennis shoes, but when traveling, I took a nice pair of dress shoes for business meetings and otherwise I lived in crocs. You want shoes that slip on and off easily and that are supportive and comfortable when walking long distances. Every time you go through security you have to take them off and then put them back on. Shoes take up a lot of space in your luggage, too, so don’t assume that you can pack 2 or 3 pairs AND your clothes AND your toiletries AND have a minimum number of bags.
When you go through security, you have to remove metal from your person & you have to pull electronics out of your pockets & carry on, take off your shoes & any jackets you are wearing. You have to show the TSA people your picture ID and your boarding pass. There’s a long line of people behind you. Think about the best way to pack so that you can do all of this smoothly & efficiently so you can get through quickly & get out of everybody else’s way.
For example … do you need that big key chain? Ask someone to drive you to the airport and pick you up (friend, spouse, etc.) & leave your keys with them. One less thing to keep up with, & one less thing to send through security (& you don’t pay for parking at the airport, either). Do you need everything you usually carry in your wallet? I bought a small trifold wallet that I could keep in my pocket & carried ID, debit & credit card, & cash, leaving my clutch wallet with checkbook & Sam’s-type cards at home.
Also pack your carry-on with an eye towards what you need on the flight and what you don’t; how to get stuff out of your bag quickly before you stow it, etc. In fact, just before I boarded, I took out a book, a bottle of water, & my boarding pass. I gave the pass to the gate attendant. When I got to my seat, I was able to stow my bag quickly & get settled without futzing around, blocking the aisle & holding everybody up. If you plan to buy a drink or food, stick some cash in your pocket before boarding (exact change – look it up before boarding) or make sure your wallet is in your pocket & not your carry on.
The toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, etc.) you can carry on a flight are severely limited. I suggest packing your toiletries in your luggage and bypassing them in the carry on. Most hotels provide the basics anyway, so even if you lose your luggage you can manage basic grooming until you can replace what was lost. On the other hand, if you take jewelry, ALWAYS carry it in your carry-on, where you have much more control over it & are far less likely to lose it for all time.
Instead of carrying a purse AND a carry-on, I streamline everything I would normally carry in a purse & put it all on my carry-on (usually a laptop capable backpack). Then I put a small, empty handbag in my luggage. At my destination, I can carry personal items in an easy-to-manage handbag rather than the bulky backpack, but during airline travel, I only have to manage one bag. (And I almost always check my luggage. I’ve only had it go missing once & it was returned to me by the airline promptly. If you can get one change of clothing into the carry-on, you can get by … but that’s a personal decision. It made traveling a lot easier, though.)
The most important thing I would suggest goes back to a couple of things I’ve mentioned before. Be aware of the other people traveling around you & be courteous. Nobody enjoys airports or airplanes. There’s a lot of necessary inconvenience that makes people testy to begin with. Don’t contribute to everybody’s discomfort by being oblivious & self-absorbed. Don’t dither in the lines. Pay attention, do what you need to do, & get out of other people’s way as quickly as possible. You’d be amazed how angry & snappish people get at you when you spend 5 minutes blocking the airplane aisle while you debate over what you’ll get out of your carry-on and what you’ll leave in it, & then how to turn it so you can stuff it in the tiny bin the plane provides for stowing it.
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