The next time you have an international business trip—get busy and start exploring! Be sure to build in time for you—stretch and grow by venturing out into the country beyond the airport, hotel and conference room.
Since 1985, my work has taken me to eight countries outside the U.S. I now build in a day or two to explore the host country . . . and return forever changed because of it. My seven top travel priorities include:
1. Savor the Local Food
Break out of the familiar! My recent trip to China allowed me to try authentic Chinese dumplings. By venturing outside my westernized hotel, I now know the incredible taste of Jiaozi —prepared by a lovely Chinese woman (street vendor) who awakens at 4:00 a.m. every morning to prepare hundreds of them for passersby on the street.
2. Shop the Markets, Malls and Supermarkets
Shopping is one of life’s small pleasures. Shopping in a different country is a little slice of heaven. In Venezuela, I decided to discover the local supermarkets. What a surprise! I’ll never forget the varieties of Oreo cookies—so unlike what we had here in the U.S. One of the stores was hosting an Oreo-stacking contest for kids!
A little sidewalk market highlighted the beauty of tulips in Amsterdam. My springtime garden will never be the same.
3. Experience the Native Entertainment
How is the culture different? The ballet in Copenhagen was incredible. Even standing in line and people watching was unforgettable. I’ve spent years mastering the art of body language—this was a case study in facial expressions, tone of voice and nonverbal communication.
Chinese opera is an experience not to be missed! How could it be so different than what I have known? The costumes, the humor, the makeup, the voices—all unforgettable!
4. Visit Famous Landmarks
Visiting well-known landmarks helps us appreciate history. I try to visit the landmark before my work commitment—somehow I feel more connected to my colleagues/clients. I deepen my understanding of the people’s pride in their country.
5. Experience Public Transportation
Taxis, trains, subways, buses and bicycles . . . allow us to mingle in a way that a limousine, alone, just can’t achieve. Lesson learned . . . be prepared in countries where the language is in a different script. A taxi driver can’t help when the language and written word is completely foreign!
6. Talk with Local Folks
Learn at least a couple of phrases such as “Hello” and “Thank you”. I’ve found local people who have been quite eager to practice their English. Through quick, informal conversations I have learned the best places to get great coffee, how birthdays are celebrated, attitudes toward aging, an on and on.
7. People Watch
Observing customs of local people can captivate you. How is personal space used/respected? How do people greet one another? What are the customs/norms around meals? What’s funny? What irritates people? What implications might this have on my work in that country?
It’s impossible to be unaffected by an international experience. Stretch beyond the hustle and bustle of global travel and soak in as many cultural experiences as you can! Finally . . . keep a simple log or journal of your experiences. Ten years from now you’ll smile as you reflect on the long-forgotten details of your journey.