Over the course of my career, I’ve travelled to many countries for business. Likewise, in my home country I have met with professionals travelling from abroad many times. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from those experiences, and wanted pass them on to readers who might find it useful in similar situations.
My number one piece of advice is that before visiting another country, it’s crucial to do enough research about the cultural differences, customs, logistics, transportation, and the legal aspects.
My second tip? Don’t pack your itinerary too tight either. When traveling abroad, especially in developing countries, you are likely to come upon unexpected situations requiring the flexibility to adapt.
Lastly, and most importantly, in all situations remember to keep your calm, and don’t forget to rest a bit and enjoy your journey!
Here are a few of my favourite stories from my experiences that will illustrate how I came up with the above advice.
Flat tire forced us to think on our feet
While I was in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we had rented the service of a driver with a car, an old classic Mercedes-Benz. Unfortunately, we got a flat tire in the middle of rush hour traffic.
While the driver had a spare tire in the trunk, it was buried underneath our luggage. In order for our driver to access it, we had to get out of the car and empty all of our belongings from the trunk in the middle of a public place, close to an industrial area. Within a few minutes, we were surrounded by people, staring at us and approaching.
We did not feel safe at that moment, especially because the Government of Canada had advised Canadians to avoid traveling within the region at that time due to political instability. No insurance companies wanted to provide any protection.
It was a very stressful situation. Instinct told us not to wait, and we took the first available taxi to avoid the potential risks.
An unexpected meet and greet turns into a televised event
In Lubumbashi in DRC, population 2 million, close to the border with Zambia, we had the unexpected opportunity to meet with the mayor. I had been using contacts from the trade commissioner and members from the Chamber of Commerce to meet potential customers or partners for our business venture.
One of these contacts informed us that he could arrange a meeting with the mayor, and that such a meeting could help us open doors to meet important business figures. So, even though it was not part of our initial plan, I accepted, thinking that it was going to be an informal meet and greet and to be quickly directed to some key contacts.
But, when we arrived at the city hall, we were greeted by the local media. Newspapers, TV and radio reporters were there, taking pictures, filming and taking notes throughout the meeting with the mayor.
I was with the president of the company I was working for and another local associate; we never expected to receive so much public attention. Fortunately, my background in communications and public relations was very helpful in managing this unexpected situation.
The next time I receive an offer to meet an important politician, I know I will ask for more details about the type of meeting planned, to ensure I am properly prepared.
One small administrative error cost us 3 days in New York
I was with a convoy of truck drivers en route to deliver a large amount of equipment from Canada to an international ocean carrier in Staten Island, NY to be shipped to South America.
When we arrived, however, entrance to the port was delayed. The wire transfer payment had not gone through because of an error made by the export department. We would have to come back the next day and try again. In the meantime, we had to move all the equipment out of there and find a place to stay overnight.
To complicate matters more, some of the drivers we had contracted had to leave, because they were expected back in Montreal. Only three of us were able to stay to manage the delivery.
When we arrived at the port the next day, they informed the three of us that we needed to deliver all the goods to another terminal, by ourselves, because of the change in the date of arrival. In addition, when trying to load a big crane on the vessel, the engine did refused to start.
We had to spend an extra day there to find a mechanic to fix the crane and to finalize the delivery. What an adventure!
In the end, if the export department hadn’t made an error with the payment, none of the rest of it would have happened. The moral of the story is to make sure you work diligently to reduce the possibility of errors – you never know how they might affect other people further down the line and come back to haunt you.
Being a gracious host had a big impact on our bottom line
I was very happy when I convinced a West African delegation of businesspeople to come to visit a company I was working at in a suburb of Montreal. My plan was for this delegation to meet the management team and some key employees, and to show them the large inventory of products ready to export.
I decided to rent a minibus and drove them through the city to the meeting, taking on the role of travel guide at the same time. I was thrilled that they were impressed and had a great experience.
It turns out that I had created demand for my impromptu tours. The day after the visit, some of the visitors wanted to return to the company, and new people were also interested. Happily, I played the travel guide once again. Afterwards, they purchased containers of our products!
By adding some extra fun to their travel experience and accommodating their request, I was able to ensure their trip was a great success for all parties involved.
After that the success of this visit, we decided to pay them a reciprocal visit to their country in Africa, to continue developing the relationships and the business.
These experiences have all taught me valuable lessons, so I hope you found them useful. And I hope you’ll pass on your own stories as well.