Top tips for first-time business travellers to Europe


Are you travelling abroad on a company-sponsored business trip? Are you looking for tips on the do's and don'ts when going to Europe? This travel guide is a ready reckoner for first-time travellers to Europe.

A company-sponsored short overseas business trip is enough to get you all pumped up with excitement. The best part about company-sponsored business trips is that the paperwork is taken care of, the visa fees and flights tickets are paid for, and the accommodation is sorted. Your essential travel itinerary is chalked out. However, there are other things that you must take care of when abroad, especially if it is your maiden trip.

Here is a lowdown on essentials that anyone travelling abroad on a business assignment must adhere. This article will give you tips to make the most of your onsite visit.



Immigration

You will go through immigration when you leave the country and on arrival at your destination. The immigration procedure will be repeated when you leave your country of visit and on arrival in India. Keep all business-related documents with you, in your hand baggage. Documents pertaining to the purpose of your visit should be easily accessible, in case the immigration officer asks for them to check your credentials. The immigration officer in India, and at the destination, may also ask your purpose of visit.

Immigration counter image

What clothes should you carry

Since it is a business trip, my first advice is to get yourself a suitable wardrobe. Most Indians ignore this aspect. Remember, what you wear has an impact on the way people see you. Our sense of dressing does not fit with the Western world. In India, we can wear flowers in our hair and big earring and bangles to work, but in the West, formal attire is desirable in the workplace. Men can wear formal shirts, pants and a pair of Oxfords, and maybe a business suit. Ladies can opt for blouses or shirts and skirts and trousers. Formal wear is quite restrictive, in the sense that your toes must not show. So, invest in a pair or two of closed shoes, with heels (preferably).

The dress-code in most offices is generally relaxed on Fridays when the dress code is business casuals. In India that translates to jeans and sandals or sports shoes. However, business casual is still formal, but a bit more relaxed. Instead of a stiff look, you can choose a floral blouse and maybe bright colours, but the attire should lean towards the formal look. Jeans may be allowed, but it is best to pair them with a blazer.

When in doubt, check the company's dress regulations with the HR. You can send them an email with your queries. It is always nice to follow these traditions as it shows that you are particular.

Make it a learning experience

Use this opportunity to learn about different cultures and work ethics. Don't stick with your Indian colleagues; you'll learn nothing new. If you have the chance to interact with onsite employees, mingle with them, even if it's for a lunch break or drinks after work. Such interactions can be a learning experience. You will pick up skills by observing how they conduct themselves, and mastering communication skills can help further your career.

Carrying foreign exchange

In all probability, your company will give your allowances in advance in foreign currency, before departure. Choose a Forex card over cash. If you are carrying personal money, know that the annual limit allowed by the RBI is $10,000. This limit includes what the company pays you in foreign exchange.

If you are taking cash along, carry small denomination of currency. Getting change for the bigger currency notes can be a problem, especially in stores, since most people use contactless cards or phones for making payments.

Do not exhibit money out on the street. Keep only small denomination currency and take out just one note, instead of a wad. Trust me; this is for your safety. Thugs and crooks are on the prowl, especially at tourist spots, looking for vulnerable tourists.

Stay away from friendly strangers

Foreigners generally smile and wish you, which is fine, do reciprocate. However, be wary of anyone who tries to extend the conversation and is overly friendly. Move away, if you find a stranger asking you where you are from, and taking an unusual interest in you. Their modus operandi is asking you where you are from, and then following it up with 'oh, Salman Khan, I like his movies…' or something on those lines. They will befriend you and rob you.

Shopping for gifts

Avoid buying stuff at tourist spots; you are likely to get cheated, paying more than the cost of the item. Instead, shop where the locals do their shopping. Ask around for suggestions or Google for ideas, better still shop in the duty-free shops.

Duty-free shopping

Duty-free shopping is a boon for travellers. Remember, you can shop for items on your way out, at an Indian Airport, on arrival at your destination and while departing from the foreign country and on arrival in India.

Plan your shopping in advance. All airports have a web page for their duty-free shops. You can check the duty-free shops online and pre-book your purchases. Specific airlines sell duty-free products onboard as well. Indian credit cards or debit cards can be used to pay for purchases made at duty-free shops in India. However, if you are paying cash then you will have to limit your purchase to Rs.25,000, for that is the amount you are allowed to carry in Indian currency.

Duty free shopping

Don't embarrass the country

Don't do anything to embarrass your country. We don't realise it, but we do things that make us stand out like a sore thumb – for example, we are noisy and laugh and talk loudly in public places. We are loud-talking among ourselves and even over the phone.

We meander when strolling, instead of walking purposefully. Those walking behind us find it challenging to cross us, as we move from left to right or takeover the full pavement, especially when we are in a large group. This has been my observation during my visits abroad.

We ogle at people. It is considered rude to stop and stare at people, no matter how they are dressed. In the West, everyone minds their own business, unlike in India. If there is an accident or someone needs aid, stop to help, but not as an onlooker.



Small courtesies matter

Don't forget to be courteous, smile, say please and thank you. Hold the door for someone behind you. Thank someone who does the same for you. It is common to find foreigners holding the door for you, but I have seen Indians pass through without a thank you. Worse is when a large group of Indians pass through a door that someone is holding open for them. I have observed people just walking through instead of one from the group taking over and holding the door.

Be considerate and polite, don't push and shove, especially when there is a crowd. You will get your turn. Another annoying thing that we do is holding on to places and not giving others a chance — for instance, standing at a particular spot for a selfie or a group photograph. We don't move, even when we notice others waiting for the same place.

Dress appropriately

Most of Europe has cobbled streets, and it is best to wear comfortable walking shoes, so it is easier to walk around. Walking is the best way to see a place. So, put on your walking shoes and explore the cities.

Wear clothes in layers, so you can remove or put on clothing depending on the weather. The last few weeks the weather in Europe has been unpredictable, the temperature is yoyoing. A waterproof jacket would be nice to bring along.

Should you get a SIM card

It makes sense to get a SIM card if you're visiting a country for a few months. If your stay is going to be for a few weeks, then it doesn't make sense. Pre-paid SIM cards (available at the Airports in India) do not last long and are a waste of money.

Almost all office spaces, pubs, bars and restaurants in Europe have Wi-Fi. Public transport and several stores also have Wi-Fi. Even tourist buses have it. Moreover, the hotel or B&B that you'll be put up in should also have Wi-Fi. You will be able to connect to the internet and make calls using Facebook or WhatsApp etc. Step into a Starbucks for free Wi-Fi- most of their outlets have free access. I have always been able to connect to Wi-Fi while travelling by bus and walking through the streets of London and Germany. You will be able to do so too. Make sure your device is set to Wi-Fi enabled.

Sightseeing

Every major European city has hop-on hop-off tourist coaches, which you can make use of to explore the sights. Austria and the Netherlands are beautiful, but make sure you visit the decent areas. Netherlands is famous for its brothels, which some may not like to visit. Paris is overrated, expensive and unfriendly. Be wary of your belongings, especially in Paris. Don't trust anyone with your camera. They may take it and dart.

Travelling tips

You must read the travel guidelines issued by the carrier you are flying. They'll also have a list of do's and don'ts on their website. The same will also be available with the ticket. The guidelines pertain to luggage allowance and restrictions on what is allowed and what isn't.

If you are worried about airport procedures, then educate yourself before your flight. Learn the step-by-step airport procedures for international travel. Ensure that your luggage is TSA complied. TSA locks are special numbered locks fitted in luggage and are available as locks as well.

Carry a 100 ml bottle of moisturiser in your hand baggage as your skin will dry out and you will need to keep yourself moisturised during the long-haul flight. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Do not wear tight clothing.

Take walks in the aircraft, to allow blood circulation. I stand in the galley area, as it is spacious and does not have many people around. Stay hydrated, drink lots of fluid. The flight stewards will come around offering drinks, but you can also walk to the galley and pick up a juice or sparkling water etc.

Don't sleep during the flight. I find it helps fight jet lag. Adjust your sleeping hours before your trip, so you don't have to struggle with the time difference when you land in a different timezone.



General tips

One tip that is important to follow is learning about the culture of the place you are visiting. The internet is packed with information on different countries and their cultures.

I suggest you also take a look at videos on how to handle cutlery, and practice using it, before your overseas travel. The majority of Indians find it difficult eating with a fork and knife. You can read through some helpful information about European dining etiquettes.

Apart from that, follow the tips shared below:
  • Take a universal power adaptor with you. You can purchase one online. Samsonite has a really good one
  • Invest in a power bank, it is a convenient device, though most coaches and trains in Europe have facility for charging gadgets
  • Carry a parasol, or a waterproof poncho that you can keep in your bag, for unexpected showers
  • Sunscreen is essential, yes, even in Europe. The sun can be really sharp
  • Carry women hygiene products and other toiletries as buying them in a foreign country would mean paying for them in Euros
  • Take along medication for common ailments
  • Keep a laminated copy of your passport and visa with you at all times
  • Save the numbers of the Indian High Commission or Consulate on your phone
  • Carry a crossbody bag for use when you move around the city as a tourist
  • Check travel reviews before visiting places. Some places are unsafe even during the day
  • Eat local cuisine, rather than eating at McDonald's or similar fast food places present in India. Read online reviews for the best food trucks or pizza places (the authentic wood-fired ones) or pubs with great food
  • If your budget allows it I would suggest having a meal at a Michelin Star Restaurant, for the experience
  • Buy sightseeing tickets online, you get better bargains

I have put down random thoughts that came to mind. If you have specific queries, leave them in the comment section, and I will answer them.


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