I knew I was destined to travel on business to India--even though I have turned down numerous offers over the years, mainly because I was afraid of getting sick. My fears finally abated when friends in their 70s and 80s returned from India without any health problems, so when a global tech company invited me to deliver a workshop at their leadership summit in Bangalore last month, I accepted. The trip was a great experience, and thankfully, my fears never materialized. I attribute this to creative resilience and a little ingenuity:
1. Be prepared
Check government websites for visa information and traveler's alerts. (I don't travel anywhere that has a red-letter warning.) Give yourself and your client ample time to get all the paperwork completed if you are getting a business visa. It can be quite complicated and time-consuming.
In addition to getting the appropriate vaccinations, my best defense against gut problems is to take a high potency probiotic every day, starting two weeks before departure and ending about one week after I return. I also diligently avoided unpeeled produce.
Use a travel agent to book your ticket because if anything goes wrong, they can fix your problem more easily than if you booked online through a third party.
2. Learn about local culture (corporate and societal)
Check with your clients about local customs and dress codes so you don't make any faux pas. Learn a few words of greeting in your host's language to create a connection. Whenever I said namaste or namaskar, people would light up. Even security.
3. Be a networker
I reached out to my network in Bangalore via LinkedIn to let them know I would be in town, and as a result, I received several invitations for lunch and dinner, including being a guest speaker at the Bangalore chapter of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. These were wonderful opportunities to connect with local business leaders and innovators and to gain new perspectives about creativity and innovation from their point of view.
Reconnecting with my contacts from India before I went to Bangalore also helped me prepare psychologically. Several people gave me tips on what to expect and offered help if I needed it, and that helped me feel safer.
While staying at my gloriously opulent hotel, I met other business executives who were in town to check on their Bangalore teams, and it was illuminating to compare notes about doing business in India. My client for example put on an impressive first-class summit at a luxury hotel for their Indian contingent to benefit from in terms of engagement and professional development. In contrast, an executive from another global company told me they never host conferences or summits for their Indian employees. Not surprisingly, they have a hard time keeping their employees, even when given raises, because the company is not cultivating connection and employee engagement.
4. Be curious and be present
Nothing makes me feel more present than being immersed in the unknown. As much as I loved being in the lush tropical gardens at my hotel, I also wandered on my own down busy commercial streets (where you take your life in your hands, because there are no lights for pedestrians) and quiet residential neighborhoods, inhabited by stray dogs and cows.
I relied on advice from the hotel concierge, my trip adviser, and chance encounters with locals about what to see and where to go within my limited timeframe to make the most of my visit. I place a lot of value on chance encounters. As my friend Synne Kune Loh says, "Your destiny lies with the next person you meet." That is especially true when traveling, and I strike up conversations with anyone I think might be interesting, including people in lines, at museums, and in restaurants. Sometimes I'll invite them to join me at my table, or vice versa. The best conversations happen when you are genuinely curious and honoring of other cultures.
Enhance your travel experience by keenly observing the world around you. Take in the big picture as well as the details that make a place special. Easily done with your camera, but take note: If you always have your nose in your devices, you are not being present to your environment.
5. Step out of your comfort zone
Traveling to foreign lands is a great way to step out of your comfort zone, discover different world-views, break out of outmoded mental models, and gain new cultural experiences; all of which will lead you to new creative ideas and business insights. Enjoy your adventure.