Small Business

A Road Scholar's Bag of Tricks


By Lisa Bergson It's been nice staying home. In my twenties, I dreamed of travel, clipping and carefully filing travel stories for the day when. In my thirties, I traveled hard and on the cheap to see our customers in Texas and Oklahoma. In my forties, I began to go international as our representation expanded and our core market shifted more and more into semiconductor fabrication. By my fifties, I was launched, flying to China, Europe, you name it, wherever the business beckoned. Then came September 11th, and travel got to be truly grim. I remained on the road, all the same. But, it had stopped being fun.

For the last few months, however, I clipped my wings to concentrate on fundraising for my new business, Tiger Optics. Now that effort is drawing to a close, and my plan is to hit the road the day after we serve Thanksgiving dinner to a small group of equally displaced people. Thus, with some resignation, I've begun to plan.

Planning, dear readers, is essential to business travel, all the more so in today's paranoid environment. You need to be calm but alert, a state best achieved through careful preparation. I always fly in footwear you can easily slip off for inspection. Even in warm weather, I wear socks rather than walk barefoot on cold linoleum through the security check. (Recently, I'd read that shoes were no longer at issue. When I tested this precept during a day trip to Boston to see my ailing aunt, I was sorry. My husband was ordered away, while I was intensively searched. "Next time, take off your shoes," the inspector snapped.)

BY THE BOOK. Now, regarding preparation, I am not talking about obsessive attention to detail. Nor do I believe events when traveling are always within our control. Part of what makes travel invigorating is surprise. But, whether you rue or relish the unexpected largely depends on how well you did your homework. It starts with your itinerary. I've adopted a comprehensive format developed by a fanatical former sales manager. It covers everything, from flight numbers and departure times to the schedule for customer calls, complete with each one's phone number, address, and purpose of visit.

I compile all the data myself, meanwhile wondering why I don't just grab the travel agent's itinerary, my appointment book, along with my laptop, and leave it at that. Alternately, I could hand the whole mess over to my assistant to sort out. But, I inevitably find that scrutinizing an upcoming trip in its entirety points up glitches, jogs my memory about things to check into or bring, and suggests openings for side-trips and appointments, business and personal.

If at all possible, I like to get my hair blown out, nails done, and have a massage every several days. (Hotel concierges are happy to make such arrangements, assuming you will be pleasant, and tip.) When you're traveling to see customers all day with a business dinner most nights, it takes organization to squeeze in time for personal maintenance, the hotel gym, e-mail followups, phone calls, and occasional sightseeing -- not to mention sleep.

CLOTHES CALLS. Any travel schedule is a work-in-progress, of course. Your suitcase is finite, cruelly so. I am religious about my standard packing list, which I use as a checklist for every trip, overnight to overseas. (Did I write about the time I stopped over in San Francisco en route to Asia only to find I'd left my passport at home? It took my husband a good six hours to arrange for overnight shipment via airline express so I could leave the following day.)

My packing list comprises everything, from voltage adaptors to herbal teas to foot spray. In addition, I develop a day-by-day wardrobe chart for every trip of a week or more, attempting to leverage each item and still look chic. (All right, maybe I am obsessive to detail.) While it can be fun to shop for what you forgot on vacation, when traveling on business there's no room for error.

Carry-ons, now curtailed and subject to constant search, must be approached tactically. Under the new guidelines, if you travel with a laptop, that leaves only one more bag to go. In my case, I pack a duffel bag that I can pop my purse into at inspection points. In it, I also carry work papers, my appointment calendar, Palm Pilot, and Bose headset, as well as a compelling novel, basic cosmetics (nothing sharp-tipped!), moisturizer with sun block, socks, and large, light pashmina shawl. The shawl is great to supplement skimpy airline blankets and comes in handy in poorly heated hotels.

EXOTIC CUSTOMS. Since I started going to Asia, the considerations have compounded. For example, you must be sure to get your shots! One of my guys, a frequent flyer, somehow, somewhere contracted Hepatitis B. (He didn't look good in yellow). And check for visa requirements. Last September, I broke down in tears at Chiang Kai Shek airport when, after a 12-hour flight, I was told I needed a visa because my passport expired in less than six months. (There are all kinds of rules in these places.) Exhausted, I had to pay a substantial amount, submit to having my picture taken (insult to injury, there was an extra charge for the photos), and fill out multiple forms before I could collect my luggage and enter the country.

Finally, do your homework. Cull information on the individuals and companies you're visiting, for one. But also, before you go, follow the news relating to the region. If possible, try to read a few books about the history and culture of the lands you will visit. Americans are notoriously ignorant about the rest of the world. Why perpetuate the stereotype? (Right now I'm reading Don Oberdorfer's illuminating book, The Two Koreas.) Learn a few words too. Outside of France, most people like it when you try to speak their language. So, don't be embarrassed.

You know, just writing about travel is starting to revive my wanderlust. There are so many places yet to see. Hey, where did I put that packing list? Lisa Bergson is President and CEO of both MEECO and Tiger Optics. Before joining MEECO in 1983, Lisa Bergson worked as a business journalist at BusinessWeek and freelanced for many business publications. You can visit her companies' Web sites at www.meeco.com and www.tigeroptics.com, or contact her at lbergson@meeco.com


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