5 Harsh Lessons About International Business Travel

When you want to work overseas, you might need to think about what to bring along. A laptop, some Tylenol and maybe an extra bag of dark roast coffee? How about a backup battery that supports USB-C or an adapter that works with your hair dryer?

There are quite a few surprises--as I found out this week traveling to Europe. You might be a domestic airport dweller, a Las Vegas pro, or someone who has racked up so many miles flying to New York that the Delta help line knows you on a first name basis. I've traveled to San Francisco so many times I don't need a GPS anymore.

These tips are a little unusual, but I wish I had known about them before I left because I would have planned things a little differently.

1. Your adapters might not work

I'm sure anyone who has flown to Europe knows they use a different outlet here, but what I didn't realize is that a few of my gadgets have not worked. (My wife also had to borrow a hair dryer, turns out with an adapter they overheat quickly.) For example, a new HP Spectre x360 that uses a USB-C connection for power has trickle-charged only. (The house where I'm staying might be the problem, but I also tried it at a cafe.) A Google Chromebook Pixel charged slowly, mostly due to the adapter. Fortunately, I brought an iPad Pro and a portable keyboard (the Logitech K780). My iPad can charge using a Bluesmart suitcase with a built-in back-up battery.

2. Watch out for the Bluetooth suitcases

Speaking of the Bluesmart suitcase--it's awesome, gliding on four wheels at airports with plenty of compartments. And, the airline to Europe said it was perfectly fine to use...as a carry-on. It turns out they don't like you to use it as a checked back because of the internal battery and the Bluetooth connection. In the U.S., I've heard some airlines (like United) don't like you to check them either. It limits some of your options, especially since many international airlines let you check a carry-on for free.

3. Coffee shops often don't have wireless

What we call W-Fi in the U.S. is known as WLAN in places like Austria. Well, "known" is an overstatement--it is not common to find easy access, even at the coffee shops. I used an LG X smartphone running Sprint with the service provisioned for Europe. The hotspot worked perfectly, letting me connect at a smooth 8 Mbps from a cafe. One note for heavy coffee drinkers, though. Bring your own dark roast. Coffee is delicious here, but they provide small sipping cups with dainty handles and no refills. I made my own in the morning. The only reliable place to find free, fast wireless is McDonalds.

4. Also, coffee shops get crowded

If you want to get some serious work done in a cafe in Europe, and that is the one place to plan to hang out to check email during the day, be forewarned. Many of the cafes are not like Starbucks or Caribou; they are designed for socializing, which is a good thing. When you want to work, you might not find libraries to work in, either. They are super crowded. Instead, if you want to work hard without interruption, you're best bet is a hotel. I still worked at a cafe for a few days because I loved the atmosphere. I had to adjust my workflow. Whenever someone came in, I followed the custom to greet them in German. It's a fun and ancient custom, but not if you are editing Photoshop images.

5. GPS might not help you

You might already know that Google Maps will work fine in places like Germany and Austria, no problem. Except for one problem. The directions will be in English, but the street names will be difficult to understand. So will the roundabouts, the "inner city" (in Austria, this is literally the part of town surrounded by a wall, not the place that is a little sketchy in the U.S.), and the fact that everyone drives 60 miles per hour, even on country roads. In my case, it was much better to look at a map and understand all of the turns to make and know the destination. GPS helps the locals, but not the visitors as much.


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