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The Science to Surviving Overseas Business Trips:

A Road Warrior’s Guide to Long-haul Travel, Part 2

Departures board at an airport during the holiday season

Last month, we published A Road Warrior’s Guide to Long-haul Travel, and asked readers, what would they add? Quite a bit, it turns out. Many clients and friends of The Alexander Group travel extensively and have turned overseas business trips into a science.

Here with their advice—on everything from the best business class cuisine and friendliest flight attendants to the most notoriously stringent customs agents—is Part 2 of A Road Warrior’s Guide to Long-haul Travel.

Chip Ramsay, President and CEO of Swiss Singapore Inc., recommends:

When traveling overseas in business class, always take an aisle set in the middle section—no one will climb over you in the middle of the night. Besides, there is nothing to see out the window.

Don't start a conversation with your unknown seat mate unless you want a non-stop conversation for the duration of the flight. If a seat mate tries to strike up a conversation you don’t want, answer with a simple "yes" or "no"—they'll be quiet after that.

If your destination has a six- to nine-hour (plus or minus) time difference, arrive at least 24 hours before you have to start your business. For business trips with a 10-plus-hour time difference, arrive at least 36 hours before your first meeting.

No matter how old, ugly, handsome or beautiful you find the flight attendants, they are your "best friends" for the next seven to 12 hours. Be respectful.

Just because you feel good and think you are "time-zone adapted” on the first and second day, remember that you are running on fumes. Your body will give out on the third day. Plan to be back in your hotel by late afternoon that day, order room service, and go to sleep. Your body will start to adapt by the fourth day.

No matter how old, ugly, handsome or beautiful you find the flight attendants, they are your "best friends" for the next seven to 12 hours. Be respectful. Don't expect a Michelin four-star meal or to sleep on a Ritz Carlton "heavenly" bed. They are giving you all that the airline has to offer and trying to make you comfortable. Remember, remember, remember—you are sitting and sleeping in a business class seat for the next seven to 12 hours while they are standing in shoes given to them by the airline. You, the passenger, ain’t got no problems compared to that!

Even though you are tired from an overnight flight, be patient in the passport line and be very respectful to the customs officers. They have the power to refuse your entry and send you back from whence you came, or—perhaps worse—pull you out of the line and take you to a small room where they will completely unpack your baggage and search you from head to toe. Even after all of that, and for no apparent reason, they can put you back on the plane and send you home. Yes, it happens all the time. The U.K. is notorious for this practice, and the Arab Gulf customs inspectors do not tolerate attitude from anyone.

Finally, and in my humble opinion, Turkish Airlines serves the best business class food, Emirates and Qatar Airways offer the best business class seats/beds, and Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines employ the sincerest "what-can-we-do-to-make-you-comfortable" flight attendants.

Mediator and consultant Tricia Morris says:

Sleeping herbs are better than sleeping pills: passion flower, chamomile, lavender, valerian root and GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). They all come in capsules, but pick one (don’t take them all at once). CBD oil (not from hemp) specially formulated for sleep is also a good remedy.

Olive oil is good to protect the nasal membranes and keep noses moist. It’s also an antiviral and antibacterial oil, so it keeps me well.

Finally, I bring my own food—and a lot of it—on a long flight. I can’t sleep when I’m hungry so I bring at least two meals on a 10-hour or longer flight. I don’t buy the “eat light” theory and I question the quality of airline food, even in first class—unless it’s ice cream; I usually eat the ice cream.

John Brinkman, a global IT executive, recommends:

Walking. I’ll walk the length of plane as often as I can. And when I arrive, I have a preplanned yoga class or swim location mapped out. Also, a barefoot walk on the earth helps you feel grounded upon arrival.

For those who get cold on flights, consultant Teri Dittrich recommends:

ThermaCare heat wraps—I’m always freezing!

Sally F. King, a London native and senior operations executive, shares her best travel advice:

My favorite airline for destinations in the EU and Middle East is Emirates. I recommend Cathay or Singapore Airlines when traveling to Asia. For London, I fly Virgin; their car service and lounges make a huge difference.

Where to stay: I recommend the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, One Aldwych in London, and the Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Pick a favorite if you are a regular to the city. Most hotels get to know you and provide you with upgrades or other advantages, such as early check-in or quiet tables for breakfast meetings.

For long-haul flights, I try to take the last flight out in the evening to allow sleep. Eat in the lounge so you can lie flat and go to sleep as soon as wheels are up. Wear something comfy to sleep in. Don’t forget dark glasses, moisturizer and mouthwash for the morning.

Most hotels get to know you and provide you with upgrades or other advantages, such as early check-in or quiet tables for breakfast meetings.

For the day flight to London, don’t sleep; work or read instead. Have a light dinner upon arrival, and go to bed. You’ll be practically perfect the next morning.

Make sure you have a travel adapter for your phone and an international calling plan—not having access to your work phone when you arrive is frustrating.

Recognize that while you are in the EU, your email inbox will overflow midafternoon when the US wakes up. Give yourself an hour-long break in the afternoon to respond. Always explain in your out-of-office message that you are in a different time zone so that people know what to expect in terms of response time.

Eat when you are hungry, if you can, or eat when food is offered. Eat light! And try not to drink too much. Don’t stay in the office all evening in your “away” location. Use the gym or walk. Never think about what the time is at home; live in the time zone you are in.

Last tip: Duty-free shopping in Heathrow is not exactly a money saver, but it can be a time saver if you need clothes, shoes, jewelry, last-minute gifts or sweets. Don’t forget to ask for the VAT Return form for purchases in the EU—think of it as a 12-percent discount. But do pack your purchases in your hand luggage; the customs folks may ask to see them.

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