Staying safe on business travel

General tips for staying safe whilst travelling for work, as well as tips specific to language learners.

Staying safe on business travel

Click the podcast link if you’d rather listen to the podcast episode about this topic.

As soon as some people hear the words “health and safety”, or even just “safety”, they seem to switch off, thinking that they’re in for a boring lecture with a list of things they’re not allowed to do. This is in part due to the fact that people often don’t understand the health and safety regulations they’re quoting (I’ve had to put a few people straight before), and partly because the information is often put across in a dry and sometimes boring way.

I don’t want to bore you, but I do want to share some easy tips that will make your business travel safer. Some of the tips are general. Others are specific to language learners, because travelling around in a country that doesn’t use your native language brings some new challenges with it, and things that you normally don’t need to worry about.

I remember the first couple of times I was in Germany, communicating all day every day in German. I was so tired. Not physically tired, but it felt like my brain was doing overtime. I didn’t even want to go to sleep when the day was over – I needed time to wind down. But being really tired like this, or feeling a bit vulnerable because you don’t understand everything going on around you as you would at home, can cause you to make some decisions that you otherwise wouldn’t – and that’s not always a good thing!

1. Learn about the culture of where you’re going

This doesn’t have to take long. It could be a quick chat with a colleague who is more familiar with the country, or a quick online search. Find out about any common customs or things that might be considered rude there that are perfectly normal in your own culture. You don’t want to be causing offence unintentionally and putting yourself in an awkward or even dangerous situation. On a more positive note, this is also the time for you to find out about the culture in general, and to show your colleagues or customers there that you are interested in them. It may also make communication easier while you’re there.

2. Plan your routes – especially at night

At home, you know the areas to be avoided. In a new city, you don’t. In fact you don’t know anything about the geography, so it’s good to have a look at the map before you set off, rather than wandering around aimlessly with a map in your hand. That identifies you as a tourist and could make you a target for crime. Particularly if it’s late, there’s nothing wrong with taking a taxi rather than walking, especially if you’re not sure of the way. Perhaps some of your colleagues are going in the same direction and you could travel as a group. Perhaps the hotel or your colleagues can recommend or book a reliable taxi company. Try to look as though you know where you’re going, even if you don’t, and if you are walking, stick to well-lit areas with lots of people.

3. People don’t need to see your room card

Keep your hotel room key in a safe place, and don’t leave the paper sleeve lying around to tell everyone what room you’re in, especially if you’re travelling or staying alone. Also, it’s perfectly fine to ask for two room keys, even if you only need one so anyone loitering in the foyer will think that someone else will be joining you.

4. Know the evacuation route

Most of the time this information will be presented as a map. Make sure you know where to go in case your office or hotel is evacuated. If there are written instructions, take the time to read them. It may take a little longer if they’re not written in your native language, so give yourself that time to read them without the stress of being in a situation in which you need to leave quickly. Make sure you know where the meeting point is.

5. Don’t feel bad about questioning people who ask to come in to your hotel room

You don’t have to believe everything someone tells you. If you would question them at home in your native language, you can question them abroad too. Don’t feel that believing them and letting them in is the easy option that means you won’t have to have a conversation, especially if it’s later in the evening and you haven’t ordered anything from room service.

6. Medication – take some basic supplies

It’s good to have some basic stomach upset or cold and flu remedies with you so that you don’t have to explain what you want in a pharmacy. However, if you are taking medication, firstly make sure you have enough so that you don’t run out, and secondly, make sure that the medication is legal in the country that you’re travelling to. If you have a prescription to show that you need the medication, take it with you.

Also, if you have a health condition, make sure that you feel comfortable talking about the symptoms and any ongoing treatment in the other language before you go. This will be less stressful than trying to work it out when you’re there and already feeling stressed because you’re ill, or you’re having to negotiate another country’s health system.

7. Keep your passport safe and take copies

This is standard advice wherever you’re going, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t follow it because they think nothing will happen to them. Also make sure you know the Dialling code for your own country if you need to contact anybody there and you don’t have all your saved numbers because you’ve lost your phone.

8. Don’t let your battery run out – take a charging pack

It’s best to be prepared, which means not allowing your phone to run out of power when you might need to contact someone to ask for help – even if it’s just something simple like asking for directions. You can also buy devices from which you can charge your phone in case there are no nearby charging points.

9. Put your laptop under the seat in front of you on the plane

This won’t work if you’re in the exit or front row, but where possible, your laptop is safer on the floor under the seat in front of you than it would be in the overhead locker, where it could be thrown around, dropped or stolen.

10. Know how to talk about allergies in the other language

If you have any allergies, make sure you know the word for the thing that you need to avoid. Make sure you can communicate this in a sentence in the other language. A bit of preparation in advance can save you a whole lot of trouble at restaurants!

11. Don’t work out in the gym alone, especially late at night

Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and don’t put yourself in a vulnerable situation, even if you do feel safe in a hotel. Until you’re in your room, you’re still in a building full of strangers, and although most will be just getting on with whatever they’re doing, they may not all have good intentions. You may be tired after a long journey or long day in the office, but don’t let your guard down too soon in the hotel bar or gym.

12. Leave the do not disturb sign up, even when you’re out

If you don’t want to be disturbed, put the sign up! That’s what it’s there for! Using it when you’re out gives the impression that the room isn’t standing empty. Make sure you can identify the different signs so that you don’t leave up the “please clean the room” sign by accident!

13. Don’t join to unsecure wifi

Criminals can create wifi hotspots that look genuine, but that are used to circulate malicious software or steal data. Don’t put your data at risk by joining any old wifi hotspot, even if it’s free and the hotel or airport one is not! It’s not worth the risk to your or your company’s data!

14. You don’t need to take every offer of help

This is a tough one, particularly if you do need help. But if there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable about the person offering help, say you’re find and move on to find someone else to help you. Sometimes it’s good to listen to our instincts, even if we can’t explain them. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, say that you know where you’re going and walk off purposely – in any direction – you can always stop and ask someone else for directions later. If you don’t want someone to carry your bag for you, say that you’re fine! If you don’t want someone to accompany you somewhere, find a way to get out of it. If you don’t want someone to gatecrash your table, say that you’re waiting for someone! There’s a tendency not to take charge of situations, or to avoid conflict when you’re operating in another language, but if you wouldn’t say yes to something in your native language, don’t feel the need to say yes to it in another one.

If you don’t want to answer questions about yourself, don’t do it! There’s no need to give complete strangers details about where you’re going, whether you’re alone etc. Most people are just trying to start a conversation, but if you don’t want to give the information, or you feel uneasy about it, don’t do it!

15. Don’t put valuables in your backpack

If it’s behind you, you can’t see what’s happening to it, especially in crowded places or on public transport where people are jostled against one another all the time. Keep hold of your handbag and don’t just leave it unattended on a chair. If you put it on the floor, put your leg through the strap so you will feel it if someone tries to tamper with it.

Are there any more tips that you would add? Let us know In the comments.

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Kirsty working with students

Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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