Gone are the halcyon days when "road warriors" and consultants had secretaries for their executive assistants and assistants for their secretaries. Today, somehow, the folks at the sharp end book their own flights and look for their own accommodation. And if you work for yourself, you'll be booking flights on the way to the airport and cell phoning a hotel at the airport! Sometimes, you forget that what you hope will be true is not the same as the reality awaiting you at the other end! There are all kinds of things you need to consider before you fire up your engines for the next task...and, then, more to follow once you're on the road. Here are some steps that may help:
Don't leave home without it! If you're off to a new job or assignment, have a signed contract, work order, or terms of reference for the job. Unless you are in sales, travelling on speculation is not smart. You need to have a legal paper in your possession stating clearly the work to be done, the resources provided and the remuneration for the work including allowances and other privileges. Maybe, you are very trusting. But imagine yourself spending thousands of dollars to go to this assignment and find out when you arrive there that you don't have it. And because there is no contract, they are not legally bound to pay your expenses. So you are out of job and out of pocket as well.
Know all you can about the assignment. Have a clear idea of the terms of reference so that you can negotiate the items you are not comfortable with. If you think that there are some areas you don't have the skills in, bring it up so they get the support needed. If its data, check for websites BEFORE you leave home. Make sure there is some local travel money, too, if you are going between work sites. Look for travel allowances if you will be delivering your work in different cities.
Ascertain the amount for air travel and accommodation. If the assignment is willing to pay only for an economy ticket, then find out your options at this level. This is true of accommodation as well. It is good to know how much living allowance you are entitled to before you book a hotel or rent a place. If you will be in one location for a while, book the hotel for one week and then look for other lodging, amazing savings and you can get a kitchen and laundry, too.
Find out where you will work. What could be more irritating than driving in the midst of traffic for two hours, morning and afternoon, to reach your place of meeting or work? This gets more serious if you have already signed a lease on the place you have decided to stay. Unless, of course, when everything else other than work is in the place you have chosen to stay in. Then, you make some compromises. Groceries, restaurants, schools, parks, safety and key amenities are important consideration depending on your requirements. Even if you have a car, choosing a place closer to work reduces the stress of every day. It is better to first stay at a hotel and look for a more appropriate accommodation once you arrive in the place.
Make sure your documents are valid. This includes, at least, 6 months validity left on your passport. Get business visas when needed. Check on the country website and make sure you know! Often, in countries where you don't need a visa to travel, you will need a visa to work. If you are close to an embassy of the country you are going to, it is better to get a visa right there. While airport visas avoid the complexity of going to embassies when you don't live close to one, they can be a hassle upon arrival as most passengers are also lining up to get a regular visa and you are the odd person out. . If you have to, prepare the required documentation such as pictures. Sometimes, they may ask for a letter from your employer stating your assignment in the country and also your address when you are in the country. Always have 2 photos with you when you are travelling.
Get contact information. Make sure you have your hotel address or your office address. Better still, telephone numbers and contact persons. Many things can happen. The car picking you up may not be there at the airport. Or your plane gets delayed. Or you did guess the time zone difference when you gave them the date.
Prepare a list of information you need from the country or city you are going to. This could include finding out if credit cards are accepted. If they are, do they charge fees? Are there ATMs in the place where you can use your cards to get cash? If there are none, what are the options? Get your answers before you leave.
Go over your insurance policy. Understand what they are prepared to cover in the country you are going to. Make sure you are covered adequately. Get the contact information for the clinics and offices of the insurance company. Make sure you have your membership card and write your number securely in another place just in case you lose the card.
Photocopy important information and papers and leave them with someone you trust at home. Include the front pages of your passports and telephone numbers in your office and hotel. When you lose any of these, it is easy to get replacements when you have photocopies to show.
Talk to people who have lived in the place or who have done business in the place you are traveling to. Learn from the local customs and protocol. Ask if goods that are important to you such as medicines are available there so you can supply yourself accordingly. Some items that you constantly use may just be too expensive or not available in other places and others may be so cheap that it is not worth the weight.
If you fluff your planning, you can spend the first two weeks on the job racing around solving the problems a pro would have addressed before leaving home. Your first impression is of a scatterbrained doofus who shouldn't be trusted with a sandwich let alone a consultancy or a sales contract.