Lean Travelling: Planning an Overseas Trip Like a Boss

Underneath the Great Wall

Travelling overseas is a good gauge for an entrepreneur’s ability to adapt to change: it disrupts your usual routine and forces you to move beyond your comfort zone. With a limited time frame, knowledge and information from pre-planning and friends will help you get further with your dollar and maximise your Return of Investment (ROI).

I’ve just returned from a solo business sourcing trip from Beijing and Shanghai for the last 18 days and here are some travel hacks I’ve learnt or have applied.

There are some periods where airline tickets are dirt cheap for the country you’re heading to. Asking a friend who flies there often is also great if you’re unsure when’s the best time to head there.

And sometimes its because the weather is inhospitable, so play your cards right and choose the right periods. e.g. transition period from winter to spring and avoid non-peak periods where tons of people take vacations like June or December.

Avoid hotels unless Airbnb and Couchsurfing doesn’t already have good hosts. You can usually expect 50% cheaper rates than hotels if you’re using Airbnb but the facilities and experience can match 4 star hotels. Couchsurfing is free.

Airbnb is like staying in a private lodging with concierge service. The hosts are motivated to provide a pleasant experience to build a consistent revenue stream from their place based on good reputation. You also get breakfast from certain hosts.

Couchsurfing is powered 100% by goodwill and most hosts don’t host a guest for more than 3 nights. Hosts are generally motivated by meeting new people and understanding different cultures. Most of the time, you will have to make do with sleeping on a couch in the living room instead of a bed in your own room.

If you get along well with the hosts, they will personally bring you to their favourite places and hang out with their friends. Although in the case of Couchsurfing, they’re more compelled to do so if they accept your request to couch surf.

Both are safe but if you’re a lady traveling alone, pick Airbnb or stay with a female couchsurfer or a married couple.

Both options helps to save on unnecessary hotel expenses and gain insights to local culture. I’ve saved about USD$700 by avoiding 3 star hotels in Beijing or Shanghai while staying in a villa, a serviced apartment and old buildings with history and character. Most of the time, my hosts had WIFI, which is great for planning activities the next day.

While you’re pre-interviewing your prospective hosts via Airbnb or Couchsurfing, you can ask them the best way to get around town or order cheap domestic flights.

Usually scouring the internet for information and saving it in a PDF file together with your airline e-tickets should suffice as a travel guide. If inadequate, there are free apps like the GuidePal series which comes preloaded with offline maps and local tips.

A good rule of thumb in travelling light is to just have a carry-on baggage with 2 to 3 sets of casual and formal wear, depending on your itinerary. Do your laundry there, if your trip stretches for more than 5 days. Airbnb hosts usually provide laundry service or have a washing machine.

You may also join local LinkedIn interest groups in advance and introduce yourself so you can meet influencers early in your trip, who may recommend you other people to meet. Also make known to your friends early that you’re travelling overseas and ask if they know anyone (2nd degree connections) who’s residing in your country of travel; build your circle of trust from there.

It’s also good to have 2 phones, the older one should be able to take standard SIM cards (where you’ll buy a local calling card once you arrive), while your usual phone will be for emergencies. Remember to have your home country’s local embassy on speed dial :)

That aside, always get visas and passports settled early (at least 2 weeks before).

There’s no right way to structure itineraries but generally its good to buffer for more time in between due to unexpected weather and traffic conditions.

Local mobile apps really do help if you can get WIFI near coffeeshops, airports and hotels. They have the most updated maps and I’ve had my iPhone GPS and Compass app point me in the right direction on several occasions (you don’t always need to take a taxi).

Taxis are good for out of the way areas during non-peak hours. If not metro train lines can get you where you need to go faster and cheaper. Get a local transport card, if any, it’ll save you time and frustration from queuing to buy metro tickets.

Find out what’s good to eat near the places you’re scheduled to go and be open to try new food. It’s also good to know at least one local delivery service that serves takeaways to your doorstep.

McDonalds or other familiar fast food brands will probably consist of your first few meals if it’s your first time in the country. Before you get adventurous with local delights, that familiar fast food brand sells clean, safe, inexpensive food (it also sells predictability).

Always have a stash of breakfast bars or snack just in case the weather turns awry or plans change (which they often do).

Most good Airbnb and Couchsurfing hosts should have filtered drinking water at home. Have a water bottle around to save on bottled water purchases.

While travelling, a few good pit stops offer refills on drinking water for free: events, dining locations, coffeehouses like Starbucks, walking into showrooms and offices as an interested guest.

If you have done your preparation work, certain events/conferences do have food catered. If you’re adventurous you can blend into staff canteens and eat like a local. I did that once and had my lunch for free but you need to be able to speak like a local.

Eating street food can be an awesome experience if you’ve prepared medication, in case things don’t go so well down there.

You can also time your flights to have meals served on air to save time and money.

Travelling overseas or staying there on the short term can open doors if you know what you’re doing. You’ll likely come back home a stronger man (or woman) and be ready to kick some ass with some fresh insights of the world we live in.

Do one thing everyday that scares you.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt, US diplomat & reformer (1884 – 1962)

  • http://bosslee.co/ Bryan Lee

    Love the post. Will be using Couchsurfing !!!

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