Running your own business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Entrepreneurship often goes hand-in-hand with long hours, high personal risk, and an inability to disconnect from daily operations. While travel is cheaper, easier, and more accessible than ever for many Americans, today’s entrepreneurs face unique challenges on the road — which often means bringing the office along with them, or at least staying very much connected.
But some business owners and founders are finding creative ways to make working abroad work for them. We spoke to two New York City-based startup founders who see travel as a productivity booster, not a time write-off. Here are their top tips for how working abroad can help entrepreneurs stay productive, creative, and open-minded in today’s business world.
Embrace New Perspectives
Getting out of your bubble brings exposure to new ideas and people. For business owners working hard to differentiate their products and services, that creative spark is often found on the road.
“The best part about visiting other countries is seeing how they operate businesses locally,” says Kenny Kline, founder of JAKK Media and a Columbia Business School alum. “They might be working in different infrastructures or in a market you know nothing about, but normally entrepreneurs will find a way to run efficient businesses.”
Kline cites recent trips to Iceland and Israel as turning points in his business outlook. Observing how local businesses run in those countries, he said, inspired him to explore new directions in e-commerce and product fulfillment. Kline also spends a lot of time in Nashville working and visiting family, and he says even a domestic trip can bring the change of pace he needs to formulate a new idea or concept.
“If an idea sounds good to people in New York and Nashville and the Middle East, there’s probably something there,” he says.
Block Off Time
Don’t expect staying connected on the road to come easily. Wandering Bear Coffee Co-Founder Matt Bachmann says he often gets more productive while traveling — but only if he leans on his calendar for help.
“The challenge is always finding a way to stay on top of your normal workflow, especially on trips with a lot of travel time,” says Bachmann. “I find it helpful to think through when you’ll have specific blocks of travel time (in the car, in an airport, on a plane) and assign (in advance) tasks or mini to-do-lists that are appropriate for that chunk of time.
Wandering Bear Co-Founders Ben Gordon (left) and Matt Bachmann
So while a change of scenery can give a productivity boost, it takes concerted effort to make it happen. Bachmann also suggests packing light to save time and reduce distractions when working abroad.
Visit Local Entrepreneurs
Meeting other entrepreneurs is one of the best ways to learn new tips and accelerate your growth as a business owner. Their real-world advice is incredibly helpful, and because they operate in different markets from your own, entrepreneurs in the same space may be more willing to let you pick their brains.
This can be a tall task if you’re unfamiliar with a new city or if there’s a language barrier. But Kline has a favorite way to break the ice and meat young, driven people almost anywhere.
“Hit the gym on vacation,” he says. “Entrepreneurs push themselves, and wherever I go internet entrepreneurs seem to love exercise. I’ve been working on improving my squat form, and asking for a spot or tips has gotten me conversations with business owners in three or four new countries thus far.”
Take Notice of Travel Perks
If you’re struggling to find new and inventive ways to improve client experience, the best lessons may be found while traveling. The travel industry is often at the forefront of perks: airlines are constantly upping their game with frequent flyer programs, and more and more hotels are going above and beyond to create loyal fans among business travelers.
The next time you receive exceptional service at a hotel, restaurant, or airport, take a moment to think how the same principles could be applied to your own customers’ experience.
Of course, there’s a big difference between learning from travel perks and leaning on them too heavily.
“I try not to assume I’ll have internet on the plane,” says Bachmann.