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Rules for Road Warriors

How to Survive Globetrotting

QRCA VIEWS, Volume 13, #1

QRCA VIEWS, Volume 13, #1

In-person qualitative research requires a tremendous amount of travel. Consequently, many QRCs are true Road Warriors, traveling thousands of miles each year across the US and around the globe to serve their clients.

QRCA VIEWS reached out to a handful of these busy business travelers - including DGA's own, Dave Gustafson, as well as Susan Fader of Fader & Associates and Pat Sabena of Sabena Qualitative Research Services - to find out what advice they have for aspiring Road Warriors.

Check out Dave's tips for international travel below to help you tackle any busy travel schedule, or click here to read the full article as seen in Volume 13 of QRCA VIEWS.


Q: One question QRCs often get from friends and family is, “How do you cope with all that travel?” How do you respond?

Dave: I find the best way to cope with the travel is to fully embrace it for the adventure that it is. I lived abroad in Germany and Japan, so my familiarity with living in other countries helps, and I enjoy traveling which makes it a bonus.

Q: When it comes to international business travel, which may involve visiting several countries and continents in a single trip, what tips do you have for making the experience go smoothly?

Dave: The key when conducting multicountry or multi-continent travel is planning a realistic schedule that sprinkles in “recovery” days, if possible, throughout the research. Jumping several time zones eventually catches up to you, and the last thing you want is to have the quality of your work suffer. I have three Rules for the Road that I created early in my career that continue to serve as my mantra for international travel today – 1) don’t drink alcohol, 2) get a good night’s sleep, and 3) eat a killer breakfast. We have to remember that when we travel abroad, we represent ourselves, our companies, and our clients, so we want to put our best foot forward. We also serve as ambassadors for the US, so we want to make good impressions on our global partners. Falling asleep in the backroom does not reflect well on us or on our companies.

Q: Traveling to a succession of countries can be very physically demanding. When you have a trip like this, how do you take care of yourself? What tips do you have for first-time travelers?

Dave: See my three Rules for the Road above, which I think will be particularly important for a neophyte Road Warrior. I also recommend utilizing multiple methods for wake up – e.g., wake-up call, cell phone, etc., to avoid the potential for sleeping through your alarm.

Q: When you are working on the road in a time zone that is many hours different from your client’s, how do you keep them up to date in a way that works for both your schedules?

Dave: Traveling abroad on business is all about trying to establish routines as quickly as possible and managing expectations with your clients. I suggest establishing an updated schedule with the US-based client (or collaborative partner) that optimizes your convenience. In addition, sometimes you can upload updated interview grids, discussion guides, etc. to an FTP site, so the client can access the information on their own without having to contact you directly.

Q: Are there any pitfalls to being an American abroad that business travelers should be aware of?

Dave: Historically, the curiosity factor with Americans, particular in Eastern cultures, was extremely high. While I think the novelty has worn off somewhat in recent years, many cultures (apart from some parts of the Middle East, where I do not travel) view Americans favorably and are genuinely interested in learning more about our culture and us. Less informed individuals might have stereotypes they have garnered from the media, TV shows, movies, etc. that they think applies to all Americans. Unfortunately, reality TV shows (e.g., Jersey Shore) have perpetuated these stereotypes. My advice is to always act professionally and behave accordingly to allow for a more favorable/professional impression.

Q: How do standards for business attire differ across countries?

Dave: In general, I would say the Far Eastern developed countries (e.g., Japan, Korea, etc.) are more formal, both in conversation and attire, than other cultures (at least in the business environment). My rule of thumb is to err on the side of “over-dressing” rather than “under-dressing.” You can also hang out in the hotel lobby for a while to get a good feel as to how local business people are dressed.

Q: When you only have a very limited time on a business trip to explore a foreign city, how do you decide what to do?

Dave: Unfortunately, this is more often the case than not, as project deadlines (both the project that requires me to be abroad in the first place, and other projects I have on my plate) usually dictate my level of free time. It depends on how adventuresome you are, whether you have to see the “can’t miss” attractions that particular region/city is known for, and how comfortable you are “just winging it.” I value feedback from concierges and/or my studio contacts.

Q: How do you make the most of your en route travel time – time in planes, airports, and on layovers between flights?

Dave: Although I recognize this would not be ideal for everybody, I enjoy my work and consider business travel to be a privilege, particularly in this economy and competitive business environment. Consequently, I am always working in these venues – definitely on planes (except when I have to “turn off devices”), always in airport lobbies, and usually in taxis – I endeavor to stay “ahead of the curve” and to keep my business thriving, relevant and competitive (as I want to win the next global project!).