Sleep in boardrooms, battle on buses: APAC bankers share travel tips

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Asian banker

Your bank has just put you in charge of a regional team spanning the whole of Asia Pacific. Get set for some serious travelling – more so than you’d likely face within other regions.

You’ll be on a plane for more than nine hours from Hong Kong to Sydney, while it’s six hours between Singapore and Beijing.

How best to keep sane and focused during your many gruelling work trips to come? To get some advice, we’ve spoken with seasoned business travellers who’ve clocked up thousands of air miles while working for large banks in Asia. Here are their top travel tips.

Don’t over prepare on the plane

“Don’t over book your flight time. Many bank executives take half their work on board because they couldn’t finish it at the office,” says Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong-based industrial psychologist and executive coach, and a former head of selection at Standard Chartered. “Get the urgent things done on the flight, but leave enough time for sleep and relaxation. Most people overestimate the power of preparation on a flight and underestimate the power of mental clarity on arrival by a factor of 10.”

Get an APEC business travel card

Don’t get delayed at the airport when you land. APEC cards allow multiple visa entries and fast-track immigration access to countries in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. “They’re very useful in jumping immigration lines in Manila, for example,” says former Deutsche Bank managing director Tanmai Sharma, now CEO of Singapore fintech firm Mesitis Capital.

Get strategic on airport buses

In smaller Asian airports a bus may well ferry you from the plane to the terminal. “Try to be the last person on the first bus – they’re usually the first into the airport,” says Sharma.

Plan for traffic

“In Asian cities, aside from Singapore and Hong Kong, it can take as long to get from the airport to your meeting in a taxi as it does to fly to the country itself – because of the traffic,” says Russell Graham, a former Singapore-based global head of service and solution delivery at Standard Chartered, now a partner at consultancy SkyTxB. “Always leave a large buffer between your plane landing and your first meeting.”

Try breakfast meetings

After-work drinks are passé. “Breakfast meetings are becoming quite popular in Asia because they allow clients to avoid the traffic as well,” says Graham. But they don’t work everywhere. “Arranging meetings with clients in their offices before 10am in some countries – Thailand, for example – can be challenging as many senior managers don’t usually start their business day before then.”

Don’t ignore your jet lag

You’re not too tough to feel jet lagged. “We either underestimate the impact of jet lag or we overestimate our ability to cope with it. Sleep deprivation is celebrated in our society and most managers don’t realise just how sleep deprived they are,” says Chamberlain. “So understand exactly how much you are affected by jet lag and use that as a basis for your travel planning.”


“The most underrated technique to fight jet lag is napping – yet to many bankers it’s a swearword, something only for the weakest of weak,” says Chamberlain. “But if you’re focused on mental clarity and optimal performance, you may want to rethink that. As little as a 10 minute nap can make a big difference. To the horror of my colleagues, I often sleep in empty boardrooms while people are out for lunch. Lie on your arms with the lights off and the door closed so you’re unlikely to be interrupted.”

And move!

You don’t need to hit the hotel gym late evening to keep active during a business trip – simply walk more during the working day. “As with sleep, most travelling bankers underestimate the importance of movement,” says Chamberlain. “Try to think ‘movement’ rather than ‘exercise’ – see if you can walk 5,000 or even 10,000 steps per day. Instead of making another cup of coffee, go for a walk – and don’t work for more than 90 minutes without a break.”

Turn off the TV

Develop a “healthy sleep ritual” in your hotel if you want to wake up refreshed for your meetings, says Chamberlain. “Don’t take electronic devices to bed, start winding down for at least 30 minutes before you want to sleep, and don’t watch TV in bed. This is very challenging in hotel rooms – but mindless TV watching can harm your chances of sleeping well.”

Beware internal flights

“Internal flights in most Asian countries don’t have a great track record for on-time arrivals, which you also need to factor into your scheduling. It’s not uncommon for a one-hour internal flight to arrive more than an hour later,” says Graham.

Get upgraded

Don’t lose track of your airline and hotel loyalty points. “Managing business travel is important, and sticking to one airline and one hotel group is a good idea because as you travel more you’ll get more automatic upgrades into higher classes, which eases the entire journey,” says former Merrill Lynch banker Rahul Sen, now a headhunter at The Omerta Group.

Carry some decaf

Try to limit your coffee to two or three cups a day, preferably before 2pm, advises Chamberlain. “Coffee stays in your system for about seven hours, so if you have one at 2pm, the caffeine will still be there by 9pm. This will likely affect your sleep and make your jet lag worse. I’m a coffee junkie, but I travel with a pack of decaf.”

Image credit: courtneyk, Getty

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