I do quite a bit of traveling for work but this week I took my first trip to India, to attend the opening of a new security operations centre by Symantec. I spent a few days at the southern city of Chennai. On the trip in and out, and while I was visiting Chennai, a number of things stood out. Here's what I learned.
#1 Paper Matters
I have a real aversion to printing and avoid it whenever I can. But I was told to bring printed copies of my itinerary, visa documentation, hotel reservations and several other documents.
I'm glad I took that advice.
On arrival at Chennai airport, I was asked to show my itinerary as proof that I had a flight booking to leave so I wouldn't overstay my visa.
When I was leaving Chennai, the security at the airport entrance checked my itinerary to ensure I was entering the airport to catch a flight.
#2 Have Local Currency In Small Denominations On Arrival
There is a lot of poverty in Chennai, at least in the parts I saw, and that means there are lots of people either begging or offering their assistance. When I was walking from the airport terminal to my ride to the hotel, a man wanted to help me by wheeling my bag for me. I didn't let him (I don't let anyone I don't know handle my luggage when I travel) but if I had, I would have had to tip him
Other service staff expect to be tipped so it's handy to have small notes when you arrive.
#3 The Roads Look Chaotic But Aren't
When I arrived at Chennai it was 2:00AM. I was expecting it to be quiet but it wasn't. The roads were busy and everyone, whether in a car, tuk-tuk or on a motorbike toots their horn while driving.
This isn't done in anger but as a way of ensuring other motorists know where you are.
If you're planning to drive (I didn't) be aware that the lines on the road are decorative rather than functional. There were many times when five or six vehicles ran in parallel on a road marked with three lanes even when going around corners.
Despite the noise and apparent chaos, it's clear everyone is looking out for everyone else.
#4 Business Cards Are A Big Deal
As well as being useful for exchanging contact details with business contacts, I needed to provide a business card with my visa application and on arrival at my hotel I was asked for one as well by the staff.
Business cards are, to some degree, a remnant of a bygone era. But a flashy business card is a great way to make a lasting impression. For example, the infamous hacker Kevin Mitnick's business card is mode of metal and can be pulled apart to make a lock picking tool. And while that might be outside most people's budget, a professional looking card, designed with a bit of flair, can help people remember you when you next meet.
The good news is you don't have to pay a designer a fortune to create one as there are plenty of sites that print high-quality custom business cards without busting your wallet in the process. Here's a look at five of the best.
#5 The Streets Of Chennai Aren't Great For A Walk
You've probably seen pictures of dingy buildings, exposed wiring and other things that aren't common in Australia. I saw plenty of that but it wasn't uncommon to see piles of rubble, broken pavements, raised paving and other impediments while walking through a shopping district.
And, to be frank, it was pretty smelly in some places as well.