Michelle Atagana travels a lot. So much so, that she’s been known to remark that she feels more at home in a hotel room than her own house. Small wonder then that she’s adapted so well to her position as head of communications and public affairs at Google South Africa.
The job entails frequent trips into the African continent to educate people about Google’s latest initiatives, as well as to other Google offices around the globe. Then again, she had plenty of practise at her previous job as the managing editor of Memeburn, one of the continent’s leading technology news publishers.
Given the amount of traveling Atagana does, we thought she’d be an ideal person to talk to about the essentials of business travel.
While stuck in one of Nairobi’s notorious traffic snarl-ups, she gave us the skinny on what every business traveller should pack, how Nigerian traffic jams can turn into shopping expeditions, and how to make long-haul flights more bearable.
Engage Me: What’s the first thing you pack when you travel for business?
Michelle Atagana: Headphones. The worst thing in the world is to be stuck with crappy headphones on a long haul, even on a short flight. Good headphones make all the difference.
EM: What are your must-haves for international business travel?
MA: A good powerbank, for your phone and computer. One apocalypse bag (this should contain all the essentials and should be easily flung over your shoulder). Comfortable shoes and at least one nice outfit in case of an out-of-the-blue outing. Painkillers are also a must.
EM: What’s your approach to packing for a trip?
MA: Um… approach? Two hours before I have to leave the house, I check Google for the weather then pack whatever seems vaguely appropriate. As long as I have pair of jeans in my bag I am okay.
EM: What are the worst parts of international travel that you just have to put up with?
MA: Airports. I am not a fan of airports and spending extended amounts of time in them always makes me the worst version of myself.
EM: What are some of the unique challenges you’ve encountered in the cities you’ve done business in?
MA: I am currently answering this while in traffic in Nairobi. We have been in this particular section of traffic for about two hours. In Africa, the traffic is the focal points for some city adventures. In Lagos, I buy a lot of things in traffic, food, books and boardgames.
Europe is interesting because in non-English countries, cab drivers will refuse to speak to you in English, or even try to explain themselves, knowing you don’t understand them. I find that interesting because, in Africa, Western travellers complain if someone can’t understand English but in Europe and Asia they accept it.
EM: What are some of your tips and tricks for making long flights bearable?
MA: A great playlist. I have playlists on Play Music for different flight lengths and even different airlines. Also, don’t be shy to fly in Pyjamas. I always change into my PJs or yoga pants on long hauls. It makes life so much better.
EM: Is it possible to be productive on a layover?
MA: Yes and no. It depends on the layover: if is it after a long-haul flight, you are quite eager to get the trip over and done with, especially if you are on your way back home. However, when I was at Memburn I wrote some of my best pieces on layovers and on planes.
EM: Which international airport is your favourite and what makes it so special?
MA: Well I am not a huge fan of airports, but if I had to pick it would between Incheon International Airport (ICN) and Munich Airport (MUC). Incheon mostly because it is on an island and immigration is always a pleasure there. Munich because it’s so easy to navigate, I am always connecting from there and gates are easy to find. Also, it has great coffee.