Getting on a plane to go to a foreign country where you have never been before can be intimidating. This article will contain important tips for convenience, safety, and getting the most out of your trip.
First: Decide WHERE you are going.
A roaster should go to any country from which they source coffee. Start with a growing region – Africa, Central America, South America or Asia. Then start to take countries off the table. Sadly, unless you are a thrill seeker with a death wish, you may want to stay away from countries in upheaval like Yemen. If you need excellent hotel accommodations with handicap access you may want to take a large part of the third world off the list as well.
Second: Decide WHY you are going.
To help you decide where to go, it is useful to decide why you are making a trip. There are many possible answers, all of which might steer you to one particular origin or another. Here are some popular reasons to go:
1) Just to touch the earth where coffee is grown and learn about it. This is totally a legitimate reason. You will probably want to go to an area from which you source coffee, but it is not mandatory.
2) I want to visit a farm I work with and really get to know the farmer. This is a great way to sell more coffee. If you can tell the story of your trip and your personal relationship with a producer, you will sell more coffee from that producer.
3) To get an education about the entire supply chain from farming to exporting. This will require a bit more on-the-ground support, but is a great goal! (See the fifth step below.)
Third: Plan Ahead
So you picked a place. Now there are some important, time-sensitive items you will need to deal with before you can leave.
1) You must find out what, if any, VISAs you will need to travel to the country. If you are going as a tourist, many countries have a visa on arrival. If you are going to work (and get paid in any way) you may have to obtain a work visa which should be started about 60 days ahead of time. It will involve working with your in-country partner to write letters and perhaps visit the embassy on your behalf. Information about Visas can be found at: http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html
2) Medical considerations for different countries need to be defined early on as well. Some countries, and even our own, require certain vaccines for different countries. It can sometimes take a while to get an appointment and some need to be taken well in advance of going. You can find out more at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/
3) Have an up to date passport with several blank pages. If you go and look and find out your passport is or is about to expire and / or you only have 1 blank page and you are on your way to the airport, you might be turned away at immigration. You can find passport requirements for different countries at the same site for visa requirements.
Fourth: Make a safety plan
Whether it is fire, flood, political unrest or some other event, you need to have a safety plan. The first best way is to have a cell phone that will work in the country where you are going. Many of the cellular carriers offer an international roaming option. You can always turn off voice and / or data roaming while you are travelling and just turn it on in case of emergencies. Have a detailed itinerary with someone back home so they can find you when they need to. Also enroll in STEP to get safety updates wherever you are going: https://step.state.gov/step/
Fifth: Utilize partners and plan your trip
Most coffee origins have a coffee association or two. Contact them to help with some logistics of getting around and meeting some local folks. If you are travelling to a place you source from, trace your coffee back to the mill, cooperative or farm and set appointments that way. You will find that you will be welcomed everywhere. Also contact the US consulate there to get some tips on where to go (and not go) as well as an honest assessment of conditions in the country.
Stuff to take with you and stuff to leave behind
Money is necessary everywhere. Try to travel with an international credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Those add up pretty fast. Also bring some new, crisp, $100 bills. You get the best exchange rates that way. You can always exchange money when you get there and it is always helpful to have local currency in your pocket.
Attire is important for being functional for what you will be doing as well as blending in. Jeans are universal. Jewelry should probably be left at home. Shorts and a Hawaiian shirt are a big sign that says rob me! Cover up, blend in.
Drugs are a no-no with the exception of OTC or antibiotics and such. Your medical marijuana card does not work wherever you are going and you DO NOT want to end up in jail outside the U.S.
General etiquette is so simple and yet often forgotten when travelling. Familiarize yourself with local customs, traditions and religions so you don’t put your foot in it. Most locals like it when you put an effort to blend in.
So go have fun. Learn a lot. Make some friends and business connections. Once you shake somebody’s hand, you have a higher level of bonding. SAFE TRAVELS TO YOU!
Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com