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The summer after I graduated from college, I traveled to Europe for six weeks with a buddy of mine named Brad. At that time, my main consideration was finding someone to travel with who would be fun-loving and willing to compromise, as well as responsible and trustworthy.

This European vacation was pre-internet, meaning that we didn’t have anywhere near the level of information that we have today. In fact, I’ll admit that we planned to “wing it” for most of the trip, figuring things out as we went along. The most concrete arrangement we made was the flights; Brad and I lived in different cities, so we both booked flights arriving in Germany on the same day and at roughly the same time. We passed that hurdle and met up with surprisingly little difficulty. However, as any journey that doesn’t have a plan usually goes, our luck would soon run out.

You see, we hadn’t made hotel reservations in advance—a big mistake, we would soon find out. There were a considerable number of budget hotels published in our travel guidebooks, but as we started phoning them, one by one they informed us they were full.

When we received a stern “no” from the final hotel on our list, we retreated to a restaurant for a beer and to talk about what to do next. At risk of sleeping in the streets, we needed a solution—and fast! In reading further, we found a blurb about where to stay in case of emergency. The book stated, if you are totally out of luck, or if you want to stay somewhere totally unique, “Go to the Tent!”

“The Tent” was exactly what it sounded like—a large, circus-style tent where for a small fee you could crash on a rubber mat for the night. Nearly every square inch was covered with sleeping people. The bathroom was outside. Thank goodness, Brad and I had to spend only one night there.

Our lesson: Plan ahead! Not only did we have to sleep on a hard floor in the cold with hundreds of strangers, but we also risked having no place to sleep at all. The fact that we were able to think clearly and find our “Tent” solution does not take away from how risky and foolish this was—and how badly it might have ended.

Being carefree has its place in life. And it can certainly make for a great story. However, your clients will not appreciate such carelessness and lack of foresight in your transactions with them. Diving headfirst into a business deal is never a good idea—mistakes are almost always costly. Nor are you likely to be successful in your work by acting in a random, haphazard way. The good news is Brad and I enjoyed the rest of our trip. From our mistake, I learned an important lesson about planning and preparation that I apply to my career every day. “The Tent” still exists in Munich, Germany. But I would never stay there now, no matter what.

Rob Wardlaw is the associate publisher of Gulfshore Business magazine, robw@gulfshorebusiness.com. 

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