When you travel for business, often times all you get to see in your destination is the inside of an office building. But with some research and a bit of sacrifice, you can always find time to explore…
Let’s be honest… business travel is not always fun. Most people who travel for business spend more time in airports than they do at home, and all they see between the time they land and the time they leave to fly back is the inside of a conference room and, when they are lucky, their hotel.
My friends always tell me how jealous they are of all my travelling. When I point out that a lot of it is work-related, they don’t seem to care much. I get to go places (sometimes nice ones), and that’s all they hear. I am not sure I can blame them either… through work I’ve had a chance to spend time in some incredible destinations, from Barcelona to New Orleans, Boston to São Paulo.
I am lucky, because for me business travel is not as annoying or demanding as it is for many people. Most times, I even get to throw in some sightseeing and food indulgence. But it doesn’t just happen – you have to work for it, research and do a bit of prepping. Over the past few years, I have learned a number of valuable lessons on how to make your trip more enjoyable and perhaps even get to take a break from the PowerPoint presentations and the endless meetings.
So here are seven golden rules to make the most of your business trip:
1. Don’t delegate the organization of the trip
If you want your schedule to allow for some extra time to go for a walk around town or savor the local cuisine, make sure you don’t delegate the organization of your trip to anyone. Whether your secretary or a colleague going with you, people often seem to expect you to want to spend as little time away as possible (not too sure why). Book flights yourself (or at least research options) and tailor your trip around both the time you need to work and the extra time you allow yourself to take to explore.
2. Fly in earlier or out later
If you can, try to plan for some extra time at your destination either before or after your business engagement. This is the best way to make the most of your time away, and works particularly well if your meetings and engagements happen to be on a Monday or a Friday. Flying in earlier is particularly convenient if you go somewhere far, as an extra day will help you fight jetlag. I have done this several times, often in the United States. When I travel to not-so-distant places, I look at my meetings schedule and try to see if an earlier inbound flight or a later outbound flight will give me enough time to go for a walk (I have done this in many places around Europe).
You might have to pay for your accommodation for the nights you are not away on actual business, but at least travel will be taken care of. There is an added benefit for your employer or company, too: flying in at off-peak times (like Saturdays or in the middle of the day) is often cheaper than Monday to Friday commuting times.
I have now done this many times (especially when I travel far) and found it to be by far the best way to ensure I at least get a sense of the place.
3. Learn to travel alone
We are not all cut out for it. I myself don’t love to travel alone, but if you are going to take some time off while on your business trip, you must be ready to spend a lot of that time on your own. Meals for one, empty beds, and an unknown city to tame by yourself.
Don’t book yourself into a four day pre-business trip break if you hate being by yourself, and make sure you plan what you are going to do ahead of time. Do your research, and make sure your plan makes sense – I was once in Rio for three days by myself before going to a conference in São Paulo and it rained the whole time, which prevented me from enjoying the city’s outdoors and I got really bored.
4. No matter how tired you are, head out and explore
If your time is really limited (it often is) and you can’t take any extra days or fly in earlier, you will need to make the most of what you have. Wake up early (easier if you fly west halfway across the globe, as the time difference will wake you up at 4 or 5am anyway) and go explore.
Cities are often wonderfully quiet early in the morning… I still remember a 7am walk in the streets of Boston on a freezing December morning, and it was just wonderful (pictured). If you are not a morning person, head out at the end of the day, before dinner or for dinner. You might only get to see the city at night, but it’s better than not seeing the city at all!
5. If with colleagues, hang out with the fun ones
There is nothing worse than being stuck for days in a place with people you don’t like. I am lucky in that department, too, as my colleagues tend to be very nice, but I have heard some horror stories from a few friends.
If you like some of the people you are travelling with (for example, I really enjoy hanging out with my Spanish colleagues), share your plans with them and try to involve them. Time spent with people outside of the office is great to build team spirit, too!
6. Arrange your meetings in a central area
If all else fails, at the very least you can try to catch a glimpse of the city’s skyline and take in some of the atmosphere by proposing to have a meeting in a central location. Perhaps, a restaurant with a view or a meeting in a hotel in the city center.
7. Talk to as many locals as you can
Sometimes there is just no way to sneak out of a meeting, and all your colleagues seem to want to do is to eat at the hotel restaurant and head back to the airport right after the meeting.
The fact that you won’t get to explore a city’s central area, spend a couple of hours in a museum or try a local dish doesn’t mean that you can still learn things about your destination. I find it very useful to chat with as many locals as possible, be it colleagues, waiters or salespeople in a shop. Try not to look too creepy, and engage in conversation with people. You’ll be amazed at the amount of things you will learn.
What do you do to make the most of your business travel?