Creating the Ultimate Business Trip
You’ve weathered the middle seat, survived sheets of fluctuating thread count, wheedled upgrades – and seen dozens of business trips pass by in a tired, anonymous haze. Who needs it?
If you’re like me, you’re ready to upgrade your next trip into a more creative, connected, enjoyable adventure. You can see this as drudgery or see it as the gift of time and the opportunity to expand your horizons.
Here are some thoughts on how to do that.
Prepare for Takeoff
“Journeys are the midwives of thought,” writes Alain de Botton in The Art of Travel. “We are able to have in our heads large thoughts at times requiring large views.”
Best of luck with those large thoughts if you’re weighed down with a thousand tiny questions about what you forgot to handle. Boring and unglamorous but worth it, reasonable planning is the foundation for a fantastic voyage. Decide which office tasks to delegate and do it generously, enlist(or hire) help in keeping your home life humming and allow a fair padding of time in your itinerary for delays and disruptions.
With those pesky details out of the way, it’s on to Phase 2 –arranging for your own in-flight entertainment.
Oh sure, you could work during the flight. But haven’t you done a lot of that already today in more comfortable conditions? Instead, transform the precious time out of email and cell phone range into an aerial Canyon Ranch with the addition of plenty of water, healthy snacks and a selection of things you never get around to. This is recharge time.
It can be a great read, of course, but beyond that consider bringing along something entrancing that you never have time to do on the ground: sketch out the screenplay in your head, organize digital photos or take along some of the exercises from those self-improvement books (the ones you skip on the way to the next chapter).
I love to download digital video and edit movies on my laptop. A friend of mine once spent a marathon flight to Australia designing every detail of his new house. Wireless internet is coming to a plane soon enough, so take advantage of your airborne cocoon while you still can.
You Call That a Meeting?
Cary Broussard knows how to focus on the road, and spent years with a tight fix on “getting things done and getting home.” But Broussard, the vice president in charge of Wyndham Hotels’ “Women On Their Way” program came to realize that “you can’t help but have a couple hours here and there throughout a trip (that are open) to how you want to spend them.”
So, Broussard, who is also a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, began to introduce more active alternatives into her meetings. Forget the blearyeyed meeting/meal in a hotel restaurant. She substitutes sandwiches eaten in the park, a chat while browsing an art gallery, a trip to the gym or a walking tour of historical sites. Broussard has even “had meetings with clients while we get our nails done– just the thing you don’t often make time for at home.”
The truth is, you can even become a bit of celeb for the people you’re meeting, who probably never get out as much as they should either. “Traveling is grueling, but it helps you accomplish a lot for your company,” she says. “You shouldn’t feel bad about taking time to see the city you’re in, or do something you enjoy.”
Going Solo (and Loving It)
Crazy as it sounds, travel may provide the only “alone time” available in overbooked lives.
My No. 1 “alone” destination is a museum, usually chosen on the basis of proximity or an exhibit that sounds quirky and fun. Being there solo enables me to enjoy one of the few places in any city where silence reigns – and I can either motor through like a shopper on Christmas Eve or sit and linger without a discernible reason.
In fact, museums can be rare oases of quiet, and they rarely fail to have excellent cafés and stores. (I like to do gift shopping on the road; it’s a great reason to wander neighborhoods. I especially enjoy odd sources of unique gifts such as hardware stores.)
Feeling guilty? Forget it. It’s difficult to leave a museum without a fresh idea or two, especially if you tag along and eavesdrop behind the sketchbook-toting student tour group.
Having an experience that is a trademark of wherever you are– Graceland in Memphis, a cable car in San Francisco, the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. – captures a sense of place, connecting you to your surroundings in a way the most comfortable hotel room can’t match.
Without the personal connections that define our daily life, it’s up to us to connect to our place of arrival, or to the things that we feel like doing, right at that very moment.
Table for One?
Business travelers generally self-identify as one of these two groups: room-service hermits or book toting lone diners. Either can be great: Hiding away is much like being a child home sick from school (same dress code) and can possess self-indulgent and restorative powers (bubble bath anyone? Yes, guys, you can). Rallying to venture out can be an equally bubbly tonic to travelers like me who carry a lingering fear of missing out on something.
An option in the middle is the trip to the movies, accompanied by your snack/meal of choice. Bonus: No negotiating over what to see, and you never have to tell anyone if you sneak into a guilty pleasure flick you’d make fun of at home. Whatever your preference (and there are no wrong answers), it wouldn’t hurt to identify what you do most often and try the opposite.
Had enough solo time? Look for the increasing number of ways hotels are helping solo travelers find meal-mates (via the concierge desk or the websites of frequent traveler programs). Or do a little online research to find that college friend who lives in the place you’re visiting and stun them with a phone call.
Jeff and Rich Sloan, the founders of StartupNation, a collection of online media channels and resources for entrepreneurs, fight travel ennui with an inquisitive and determined attitude. Before setting out on a trip, the Sloan brothers generally try to find someone with a common interest, through trade associations, networking contacts or research. On a recent trip to Mexico, they met up with people who owned a horse ranch, as they’d become interested in the equestrian experience.
“It’s really important that our travel becomes a vehicle through which we get refreshed,” Rich Sloan explains. “We make it a point to put activities on our itinerary that are unusual, out of the ordinary, so that we can be turned on to new things. Experiencing new cultures, talking to different people encourages you to put disparate ideas together, and it gives you the opportunity to check out another perspective – experiences that make you a more illuminated person and a better entrepreneur.”
Heading for Home
On the return trip, I make notes of my favorite trip things (restaurant discoveries, cool buildings, anything “insider”) to share with friends and colleagues. It’s also a good time to write down the names and contact information of the people you met on the way.
Beyond that, traveling home can be a spectacular opportunity to pay attention to the people around you. The world of travel is still a relatively democratic place, where you might meet a business guru, rock star, adventure traveler or another type who may be scarcer on your home ground. (Note: This may be the single best argument, aside from the reduction of your upgrade possibilities, against traveling in the comfort provided by your favorite sweat suit ensemble.)
Broussard recently traveled with a cardboard cutout that a friend’s child had given her, with the request that she take a picture or two with it during her travels. Broussard ended up introducing the cutout – named Stanley – and herself to one of her business heroes, Southwest Airlines President and COO Colleen Barrett.
Says Broussard: “Those kinds of situations, those chanceinteractions remind me of why I really do love to travel.”