Between airport lounges, taxis and meetings, here are 6 tips to wiggle in some relaxation and touring for the regular business traveler.
Business travel. There’s a phrase that to the uninitiated smacks of glamour, and to the wearily experienced, of grey windowless rooms in locations that are hard to distinguish from one another. Museums? Parks? Galleries? Everyone you meet from hotel concierge to coffee seller will list out your ideal day. But in your heart, and with jet lag pulling at your eyelids, you fear the extent of your cultural hit will be at the airport shop. And you feel bad about that.
Long ago, I sailed past Prague’s fairy tale castle in a taxi on my way to a meeting, clawing at the window with dismay. I had no time to visit it. It was a shocking fail.
I have just returned from a trip to Chile, where I was working on a wonderful project for our new client Explora. This was business travel at its best. I was working from our Santiago office on the 16th floor of a spectacular development on Kennedy Avenue. The view from the wraparound windows is of glistening businesses, backed by the noble, snow-capped Andes – a firm reminder that there is more to life than post-it notes.
At Bookmark we create travel content, among other specialisms. And any self-respecting travel editor knows that you owe it to yourself to step outside of your hotel and soak up your destination any way you can. On a business trip this means at least looking up from your laptop from time to time. But it’s hard – working abroad is intense; you have limited time and you pack in the meetings. So you have to look for the small happinesses in between the PowerPoint presentations. I got my fix by stopping in a local café for lunch, relishing the crisp winter air and rosy skies, window shopping, laughing with the Uber drivers, waving back at a toddler on her way to nursery, crunching leaves underfoot, making every effort to push my lazy British brain to understand and speak Spanish, and looking out of every window for a new perspective on the city.
At the weekend, thanks to Explora, the team and I flew to the Atacama desert. So yes, not your average business trip I’ll admit. The moon-like landscape, dizzying altitude and vast, piercingly blue skies gave the word awesome its meaning back for me. Creative thinking is never so good as at 3,000 feet while the sun is setting and flamingos are dancing.
Now back in London I thought I would struggle to return to ordinary working life. But this week I find myself newly inspired by the view from my desk. Behind the ash tree on the corner there is a beautiful Italian church where births, marriages and deaths are all treated with similar pomp. It’s as wonderful and sobering as those fatherly Chilean Andes.
I’m looking forward to welcoming our Santiago colleagues here soon, and taking them to the new tearooms in Leather Lane for the finest Earl Grey they will ever taste, in the silliest cup hipster London has to offer.
My six tips for business travel:
- Brazen out a few yoga poses in the plane aisle before and after you sleep. Ignore the looks: they’re just jealous. When you’re travelling alone you have no one to embarrass but yourself.
- Use jet lag to your advantage and keep a note pad by the bed: my best idea came at 4am.
- Try not to let others take too much advantage of your jet lag, however. You will be tempted to answer the emails that come in while you’re being creative at 4am. But while it’s liberating to have cleared the decks before breakfast, you’ll suffer mid-afternoon on the project you’ve flown all this way to work on.
- Research local cafés and easy-reach culture before you arrive, as you won’t have time to do that while you’re there. Reach out to your colleagues for tips ahead of time. Choose one or two must-sees/eats – keep your expectations realistic so you don’t go home disappointed. You’ll be back, after all, if all goes well.
- Be part of the bleisure trend: six out of ten business travellers now add on leisure days to their work trip.
- Consider taking your partner (and even children) with you for extra work/life balance points.