Travel teaches us to trust our world. That feeling of being adrift with nothing but your tickets and bags. Each plane you catch and each hotel you sleep in is just a stepping stone in a great river of chaos. The river is beautiful and you learn to navigate it and become a part of the flow.
I used to travel a lot for my day job. I deliver and coordinate workshops in clinical communication for an international company. I flew to offices all over the country. I met other trainers, and clinicians. I enjoyed the company of my fellow travelers. Then it all changed. My company started delivering the workshops virtually through an online computer classroom. Travel was rare.
Now I certainly enjoy the convince and comfort of working from home. I find the virtual classroom software a modern miracle and I’m amazed at what we accomplish with it. But it would be a lie if I said I didn’t miss the travel. It has been over a year now and I’ve trained company employees in Dubai, Shanghai, and Hong Kong all from my little home library wearing my cozy tweed slippers.
Recently, an opportunity arose for our program to consult with an external expert. Now I suddenly find myself preparing for another business trip! Not as the teacher this time, but as a student. I will be flying to Seattle to attend a workshop with a colleague and meet with the external consultant helping us revise our own curriculum. The river is pulling me in again. It is good be part of the flow of humanity.
Unlike personal travel, business travel has a point and itinerary of its own. Your objective is determined for you. Logistics, locations, and schedules are often removed from your hands. There is an art to mindful travel. It can be difficult to get a sense of place when all you see are the insides of hotels, airports and conference rooms.
Here are my personal principles for making business travel more meaningful.
Surrender to your fate – You will only have a very few opportunities to explore beyond your business objective. Let it be. Try not to waste energy mourning over what you are missing. Doing so can steal your awareness of where you are and what is right in front of you. Instead, embrace the opportunity you have. Even if it’s just the view of the city from your conference room window.
Do your due diligence – Just because much of the planning is dictated by your business need, doesn’t mean you are off the hook for learning about your destination city. Spend some time with a good map app and visit the city’s chamber of commerce website. Most of them have visitor’s guides online. Find your hotel, the airport, and any offices you will be visiting on a map. What parks, museums, or historic neighborhoods are in your path? This kind of simple research can mean the difference between grabbing just another standardized latte at Starbucks vs. enjoying the home town signature roast while listening to a local jazz quartet.
Talk to people – Solo travelers have a much greater opportunity to interact with locals than people traveling together. Business travelers are no different. Locals are more likely to engage in conversation with you if you’re not cheek-to-cheek with a travel companion. These conversations are what bring a destination to life and show you what life is all about there. As a woman business traveler, I do tend to avoid engaging men in social conversation. It might be difficult to determine a sexual advance from a friendly conversation. Take care to avoid misunderstandings, especially if the culture is unfamiliar or different than your own.
Seek out the soul of your destination city – The random people you encounter and venues surrounding you are all a reflection of the collective spirit of the place. You don’t need to visit a major tourist attraction to experience it. Even your business appointments are probably with local associates. Your hotel concierge probably knows the local neighborhood. Ask them about a route for a pleasant walk or a recommendation for a local restaurant. Avoid the national chains.
Be a crow not an oyster – Oysters lay on the crowded sea floor and shut themselves tight in their shells. While being alone with your thoughts before a big meeting might be just what you need, you don’t have to hide in your hotel room to do it. Fly off to a local park, library, or even church. You just might find shiny bits of insight to take with you into the meeting. You will also make yourself memorable to clients by mentioning where you were when that brilliant gem of an idea occurred to you.