So unfortunately I’m not the type of traveler who has decided to up and quit her job and travel the world. My life is a series of calculated risks that pay out in the form of steady employment, a 401k and over-priced health insurance. So while my fellow friends and travelers are off on whirl-wind solo adventures traversing around Europe, my solo adventures often take me to second-tier cities on business.
But, guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. The average American takes roughly 16 days of paid time off. The US Travel Association has an entire marketing campaign called Project Time Off where they actually have to beg, borrow and steal to convince Americans to take their damn vacation. (I am currently taking vacation donations should anyone like to donate the time he/she refuses to take.)
So here are my top three tips for solo business travel – because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love to make the most of their time in a new city?
Hotel bars and conference lunch tables are your friends
Traveling solo for business doesn’t always mean you have to experience a new city alone. After 2.5 years in the tourism industry, I now find that I am never traveling alone. I’ve made industry contacts and friends from all over the world and I use my business travel as the perfect opportunity to see friends and make new business contacts.
But I didn’t always have these friends. My first solo trip ever was a business trip to Tampa. I was beyond nervous. The trip had fallen within the first couple months at my new job and I had a major project deadline on the horizon, not to mention that I wouldn’t know anyone.
I quickly realized that new people at a conference were a lot like your first day at college orientation. People are desperate to make friends. I managed to meet three new people just on the shuttle ride to the hotel before the conference even started.
Similarly, conference lunch tables are the perfect opportunity to pick up a travel partner or two. I have some classic questions in my pocket for the first couple minutes after you do the dreaded “is anyone sitting here?” Those include: where do you work? Is this your first time at this conference? Have you ever been to X city before?
Next thing you know you have three people who already have a dinner reservation and you’re on the list.
Maximize your existing vacation and that free flight
Check that conference schedule. Does it start on a Sunday or end on a Friday? Try to maximize those minimal vacation days. Flights/travel expenses are generally a huge determining factor in where I travel. Check out your company’s policy on booking flights a couple days earlier or later to explore a city without having to pick up the travel expenses yourself. Generally companies are all good with it, especially if that Thursday morning flight is a little cheaper and can save the company some money.
While not every business destination may be the ideal vacation spot, I’ve found the vast majority of them have at least a weekend’s worth of entertainment to offer. And let’s be real, who doesn’t love a good relaxing weekend alone?
From working in the convention industry I can definitely tell you that booking within the room block has its perks. Convention and visitors bureaus specifically go after convention business to fill hotel rooms and increase economic impact in the city. Thus, you can generally extend your stay in the convention hotel at the pre-negotiated, discounted rate. Staying at the convention hotel has definitely allowed me to stay at places that I generally wouldn’t be able to afford on my own.
If that’s not the case, don’t be afraid to leave the convention hotel for a quick AirBnB stay. I did this in San Francisco after a conference and loved it.
Do your research ahead of time
This seems like a dumb thing to add – like of course you’ll do your research ahead of time. But hear me out – most people don’t plan business trips like they plan personal trips. You’re caught up in the work aspect of this trip, which you, arguably, should be.
Everyone needs to eat. About a week before the trip get on Yelp! and book yourself some “just in case reservations” at places you’ve always wanted to eat. Good restaurants book up everywhere so it’s always nice to have an arsenal of reservations should you choose to venture beyond the room service (which I highly recommend).
I don’t really mind eating alone at a bar; I find that you meet the most interesting people that way. However, I always come armed with a good book or an iPad – because being the girl on the phone you look rude; being the girl reading the book you look smart and like you came prepared. It also acts as a good buffer between you and the pest in the seat next to you.
So there you have it – some tips to make the most of your solo business travel. Lord knows you should always make the most of your all-expenses paid trips, solo or otherwise.
Katy is the blogger behind Windward Traveler. She frequently finds herself providing updates from the road as a busy communications professional in the travel industry. Her specialties range from having the worst travel luck to finding the best brunch spots and dive bars – it just depends on the day. You can follow along on the next adventure here.