On the Company Dime: Making the Most of Business Travel

Whenever I hear people say “I’d love to have a job that that involves travel” I can’t help thinking: Why?

I mean sure, if you were a guidebook writer, or a food critic, it would be awesome to be sent to various exotic locales to explore and stuff your face. But regular business travel is not really fun. You get all of the downsides of travel: hanging out in airports, eating crappy fast food, staying in impersonal hotels, with none of the fun, spontaneity or exploration. Instead of spending your days getting to know a city, you are usually locked up in meetings. It’s not even relaxing.

Admittedly, my experiences are limited. I’ve only been in the work force a couple of years now, and been on a handful of business trips. My first trip last year, to a convention in San Diego, was a miserable lesson on how not to experience business travel. I ended up overworked, sick, and wanting nothing more then to get out of that lovely city, come home and sleep.

This time around, I was determined to make the most of my week in Tampa. Unfortunately, I turns out Tampa is not a very interesting place. Nonetheless, here are some tips I’ve learned for making the most out of business trip:

Rolling cigars in Ybor
  • Do you Research– You will probably not have a lot of leisure time, so it’s a good idea to do some research before you leave. That way you can make the most of your downtime. Before I left town I spent some time learning about Tampa on Wikitravel and also polled Twitter for suggestions so that I would know just what was worthwhile to see and do. In Tampa this meant several retro trolley trips down to historic Ybor city, the cultural and nightlife center of the city. Restaurants and bars line the streets here along with authentic cigar shops.
Fancy (free) dessert
  • Dine Out– No matter how busy you are you’ll need to take time to eat. Your company will usually cover your dining expenses while traveling so this is a perfect opportunity to experience some culture on the cheap (and eat like a king if you’re me). I always try to take advantage of this and find great restaurants in the city I’m visiting.
Harbor Island as seen from my hotel room
  • Take Care of Yourself– On my first business trip I was totally unprepared and promptly came down with the flu on my second day in town. Not only did this make my long workdays completely miserable, I ended up skipping all of San Diego’s attractions to nurse myself in my hotel room. This year I came prepared with packets of Vitamin C, drank lots of water and made sure to get enough sleep so that I would have energy to spare. It’s tempting to push yourself like crazy, but in the long run being good to yourself will take you much farther.
Palm trees are just so freaking awesome
  • Give Yourself More Time- Since you’re already out on location, why not try to stay a couple extra days? Most companies will allow you to change your ticket and simply pay any difference in airfare. It’s a cheap way to work in a little extra vacation.I did not do this in Tampa, but a couple of my colleagues took advantage of this idea and headed over to Disney World for the weekend before returning home. If I were headed somewhere really exciting I could see this being an inexpensive and viable option to work in some sightseeing.

So, while I had a pretty nice time partying it up in Tampa, I’m still not a huge fan of business travel.  I can’t see it as a      substitute for independent travel in my life. Still, it’s more interesting than a day at the office and, if you take advantage of your time, a unique opportunity.

What are your business travel tips?

29 thoughts on “On the Company Dime: Making the Most of Business Travel”

  1. I think growing up, before I caught the ‘travel bug,’ I fantasized about the possibility of traveling with a job. Now, after having traveled independently for a couple years, I’m not sure I can think of anything worse.

    Although perhaps it’s a compromise for those who never take the time out to travel. I think even if your traveling puts you in lots of fake hotels, busy airports, and business meetings, you’re still getting some chances to see more of the world – in your own way.

    I would say being stuck in a cubicle for 45 hours a week is far less appealing than having the opportunity to travel to new places – even if it’s solely for business purposes!

    1. You say compromise where as I might say excuse. It’s better than nothing of course, but isn’t it kind of a poor substitute for actually traveling under your own steam?

  2. I’ve never had the opportunity to travel for work, but I have mooched off of other people’s company dime by tagging along. Dad’s working a conference in SF? I’m there! Now that had some perks, they had organized tours to Muir Woods and Sausalito, and we ate like royalty. Since he primarily plans events for clients, he can enjoy a lot of what a place offers because he’s showing it off to clients. My husband on the other hand, has to skip out of conference meetings to see anything. So I plan some places for him to visit when he does get a break, either together or by himself.

    I’d take sitting in an airport over a windowless office.
    .-= ehalvey´s last blog ..Irish Junk Food: Curry Chips =-.

  3. I work with fundraisers who have to travel every couple of weeks. The more they talk about their travel woes, the more I think: Wow, I’m glad I’m not you. On the other hand, I do enjoy opportunities to go to conferences in other cities–even though they only provide a few hours a day to get to know the place. I’m sorry you didn’t like Tampa. I wonder if you’d have liked it better if you’d had more free time?
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Shiny Travel Objects: March 28, 2010 =-.

    1. Yeah, business travel is too much hassle and not enough fun for my liking. Tampa might have been better with a little more time, then I could have headed over to St. Petersburg.

  4. The travel I’ve done has been pretty nice, all in all. But I’m not heading to Arkansas twice a month. I’ve been able to see a lot of nice locations and some of them are places I might never have found the time to visit.

    On the flip side, I have had a lot of trips where all I saw were airports, hotel rooms and conference tables, then right back to the airport!

    We’ll see how Miami treats me this week!
    .-= Joel´s last blog ..Confessions of A Cultural Idiot Pt. 3 – Participate =-.

  5. I haven’t done much business traveling, but the small amount I’ve done has been wonderful. I suppose it’s a little different with music. There are rehearsals and performances, but there is usually a good amount of freetime to explore the city.
    .-= Nancy´s last blog ..Buying a Couch and Meeting the Dude =-.

  6. Work trips can be such a tease, but I always try to steal away some time for myself so that I can take a solo walk around a new city. Even if it’s just for an hour, you’ll feel like you got some one-on-one real time with a new and strange place.

  7. Hahaha, so true. Sounds so glam when I say, “My company is sending me to France and Seattle this year.” In reality I won’t really get to see anything, I’ll be working my ass off, and the only real perks is eating out all the time…which inevitably leaves me feeling sluggish and disgusting.

    But you’re right, be prepared. I made so many mistakes when I first when to France. So, so, so many.

  8. Hi Steph. These are great tips. I agree that I probably wouldn’t want to travel for work because I’d rather go somewhere to enjoy it rather than stay in an office but these are helpful to make the most of not so appealing situation.
    .-= Joya´s last blog ..Hello world! =-.

  9. Business travel definitely seems like a mean trick. You feel like you’re going on vacation, but it’s nothing like it. I went to London for a week on business in February, and my coworkers and I were so excited. Our hopes were quickly squashed when we realized we were going to be stuck in an office until at least 5 every day. We did go out and eat really nice dinners in the evening, and we stayed at a great boutique hotel — two definite perks of traveling on the company dime. But it was definitely hard to enjoy the city. Thankfully, on our last full day, my boss back home emailed us and told us to only work a half day so we could actually go enjoy the city during the day. I left the following day for Istanbul for a three-night vacation. While the company didn’t pay for that, they paid for me to get from Austin to London, which is the most expensive part! So it was incredibly easy to buy a cheap flight and extend my business trip with a few vacation days. That made it worth it!
    .-= Emily @ Maiden Voyage´s last blog ..Guest Post: Two Days in Paris =-.

  10. I don’t know whether this would be of any use to you but staying in serviced apartments can make your trip a little less uncomfortable. You’re right, hotels are completely sterile and it does not help when you’re already stressed. It’s not going to change the fact that you’ll probably see very little of the country but it does feel more like living in a country for a while rather than being a tourist or business traveller.

  11. 5 out of the 12 countries I have visited this year were on company time and money and I was so grateful for every opportunity. I maybe have it easier than others as I plan my own business trips so I always make sure I have enough leisure time to explore a place afterwards. As you say, prior research is key. Business travel has also taken me to places I might never have chosen myself – Estonia, Lithuania, even China were pretty low on my wish list but became a pleasant surprise when I flew there for work. In a ideal world I would love to travel independently forever but until I am a millionaire I feel extremely blessed to be able to travel for work.

  12. I heard a consultant joking once, he said, first time you love it, second time you can stand it, and the third time you never want to do it again. It’s probably very true. The better the company lets you travel, the less stressful it will be, but if you have a family that you are constantly leaving, that would never be easy.

  13. The tip I agree with the most from your post is to do your research. With limited time in the evenings, and maybe a weekend day or two if you’re lucky, you need to know what you want to see and how to see it as easily as possible.
    I’ve been lucky to have been sent on several business trips ranging from a week to five weeks and on every trip there was lots of research ahead of time. I just returned from a trip that was four weeks and through four countries which gave me five weekends of leisure time to explore, explore, explore. I was able to spend a weekend in London, Paris, Berlin, and day trips from Hamburg and saw so much but only because I planned ahead. It also helped that I stayed as rested as possible during the week so I wasn’t completely exhausted on the weekends.
    Business travel can be a drag but it can also be a great way to see new places for minimal amount of money. I always look forward to any trip my company sends me on.

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