Career Go Beyond the Business Trip

by Amelia Mularz | September 19, 2019

Would you call your work travel schedule these days less “adventure” and more “grind”?

If so, it may be time to think outside the conference room and hop on board the ever-growing trend of combining business and leisure travel. A recent study from Expedia Group Media Solutions found that in 2018, 60% of U.S. business trips included an added leisure element, which is up from 43% in 2016.

There are simple, exciting ways to transform your next work trip into a professionally productive and personally engaging experience. Sound far-fetched? It won’t once you’ve perused the hard-won wisdom of four seasoned business travelers. Check out their tips below.

Schedule meetings strategically

“Coordinate your meetings so they’re on Monday or Friday,” suggests Michael Puldy, a technology executive and author of The Millennial’s Guide to Business Travel: Lessons for the Next Generation of Road Warriors. “That way you have the weekend to enjoy a little personal time while you’re traveling.”

Be strategic with your schedule. “Most companies are flexible and more than happy to let you take a few extra days,” Puldy says, “but, of course, they don’t want to pay for your holiday.” See if your company will accommodate a different flight — say, a Sunday evening return rather than Friday evening — if the fare is comparable. In fact, sometimes your weekend stay can reduce airfare costs and actually save the company money.

You’ll likely be on the hook for any additional nights of accommodations, so inquire whether your hotel will extend any corporate rates to the personal portion of your stay — one more way to save.

Pittsburgh to Paris, anyone?

“Knowing the ins and outs of your corporate travel policy may land you a weekend trip to Paris,” says Tiffany Sapp, a tech company consultant.

For multi-week business trips, many companies will often cover your airfare to a new destination rather than flying you home for the weekend if the airfare is the same price or less. For example, while working on a project in Pittsburgh, Sapp’s colleagues found tickets at the right price and jetted off to Paris rather than flying home to San Francisco one weekend. “You just need to know what the rules are, then you can get creative,” Sapp says.

Knowing the ins and outs of your corporate travel policy may land you a weekend trip to Paris.
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Switch up your stay

If you tend to stay at the same hotel for work travel, even something as simple as changing up your stay can give your business trip a new boost.

If your company allows you to choose your own accommodations, sometimes you may be able to find a warmer, more leisurely option than a corporate or airport hotel for about the same price. “Book boutique hotels,” suggests Los Angeles, CA-based travel agent Adrian Bellomo. “Often this means forgoing rewards points at the chain hotels,” Bellomo says. However, “local boutique hotels usually have much more character. Plus, Bellomo adds, they’re likely to have restaurants and bars that are popular with locals.

Location is key. “When I’m traveling and I know I’m going to mix personal with business,” Puldy says, “I’ll look for a hotel in the area where I want to have fun.” So find a place in the theater district if you think you’d like to see a show once the day’s meetings wrap. Or make the bustling shopping area your base if you’d like to scope out the city’s fashion scene. Staying in an area that interests you will make it easier for you to enjoy your downtime — and do more than channel surf in your room once the workday is over.

Maximize that per diem

“Try to use your per diem for really local spots, not just chain restaurants or airport food,” Sapp suggests. Finding bold, thoughtful ways to apply your per diem can transform a business trip into a culinary adventure.

Sapp and her colleagues strive to eat outside of conference centers and, whenever possible, seek out local cuisine to help them truly get a feel for a city. If their sights are set on a buzzed-about restaurant that’s a bit pricier, they’ll rein in their spending during the day then splurge on a memorable dinner. It’s a tactic that need not be confined only to meals.

Likewise, Puldy will often bring snacks with him on the road and take advantage of free hotel breakfasts so that he can use his per diem strategically. “I really like going to nice restaurants when I travel,” he says. “That’s part of my entertainment.” No settling for mediocre meals while traveling for work in Boston for him. “All you have to do is get in a cab and in 10 minutes you’re in the North End and you can enjoy an amazing Italian dinner — plus the most awesome cannoli that you’ll ever have!”

woman spoons cappuccino foam into a friend's mouth as they sit in a cafe

Pack for fun

Bellomo’s golden travel rule? “Always bring a swimsuit.”

What you choose to pack often sets the tone for your trip. “There’s nothing that will make you feel like you’re on vacation more than taking a dip – even if you’re just at an indoor pool at a big corporate hotel in Minneapolis in the middle of winter,” says Bellomo.

Also, be sure to toss sneakers and workout clothes in your suitcase, and then use your destination city as your gym. Not only will this help you keep momentum up with your workouts while you’re on the road, but it’s an excellent way to get to know a new place. “Wake up early for a run or bike ride – plenty of cities now have bike-share systems and some hotels have bikes to borrow,” Bellomo says. “This is a great way to explore the neighborhood and spot places for dinner and drinks later, too.”

woman wearing a red swimsuit laying back in a raft shaped like a pineapple floating in water

Make it a family affair

“Don't be afraid to bring family. There's an assumption that they'll be a distraction, but I've actually found family to enhance my work experience,” says travel photographer Marianna Jamadi.

Life on the road can cut into family time — but it doesn’t necessarily have to. In what Jamadi describes as “the ultimate mastery of business and pleasure,” she seamlessly integrated her mom into a business trip to Nicaragua. “I was producing photography content for a luxury resort,” she says. “My mom enjoyed the spa and beach all day while I was getting the shots I needed, then we would connect over dinner and pop bubbly in our huge soaking tubs.”

On another work trip, Jamadi brought her boyfriend to Belize. Not only did they get in some quality couple time, but he also assisted on the shoot. “While we had a day-by-day schedule,” she says, “we managed to explore, dine and fall in love.”

“If you can bring your family, it’s always a lot more fun,” Puldy agrees. “The big challenge is, you have to keep your head in the game.” It’s important to manage your family’s expectations and make sure they understand you’re on a work trip, so you may not be able to meet up for every meal and activity. Puldy says conferences — which tend to take place in vacation-friendly destinations near theme parks — can be ideal for bringing along loved ones. “The family can go and have fun,” he says, “while you work during the day.”

Carve out non-work activities

“My business trips often double as opportunities to catch up with old friends," explains Sapp. When traveling, Sapp makes a point to carve out time in the evenings to meet up with friends who live in other cities. “I worked on a project for a few months in Boston and used those work trips to spend time with a childhood friend who I normally don’t get to see because I live on the other side of the country,” she says. “I did the same thing with another friend in NYC — every time I came into town we grabbed dinner.” In this way, a busy travel schedule can be transformed into an opportunity to become more — not less — connected to the people in your personal life.

Also, don’t fall into the trap of believing the extracurriculars on a business trip — the local meals, bike rides, baseball games and museum visits — are selfish indulgences. “Taking 90 minutes out to go to a nice restaurant, or to walk around a park or visit a museum, really helps me relax and clears my head. It lets me think through what I’m about to do the next day," Puldy shares.

These recharging respites can actually boost your professional performance. “[These experiences] actually create a connection with the business group that I’m meeting,” Puldy says. “Often they’re really excited when I tell them, ‘Oh, I went to this restaurant or game or theater event,’ because it shows that I’m spending time in their city. That I’m invested. It’s a great way to develop a relationship.”

My business trips often double as opportunities to catch up with old friends.
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It's a worthwhile lesson to internalize no matter how much time you spend on the road for work: Ultimately, making a business trip work for you is an ideal way to make travel work for your company, too.

Amelia Mularz

is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who lives a life of leisure, mixed with Monday morning meetings. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Harper's BAZAAR and Los Angeles Magazine.