The Truth About Work Travel (And 5 Ways to Overcome the Difficulties)

I vividly remember my very first work trip. I was invited to a week-long cruise through the Bahamas to accompany adults with developmental disabilities when I was in college. For how young I was, I was responsible for a lot of around the clock duties. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities and lessons that week provided me. Let me just say one thing, though: I came home utterly exhausted.

Shoulders slumped and sunburnt, I trudged through the front door wanting nothing more than my bed and total solitude. I think everyone envisioned my return to be quite the opposite; me beaming with a beautiful tan, souvenirs, and a slew of stories. I was honest with my loved ones about the trip. It was exhausting. It wasn’t a vacation. It was work. Gritty, hands-on, work. I still remember how everyone thought I was being melodramatic.

Fast-forward a few years and I now work a full-time position where every other quarter my schedule is filled with flights, trade shows, and conferences around the country. When I say this, many think I’m trying to sound glamorous. I promise you, I am not. Before I go further, let me start by saying I’m lucky, grateful and in awe of my job, especially having the responsibility to travel and manage events. I just think some light needs to be shed on work travel. It’s demanding. It’s tiring. It’s not what you see in the movies. That doesn’t mean you can’t make the most out of it.

Depending on your role in the company and your reason for travel, work trips typically require you to work major overtime. In terms of conferences, it’s nonstop networking–which is a daunting task in and of itself–before you’ve even had a cup of coffee and continuing on into the wee hours of the morning. With so many meetings, events, and hands to shake sometimes you find yourself on the flight home with no authentic experience of the city you were just in. I’ve found myself asking, how can I do this better next time around? I’ve worked with a few people to come up with some answers. Hopefully, it’ll help you make the most of your next corporate trip.  

1. Genuinely talk to the hotel team.
I’ve learned a lot about the states, cities, and neighborhoods I’m staying in just by simply treating the people who work at the hotels like people rather than staff. If someone helps me with my luggage, I always make sure to walk and talk with them to my room. The same goes for the person who checks me in and the person who makes my bed. The staff of hotels always have the most incredible recommendations, stories, and pro tips for the people who will actually give them the time of day. Even during the trips I haven’t left my hotel other than for work, I feel like I’ve learned a lot just from the people who hosted me.

2. Book your trip a day early or fly back later.
You might be thinking, on the company’s dime? Seriously? I thought the same thing, but it’s actually a common practice. A lot of people I’ve come in contact with use their extra day to prepare for the event, personally settle in, experience the area, and make some meetings with industry friends before the real event starts. Take my current trip for example. I had to fly in on Sunday to set up our company’s display. Once that was completed, the day was mine so I visited a local attraction (Psst. If you ever make your way to Georgia, I highly recommend the Atlanta Botanical Garden). I’ve also met a lot of people who suggest to book your flight home a week later and make a vacation out of your stay once the conference ends. Of course, if you’re taking extra time to that extent, you’ll be required to pay for those extra nights at the hotel.  

3. Schedule your meetings outside of the conference center.
Work travel typically always calls for a ton of meetings. Although most conferences have dedicated meeting rooms and spaces, why not change it up? If the meeting doesn’t require much formality such as a presentation or a boardroom, try to get reservations at a local restaurant. That way you can kill two birds with one stone: Experience the new area you’re in while still fulfilling your work duties. The person you meet with might appreciate getting a breath of fresh air away from all the commotion, too. So, it’ll make your meeting more memorable than most.

4. Wake up early enough to see the city.
There might be coffee where you’ll be working and I’m sure there’s probably a gym in your hotel. Let’s change it up though! Get up early to head to a local roaster. See how their coffee or tea differs from places at home. Strike up a convo with the barista. I’ve been told the funniest stories and most memorable fun facts from people at local coffee houses. I ended up at a Starbucks today in Atlanta because I got rained out before I could make it to the local joint. Turns out, even Starbucks differ depending on the location. The Starbucks I’m writing this article in serves ice creams and floats (that’s not a thing where I’m from). That’s a story in and of itself I’ll go home with. Okay but maybe you’re not into a morning pick me up. Take a walk or jog around the area you’re in. Maybe grab breakfast a local diner if you get up early enough. Reward yourself. Make this trip as enjoyable as possible.  

5. Listen to your body.
As I said, traveling for work is exhausting. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Instead, a few of my friends have recommended ways you can relax and rejuvenate while still making an experience out of your trip. One suggestion is to order takeout from a local spot, so at least you can get a taste of the area you’re. If you just want to watch TV until you fall asleep, try putting on a local station. You’ll see how different the area you’re in is by the commercials, the news, and sometimes even the shows. Lastly, some recommend drinking a warm cup of tea in the cozy lobby of the hotel. Newer hotels tend to have updated lobbies that are designed to feel like a living room or a cafe. What I tend to do is bring a lot of skin care products and my favorite bathrobe and have myself a mini spa night in my hotel room when I want to shut the world out at the end of a long workday. 

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