Travelling for work can be a double-edged sword. You may get to visit some amazing countries and cities but you are expected to work hard whilst you are away from the office. It is way too easy to get into the habit of saying “Well what else am I going to do? I may as well just keep on working on those e-mails/quotes/meeting reports.” This can be a very dangerous thing to do. As I can guarantee you will return back home tired and weary. And worst of all those emails/quotes/reports will probably still be there. Remember that old adage “A task will always fill the time available”? Well that is exactly what happens here.
So over the years I have developed a strategy of building in “me time” into those busy work days on the road. First up, I always try to get up early, have a really leisurely breakfast, reading the news or better yet a novel (I purposefully avoid eating brekkie with my colleagues – as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am just not a conversationalist first thing in the morning!). Next up, work hard during the day and get back to the hotel room in the evening ready to hit….not the gym (as I hate feeling like a hamster on a wheel) but the local park or just a walk round the block. The important thing is to get some fresh air, to stretch the legs and to just feel the weight fall off the shoulders. I use this time to reflect on the day and to plan my next steps. I find these moments away from the laptop (and the Blackberry, which is purposefully left behind) allow me to find some clarity and to really plan an efficient approach to the rest of the evening. After dinner I can then crack on and accomplish what I need to in a fraction of the time, it used to take me.
Sometimes when I am away for a few days at a time, I actually take one night off, shock horror, and do no work. It is amazing to just take some time for myself. To go out for dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, a nice dessert. Eating out on your own can be an interesting experience, but if you have your book in hand, no-one will bat an eyelid (and think you have been stood-up). The book is a great decoy and restaurants are great places for a spot of people watching – another favourite pastime of mine. Plus if you are brave heading out of the hotel and going into town to a restaurant at least allows you to see something of the city you are visiting, and maybe even sample some local cuisine.
The other thing I try to do when I am visiting a new city is make some time to actually see more than my hotel, the client site and the airport. This can require some ingenious time management (otherwise known as very early mornings) but it can be done. In my last trip to Warsaw two weeks ago I got up early and was out sightseeing before 7am. I enjoyed wandering around as the city woke up and the businesses started to open up. I was able to navigate round the city on a mix of my own two feet, trams and buses and returned back at my hotel ready for the work day to start at 9 am. Obviously this required some planning the night before but at least I managed to see some of this amazing city which throughout history just can’t be kept down. It rises like phoenix in the face of adversity. The old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, completely rebuilt after WWII, has a magical feel, perfectly complemented by the new town with its wider boulevards and modern shopping area. I may have only been there for 2 nights but by eating out both nights, getting up early and exploring I felt I had actually “been to and seen” Warsaw. I worked hard in the two days, was efficient with the work in the evenings but I returned home fresh and invigorated. Not grumpy and shattered.
Travelling for work can really be a pleasure. You just need to work out what you can do to put the spark into it for you!