Even on the busiest trip, try to find time to eat well, stay in an interesting place, and most importantly, wander.
Traveling for work can be a lot of fun; if you’re lucky enough to have a job that takes you somewhere, it means getting out of the normal routine and see something different. But it can be tough on work trips — at least in my experience — to have the kind of “travel” experience I seek on trips that I plan myself. When there’s work to be done, it’s tough to learn about the history of a place, or meet interesting locals, or immerse yourself in local culture.
Over the years, however, I’ve gotten a little bit better at this, and below are something of the things I do these days to walk away from work trips not just with a job, but with greater insight into the place I’ve visited.
1. Make time to wander.
This is probably the most important thing, because it gives work travelers a sense of a place’s essence. When I was in Paris covering the U.N. climate talks last December, for example, I walked everywhere. I had very little time for recreating, but by walking managed to see a wealth of street art and a whole bunch of Christmas tree lots — both of which gave me a bit more appreciation and understanding of the city.
A week earlier, in London, I knew I wasn’t going to have any time to wander around. But I was also jetlagged. So, because I couldn’t sleep anyway, I decided to wander the streets. It turned out to be one of my favorite London walks ever, and I saw loads of Christmas lights.
2. Eat well, and eat locally.
Traveling for work is a great opportunity to sample new foods. If a place has a characteristic dish, try that. If there is a well-regarded restaurant, check it out. Case in point, a few years ago while covering a trial in Phoenix, I had a chance to try Pizzeria Bianco, a somewhat famous and very well regarded place downtown. It was fantastic, and more importantly I never would have eaten there — or visited Phoenix — if not for that work trip.
And don’t waste time on chains that you could visit back home.
3. If you can, stretch your trip out over a weekend.
If you’re lucky and a trip includes a Friday or Monday, see if you can begin or end the journey on your own time over the weekend. Companies that pay for their employees travel probably won’t foot the bill for a trip to start early or end late, but if you’re already in a place it makes sense to use your own funds to have and extra day or two for exploring.
I sort of did this a few weeks ago; while working on a story in a remote part of Utah and Arizona, I took the subsequent weekend to visit the Grand Canyon and some ghost towns. (The place I went for work was so remote it would have taken a while to get back anyway, but making a few worthwhile stops enriched my weekend and was probably better than anything I would have done even if I could have made it home more quickly.)
4. Avoid bland, corporate hotels.
Look, big chain hotels get the job done but that’s as far as they go — they rarely if ever leave travelers with a greater understanding of the world. If at all possible, try to stay somewhere that’s owned and operated by locals. Not only will you be supporting the local economy, you’re more likely to have interesting experiences.
In my case that also happened on my trip to Utah and Arizona. At my first hotel, I ended up having a half hour conversation with the ladies running the place about the subject I was there to report on. At my last hotel, the man behind the desk gave me valuable insights into the region, then suggested some amazing places to visit on my drive home.
I’ve never struck up long, colorful conversations with the front desk people at a Best Western, but it happens all the time at mom and pop hotels. And even better, staying at more colorful hotels doesn’t usually take any extra time out of already busy work trips.
— Jim Dalrymple II