You're 12,000 feet in the air, with the plane door open and the wind whipping through the cabin. Within seconds, it's time to exit the plane, and suddenly you find yourself soaring through the clouds, depending on a parachute for a safe landing. Once you hit the ground, you set up your laptop, tap into the drop zone's Wi-Fi network and complete a few business transactions. Then you get ready to do it all over again.
For entrepreneur Peter Shankman, skydiving is all in a day's work while traveling for business. He even packs his own parachute on every trip he takes.
Business trips are no longer just about the hotel you stay in and where you eat. They're becoming a chance for hard-working entrepreneurs to take a break between the power lunches and million-dollar deals and enjoy the locales they visit. According to a National Household Travel Survey, Americans make more than 405 million long-distance business trips per year, which account for about 16 percent of all long-distance travel.
Whether traveling near or far, business travelers should take the opportunity to get to know more than just the hotel lobby. Here are 10 unique ideas--some practical and some on the wild side--to spice up your next business trip.
1. Join a running tour.
If running is your passion, don't feel restricted to the treadmill in your hotel's gym. Instead, opt for a race or an organized running tour. You can use the running site RunThePlanet.com to locate a race or marathon at your destination. Shankman did that during a 12-hour layover in South Korea. Upon arrival, he was greeted at the airport by a team of local runners who drove him to a spot they selected. He enjoyed a six-mile run and made some friends. "It's a great way to kill time and a great way to explore a city," says Shankman. Websites like CityRunningTours.com, which operates organized runs in Chicago, New York, San Diego and Washington DC for about $60 per person for the first six miles, are also a great way to sightsee while making time for your daily jog.
2. Discover the city's nightlife.
After dealing with lost luggage, several layovers or a stressful business meeting, the only thing on your mind might be letting loose for a few hours. Sites like AOL Local specialize in finding nightlife in a variety of cities. Type in your destination and the site will list upcoming events and specific search results for the city's best bars and dance clubs. You can also browse the local newspaper for concerts and special events at clubs in the area.
3. Schedule an intense workout.
"The first thing I do on a business trip is ask 'Where is the nearest gym?'" says Michael Wood, chief fitness officer for Koko Fitness, Inc.Wood, who travels about 30 percent of the time, says he always makes a point to visit the outdoor gym in Santa Monica, California, whenever business brings him to the West Coast. Sal Fichera, fitness consultant and founder of Forza Fitness, agrees that hotel gyms simply don't cut it. To find a gym that meets your expectations, try searching for locations of your favorite gym chain online. Or, as Fichera suggests, ask the concierge or use the phone book. "I've even run with hotel staff I started chatting with," he says.
4. Take a leap.
Shankman carries his skydiving gear, commonly referred to in the industry as a "rig," in his carryon every time he boards a plane. In the past two years, Shankman has already visited about 30 drop zones across the world while traveling for business. "My logic is that you've got to throw something fun into business trips, or they just become hotel room, meeting room, airport, back to back to back. And that sucks," he says. Finding a good drop zone isn't difficult, thanks to the website Dropzone.com. Enter your location to find the drop zones closest to your hotel. Skydiving fanatics on the site rate Skydive The Farm in Rockmart, Georgia, as the best drop zone for its friendly, down-to-earth service.
5.Attend a play or musical.
If you're forced to travel for work during the holidays, why not get into the season by taking in a performance of The Nutcracker or a Christmas choral concert? Try StubHub.com and Ticketmaster.com for a list of upcoming events. Also consider watching a theatrical performance in a small, local theater. If it's the intimate settings you crave, check with the hotel's concierge or find the website for the city's chamber of commerce, which typically has a calendar of events with the contact information for local live theaters.
Hockey Games, Peaches and More
6. Find a local spa.
Spas often offer massage techniques related to the location. For example, Hawaii is known for the Lomi Lomi massage, a traditional Hawaiian massage passed down through generations. A massage or spa treatment can not only ease your jet lag, but might also teach you about the culture of the area you're visiting. LiAnne Yu, strategic director and cultural anthropologist of research-based innovation consulting firm Cheskin, says making time for the spa is a necessary part of her business travel. Yu recommends consulting with your hotel's concierge to find hole-in-the-wall spots in more exotic destinations. Some of her favorite spa experiences include a massage by a blind massage therapist in China and a head massage using almond oil in India. Map out your spa schedule ahead of time with the help of websites like Spa Finder, where you can find a list of local spas by city or zip code.
7. Visit an art exhibition.
Peruse the local newspaper or its website for a calendar of events for local art exhibits. The Los Angeles Times includes this information in its Calendar Live website, where it features a search engine to help you find an exhibit in Southern California cities on any given day. If business brings you to Colorado, the Denver Art Dealers Association lists showings at local galleries. For trips abroad, look up your location on Artspan's Calendar of Art Events page to find a nearby event.
8. Tour a historical home.
For history buffs, try to fit a tour of a historical site into your busy schedule. If you're in Boston for a meeting, make a day trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, to travel back in time at Plimouth Plantation, where actors recreate a small farming town built by English colonists. Near Rhode Island? Visit The Breakers in Newport, the former elite summer home to the Vanderbilt family. If you're looking for a haunted tour, the 1692 witchcraft tours by Salem Historical Tours are sure to send a chill down your spine. The Yahoo! Directory has compiled various tour sites.
9. Sample the local flavor.
There are certain times of year that various locations become synonymous with a particular food. During the summer, the Sandhills of North Carolina are known for producing perfect peaches. If you happen to find yourself in town for business during June, July or August, be sure to seek out small orchards selling peaches from their roadside stands. And if business brings you to Maine, get your bib ready; a trip there wouldn't be complete without sampling the world-renowned lobster. Maine's Lobster Festival is held every August. Your destination's chamber of commerce can steer you in the right direction for special foods events.
10. Cheer on the home team.
In terms of fan loyalty, Montreal, Canada, is arguably one of the best hockey towns. So when you plan a meeting with potential clients there, why not get a taste of in-your-face hockey action at the home of the Canadiens? Or if business takes you to Europe during the summer months, try to score tickets to watch the tennis elite battle it out at Wimbledon. Both the Yahoo! Directory and Ticketmaster can help you find an event in your sport of choice. On a smaller scale, attending a local college sporting event could be just as much fun. Take sides in a famous college rivalry, don the proper attire, learn the fight song, and you'll fit right in. Simply go to the website of a nearby college or university and check out their sports department for dates and times.