If you travel a lot for work the phrase, “planes, trains and automobiles” connotes far more than the name of a classic film from the 1970s. It drums up images of airports during eight-hour layovers that have left you vulturing the gates, trying to find an available electrical socket to recharge your phone.
It invokes as well those beautiful days in the world’s exotic cities, when you've been locked inside your hotel room on conference calls or updating presentations well aware that the sun is shining outside because of the glare cast on your computer screen. And it brings to mind the two seconds when you happened to see autumn leaves or a national monument as your taxi whisked you to the airport and your next flight.
After 20 years of living the life of a corporate nomad, I have discovered ways to capture some of the amazing places in my travels while still accomplishing my business goals. Below are a few ideas about how to seize a sliver of your business trip for yourself:
Room with a view. To chronicle the glories -- and disappointments -- of business travel, I began carrying a camera to photograph the moments that transcend the the blur of constant motion. I do not shy away from documenting things devoid of glamour -- partially as a momento for those who say, “Aren’t you lucky to travel so much!" And with those locales that are so beautiful, I preserve a reminder to inspire my return under less hectic circumstances.
I began a photo series I titled “Outside My Hotel Window.” No matter how many times I register at the same hotel, invariably I am assigned a different room. In Paris I have enjoyed breathtaking views of the Eiffel Tower as well as proximity to garbage chutes. I have stayed at a prestigious Park Avenue hotel with a magnificent view of tulips in bloom only to land during my next stay there in a room looking out on an airshaft, with an air-conditioning unit that looms a foot from the only window.
Finding the joy in travel. A while back, a client told me, “You have to put a little joy into every day because tomorrow may never come.” This simple, rather obvious statement stayed with me. And when traveling I have attempted to carve out time, even if only for a few minutes, to look for photos to take or art to view.
Of course you can spend hours at the Museum of Metropolitan of Art in New York. But half an hour can be well spent admiring the works in two to three rooms or other things equally as beautiful elsewhere in the world. The trick is to pull yourself away from email.
If I’m in a city where I speak the language, I'll look for theater, even it is regional. (I saw an impressive high school play in Raleigh, N.C.) With only an hour between meetings, I will duck into the closest museum: Rembrandt’s house in Amsterdam, say, or the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. If there is time before heading to the airport, I will ask the cabdriver to drive by a local historic attraction. It is a way to better understand the area and the people who live there.
As I write this, I am in St. John’s, Newfoundland, but unable to take my own advice. The warmth of sun overheated my hotel room in the morning, causing me to close the blinds as I worked on a presentation. My meeting went all day, well into the evening. And my flight out is in early the morning. The only things that I will take home from this trip are photos with views outside my hotel window (beyond the conference room used for meetings) and the abstract pattern of soft blue light glimpsed through a thick sheet of ice on the car windshield that I cleaned off prior to returning to the airport.
Waiting isn’t always the hardest part. It doesn’t matter how dedicated you are to work or how much you enjoy it: There comes a time where you just can’t work any longer. And you are confined in a plane or train hurtling toward your destination. This is when e-books come in handy or, giving your eyes a much-needed break, relaxing with an audio book on your smartphone. (Pro tip: Typically, all the great literary classics can be found for free).
If your brain is too wound up from travel, think about carrying a small sketchbook for doodling. Try not to worry about what people will think (you’ll never see them again). The idea is to find something that will feed your soul. Creating artwork is nourishing and in the end you’ll have something that will remind you of the trip. I carry a small drawing pad and several markers. As someone who packs light, I find these slight indulgences invaluable.
If you are in your hotel room and nothing on TV is in your language, a call to a friend or family member who makes you laugh can be a tonic. Or stop by the gift shop (there is bound to be one nearby) and buy some postcards and send a note to someone you care about. He or she will love it. Despite the fact that you are traveling for work, it will make you feel like a part of your travel life is yours.
(Pro tip: Netflix is excellent for those trips outside the country; as long as you have a high-speed internet connection, you can always be entertained).
Whether traveling by train, plane or automobile, trips can be exhausting. Discovering what makes it worthwhile or distinctive will make all the difference. So when you return home and download your photos, you'll be able to remember that harrowing cab ride, the suspicious-looking side dish at dinner or that one painting that moved you at the local museum. It may even tempt you to do it all over again on your own dime.