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12 Ways to Optimize Business Travel for Fun

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Business travel can feel so close and yet so far from a vacation. Often, you’re heading off to a new place, all expenses paid. You’re also there to work, not frolic, so it’s not exactly as if you have lots of free time.

If you can plan your time right, though, and travel strategically, business trips can be a great way to see the world. Here are a few suggestions for ways to get more out of your work trips than just a business deal.

Book your travel strategically

If you have a work trip in a city you really want to explore, ask your boss if you can fly in early or leave late and use a few vacation days in between. Big conferences often lead to more expensive flights, and you’ll likely notice that flying in ahead of the crowd or leaving after it might be $100 cheaper, maybe even more. This is a good way to pitch some extra time to your boss—it saves money and you’ll be less exhausted, which ultimately leads to better productivity.

If extra time in the city isn’t possible, try to book early morning and late night flights to maximize your time. Work ahead as much as possible, even if it means a late night or two before you head off, and then sleep on the plane, if you can, to conserve energy.

Choose hotels wisely

If you’re going to a conference, there are obviously a lot of benefits to staying at the hotel that’s been blocked off for attendees. It’s almost always the most convenient option, for starters, and it also provides ample opportunities for literal elevator pitches. But often, these hotels have no local character.

Consider booking an Airbnb or smaller boutique hotel instead. You might even save enough money to warrant renting a car, getting a few extra Ubers, going big on a nice dinner, or staying an extra night or two. Simply walking through a beautiful neighborhood will give you a sense of place you won’t get from a chain hotel.

One benefit of chains, though, is that they sometimes offer deals like getting your fourth night for free, along with points you can use toward travel in the future. Always sign up for rewards programs—you never know when they’ll come in handy—and don’t let free nights go wasted.

Book with your own credit card

Unless your company policy prohibits it, charge as much of the trip as possible to your own personal credit card. You’ll get closer to your next vacation that much faster with the extra spending. Once, knowing that I needed to book a lot of flights for contractors, I signed up for a new airline credit card ahead of time so I’d meet the signup bonus requirements without having to spend a dime of my own money.

Get up with the sun, and find a rooftop bar for sunset

Dead Sea Sunrise photo

I was recently on a business trip in Palestine with a group, and we had the option to wake up at 3 a.m. to drive a sunrise spot over the Dead Sea. It was so hard to wake up, but I will never forget the way the light looked and how it cast a golden glow about everyone. We were giddy all day.

Watching the sunrise in a new city is always, always worth it. If you’re not a morning person, find an accountability buddy, like a coworker traveling with you, a new connection, or a friend who lives in that city. You’re less likely to flake if you have someone to go with you. And if you’re traveling a few time zones away, gradually adjust your sleep schedule at home the week before you leave to make it easier to adjust and harder to use exhaustion as an excuse.

Pack light

When you have limited time, don’t waste it by running back and forth to your hotel to drop your stuff. Ditch the rolling suitcase for a backpack or small duffel with shoulder straps, and bring as little as possible so you can easily carry your stuff with you and avoid unnecessary shuttling between the airport, your conference site, and your hotel room.

Take the scenic route

When feasible, consider asking for mileage reimbursement and drive your own car instead of booking a flight. You’ll save on getting a rental car if you would have needed one, plus you’ll have the flexibility to stop along the way and make an epic road trip out of work travel.

Skip the hotel gym

Yoga on the Rocks photo

Instead of running on the treadmill, run around the city or take an Uber out to a pretty spot and run back to the hotel from there, or take a yoga class at a local studio. This is also a great way to meet locals who can suggest the best restaurants, hikes, and bars in the city.

Eat local and book restaurants in advance

When you’re traveling for work, you have to eat, and you’ll likely have a fairly generous daily allowance. Take this opportunity to try a restaurant you’re really into instead of settling for whatever’s quick, easy, and by the hotel. Make reservations days in advance if you’re traveling for a conference; you’re likely to have some competition securing a table if you don’t.

Ditch conference rooms

If you work in an industry where casual meetings are common, consider suggesting to meet up for a hike you’re interested in trying, or a walk through an art museum, instead of sitting inside a conference room to breathe stale air. Meetings happen on the golf course all the time. Why not at a beachside seafood spot, a trail, or a popular tourist trap that will get your client to laugh? Chances are, they’ll appreciate the literal change of scenery.

Nix upgrades and pitch a field trip with the savings

If your company is willing to pay for first-class flights and luxury hotels, you might have some leverage. Say you and some co-workers on your team are going to Albuquerque for a few nights and you’re all into backpacking, or you’re heading to Phoenix and everyone is dying to visit the Grand Canyon. Could you opt for economy seats and a big Airbnb house you can all rent together, and use the savings for a mini-retreat for your team? You could propose it as a low-cost, morale-boosting bonding retreat.

Look for business development opportunities in places you’d like to travel

Say you’re in public relations and you really want to visit Los Angeles, or you’re a software engineer and you want to go to Miami. Keep an eye out for conferences, seminars, workshops, and other continuing education events for professionals that are relevant to your job, and craft a rock-solid pitch to your boss explaining why it’s worth it to send you there. Particularly if you’re a journalist, regularly search for grant opportunities, too—tons exist, including fellowships to report abroad for several weeks or months at a time.

Work from a sister office

If you work for a big company, see if you can save some vacation time by working from another office abroad for a week or two. It won’t be an actual vacation unless you take the time, but it’ll give you a chance to “live” in a new city. If you know of a potential mentor who works in that city, or if there’s a training opportunity you can take part in, all the better. Having a real business reason to travel to another office within your company will make it an easier sell than just wanting to do it for personal reasons.

Images: Visit Phoenix, Kassondra Cloos, Visit Denver

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.