Every business trip has some downtime, and if you make the most of it, you can unwind after a long day and enjoy a mini vacation. The proper preparation before you travel can turn your business trip around and leave you with more meaningful after-hours activities than sipping a cocktail at the hotel bar. If you were traveling to the Windy City, it’d be a shame to spend all your down time in your hotel room when there are so many Chicago attractions that you can enjoy from your lunch hour to after-hours. Planning your events will help you maximize your free time.
Put work first and map out a schedule that shows when you’re obligated to attend work meetings, training, or conferences. Get a feel for whether you’ll be socializing after work hours by checking in with colleagues that have traveled on a similar trip. If in doubt about when you’re needed, don’t book anything major and non-refundable, such as tickets to a show, because you still need to put work first when traveling on a business trip. List out the times you are free.
If you need to book your own hotel, start by determining where you’ll need to be for important meetings. Look for hotels close to that location that fit within your allocated budget. If your business is happening on the outskirts of town, you’ll need to account for more travel time to reach destinations within the city. You might need to budget for train fare or taxi rides to get you downtown.
Lean on some friends or colleagues who’ve traveled to the city before to get firsthand recommendations that are tailored to your taste. People who know you should have a good idea of what you like to do, and can recommend attractions that fit your taste. If you have time to plan, locate a guidebook and do some reading on museums, nightlife, neighborhoods, and attractions in the area. Finally, use your hotel’s website as a resource. You’ll know where you’re staying on your business trip and most hotel websites list hotel amenities as well as nearby attractions. The staff at hotels will generally be more than willing to tell you what’s nearby, so consider using their suggestions as a short list, especially if you’re crunched for time.
Even if after-work time is obligated to your colleagues, you can still find ways to explore the city. Use a travel book or website to research foods, culinary hotspots, bars, and lunch places near the convention center, office, or meeting room. Keep a running document of your findings. This way, you can casually suggest a lunch spot you’ve heard of or take charge and book a reservation for your entire party for dinner. Once work winds down, slip off to a nightspot you’ve researched.
One word of caution around traveling with colleagues: Don’t cross the line. If you’re traveling with a boss or a subordinate, exercise caution when selecting night spots or bars to attend. Also, use reasonable caution if you go drinking with colleagues. It’s understandable that you might want to unwind and let loose after working hard, but if you wind up drinking too much, you risk making a poor impression.
Once you hit the ground, check in with the locals if you need help prioritizing. Ask the concierge and other hotel staff, or, if you’re meeting with another company, ask someone from that office for recommendations. People love helping others explore their city, so use it to your advantage.
About the Guest Post Author: Joseph Baker has worked in the business world for over 15 years, specifically in management. He has led development and management teams, and implemented budget reductions both professionally and as an independent contractor. In addition, he has led strategic planning and systems of implementation for six organizations, both public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses.