Millennials are traveling for business more than ever. Experts share how to sneak in some personal time.
Business trips don’t have to be all work and no play.
Millennial employees are traveling for business more than any other demographic, with the average person saying they’ve taken 7.4 business trips in the last year compared to 6.4 trips for Gen Xers and 6.3 for baby boomers, according to a recent study by travel market research firm MMGY Global. But many workers who thought jet-setting for their jobs would be a dream come true tell Moneyish it’s a real struggle finding the time to mix business with pleasure.
“After college, I always wanted a job where I could travel and foot the airline bill to an employer, and take advantage of the food and sightseeing scene,” says Alex George, a Chicago native, who works in real estate development. He traveled to Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Denver and Palm Beach all in the past year, but only gets to spend up to three days at a time in each place.
“Traveling for work can be pretty draining,” he says, particularly with 5 a.m. flights to catch, and back-to-back meetings upon landing. Then there’s the mandatory dinners with consultants, and not getting any time to work out.
So he tries to make the best of it by Googling where he’s staying to get acclimated with the city in advance, including restaurants in the area and any architectural landmarks or nature sights that are a must-see. This way, he can maximize his time while he’s there.
“It’s important to fill your free time at night or in the afternoon with quick little trips,” he suggests, such as using 30 minutes between meetings to check out the culinary scene. And after work he squeezes in activities like hiking, checking out a national park, or simply spending a few moments taking in the scenery if he’s really pressed for time.
“I try to catch a sunset or sunrise whenever I can,” says George. “When I was doing a job in Salt Lake City, I was so burnt out (but) I made an effort to see the sunset over the Great Salt Lake. It immediately got rid of the stress.”
Getting out of the office for a work trip makes a nice change of pace, but there can be downsides that affect physical and mental health. The jet lag alone is enough to cause memory impairment, and has been linked to aging faster, a 2015 study shows. And then there’s the emotional factors, like being homesick, missing loved ones, the stress of traveling itself, and having less-structured days, according to a 2016 Holiday Inn survey. But one of the biggest complaints most business travelers have is not having any time to actually explore the place they’re traveling to.
Brandon Schultz, a travel writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. who’s written for publications like Global Traveler and Fodor’s, seems to have a dream job in getting paid to visit exotic countries and cities. But it’s not all fun and games, he insists.
“A lot of people might think travel writing is all about having fun and taking pretty pictures, but the truth is that most days are heavily scheduled by other people who have very specific ideas of what they want me to experience and whom I should meet, and they’ll schedule me from breakfast until 9 or 10 at night,” he says. “It’s a hectic schedule that allows very little free time, so I’ve become really good at identifying what I want to squeeze into my spare minutes.”
Taking even just one hour for yourself out of the day can go a long way, he notes. “I just got back from Hawaii, and when I had a free hour, I snuck off to a cat sanctuary because I’m a crazy cat person,” he says. “I also got to talk to people who live in the area, so I got a better sense of real life there. It’s not what you think of when you picture Hawaii, but it made my day.”
Here are some other easy ways to make the most out of your work trip:
Take a real coffee break. Instead of settling on the same old Starbucks or some other generic chain’s cup of joe, use those 15 to 20 minutes to go to a new cafe in the area. That way you can also taste the local pastries and get a sense of the people living in the town or city, Schultz suggests.
Use business meetings to your advantage. If you have a business meeting, suggest hitting an iconic area restaurant or new location with local co-workers; that way you can experience a new place outside of a generic conference room. “Scheduling any meeting at or near something else I want to see makes it easier to squeeze something cool into a 15-minute block that I might have wasted commuting back and forth,” says Schultz. “Take a meeting in a museum restaurant and then check out an exhibition on the way out, or meet for coffee next to that must-see landmark.”
Work out. It might be hard to squeeze in a morning workout session if you have a flight to catch, but making time for a gym session at the hotel or a quick run on your lunch break or before dinner can be a huge mood booster. Some hotels have yoga on the beach or at a scenic outdoor space on the grounds at various times of day. Plus, charting a run or bike ride somewhere scenic that’s close to the hotel maximizes time by combining sightseeing with exercise.
“Take advantage of time differences — are you awake super early or up late with jet lag? Use this time for a workout,” suggests Kaitlin English, a communications manager, who travels at least two weeks per month. “You don’t need to be in the sad hotel gym for hours; just give yourself 30 minutes to get your sweat on. (Or) try to hit up a SoulCycle if it’s in your city.” If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or bike rentals, look into renting a space to work out. Peerspace, peer-to-peer marketplace for unique rentals, has a number of boutique fitness studios available for rent for between $25 to $75 per hour.
Eat well. When it comes to dining out when you can’t cook for yourself, English suggests that you make smart choices, and don’t overindulge. “Start your day with a protein packed breakfast. My room service breakfast is the same in every city: Egg white omelet with some veggies (mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes), toast on the side, and coffee with milk,” she says. “Stick to one glass of good wine [when you go out] and then order sparkling water, a lean protein and some healthy carbs.”
Go out at night. Ditch the hotel bar and take advantage of the local happy hour scene in your destination city or town once the work day is over. “If you have friends with you, awesome. Go out together, have drinks at a cool hotel or bar, and talk to people who live in this place,” Schultz recommends. “If you’re alone, ask a business contact to meet up for a drink.” But keep things professional by going out earlier than you might at home, and don’t drink too much, he adds.
Take PTO. If you really love a place you’re going to and know you won’t have enough time to explore during the allotted business trip, take an extra day of paid time off. “There’s no downside to extending your stay, and you’re free to see and do whatever you want, without having to pay for your transportation,” says Schultz. “It’s a total win, and it’s how you can experience more of the world for very little expense, especially if you’re racking up travel rewards with credit cards or hotel loyalty programs so you can use points for the extra night.”
Say no. If colleagues want to spend more time team-bonding outside of normal office hours while on a work trip, don’t be afraid to decline the offer. “You can personalize how you spend your time after work. Don’t accept any meetings — this is your time,” says Schultz.
Maximize air travel with work. Work while in transit to your destination; that way you have more downtime when you land. “I work at airports, on planes and in cars all the time,” says Schultz. “I know that if I can bang out an hour or two of work, I’m going to be freer when I get there.” Don’t forget to pack your portable chargers wherever you go.
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