Create Some Adventure in your Business Travel

I love it when I can double up on travel time—taking a break from a business trip and taking in a point of interest I have always wanted to see.

It was one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. A mosaic of orange, crimson and dark yellow spread wide, tinting the indigo water below while silhouetting several of Lake Superior’s famed Apostle Islands. I had slept quite well the night before, owing even credit to the quiet hotel and a great dinner, preceded by a 60-minute run along the tree-lined bluffs that doubled as a shoreline.

As I stepped outside the door to my room and took in the amazing scene I thought to myself, “Isn’t business travel awesome?”

In truth, traveling on business can be a drag. Everyone has at least one air travel nightmare story and some of us have dozens. Nights in terminals, missed commitments, barely making the standby list and then being stuffed in the window seat of the back row.

Frequent flyer miles, cookie-cutter hotel chains with rooms that look the same in New Jersey as they do in New Mexico, each with a matching chain restaurant next door.

Several years ago, someone who didn’t travel much suggested that I was lucky to be able to visit so many great places while traveling on business. I thought about it, and it occurred to me that while I had seen a lot of the world, for the most part my travel was a string of airports, restaurants and hotels that all looked and felt the same.

I used to travel regularly with one of our sales people, Bill. While most of our team would take in dinner at a restaurant like those beginning with the name of a red fruit, a hot pepper or a bison, Bill refused to eat in chain restaurants. Instead, he seemed to know every single back alley, hole-in-the-wall pub, grill and supper club in his four-state territory. The servers were often familiar with him, and he knew the best items on every menu.

Traveling with him always made life more adventurous and with few exceptions, more enjoyable. His habits got me to thinking what other aspects of my business life had become a traveling version of the movie Groundhog Day; life repeating itself day in and out with little variation. With Bill as my inspiration, and owing credit to the person who was a bit envious of my travel, I adopted a new approach. Not every time mind you, but often, I turn business travel into an adventure.

When traveling by car, as I often do, I used to hammer back home as fast as I could, to cross a workout off my list and get on with the evening. Now, I put a mountain bike in the back of my truck. What difference does it make if I arrive home by 6 p.m. and ride a trainer in my basement for 90 minutes or if I stop off three hours from home and take in some single track? Plenty if I want to live a life that consists of more than sitting on a stationary bike.

I love it when I can double up on travel time—taking a break from a business trip and taking in a point of interest I have always wanted to see or driving to a vacation destination and visiting a few business contacts along the way.

Instead of chalking up a free night for every 10 in a look-alike chain hotel, I often visit a website like Hotwire and take a bit of a chance on a like-priced three- or four-star hotel. I have stayed in some amazing spots that I never would have tried or afforded otherwise. Another great angle is to find a one-of-a-kind hotel, validate its quality by checking the reviews on a travel site and enjoy the unique ambiance. I scored not long ago on a sweet hipster-style hotel owned by Justin Vernon, the musician behind the band Bon Iver. No more expensive than the chain, but way cooler. These finds create such a unique, albeit unconventional way to spend a business trip, that I have made it a habit of seeking them out.

Which is how I find myself in a small town 20 minutes out of my way, far enough off the main thoroughfare that the automatons with their airline statuses named for precious metals and rare gemstones are nowhere to be found.

It’s just me, on a crisp fall morning, in a locale I have never visited, in a no-name, one-off hotel overlooking Lake Superior, taking in a sunrise among the most incredible I have ever seen. Isn’t business travel awesome?