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Make Business Travel Work for You

Make Business Travel Work for You

If you travel on business more than a few times a year, you know it can be a grind. The drab airport lounges, cookie-cutter hotel rooms, expense-account restaurants and perhaps even the golf courses all blur together in a sea of sameness.    

At the same time, it’s ever more difficult to take a traditional solid week or two of vacation. Your smartphone beckons, your biggest client has the patience of a flea, you find out the hard way how little your boss knows about your day-to-day duties, etc.

So how can you liven up business trips while getting some much needed R&R? Folks like Billy Lowe have found a way.

“Running a hair salon in Los Angeles, traveling 10 to 15 times a year but never seeming to get a vacation of my own, I opt to make each business stop a mini vacation as well,” says Lowe, a hair stylist for television and film performers.

How can you put this strategy into action on your next trip for work? Here are our top six tips, compiled by talking to road warriors of various stripes.

Do Your Personal-Travel Homework in Advance

Once you’re on the road, taking time to find fun stuff to do may seem like a chore. So plan ahead. “I spend a lot of time networking online, researching and looking for the city’s best places to go rather than visiting chain restaurants,” says Lowe.

Scott Swanay, owner of Fantasy Baseball Sherpa, has his own sources: “I might use CitySearch or a local entertainment magazine.”

Ask the Professionals

“Find a good concierge,” advises April Whitney, a publicist for Chronicle Books, publisher of City Walks travel-guide card decks. “They’ve helped me find good, reasonable restaurants and even hooked me up with more affordable travel options.”

Take Advantage of Your Client’s Hometown Knowledge

Most often, you visit clients on their home turf. So ask them where, beyond the usual collection of steakhouses, they’ve always wanted to dine out, or what they’d like to do (golf? not again!) while you chat about business. Then do it all on your company’s dime, as long as it’s legitimate client entertainment. Make it happen by picking your client’s brain as soon as you set the date for your meetings so you can make the dinner reservations, buy the tickets and so on.

Add Days to Your Itinerary for Personal Travel

It’s difficult to quickly shift gears between business and pure pleasure -- and easy to let a couple of one-hour appointments expand to fill an entire morning and afternoon. So consider dedicating days within your business trip to personal travel, pure and simple. “Schedule at least one day for sightseeing, with no appointments,” advises Shel Horowitz, author of The Penny-Pinching Hedonist.

And when you leave the hotel for your day of fun, put your BlackBerry in the room safe; it’s too easy to let mobile technology suck the oxygen out of your day off.

Keep the Boss Informed

When you do plan to mix business and pleasure on a company trip, let the boss know about the personal side of your travel plans. Describe in writing how business expenses and personal travel costs will be separated. Be especially careful about days where business and personal travel will be mixed. If your meetings end at noon and you would otherwise be home in time for supper, for example, you should pay for your own dinner out that night since it’s on the personal side of your itinerary.

Try to Save Your Company Money

Does your employer have doubts about letting you extend your stay for leisure travel, even if extra meals and hotel nights are on you? Try choosing travel dates and times that will save the company money on airfare compared to what you’d pay to fly on a pure business itinerary. If dollars conserved don’t convince them, nothing will.

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