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How to strike a good work-play balance when traveling for business

Work travel can be draining. It can be hard to stay focused, or a struggle to enjoy the time away. Here are 5 tips for making the most of your trip.

How to strike a good work-play balance when traveling for business
[Photo: Wanaporn Yangsiri/Unsplash]

Traveling for work can be exhausting. But it can also be incredibly rewarding.

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As an entrepreneur and chief revenue officer, I travel for work roughly half of the year. It’s crucial I find time to relax and enjoy myself while on these trips because if I don’t, I risk burning out.

But enjoying yourself during business travel is harder than it seems. It’s difficult to stay focused when you’re near the beach in Santa Barbara or at a café in Paris. And it’s equally tough to truly disconnect from your work so that you can appreciate these beautiful places and cultures you’re lucky enough to find yourself in.

The trick is finding a balance between work and play so your trips are productive and rewarding. Ultimately, that harmony happens with five mindset shifts.

1: Stay cognizant of your goal

Any time you travel, there’s a reason you’re going. Maybe it’s to solidify a relationship with an important client, meet a potential business partner, or close a contract.

It’s important you know that purpose before leaving. That way, you’re much more likely to accomplish what you set out to do. And you won’t be as distracted by sightseeing when you know what you have to achieve.

Personally, I write down my goal before I go to cement it in my mind. And while on the trip, I review it every day to make sure I’m on track. It may seem like a small act, but it really helps me stay disciplined on what I have to get done.

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2: Plan out your day using a personalized structure

The most productive workdays are personalized, and your time spent traveling for work is no exception. So you always want to plan your day according to how you best operate.

Personally, I tend to do my best work in the mornings. So when traveling, I’ll find a quiet place at a hotel or a coffee shop to cruise through two to three hours of focused work. But I also enjoy spending afternoons in local cafés, preferably ones with views and a lot of daylight where I can get a feel for the city and do creative work. Personalizing my days this way allows me to be hyperproductive, which of course allows me more time to explore, relax, or socialize later. 

The key is finding out what works for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a morning or an evening person, only that you’re aware of which—and that you plan your day accordingly.

3: Learn to monitor your energy levels

Everyone’s energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. Monitoring your own ups and downs is crucial when traveling for work so you know when you’ll be sharp and when you’ll be spent.

That evaluation requires you to pay close attention to your energy levels and plan ahead. It means going to bed at an appropriate hour when you have an 8 a.m. client meeting. But it also means enjoying the moment when you meet locals and go out until 2 a.m. By being honest with yourself about your energy levels, you’ll know whether to hit the sack or stay out for a few more hours.

You’ll have to draw the line somewhere—the key is knowing where.

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4: Get to know the locals

Say you’ve gotten your work done, you’ve planned purposefully, and you’ve intelligently allocated your energy. Now comes the challenge of truly getting the most out of your travels by exploring and having new experiences.

Honestly, I’ve found that nothing is more instrumental than getting to know the locals.

Locals know the hidden gems. They can show you what life in their city is really like, what the people there do, what is uniquely amazing about it.

I experienced this firsthand when I was in Amsterdam a few years ago and met a man who owned a boat. We were sitting next to each other in a restaurant and started talking. After getting to know each other a bit, he offered to give me a boat tour. We navigated the canals while he shared the city’s history and identified the most interesting spots: where to get the best coffee, where to see live music. He showed me things I would never have noticed walking around on my own.

If you make an effort to meet locals, you’ll quickly find those experiences to be the most memorable.

5: Remember to be present and enjoy the moment

It’s easy to become enveloped by the work you’re responsible for doing while traveling—the upcoming presentation, an important client meeting. When this happens, you forget to enjoy yourself in your scheduled time off.

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Don’t let this happen.

Instead, consciously aim to be present after your work is done for the day. Put away your electronics. Listen, observe, interact with people, be curious. Immerse yourself as much as you can in the tactile experiences around you.

Your work will be waiting for you the next day. But your chance to experience the unique and amazing place in which you find yourself is fleeting. Just as you need to be disciplined during the time you’ve scheduled to work, you also need to do everything you can to enjoy your free time.

Because, before you know it, you’ll be off to the next city.

This article originally appeared in Minutes and is reprinted with permission.

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