I’ve been on the road this week, enjoying the exciting world of business travel.
My hotel room, shown at right, is clean and perfectly suitable (and no bedbugs!), but it also is so generic as to be vaguely depressing. This kind of purely functional hotel room, with its bland artwork, neutral color scheme, pillow-laden bed, and unobtrusive furnishings, could be found anywhere in America. You can determine where you are only by looking out the window — and maybe not even then, because downtown areas often look the same, too, especially if you are close to ground level.
New lawyers at our firm often express interest in work-related “travel.” Any seasoned road warrior will quickly disabuse them of their romantic notions about business travel. Typically, you spend your time in generic airport boarding areas, generic taxicab passenger seats, generic conference rooms, and generic hotel rooms. There’s not much that is broadening in the experience.
I have a few rules that I try to follow when I travel to make the experience more bearable, for me at least:
(1) Try to stay in a hotel that is itself interesting. I like older hotels, because they often have architectural flourishes, gilded lobby areas, and other touches that separate them from the mass-produced modern hotel experience.
(2) Do not eat in the hotel where you are staying, whether it is the hotel restaurant or, even worse, room service. Get the name of a good nearby restaurant from the concierge and walk to it.
(3) Find a hotel near your ultimate destination and walk back and forth. At least by walking, you get a sense of the city and its rhythms. If you spend all of your time separated from the city by taxicab, hotel room, and conference room windows and walls, you have had only a virtual travel experience. Walking also helps avoid the dreaded feeling of “travel bloat.”
(4) See if you can’t find time to see something of the city. Don’t just dart back to your hotel room and start thumbing away at your Blackberry. Most cities have interesting places to visit, and a quick stroll to the waterfront or a park will connect you to your location and provide another walking opportunity.
(5) Consider whether you have family, friends, or acquaintances in the area who might join you for a meal. It’s lonely to have no human interaction, and even a good book can be tiresome company after a few days. On this trip, I was able to get together for dinner with college friends Scott and Pat (thanks, guys!) and it was such a pleasure to have a warm conversation with friends at the work day’s end. If a little advance planning allows you to renew connections with long-lost friends, why not seize the opportunity?