I was listening today to NPR's Travel with Rick Steve and I realized what was missing from their discussion about travel. All travel they discussed was for vacation, not business. Over the years I have been to Nicaragua, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Hawaii, France, and all over the US, but almost always for work. All of our vacation travel is to visit family, which is nice, but it isn't the same as being a tourist, and even that is more and more difficult as our family grows. Seven plane tickets aren't cheap and I dread days in the car driving west and back.
There are positives and negatives of business travel. The great thing is that someone else pays for it. The bad is that I usually travel alone, without my family. Leila is left home and it just isn't as fun without her and the kids. Early in our marriage, Leila and Emily travelled with me to conferences sometimes and to Mexico and Bolivia. The Karmina Palace in Manzanillo, Mexico is such a fond memory for Leila and I to this day. We spent three weeks there at a very stressful time. It was awesome. They had a calm cove for playing in the waves, a quiet beach, a turtle nesting area, a kids club for Emily during the day, and we would go out to eat each night after pollinating. It was so fun to come home from pollinating, snorkel at the beach and then take Leila and Emily to dinner with Osman and Darryl Bowman. We never could have afforded to stay there on our graduate student stipend.
Here is how I think you can get the most out of business travel:
1. Get the work done. Work is paying for it and they deserve a return on that investment. I had a professor who focused his research on sea grasses in Samoa so he had an excuse to spend as much time as possible in Samoa. He quickly built a reputation for that. I can't see how it can be good for your career to get a reputation for milking the company travel budget.
2. Have a good time. Go out to eat with other employees and customers. It is work, but it is ok to enjoy it and the personal contact and friendships are important for getting things done.
3. Go running, walking, or rent a bicycle. It is amazing what you notice running or walking in a new place that would not be noticeable from a car window.
4. Don't eat at McDonald's or chain fast food. I was in Argentina once, it was late and we had been in the field in Sampacho all day. Or argentine colleague suggested going for a hamburger at McDonald's instead of eating out. We resisted and asked at the hotel restaurant instead what they could bring us quickly. They brought lasagna with fresh pasta and cups of sorbet for dessert. And cost only a few dollars more. If it is safe, there are often great street food available or local fast food options available. In Mexico my favorite are the small taco joints. It is usually a peso or two per small taco made from lomo, lengua, or al pastor. So good with salsa and picadillo. In Argentina we found that we could get steak sandwiches from most of the gas stations. Or empanadas. Or choripan. In Nicaragua you can get quesadillas made from fresh mozzarella like cheese with caramelized onions
5. It is ok to eat alone and to go plays, movies, museums by yourself. When I worked for Ag Alumni my colleagues would go drinking after meetings. I joined them at the bar for a few minutes, but since I don't drink once the evening turns from socializing to getting drunk I am out of there. In Chicago I went to see Wicked and got cheap tickets on the balcony. Sometimes I will go to the movies in the evening. In Kihei they have an open air roller skating rink in the park with 5 dollar inline skate rental till ten. In Memphis I escaped to listen to bluegrass bands.
6. Transportation. I often have a rental car, which is a lonely way to travel by yourself, but it is a great way to see the countryside between meetings. In France I was able to drive to The Basque Country with my basque colleagues.