Make Your Next Business Trip An Opportunity to Grow

Many people like to travel. Some like to travel for work, those intrepid road warriors slogging on despite the long security lines and frequent flight delays.  These people know the benefits of putting themselves on the scene of the project or face-to-face with their client, teammates, or next potential contract.  Most like to travel on vacation.  The opportunities to relax, let go, and maybe even learn about a new place.  Or if lucky, catch a glimpse of what it’s like to step into another culture, which they read about in an airline magazine in the seat pocket on their last business trip to Paducah.  What if you could put the two together?

The opportunities to combine both work and, what I call “life travel”, together exist all around us, even in the jobs we hold today. Even on the trip to Paducah where you were meeting with clients on an upcoming environmental remediation project, the chance to take-in more than just a conference room and a working lunch exist.  Anyone up for a visit to the Paducah Floodway Murals or Railroad Museum?  I’m game. 

What happens for most is a disconnection between ‘work’ on the one hand, and ‘life’ on the other.  We can’t connect the two.  For some reason, we can’t wrap our heads around integrating ‘life’, which we equate with happiness, experiential growth, and relaxation, with ‘work’, which we equate with return-on-investment, task accomplishment, and measurable outcome.  The problem is that your ‘life’ is your life – it is a combination of everything you do whether on the client call, relaxing next to the pool at the hotel, or working on a project status report.  As much as one would like to, there’s no way to drive a firewall between work and everything else.  It doesn’t work, I’ve tried.   What’s more is that when you do build the mythical firewall, you cut yourself off from enjoying opportunities sitting right in front of you.

A business trip I took to Thessaloniki, Greece a number of years ago serves as a prime example of missing opportunities to combine work and life experiences.  Our group was in the city for four days of meetings on various infrastructure development matters.  I had overcome the affliction of separating work and life by now and came armed with a list of places and restaurants I wanted to visit if the opportunity arose.  Armed with my list, I was able to engage our Greek counterparts in discussions about the best restaurants, which of the locations I’d identified were the best to see in my limited time, and how best to accomplish it.  The result: I’d opened rapport with our Greek counterparts that parlayed into our success in the work meetings over the course of the week.  What’s more, I ended up seeing the sights and visiting restaurants that were off the grid in the company of the Greeks with whom we were meeting with.  My colleagues?  Some joined me, but most sat back at the hotel working email and thinking about how best to prepare for the next day’s events.  I, on the other hand, was setting the stage for the next day’s events through social interaction.  I also gained an appreciation for Thessaloniki and had some amazing gastronomical experiences.

If you’re willing to take it, my advice is to start using your business trips as a means to relax and grow yourself whenever you can.  Most people spend little time planning their business trip because they have an agent, or someone at the home office, who books the travel to maximize the most of everything associated with the trip.  Then they’ll go home and spend hours upon hours planning for the one big get-away they take every year to escape work.  What if just thirty minutes were spent planning on what there is to see, do, or places to eat in vicinity of a project location you know you’ll be visiting repeatedly over the coming year?  Or for your first trip to a new city?  Just think what happens for you, personally and professionally, when you learn more about a place and then can better connect with the workers, local engineers, and on-site client representatives.  If anything, it gives you something to talk about to build rapport.  And when this happens, all manner of opportunities can come from it.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  Mark Twain

Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leader, civil engineer, and author.  He’s an accomplished professional specializing in A/E/C work internationally and author of The Engineer Leader, a recognized blog on leadership and life success for engineers and professionals.