Years ago, while planning a business trip to a southern California trade show – four days in the huge, windowless Anaheim Convention Center – an idea hit me. Since I was going to a sun-and-sand state, why not piggyback a much-deserved getaway onto my business itinerary?
I jumped on the Internet and booked an oceanside bed and breakfast at Laguna Beach – not even an hour’s drive from Anaheim, but a world away from its paved-over hustle-and-bustle. Because my work schedule demanded that I be back in the office immediately after the trade-show, I opted for a dose of pleasure before business.
So I packed my swimsuit and beach hat on top of my business clothes, and I left snowy, landlocked Colorado for two days of jogging and palm-shaded yoga. When it was time to report for duty under the convention center’s artificial lights, I could still feel the sun’s warmth on my face. When I paced the AstroTurf-carpeted floors, I imagined my feet in the sand. Instead of the din of 20,000 people hawking their wares, I heard the roll of surf. And when a client started complaining, I smiled serenely and resolved his problem with a sense of ease, all because my minivacation had put me in a more centered state of mind.
It Pays to Play
Business trips accomplish important career objectives, but they can wreak havoc on your healthy lifestyle. Endless food-and-drink smorgasbords, sleep deprivation, jet lag, back-to-back meetings, and stressful, close-the-deal presentations can leave you exhausted, overscheduled and overfed. With some creative planning, however, you can let a little fresh air into your trip without throwing off your business agenda. And you can come home healthier, happier and better adjusted as a result.
“Getting outside connects you with your real surroundings, as opposed to the antiseptic bubble of hotel room/rental car/conference room,” says Grant Davis, a senior editor for Outside magazine.
“From inside a windowless room, San Diego looks the same as Dallas, Seattle or Las Vegas,” he notes. But if you think outside the typical business-trip box, you can have fun and even visit some pretty exotic locales. (See “Town and Country” sidebar below.)
For instance, after an annual Salt Lake City trade show, Davis schedules at least six hours for skiing before he flies home. “There’s some of the best snow in the world just a half-hour from downtown,” he says. “It’s a bonus I just can’t miss.”
Ready to make your next business trip a miniadventure? You can make it happen. Just follow these four steps to mixing business with a very healthy dose of pleasure …
1. Do Your Homework
A little research can tell you a lot about what your destination area has to offer. The Internet makes this easy: Check the Web sites of tourism boards, the area’s chamber of commerce, parks and recreation boards, and even local outfitters to see what activities are big in the area. Companies such as REI (www.rei.com) and Eastern Mountain Sports (www.ems.com) can help you find gear-rental locations, and if you phone ahead to an outdoor sports store, the employees (who are likely to be athletes themselves) may have more info to share.
National outdoor-sports magazines, such as Outside (www.outsidemag.com) or Hooked on the Outdoors (www.ruhooked.com), can be great information resources for activities like rowing, hiking, cycling, climbing or running. Before you leave home, check with your local sports-activity clubs to find out what affiliate groups can be found in your destination city. If you can access group-activity schedules, you might be able to join them when you visit.
Scheduling a guide or coach for outdoor activities like kayaking or a long bike ride can save you time finding a guaranteed-enjoyable place. These people know the ropes in your destination city, and they likely can guide you to trails you might not readily find through your own research. Plus, if you set an appointment, you’re less likely to break your exercise commitment.
2. Plan Your Itinerary
Now that you’ve targeted a fun form of outdoor recreation, lay the groundwork for your excursion. If you want to extend your business trip, check with your employer to be sure additional time off is OK. Most companies allow extended stays as long as the airfare is the same price or less than a shorter visit. (Generally, you’ll be expected to pick up the hotel and food tab for your extra stay, but in cases where an over-Saturday stay reduces air fare substantially, you may be able to work out a deal.) To save vacation days, schedule your business travel around weekends.
To make getting outside easier, book a hotel close to a trail or park, suggests Nancy Coulter-Parker, editor-in-chief of Hooked on the Outdoors. “Taking a run right outside my hotel helps dissolve business overload,” she says.
You might also spice up your schedule by trying a new activity, especially something you can’t do at home, such as llama trekking in the mountains near Boise, Idaho, or paragliding over Tucson, Ariz. On one trip to Ventura, Calif., Coulter-Parker and her coworkers took an early-morning surfing lesson before reporting to meetings. “Riding the waves before work was a treat,” she says. “We felt so refreshed just trying something new.”
3. Pack It Up
You’ll maximize the business-trip fun factor if you pack the right gear along with your laptop and cell phone. Cycling enthusiast Jeff Klem, a leadership development coach from Lakewood, Colo., carefully prioritizes his luggage. Traveling with only a carry-on, he crams in his bike shoes, pedals and helmet, then rents a bike on location. “Aside from my gear, I’m pretty Spartan about packing,” he admits. “If I have to, I sacrifice the number of business clothes I take.”
At the other end of the packing spectrum, Holly Johnson, a skier and half-marathon runner who co-owns a public relations firm in Sarasota, Fla., always packs extra clothing in case of foul weather.
“I don’t want rain or snow to be an excuse for not putting in my miles while I’m traveling,” she says. Though they bulk up her luggage, she prefers lugging ski boots and goggles in a second suitcase to avoid missing slope time when she’s visiting Rocky Mountain–area clients in Colorado. The only thing she doesn’t pack are her skis: Renting some once she’s there keeps her from needing to check oversized baggage that requires special handling.
4. Bust Through Challenges
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, the success of your urban outdoor adventure depends on finding creative ways to work around a jam-packed schedule and overindulgent business dinners. Some of Klem’s and Johnson’s pointers:
- Invite clients on an outing. Golfers often seal deals on the fairways, so why not do the same with other activities? “In the past year, I’ve gone running or cycling with my colleagues 15 or 20 times while talking business,” Klem says. “It gets ideas rolling and positions us to be much more effective for the rest of the day.”
- Carve out niches of personal time. Schedule an appointment with yourself on days when you need an outdoor break. Or, repurpose social downtime. “If people are going to the bar after work, I say I’ll meet them later for dinner,” Johnson explains. In the interim, she goes for a walk or run.
- Cut the cocktails. If you’re having an obligatory drink with a client, limit yourself to one, keeping in mind that a hangover isn’t conducive to lakeside jogging or rock climbing the next morning. “On business trips, a lot of people overindulge on food or alcohol,” observes Johnson. “But for me, cutting loose is having time to be outside in a new, different place.”
- Use early-morning hours. “There’s nothing more invigorating than watching the sun rise while I’m running through a park,” Johnson says. “Nobody can encroach on your time if they’re not out of bed yet!”
- Ask for what you need.“I’ve learned to be detailed in explaining to the hotel concierge or bike-rental employees exactly what I want to do while I’m in town,” Klem says. “I’m specific about what kind of scenery I’m looking for, my fitness level and how long I want to ride.”As you plan and execute your trip to the great outdoors, remember that part of the joy of travel is getting outside and actually experiencing a destination. Instead of spending precious spare time munching minibar snacks and staring at the hotel TV, you could in-line skate through a park, bike beside the river, row around a lake or hike a hill to a city overlook.If you can swing a little extra time before or after the business portion of your journey, there are a surprising number of outdoor (and even wilderness) opportunities within one or two hours’ drive of most urban centers. With a little added effort, outdoor adventure needn’t be relegated to vacations – it can become a hidden jewel in your business agenda, too.
Town and Country
Many hubs of industry offer a surprising array of recreational opportunities. Take a closer look at the places you’re most likely to land while on business.
About town: Enjoy Lake Michigan views with other cyclists, joggers and skaters along the popular Lakefront. There’s volleyball near North Avenue Beach (check Chicago’s Original Sport and Social Club for organized events: www.chicagosportandsocialclub.com). You can also paddle or row off the shores of Lincoln Park (www.chicagoparkdistrict.com or www.lincolnparkchamber.com/visitors/boatclub.cfm).
Add-on adventures: The dramatic sandstone bluffs and waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park are a great getaway (less than two hours from the city) for hiking, horseback riding, camping, cross-country skiing and ice climbing (www.utica-il.com).
About town: A walk or jog on the Strip can be entertaining, with volcanoes erupting (The Mirage), fountains dancing (Bellagio) and pirates battling (Treasure Island). Tired of the glitz? Sunset Park (on East Sunset Road) offers walking paths and outdoor tennis courts. Or head to the nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for a horseback ride (www.cowboytrailrides.com).
Add-on adventures: Rent a boat, kayak or canoe for swimming, fishing or waterskiing at Lake Mead National Recreation Area (25 miles away), which also caters to rock scramblers and desert hikers (www.nps.gov/lame).
NEW YORK CITY
About town: Central Park’s 843 acres include 136 acres of woodlands along with lush lawns, ponds and lake – plenty of space for horseback riding, biking, rowing and ice skating. There’s even an outdoor climbing wall (www.centralparknyc.org). A half-hour north of Manhattan, in Yonkers, find the Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway: a lovely wooded walking and running path that follows the aqueduct along the scenic Hudson River (the aqueduct was used to bring fresh water to the city in the 1800s). It leads through historic towns, parks and nature preserves and takes you all the way back into New York City (www.hudsonriver.com/rivertowns/yonkers.htm).
Add-on adventures: Drive two hours into the Catskill Forest Preserve wilderness, the birthplace of fly-fishing and a popular place for birding, hiking, camping and cross-country skiing (http://nysparks.state.ny.us/regions/catskill.asp).
More Town & Country
SAN FRANCISCOAbout town: Trek the Bay City’s famous hills. San Francisco City Guides offers free…
About town: Trek the Bay City’s famous hills. San Francisco City Guides offers free daily, informative walking tours (www.sfcityguides.org). Or explore San Francisco Bay in a kayak (www.citykayak.com). For city info check outwww.sfvisitor.org. Got a car? A short, 12-mile drive will get you to Muir Woods, where you can hike for miles through the Bay Area’s last surviving primordial redwood forest (www.visitmuirwoods.com). Staying in the East Bay? Try Redwood Regional Park in Oakland (www.ebparks.org/parks/redwood.htm).
Add-on adventures: Yosemite National Park (four to five hours away) is a rock-climbing mecca. Learn new climbing skills with Yosemite Mountaineering School (www.yosemitepark.com). Bicycle tranquil country roads past lush vineyards (one-and-a-half hours away). For guided bike tours check www.winecountrybikes.com or read Wine Country Bike Rides by Lena Emmery (Chronicle Books, 1997).
About town: How about some history with your hike? The 2.5-mile Freedom Trail takes you past American Revolution sites (www.thefreedomtrail.org), while the Charles River Reservation bustles with runners, skaters and cyclists (www.bostonusa.com). Or sail Boston Harbor, famous for its historic tea party (www.bostonsailingcenter.com).
Add-on adventures: Cape Cod National Seashore is a beachy getaway for water sports and whale watching (www.nps.gov/caco). Boat out to Monomoy Island for bird watching. Golfers are in heaven on the Cape’s 40 courses. (www.golfcapecod.com).
About town: Rent a bike or inline skates in the Mile High City and get your heart pumping along the 15-mile Cherry Creek Bike Trail, which you can access at various entry points downtown (www.denver.org). Or fly high above this elevated city on an early-morning balloon ride (www.rockymountainhotair.com).
Add-on adventures: Get into the mountains (a one- to two-hour drive) for world-class downhill and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing (www.coloradoski.com). In summer, take a mountain bike up the lift and single-track down the slopes.
About town: Go directly to the beach! Charter a sailboat, snorkel Biscayne National Park (www.nps.gov/bisc) or learn Miami’s daredevil sport, kiteboarding — like windsurfing with a kite (www.miamikiteboarding.com). Or dive the underwater Wreck Trek of sunken ships (www.southbeachdivers.com).
Add-on adventures: Trade in a round of cocktails for a date with crocodiles in Everglades National Park (35 miles away), where you can paddle through mangroves and swamps in search of manatees and alligators, or camp on chickees — raised platforms accessible only by water. A permit and 24-hour notice are required. Call 305-242-7700, or visit www.nps.gov/ever.