Taking Pleasure in Business Trips

They don't have to be all work -- here's how you can relax and enjoy your travels, too.
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On my first business trip, excitement about a welcome change of scenery soon dissipated as I found myself guiltily holed up in my hotel room when I wasn't working. Taking the term "business trip" too literally, I resisted the urge to go to a nearby lounge after my day's work was done.

The

Travel Industry Association of America reports that travel prices increased 2.8% in March 2007 compared to March of last year, and gasoline prices have increased 7.2% from one year ago. So this is all the more reason to creatively (and tastefully) use your business trip to get in some vacation time on the company-travel dime, with a clear conscience.

Me Time

If your schedule is too packed to go sightseeing or enjoy some local cuisine, at least show yourself a little appreciation, advise the most seasoned business travelers.

"I bring a great bottle of champagne for the first night," says Leslie Danelian, co-founder of

Plane Sheets, who likes to avoid paying hotel prices for a nightcap. "That helps kick off the first day in a great way!"

While he used to be on the road over 30 weeks a year, Richard Parker, CEO of

Diomo Corporation, is happy to report that he no longer does much business travel. But there's one thing he has always done: treat himself by ordering flowers for his room whenever he stays at a hotel for more than one night. "While my wife is now aware of it, she used to think I was having affairs across the continent," he muses.

Good Company

You can always get by with a little help from your friends, especially when on the road.

One thing you shouldn't forget is to call ahead to friends and family in the area who will most likely be happy to spend a little catch-up time with you. They can make you more comfortable in an unfamiliar place, will direct you to the worthwhile dining spots and provide a base for some sightseeing.

"If we know an individual or a couple in the city we are visiting, we call in advance to schedule a dinner with them," says Jim O'Connor, who owns

O'Connor Communications, Inc. with his wife Lynda. "It might be a relative, a friend from years ago, or someone we met on a previous trip. ... They take us to restaurants we would not have found on our own and

we sometimes get invited to their homes."

While Bill Owens, photographer and founder of the

American Distilling Institute, doesn't often like mixing business with pleasure, he doesn't miss the opportunity to meet up with friends for a chat while traveling out of town. It can ease the tension of frequent long trips and offer a refreshing break from constant meetings.

To view Alix Steel's video take of today's segment, click here.

"Starting next year, my plan -- whenever possible -- is to travel on either Friday or Monday and take my wife or one of my four children with me," says Parker, illustrating another growing business travel trend: bringing family along for the ride.

Even if it's just grabbing a quick breakfast together, a significant other can provide a welcome break from work. As English biographer Izaak Walton said, "Good company and good discourse are the very sinews of virtue."

The O'Connors have gone on every business trip together for the past 14 years. "We always make time for fun," says Jim O'Connor. "We never spend our nights in the hotel watching TV."

If you don't have connections in the town you are visiting, make dinner reservations and arrive early to meet new people at the bar, advises Jim O'Connor. "Sometimes we end up sharing a table

with other people ... and always learn something from everyone we meet."

Planned Pleasure

I've learned not to feel guilty about a little R&R, and there's nothing wrong with taking advantage of new contacts over a casual dinner or walking through an interesting local neighborhood.

Either online before the trip, or with a travel guide en route, pick a place or attraction you are interested in seeing and set aside a little time to go there. That way, you have at least some of your trip reserved for your own interests.

"Avoid same-day trips," advises Parker. "I get to the city the day before or stay half a day later and make certain I see the city. I'll usually take a cheap tour." Or, do as the O'Connors -- no matter where they go, climate permitting, they're never without golf clubs.

Just reserve the elaborate itineraries or activities for a family vacation. Sightseeing shouldn't be stressful, and keep in mind that you are still on a business trip.

The hotel you're staying in can even help you conveniently squeeze in some personal time. The

Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, for instance, offers several "ease of travel" services that help lower travel stress and free up some R&R time.

A program called Travel Tastes provides gourmet to-go meals for travelers headed to the airport who don't have time to grab a leisurely meal. They also offer a selection of three 25-minute "executive energizer" spa treatments, perfect for a busy schedule.

You know what they say about all work and no play, so on your next business trip, don't be afraid to get crafty and slide in a bit of vacation.