Thank you Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase for sponsoring this series of articles for the business traveler. Savvy business travelers are masters at balancing the “professional” with the “personal” when they travel. They work effectively to carve out time to sightsee. They experience local culture. They seek out hidden gems to entertain clients. They accumulate rewards to leverage for more adventures in new cities. In this series, we’ll provide tips and resources for business travelers to not only work “smart,” but also play “smart” to get more out of their business travel and enjoy the journey.
Traveling for business is often its own reward. Not only do you get to visit a new destination, but you are also given the opportunity to interact with clients or partners face to face, which we all know yields more productivity than an email or a phone call.
But, business travels can often lead to boredom or patterned repetition from the office to the hotel that, without variation, can stifle productivity, results, and your own happiness. Being on the road, whether for 3 days or 3 weeks, means that in order to stay functional and productive your brain needs food to keep yourself going. I’ve experienced many long layovers, and long stays. I spent 4 weeks in The Philippines, though fortunately had no major layovers on the way, and recently spent 3 weeks in India with combined layovers of more than 15 hours each way. I’ve had a good amount of recent experience of trying to keep my brain fresh on long trips, as well as layovers.
Creativity helps breed productivity so it’s important to keep your brain fresh and moving while traveling. There are many things you can do to stay on top of your game, but there are a few immediate methods that will yield the best results. It’s good to remember that the best creativity can come from unexpected places.
Explore The Sights
This may sound a little obvious but it’s important to remember the way local sights and sounds can recharge you. It might be architecture, it might be food, it might be a local festival, an art museum or even a local hotspot for drinks – enjoying what your destination offers is a great way to remain creative. Of course, even destinations that outwardly appear unappealing can offer great creative inspirations, but it’s the effort to explore that really matters. Getting out of your office and your hotel room really make a difference; go explore. Letting yourself get lost in your location will encourage your brain to get outside of its normal office-to-hotel pattern, it will spur new thoughts and creativity that are bound to keep you refreshed and working hard.
During my month-long journey to the Philippines, my coworkers and I were pressed to find ways to stay fresh. Not only was it difficult because of the repetitiveness of going from the office to the hotel each day, but also because the first half of the trip was affected by jetlag. Exploring the sights became a way to stay fresh, and necessary to daily life. It helped our jetlag by keeping us busy during the hours we would normally be busy back home, and helped us get in tune with our surroundings. Sometimes it was as simple as visiting a nearby mall to walk and explore, other times it was utilizing our local partners as resources that could either guide us around, or point us in the directions of things to see and do. It might be restaurants, it might be cathedrals, it might be just strolling downtown; exploring the sights can help do everything from keeping you busy to repairing your Circadian rhythm.
Befriend a Local
Related to the previous point, befriending a local can yield amazing results. Many travelers take an opportunity to strike up a conversation with a local and find themselves at a family dinner just a couple hours later. Befriending a local is key to appreciating culture. Let your mind wander; ask questions and even if you’re at a bar or restaurant let your brain make new connections between what you know and what you’re learning. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling to Kolkata or Kansas City – learning about where you’re at from someone who lives there can be a great spark for keeping your brain creative and moving. Let where you are at and who you are with inspire your creativity.
After my time in the Philippines, I spent a week in Vietnam by myself on vacation. While being on vacation is usually refreshing in its own right, it’s still important to make sure you’re staying as fresh as you can – it’ll help you be both productive and enjoy your trip. I didn’t know much about Vietnam going in, and had only booked my hotel before arriving. I relied extensively on locals, everyone from ex-pats to fellow vacationers to Vietnamese locals, to help me figure out where to go and what I wanted to do. Some of them I simply met on the street while I stood around looking confused, and they offered suggestions of where to eat or how to get somewhere. Wandering through Saigon is a sensory-overloading experience. I never would have been able to enjoy myself as much as I did without the help of locals. The experience of the locals and their perspectives, stories and everything else are key to enjoying your surroundings and keeping yourself fresh and creative.
This might perhaps be the most obvious point. Everyone wants to play games, whether they’re on their phone or tablet or laptop when they’re on the road. But stimulation from a lit screen can only take you so far. Sometimes it’s as simple as playing a game of “I Spy” by yourself in an airport. How many languages can you hear? How many different sports team logos can you find on apparel? How many clothing brands can you spot in 5 minutes? It sounds simple, even child-like — but aren’t some child-like games the best games? What matters is that you’re keeping your brain running. You don’t have to be at an airport or a tourist attraction to find a way to jog your creativity. It’s all about exploration, having fun, and finding a way to get your brain outside your normal tasks.
Despite how foolish it may feel sometimes, these simple games have helped me stay fresh, especially on the long international travels I’ve mentioned above. It doesn’t matter if I’m on a long commute and stuck in traffic, or waiting in an airport terminal over a 4-hour layover – occupying my mind passes the time and keeps me fresh. During a 5-hour layover in Frankfurt I changed seats often simply to sit by new people. I would make a game of trying to guess their language or accents, and try to see if I could figure out what they were talking about based on their body language and other visual cues. Eavesdropping is never polite, but keeping the mental game focused on language and accents really worked.
During a layover in Delhi I passed the time by playing games on my iPad. I noticed an Indian gentleman watching semi-intently as I swiped away at my screen slicing fruit playing Fruit Ninja. I looked over and asked him if he wanted to play, but it immediately became obvious that he didn’t speak any English. So I motioned for him to move closer, and handed him my iPad. I restarted the game for him and while he was holding it I showed him the motions to play the game. Helping him learn to play, and watching him slice fruit on my iPad while we shared the enjoyment despite the language barrier, was an incredible way to both meet a local, share an experience with a fellow traveler and energize myself for the long travel ahead.
Keeping your brain moving and staying creative doesn’t necessarily mean writing a book or painting a portrait. It means taking your mind outside of your normal patterns and giving yourself additional purposeful focus. You can lie on a beach or tour a cathedral or talk to someone in a restaurant — it’s all about how you choose to make your brain move. Taking a Braincation and getting away from your normal work pattern on trips can make the difference between a business trip with average accomplishments and one where you make the sale, build a better relationship, and come home with the satisfaction of a job done that only you could have done so well.
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