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Road Work: A weekly look at business travel

How to mix business with pleasure Add to ...

Could you be getting more than just business out of your business trips?

Bruce Poon Tip built his career around what he calls “the passion of travel.” And for the first dozen years of his working life, as he built Gap Adventures, people would marvel at all the places he got to go. Yet he wasn't always so excited himself. “I used to say, daily, ‘It's not as glamorous as you think.' ”

The reason is that for him, a business trip was all business. A voyage to Asia or Russia might sound like fun, but as Poon Tip says, “I've seen a lot of hotel rooms in my day, and a hotel room in Singapore and Moscow look the same.”

Then Poon Tip had a revelation: He was spending his life travelling to more places than most people ever would; it was time to take advantage. He decided he was going to get something, personally, out of each trip.

Since then, many of the things he’s most passionate about, such as yoga and Muay Thai, are things he’s picked up in the crevices of free time that open up here and there on a business trip. Instead of catching up on e-mail, or spending time in his room or the hotel bar with colleagues, he’s ventured out to find things specific to the place he’s at – memories, skills, stories, experiences.

To follow his example, you’ll need to break free of your shell.

Business travellers are creatures of habit. As George Clooney’s character illustrated in Up in the Air, they tend to pack a certain way, stay in certain hotels, rent certain cars, and even have favourite bars and restaurants in the places they go regularly. Adding pleasure to business, then, can be a little like getting a nose job – habits have to be broken and then reset. Here are some breaks you may want to consider.

  • Don’t go to the hotel bar. Whether you’re in Sudbury or Munich, bars and cafés are the best way to get to know a city. If you’re going to drink, do it somewhere interesting.
  • Don’t agree to meet up with colleagues after your meetings. Treat the end of a work day on the road like the end of any workday: Get out and do your own thing.
  • Stay away from Milestones, Applebee’s and the like. These places were made for people yearning for familiarity in unfamiliar locations. Break free, eat local: You have nothing to lose but your chains.
  • Don’t rent a movie in your room. If you want to see a movie, go out and see one. It’ll be no more expensive, and chances are you’ll stumble on something on the way there.

Once you’ve broken those habits, try to add a couple of new ones.

  • Do two-word Web searches. Going to Winnipeg? Type in “Winnipeg” and “museum.” The first page of Google results includes a railway museum, an aviation museum, a firefighters museum, a costume museum and something called the Living Prairie Museum.
  • Use social media. “My big tip is to go on Twitter,” Poon Tip (@brucepoontip) says. You can search by city and if, like him, you like playing basketball, Twitter’s the way you’ll find out whether there are any pick-up games going on while you’re in town.
  • Come up with a story. The best thing about vacations is the tales you come back with. Go on each business trip with the goal of having at least one interesting thing to tell your spouse or buddy when you get back.

If you can make the time, take a day or so at the beginning or end of a trip specifically for pleasure.

According to spokeswoman Caitlin Workman at the Canada Revenue Agency: “If a trip is carried out for business but the individual takes a few extra days to see the sights, the airfare should still be deductible as a business expense.” As are the hotels, the meals and almost every other expense incurred for a trip whose primary purpose is business.

In other words, every business trip can be a legitimately free mini-vacation.

“I’m a workaholic like nobody else,” Poon Tip says. “I love work and love what I do, but there comes a point where you just have to take advantage of your opportunities and stop and smell the roses.”

Did you know you could do just that on Saturday mornings at the Calgary Flower Market? Now you do.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Do you have feedback or business travel questions? E-mail roadwork@globeandmail.com.

Follow Road Work on Twitter @BertArcher.

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