I have zero reservations when trying out new food or exploring a new city. Malaria, food poisoning, and even terrorist threats are the least of my concerns. I have travelled to as far as Moscow and Kenya in my early twenties, and when you’re young, you just live in the moment. Despite the stress work brings, I learned that there is a fine line between business and pleasure in travel.
As a fan of the farm-to-table lifestyle, I might have been a chef or an agriculturist if I did not follow the standard and more practical calling of being a “tech guy”. I remember how airports became my second home. Hopping from one country to another, an exhilarating prerequisite of the job quickly turned into an exhausting task after an entire year of travelling for business. The stale routine of flying, sleeping in hotels, and jet lag became something to tolerate rather than appreciate.
Right before I thought of quitting, I realized how playing my travel cards right can turn my life around. I began managing my schedule in between consultations, took long walks instead of cabs, and ensured that my arrival times fell on a weekend so I can rest and acquaint myself with the environment before starting the workweek. My childhood goal of relishing global culinary experiences has been within my reach all this time. I started discovering breathtaking places and understood cultural diversity beyond conference room walls.
Picking hotels near museums, parks, and Michelin Star restaurants make the most difference in a business trip. Imagine eating stale, cold hotel food; when you can step out, walk a few meters and find Tsuta, the world’s only Michelin-starred ramen. Imagine slurping a bowl of warm noodles, while intricate sheets of umami, chicken, beef, and hamaguri clams gradually collapse in your mouth. Food has always been an inspiring element in every journey, and one should never miss the unique gastronomic experience each country has to offer.
Making new and meaningful friendships can also be a good way to make a trip worthwhile. Visiting an overseas office does not demand staying in the office all day. I always ask for my colleagues’ recommendations, making sure I skip all the “tourist traps”, or tag along when they hit their favorite local bar. And by local bar I mean trying their local brew, or a bottle of label-less red wine. I would love to share how incredibly gratifying Italian coffee is, but I am not a coffee-drinker. And if I could write a piece about how one can enjoy a business trip, it would be an ode to my favored drink—alcohol. It’s a stress-reliever and jetlag-buster, if taken in moderation, of course.
It was a steady day at the Singapore HQ and I just got back from my Taipei business trip, still thinking about the xiao long bao and pork buns I would devour every night at Rao He. My daydreaming was cut short by an invitation to fly to Madrid immediately. I will not bore you with the details of the work required there, but I managed to fulfill my obligations early enough for me to still discover Madrid’s local bars. Each bottle of beer felt like a kinder surprise! It’s customary to offer a beer bottle complemented by a good portion of cured meat, steak, mini burgers, and countless more variations. The abundant tapas served with ice-cold, earthy, musty beer quickly became the highlight of my “business” trip. I also realized how productive I can be during the day if I find time to unwind at night.
When a business trip gets the best of you, lunch breaks can be a way to de-stress too. I recall entering Musei Vaticani during my hour-long lunch break at a client meeting in Rome. And it totally redeemed my rather unpleasant experience. Flight cancellations, delays, and lost luggage are the fiery details of your voyage's story. Staking out the best restaurants, learning each country’s culture, making new friends, and learning to adapt and roll with the punches are all part of the business traveler experience.
Back in the day, an airline business was a guaranteed success, and only the rich can afford the expensive airfare and equally luxurious in-flight services. Hotel rates used to rob us of more than half our holiday budget, too.
But luckily, we live in interesting times. We are a generation that can travel the world. This freedom of choice allows us to explore beyond the office walls without breaking the bank. And this is a joy for both the far-reaching entrepreneur and the regular consumer like you and me.
I did not end up being a chef, but I sure did feel like reaching my Michelin Star dream. All I had to do was create the perfect balance between duty and pleasure in travelling for business.