How I make business travel more fun

One thing I constantly get asked about is how enjoyable my ‘holidays’ were, but most of the time the ‘holiday’ was business travel for clients.

I guess I can understand why people ask that: I travel somewhere new almost every month, and am lucky enough to have quite a few international clients, so it does appear that I’m always travelling for fun. The truth is far from appearance though. And while work always takes the priority while travelling, I do make sure to fit in plenty of fun things along the way to make my trips more memorable and also to experience a bit of whichever destination I find myself in.

Recently, Travelport released the results of a survey focused on how travellers are using different technologies before, during and after their travels. From personal experience, when business travel is involved, there is usually very little involvement from my side when it comes to bookings and arrangements and it seems this is true for most South African business travellers, according to the survey.

Travelport Business Travel

Other interesting stats about South Africans from the Travelport study.

So what does this mean for business travel for us? Well, we have very little control over the research and booking process of a trip, and as such, tend to leave everything up to other people. What this also means, unfortunately, is that we’ll arrive at a destination and be stuck in a hotel with nowhere to go and nothing to see, because we simply don’t know what’s out there!

Travelport reported though that 69% of South African business travellers are keen to see as much of the local area as possible, and of those, 54 % deliberately ask for longer trips, adding a few days on the end to take some personal time.

This makes sense says Robyn Christie, Country Manager in South Africa for Travelport, because South Africa is pretty far from anywhere and travel is expensive so even if it’s business travel, we grab the opportunity to see the world.

The point I’m getting to though, is that not all travel needs to be drab, and there are ways to find the best things to do, places to eat, and sights to see to fit in between meetings and presentations while travelling for business. Also, frankly, sleep when you’re on the flight home; rather push yourself out of your comfort zone during your trip. Otherwise you may never find yourself walking around Nairobi CBD at dusk, keeping an eye out for cops that don’t like photographers (true story).

1. Don’t think of it as business travel

The first step to enjoying your trip more is to stop thinking of it as work. Give yourself a bit of time one evening before you leave to put together a loose itinerary. I just jot down where I have to be at what time for work-related tasks, and from there look at where I have free time to go exploring.

Most of us will have a few spare evening, maybe an entire afternoon or a few hours before we depart for a flight, and I don’t want to sit at the airport replying to emails to waste that time. When you know what time you have, it’s time to start my favourite part of any trip – planning.

If you are new to travel for work though, check out this handy Travel Guide for New Business Travellers.

2. Plan as loosely as possible

When you start researching a trip, it can always be a little overwhelming. The best place to start (and fuel wanderlust in general) is Pinterest. You can easily pin everything you find to one board (you can even make it private if you don’t want your boss to see), and this will give you a great starting point for more solid plans closer to your trip. Pinterest is a great resource for finding blogs about destinations too, better than Google I find, and so it can also help guide what is worth fitting into the precious time you have.

Sometimes climbing the stairs to the roof of your hotel is adventure enough. I took this while on a crazy shoot in Cape Town and I didn’t have much free time at all, but this was a good way to end the day.

3. Do the research

Sometimes this part can seem a little tedious and is often what we imagine we can do on the fly during a trip. When you’re on holiday, sure! You’ll have hours to pour over maps and guidebooks during brunch with a view. But when it comes to business travel, it’s another game. Look for attractions, restaurants, tips and tricks from other travellers, the best local foods to try, walking tours and even scenic boat and train journeys. Pin it all!

Prioritise from your Pinterest board what it is you want to see, and then work out how far each point is from your hotel, conference centre or office. If you know this, you’ll know what you can fit in when you suddenly find yourself with a free 90 minutes, and will easily pick something from your list! It’s also helpful to cluster things together on a list that are close to one another; that way if something isn’t working out, you know what is nearby and don’t have to start researching the neighbourhood you’re in right then and there.

It’s also important to research the fastest way from point A to point B; that way you’re not going to waste time navigating a subway system if know you only have time to jump into a taxi, or sometimes it may even be quicker to walk to avoid traffic. Public transport is great, and very novel to us South Africans, but it can eat a lot of time when you need to change trains and transfer to buses.

Oh! And always know the details of a nearby baggage storage facility. There is no need to carry that suitcase into the Louvre, friend!

Through some research on Instagram, I found an incredible Instagrammer who took me under his wing and showed me his Nairobi. This was taken from the top of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.

4. Get GOOD travel insurance

Travelling with confidence is important to me. I want to know that I can enjoy any trip, business travel or not, and knowing that I am covered for any instance. Travelling for work usually means you’re carrying a laptop, forex and a few other pricey items. In my case, it’s usually an expensive camera setup that involves different accessories. Whether it’s an unfortunate incident of crime, or something less sinister, I want to know my gear is covered.

Similarly, it’s important to me to know I have access to medical care, or can make backup travel plans should something go wrong. Airline failed you? Travel insurance lets you know you can check into a nearby hotel and rest up (or explore more) and you won’t end up out of pocket. It’ll also help if your bag ends up in another country and suddenly you find yourself needing a woolly sweater and some long johns.

Take the time to research the best travel insurance for your needs and make sure to give yourself plenty time in advance to sort out the paperwork so you’re covered from day one. can help with this, by the way, using their handy website to get Travel Insurance quotes.

While I travel as light as I can, camera gear is an important part of what I do and I need to know it’s covered sufficiently.

5. Buy a local SIM card

I toyed with making this the most important suggestion for business travel because it’s simply always what ends up being the most helpful way to research and get around on the fly. I never bother too much with talk time, but access to the internet for me is life changing. Quickly looking up a restaurant on TripAdvisor, using Google Maps to navigate public transport, or searching for a speciality store for a present is a non-negotiable thing when I travel. I need my internet and it makes life a million times easier.

Also! Learn how to use Google Maps for transport: you know how Google Maps has those other funny options other than a car on top? Right!

We never get to really use those here because we have a non-functioning public transport system, but it’s awesome in a city that has a functioning one! Google Maps will guide you to a bus stop, tell you which number bus to catch and how many stops until you need to get off – and most South Africans still stand around with a tube map in London trying to figure it out. Smart people at Google have done it for us, stop wasting time!

Travel for work often? Leave your tips in the comments section below, because life can always be more fun…

This post was written in collaboration with As always, all thoughts are my own.

Headed to Hong Kong soon? Read my latest post: Hong Kong: Humid with a chance of Fishballs, a walking tour.

Travel & food blogger helping adventurous South Africans find their next escape.

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