Athens lesson: Business travel

I haven’t covered much about business travel. I realize all the posts thusfar give the impression of having a lot of time to travel for fun. I do, but a lot of my travels are also business related.

In a recent copy of Business Destinations at an airport, an article discusses how to plan personal days with a business trip. While I don’t particularly care of the article (questionable guidance, clear lack of integrity, poor writing), the subject matter resonated with me.

Early in my father’s career, he made several trips to Athens, Greece. But he couldn’t describe a street scene from there. I heckled him: he had a rare (only, for our family at the time) opportunity to be in Europe, let alone home of one of the most ancient civilizations, and he couldn’t be bothered to take time to see the sites? This is the man who taught me the motto “Don’t complain you don’t have time; make your own time.”

Well, more than two decades later, I found myself in Athens for all of 48 hours. Tied down by full work days and a transportation strike, all of the city I saw was from a frantic speed walk through some park with a steep hill, which fortunately included a glimpse of the Acropolis, to get to dinner with business associates in time. I really couldn’t describe much of the Athens street scene to you. The same charge I accused my father of.

I like to say I have learned to make time as I grow older and hopefully wiser. While I would hardly hold myself to the childish acts and comments I offered in my youth, I am humbled. And sometimes we just can’t do everything.

Many of my business trips are like the Athens sprint. I lost count of 48-hour trips I made this year alone. All I see is the hotel and the office. Perhaps a restaurant or two around either end. I probably can describe the airport lounge better than the city.

Yet, I am lucky. I still see more than many business travelers I met. I am not important enough nor is my employer wealthy enough to hire a dedicated driver to shuttle me around, thus allowing me to fend off myself with the local public transportation systems. I do well enough to eat in restaurants featuring local specialties, sometimes with a language barrier so thick I’ve just shrugged and said “yes” without knowing what I would get. My business contacts often are well armed with advice how to cram a little bit of local experience, whether it’s going to a restaurant near a major attraction or encouraging I take a long lunch break to visit a nearby park.

I rarely add on personal days to a business trip. Largely by personal choice. My workload is often too heavy for me to take much additional time. More importantly, especially for first trips to the particular destination, I do not want to give my business associates an impression I may be there more for tourist interests than for business.

I have learnt over time that whether or not I saw the Taj Mahal* doesn’t detract from the odds of my getting into a heated debate over fares with a taxi driver that doesn’t speak English. Ordering room service instead of eating out hasn’t stopped me from learning a few expressions in the local language from the hotel staff. Travel just comes with its own adventures, as long as one opens up to interactions and exposure to the local culture, regardless of purpose of travel. In fact, half the posts here are of things that I saw or situations I encountered in business travel. I just have learned to always keep a notebook and camera in my bag everywhere I go.

*I did see the Taj.

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