By Robert McGarvey
There I was, kvetching about the grind of the road, when an oldtimer gave me a jaundiced squint and told me that, obviously, I did not know the secret.
What secret? “Do something for yourself on every trip. Do something new that you really, really want to do.”
“It’s not about your bosses. This moment is about you.”
That was some years ago and it changed my perspective on business travel. It went from being a grind to fun. Genuine fun.
Note: this “secret” does not have to involve a major commitment, of time or money. But make it local, make it special, and you’ll remember your trip to city XYZ with a smile.
This is how to personalize a blur of meeting rooms (and the ones in Houston look exactly like the ones in Orlando).
Case in point: Phoenix, where I live. It’s easy to dismiss the nation’s sixth biggest city as a blur of suburban mediocrities and much of it honestly is exactly that.
But there’s more, better to be discovered.
I tell all visitors to downtown to make a quick trip to the Heard Museum, which happens to be in my neighborhood but more importantly it just may be the country’s premier museum for Native American art. You won’t see its collections at the big city museums and you will be glad you did take the time to see them in Phoenix.
You have never seen anything like the Barry Goldwater katsina collection.
The Heard is maybe a 10 minute lightrail ride from downtown.
Your meeting is in Scottsdale? Go to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where you will see very contemporary, typically avant garde works.
Don’t think all I do is look at art. Already I know my next outing when I am in New York and that’s Ben’s Best in Queens, said by some to serve the best pastrami in New York and a place I have not yet made it to. I am a longtime Katz’s booster so tI know I will be pleased with Ben’s even if I still remain a Katz’s guy. And of course if you have never eaten pastrami at Katz’s, go to this Lower East Side deli on your next trip to New York.
When next I am in Washington DC I will make time to eat in a Jose Andres restaurant, mainly because he has emerged as one of the country’s most interesting cooks. What about Ben’s Chili Bowl? Your call. The place is famous, celebrated, but there are more grumbles that it no longer cares. And that always is a risk with a town’s most famous, traditional eateries. Often they are coasting, have been for decades, so take a few minutes to hunt down contemporary opinions before investing your precious few hours of exploration.
You are heading somewhere you are clueless about? Ask business associates what they recommend. I cannot tell you what to do in Chicago, a town I like but only as the occasional visitor. But you know people who have ideas – ask them.
Do that whenever you are heading to a town with which you are unfamiliar.
Oh, and ask people who share your tastes. I have a business associate – we all have one like this – who knows every top sushi joint in every city. Ask him where to go in Phoenix and probably he’d point to Hana – a good choice, by the way – but I’m the sort who will politely nibble sushi but I am not making it my centerpiece and I have never gone out of my way to eat it. So I don’t ask him about his local favorites.
I have other friends who are habitual shoppers. Their tips, too, are useless to me.
The idea is: ask people who share your enthusiasms.
As I think about my 2017 to-do’s, I get more excited about travel.
Pretty much every city I travel to has something I want to explore and that prospect excites me.
Is there any town that foils my strategy? Las Vegas does. I go there a lot and, in the past 10 years, I don’t recall seeing a single show or eating a decent meal or, really, doing anything except work. Days are long blurs from stand up breakfasts in meeting halls to late night emails at my room desk.
Next time – really – I have to stop in Gold and Silver Pawn, the home court of Pawn Stars, a reality TV show I confess I have watched probably too many times.
My list isn’t your list however. So start filling out your local to-do’s. That’s the fast way to make business travel special in 2017.