A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.
I made many mistakes when I was building my startups. Though the outcomes were financially lucrative, the journeys could have been much more fruitful if I had done one simple thing differently.
Slow Down – Business Travel Doesn’t Have To Suck
I was full of self-importance during my early days as an entrepreneur. When I traveled on business, I typically left on a Sunday so I could arrive in the evening and thus maximize my work week.
I would proudly schedule my days such that I had absolutely zero downtime. When traveling from LA to Paris, I’d arrive at 7:00 AM local time (after flying all night) and go from the airport to a business breakfast, followed by back-to-back meetings with surgeons and hospital administrators, ending my day by suffering through an interminable Parisian dinner that typically concluded around 10:00 PM. Too exhausted to enjoy the wine, conversation or the food. I was a proud, yet pathetic, road warrior.
When I returned from such trips, my co-workers would ask, “What did you see in Paris?” With absolutely no irony, I would respond, “The airport, several operating rooms (my startup was a medical robotics pioneer), the insider of a couple cabs and my hotel room.”
At that time in my life, I had two priorities, work and family. Thus, even if I was halfway around the world, I would travel home on the weekends and then head back on the road Sunday afternoon. It served me well on the home front, as I remain happily married and my adult children actually like me.
However, along the way, I sacrificed numerous, priceless opportunities. During my medical robotic days, I visited dozens of countries and what can I tell you about them? You guessed it – I can describe the world’s major airports and a handful of hotels. Weak.
Fortunately, after I sold GoToMeeting to Citrix, I slowed down and realized that it was OK to be a part-time tourist when travelling on business.
Contrast the stoic travel habits of my early career with those of Surfing Legend Shaun Tomson. Recently in route to discuss his book The Surfer’s Code to a group of corporate executives in Milwaukee, Shaun asked himself, “What can I do to make this business trip more rewarding?” He had already added a pro bono talk at a local school to his itinerary, yet he wanted to squeeze in a bit more fun.
Sitting at the Phoenix Airport, waiting for his Milwaukee flight, he located the only surf shop in Milwaukee, called the owner, Jacob Bresette, asked if could swing by that evening and say, “Hello.”
As recounted in this delightful article, when Shaun identified himself, Jacob replied, “‘Shaun Tomson? Surf legend Shaun Tomson?’ Preparation had met opportunity and I assured him that I would be able to get a group of fresh water surfers together and made plans for everyone to meet at the shop that evening.”
Shaun went to dinner with the Milwaukee surf crew that night and joined them for a surf session the following day, riding his first freshwater waves. According to Shaun, “The waves weren’t stellar, but it was still an epic session for me because the stoke level was off the charts. Here I was in Middle America, surfing with guys who brave frigid conditions to partake in the sport I love. They thanked me for stopping by, but the truth is, I was the one who felt honored.”
The next time you book a business trip, add something delightful to your itinerary. Visit a museum. Join a meetup of like-minded people with whom you share a passion. Find a group that would appreciate hearing a talk from someone from out of town. The specific activities don’t matter – but don’t be a martyr, get out and experience the unique richness of your business destinations.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.
Image credit: Courtesy of Lake Effect Surf Shop, photo by Mike Killion