Culture

Five ways to make yourself feel at home on a business trip

December 5, 2018

Read time 5 min

Look, business trips can be totally glamorous. The big city is right there, whether it’s Dubai, Tokyo, or New York City. You get to see places you’d never see otherwise. I absolutely love it. But weekdays are still weekdays regardless of where you are. It can get draining, too: socially, physically, mentally, and financially.

Take New York for example. The city gets more sunlight during November and December than my hometown Helsinki, but it’s still winter in New York too. It’s cold and rainy, the radiators whistle like the world is ending, public transport during rush hour is a huge mess, you’re freaked out by rats, cockroaches, and the fear of getting bedbugs and having to burn your whole wardrobe. That sort of stuff. You live out of your suitcase or backpack, rotating through the same seven t-shirts and seven pairs of socks.

I’ve been on countless business trips, many of them as long as a couple of months. But there are things I’ve learned to ease my discomfort and make myself at home wherever I am.

1. Avoid hotels

This is my top tip: If you like hotels, save them for vacations. You know how that exciting holiday feeling of waiting for a flight quickly becomes stale if you fly too much? It’s the same with hotel rooms.

Hotels remind me of Groundhog Day. Wake up, go to work, return to a hotel room where your bed is already made and someone has moved your stuff back to its orderly place. It makes the experience feel foreign. My first week at Hotel Indigo in New York City was so bad I haven’t used a hotel on a business trip since.

Airbnb apartments are, by and large, cheaper — or at least you’ll get more for the same amount of money — and feel more like a home, especially if you avoid the ones that are only kept for tourists.

And if you absolutely have to stay in a hotel, then at least make sure you claim your personal space. Ask the reception not to make your bed and clean your room every day. Keep the same sheets and towels for a longer period of time. Use your own shampoo, buy flowers, or get candles — whatever makes you feel at home. Don’t let your room become sterile.

2. Keep up routines

There are still some major benefits to having routines, but make sure they are ones that remind you of home; that bring stability to your life.

Once I land at a particular city, I always eat the same breakfast, visit the same coffee shop, get the same Sunday newspaper, go to the same gym, and frequent the same restaurants. Some of my routines I even bring with me: I always carry my Aeropress, hand grinder, and coffee beans from my local roastery in Helsinki. That gives me a sense of belonging.

I follow this rule in terms of how I allocate my days, too. I don’t just work; I do sports and culture. I keep my evenings free. I go out on weekends. Life goes on, even on a business trip; we should have time to recharge. And that doesn’t mean endless wining and dining either — by the way. Routines and moderation are what matter.

3. Watch your working hours

Often there is self-inflicted pressure on a business trip to do endless amounts of work, replying to colleagues across multiple time zones. Weeks can become entirely about work, especially if there are a lot of meetings at the city you’re in. As always, learning to say no, and choosing which of the seven meetings of the day are actually necessary is valuable. Otherwise your work suffers: One begins to do other work during meetings or simply work overtime.

When I’m back home in Helsinki, I find it easier to be flexible. Friends, family, and other circumstances keep me more or less in control. On business trips giving in to the demands of the client is more of a slippery slope. And when the sole purpose of me being in a city is to work, it’s also a little bit harder to switch from thinking about the project to doing something else.

4. Make new friends

This is especially crucial on longer trips, but useful on shorter visits too. When traveling for business it’s really easy to just spend time with co-workers, but no matter how lovely those people are, they’re still linked to your work. So where to meet new local friends? It happens easiest when there’s a shared interest, like sailing, bouldering, running, or beer.  Or maybe it’s talking to the barista at the coffee shop you frequent. Wherever it is, I find usually when you’re in the middle of an activity it’s easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger — something that can be a bit hard for us Finns.

5. Bring along your significant other or friends. Or a dog. Or cat. Or mini pig. Or python.

Home is about people. If the circumstances allow, bringing friends or family over can be really helpful. I’ve mostly been living in Airbnbs and there’s extra room, so I invite people to stay with me. My wife is able to work remotely, so she came to New York for the holidays. This spring she happened to have two conferences in the US at the same time as I was in New York, so again we were able to share the apartment. If you’re not able to bring over friends and family, then take a part of them with you. Pack things that remind you of them: pieces of home, like your homely laundry detergent or favorite coffee mug — things that make you the person you are.

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