Business Travel London Reviews
Having fun when you're not traveling for fun. Jan 17, 2011
When I was small, my father travelled a lot for work. I told him how jealous I was, and he said it sucked. “I see the inside of a train, the inside of a hotel, the inside of a meeting venue and then the inside of a train,” he said. I thought he was just being whiny – he must have more fun than that! And now I am an adult, and although I don’t do the international travel he did, I travel for work inside the UK quite a bit. You know something? Unless I fight for it, I see the inside of a train, the inside of a hotel, the inside of a meeting venue, and the inside of a train. And my expenses are fixed, so I’m often out of pocket on dinner and in a crap hotel.
I know, I know – boohoo, right? Poor old me, having to spend all that time in one of the world’s most exciting capitals. But the hotels and meeting rooms really could be anywhere.
Well, there are ways to make it more pleasant. If you ever land business travel for your job, here are my tips to fit in real travel too.
- if you can, be clever with your annual leave. Generally, most employers don't mind you using an annual leave day to stay in a city as long as you pay the difference in travel costs. So if you have a thursday meeting, and pay for Thursday night's hotel, and the Friday train home costs the same as the Thursday train home (or you're charging mileage, or something) you can get away with an extra day in the city saving the cost of the travel. A day might not be much, but it's enough to feel like you've actually seen a place rather than just the station and the conference centre.
- Never eat dinner in the hotel. Hotels think you’re a captive market. The food is nearly always expensive, often bad, and frequently half heartedly served because people know there won’t be tips. Also, in sheer mental health terms, it does you good to go out exploring. There might be a real gem nearby, unless you’re stuck in an out of town conference centre, and at least you get some fresh air. Even Chinese take aways on park benches are better fun than hotel dinner.
- Get into town. if you are stuck in an out of town conference centre, it can seem like a lot of effort to get into town. But if there’s any way you can take a taxi into town, even out of your own pocket, then at least you can say you’ve seen a little. The taxi driver will almost certainly be happy to at least drive past the main local monument if you ask nicely (and pay).
- If you are stuck in the hotel, try to get people chatting. Business travellers are often just as chatty and interesting as backpackers, once you manage to get them started, but they don’t necessarily start conversations as easily. This is especially true if you’re a woman, because men are often scared you’ll think you’re trying to chat them up. Life is a lot nicer if you find the person who isn’t staring at their laptop and start chatting.
- Read something for fun. If you can’t get people chatting, at least lay down the report and pick up the novel.
- Take one hour holidays. Many conferences and meetings stop at 4pm. This is far too late to get back to the office. Seriously, very few bosses expect you to do much more than check your emails. One hour is enough time to go for a walk through a square, stop for a coffee, or see a couple of rooms of a free museum in countries which have them. The British museum and British Library, for example, are less than ten minutes each from Euston station and barely fifteen from King’s Cross station. I even tell my boss I’m stopping after the meeting and taking a break, as legally I’m entitled to time off in lieu of travel and it took me a two hour train journey in my own time to travel down – it’s worth checking that if you are too much of a teacher’s pet to just not mention your meeting finished early.
- Take the earlier/later train. I often take a 7pm off peak train, even when I won’t get the time back, so that I don’t have to travel on sweaty on peak tube trains. This is especially nice in summer – I can have a more relaxed dinner and sit in the park until all the commuters have gone away and I don’t have to travel with my face crammed in someone else’s shoulder. After all, taking a 5.30 train gets me in at 7.45 if I’m lucky – the evening is a write off anyway, so I might as well have a nice evening in London
- Given the choice between a big room in a hotel with no pool, and a tiny room in a hotel with a pool, I would always recommend the tiny room in the hotel with the pool. You’re likely to travel alone – all you need from your room is somewhere to be unconscious in. But if you are stuck miles from anywhere and can’t get into town or to the theatre, never underestimate the benefits of a steam room
- Cheap tickets! Most business travel is mid week, which means that there is a good chance of getting cheap mid week tickets for a show, the theatre or a gig. Obviously, I can’t expect my employers to pay for that, so it’s another thing I’m out of pocket on. But it is so much nicer to spend the night at the theatre than it is to spend it staring at a TV in a hotel room on my own. Remember that from 5pm your time is your own again, and although you can’t really get drunk on a work night you can certainly have fun. Time Out has good websites for a lot of business travel cities so that’s worth a shot.
- Of course, you might end up in a conference centre out of town on the edge of somewhere like Basildon or Milton Keynes. In which case, no amount of going for a walk, going into town or looking for theatre tickets is likely to help you (actually, Basildon and Milton Keynes both have small theatres, but they tend to sell out). But there are few cities anywhere that don’t have a cinema multiplex. If all else fails, go to the cinema. It’s still better for your mental health than an identikit-business box hotel room is.
- Don’t be a martyr. I know people who will get up at 5am, travel to a meeting that starts at 9am, leave it at 4pm, travel two hours back to their office and work for another three hours. Unless you are billing per hour, you don’t benefit, and unless your job actually does involve saving lives, most things will wait until tomorrow. Nobody ever says thank you for it, and you’re probably too tired to think when you get in. Practice saying “I got up at 5am to catch the train down, and the meeting finished at 4pm, so I will reply to these emails tomorrow” in the mirror if you have to!
Part of the 2011 - UK Hometowns travel blog
Part of the list London with Sarah Elaine
Part of the list Leave London!
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