10 years ago, I was just starting my last year of college at the University of Illinois. The Fall semester was focused on interviewing for full-time jobs. After a few ‘industry’ internships, I knew I was ready to try something different. I focused my search on consulting firms and interviewed with all the major players. After all was said and done, I chose Deloitte because of their great culture, competitive salary, and super-organized recruiting process. I couldn’t wait to graduate, move to Chicago, and start traveling…
Flash forward almost one year, and I was in the basement of a hotel in Orlando going through a hellish week of SAP training during a tropical storm…wondering exactly what I got myself into. This also happened to be the week they were announcing our initial staffing assignments. I was ready for my first traveling client, and I had all my frequent flyer/hotel accounts ready. And then, wham…in my inbox comes the email. ‘Your client assignment will be at Caterpillar in Morton, Illinois.’
They always say you never know what to expect in consulting. After four years on the Caterpillar project, I had accumulated way more car miles than airline miles, but I did have a good stash of hotel points. While it was long, it was still a fabulous experience and a great way to start my career (hindsight is 20/20). After Caterpillar, I had the opportunity to travel abroad and domestically with Deloitte. However, I was still doing the Monday-Thursday gauntlet of business travel and the ‘burn-out’ was real.
An opportunity arose for me in the summer of 2013 to interview with West Monroe Partners. Still a consulting firm, I interviewed for a role that was at least 50% travel, which sounded perfect (compared to 100% at Deloitte). I made the leap of faith, and landed in a perfect position that allowed me travel, but also gave me time at home. Since then, I have been so fortunate to travel to some amazing international destinations for work.
It is my personal mission to make consulting sustainable for myself, and I definitely try to live by the mantra ‘work hard, play hard.’ Translating that mindset to travel is a no brainer - leverage any/all opportunities for business travel as a means to incorporate personal travel and exploration. I’m always looking for ways to have fun and explore new territory during a business trip, specifically when traveling internationally. Here are a few of my tips:
Piggy-back your business meetings with a free weekend; this allows you to spend time exploring on your own and gets you over jet-lag so you can show-up to work like a boss!
Aim to pick a reasonably priced hotel that is in the best possible location (close enough to the client, but near-enough to the action); sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s always worth a shot.
Research a few fun activities in advance that you can slot in your visit; some of my best experiences have been during the week when the crowds at major attractions are minimal.
And now for the fun part, here’s a look-back at my Top 5 favorite international business destinations:
Where to Stay: The Peninsula; OK, maybe this wasn’t the most affordable option, but YOLO!
Best Non-Work Activity: Explore the gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen in the morning; for an evening adventure, enjoy a night out for cocktails in the Roppongi neighborhood.
Restaurant Suggestion: Isetan Shinjuku; also known as an ‘epachiku’ (a food hall found on basement or top levels of most department stores), a perfect place to relax for a tasty, but informal/inexpensive meal.
Where to Stay: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London; a perfect location next to the King’s Cross train station with a beautifully historic exterior; enjoy your morning coffee in their fabulous lobby.
Best Non-Work Activity: Go for a morning walk in Hyde Park or stand outside of a pub for happy hour (like a true Londoner) .
Restaurant Suggestion: Franco Manca; a UK chain serving up the most delicious sourdough pizza. Hip, casual, and fun. Sit on the patio at this location for great people watching.
Where to Stay: Delta Hotels Toronto; perfectly situated downtown with great city and lake views; the executive lounge is top-notch as well.
Best Non-Work Activity: Even though it is touristy, take a trip to the top of the CN Tower for fabulous city and lake panoramic views.
Restaurant Suggestion: 360; kill two birds with one stone and have dinner at the top of CN Tower; the restaurant slowly spins so you do not miss-out on any views from your table.
Where to Stay: Renaissance Paris Arc de Triomphe Hotel; a great central location to all major attractions in Paris while still maintaining affordable rates.
Best Non-Work Activity: Climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe early morning or early evening for my personal favorite views of Paris.
Restaurant Suggestion: La Cuisine de Bar; sister restaurant to the Poilâne bakery; come here for the most fabulous croque monsieur.
Where to Stay: Copenhagen Marriott Hotel; perfect waterfront hotel with easy access to the city center; the Executive Lounge serves up great wine and delicious appetizers.
Best Non-Work Activity: Explore Nyhavn with the beautiful colored houses; take a canal tour to truly appreciate the city sights by water.
Restaurant Suggestion: Kødbyens Fiskebar; delicious seafood in the historic meat packing district; ask for a table outside for the most authentic experience.
Traveling internationally, especially independently, has been one of the best character-building exercises of my life. Next time you have the opportunity, take the time to plan in advance and give yourself a few extra days at your international destination. The time and monetary investment will be well worth it. Cheers!