How to make the most of a business trip

Make the most of a business trip: Pike Place Market, SeattleGood business travelers are efficient and get their work done. Road Warriors do all that with upgrades, perks and insider tricks. But great business travelers do something more: they go beyond business on their business trips.

I recently met with a woman I’ll call Carol at a conference in Seattle. Carol lives and works on the East Coast but before returning there, she took a few extra days to get to know Seattle. Let me use Carol’s example to illustrate how you too can make the most of a business trip.

  1. She was intentional. Carol planned ahead and did her research as to places to see and things to do so that when she arrived, she wasted no time. She’d read about places like Kurt Farm Shop, a recently opened ice cream shop that I, as the local, had never heard of (but now definitely will check out). She went beyond the obvious tourist locations to discover what mattered to her.
  2. She made the time. People in Carol’s line of work are constantly dealing with new projects and deadlines. They are not people with much free time. But Carol carved out the time to do more than attend the conference. She took advantage of being in a place she rarely visits to explore.
  3. She gained more than she gave up. Because her time is such a precious resource, it would have been easy for Carol, like most business travelers, to say, “I just can’t take an extra day away from work or family to stay longer.” But creative work is not something easily measured by the clock: sometimes that break from work to refresh your spirit actually makes you more productive when you get back to work.
  4. She understood the freedom found in limitations. Too many tourists to Seattle try to take in Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Pioneer Square, Fremont, Lake Union, the International District, Mount Rainier, ferry rides across the Sound and more, all in one day (which is roughly like trying to fit your head into a drinking glass). Instead, she made Ballard (a quaint Seattle neighborhood by the water) her base and only ventured as far as easy, local bus service allowed. She got more from less.
  5. She was flexible and inventive. To ride those local buses, she snagged a bunch of quarters from the bank only to find that in Seattle, you can ride within certain zones all for the same fare. Most of us might have begrudged lugging around all those coins. Instead, Carol found a pinball bar and put all that change to fun use.
  6. She reached out to others. She met up with work and personal contacts (some being friends of friends that were new to her) so that she was able to share her time in Seattle with others and learn from those she met. Solo travel doesn’t have to mean a solo experience.
  7. She inspired locals. I mentioned the ice cream place, but Carol also told me about some great restaurants I’ve not been to like Eve. She helped me see the place where I live with new eyes. She made the most of a business trip in part by inspiring me to do the same and to get out and make the most of the places close to home that can seem overly familiar.

I was at a gathering of filmmakers awhile back. One of them noted that the people who excel in their field are those who do the work others aren’t willing to do and who make the time to do what matters even when they don’t feel like it. That applies to making movies or any creative endeavor. And as Carol reminded me, it applies to travel as well – even a busy business trip.

 

The aftermath of a hard trip

The aftermath of a hard trip: crabsLast week’s business trip to the Midwest was a hard trip. A marathon of meetings and then post-meeting follow-up making for 16-17 hour workdays in a time zone enough hours from normal to make sleep intermittent at best. It was a week where fatigue accumulates like pooled water after a storm and all your reserves start looking for reserves before you’re even half way through.

The aftermath of a hard trip - Seattle buildings

Looking up in and around the Market has its rewards

I got home Friday evening, spent time with my family and then melted into bed. I awoke the next morning on East Coast time (my body being no respecter of clocks): earlier than I wanted but thankful for the opportunity to wrap up some remaining work. Then, at 7:30 a.m., I drove back to the airport though not this time as a traveler. I was there to drop my son off for his flight back to college.

After that, I wanted to go home. Go back to bed. Relax. Get away from travel. But something compelled me to head in a different direction.

Place Pigalle and Pigeons

I rarely look out the back side of the Market, but if you do, this is what you might see

So, on a very foggy Saturday morning I drove instead to downtown Seattle. I needed a new roller bag. I wasn’t the only one who’d had a hard trip: my old, faithful 14-year-old piece of luggage longed for retirement. The retractable pull handle had given out as I boarded my outbound flight. The handle now extended like credit to someone who never pays their bills. In addition, the bag’s rollers barely lived up to their name. They made getting through the airport as quick and graceful as walking a cat on a leash.

The aftermath of a hard trip: salmonBut it was barely 8:00 a.m. and stores didn’t open till 10:00 a.m. What to do? Play tourist. Don’t ask me why, but despite my fatigue I headed up to one of the city’s biggest visitor destinations, Pike Place Market.

Normally, if I go to the Market, I do so to buy something or take photos or show it off to a visiting friend. But this day I was too tired to do anything more than wander. The place I was in mentally and emotionally allowed me to see the place I was in physically in a new way. To take in the Market on its own terms, not mine.

And that made all the difference.

The aftermath of a hard trip: cauliflowerI enjoyed the Market in a way I never have before. I noticed details like these odd cauliflower spike balls or the the merged scents of the place as if I’d never experienced the Market before. I was simply content to be there with none of the usual travel expectations and as a result, I discovered something new.

The aftermath of a hard trip: TulipsAfter a really long, hard trip, I experienced a gift: a reminder of why I love to travel. My road-weary fatigue allowed me to let go of the litany of usual tasks and attitudes I normally carry with me when I explore somewhere. Like how a hot shower relaxes you to be able to focus on a single thought, my exhaustion quieted down all the usual voices that tell me I need to somehow take advantage of visiting a place. To capture it all. Note it. Make sense of it.

Instead, I simply enjoyed it. Nothing more, nothing less. It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had lately in part because it was never intended to be a travel experience. I was able to be present to that place because another place, a difficult trip, had broken me open to be open.

The aftermath of a hard trip: Dried flowersFriday night I was grumbling about a hard trip and a hard week.

Saturday morning, I was immeasurably grateful for both.

 

 

 

 

 

Food tour of Seattle’s International District

Chinatown on a food tour of Seattle's International District

Hing Hay Park was one of our last stops on the food tour of Seattle’s International District and Chinatown

We started our food tour of Seattle’s International District and Chinatown a few weeks ago with, naturally, food.

Cream puffs to be exact.

Our tour, led by Taylor Hoang and assisted by Rayleen Nguyen both of Pho Cyclo Cafe, departed from the Huong Binh Restaurant in Little Saigon. This Vietnamese dining place is run by Taylor’s mom and is, as we’d soon find out, amazingly good. First stop from there: Saigon’s Bakery and Bubble Tea where we tasted scrumptious cream puffs; light and not too sweet.

Cream puff's on food tour of Seattle's International Disrtict

The best cream puffs I’ve ever had are found in Little Saigon on this food tour of Seattle’s International District

I think some of our fellow guests on the 12-person food tour of Seattle’s International District could have gladly just spent the rest of the day there in cream puff heaven. But onward we pressed.

Time to go shopping on the food tour of Seattle’s International District

From there we visited Lam Seafood on King Street near 12th. If you live in the Seattle area and you want fresh produce or seafood, come here.

Indian Bittermelon on the food tour of Seattle's International District

Indian Bittermelon was just one of many fruits and vegetables we don’t see too often at our local grocery store

The prices are in many cases half to a third of what they are in the grocery stores and the selection, at least for Asian foods, is unbeatable.

Taylor explaining Caro on our food tour of Seattle's International District

Here’s Taylor our guide explaining how to look for and prepare caro root at Lam Seafood

We came back later on our own to shop and stock up on sauces, as well as buy from a huge selection of mushrooms, vegetables and fresh fish.

Fish on display at Lam Seafood on food tour of Seattle's International District

At Lam Seafood, you just point to the fish you want and then point to a sign that tells them how you want it prepared.  Compare the prices here with where you normally get your seafood…

Next stop, Thanh Son Tofu. Even if you don’t like tofu, you should check out the very affordable sub sandwiches and other treats they have in this brand new facility. And if you do like tofu or soy milk, well, this is your cream puff of a place…

Sesame balls on food tour of Seattle's International District

These sesame balls are just some of the tasty goodies you’ll find at Thanh Son Tofu even if you don’t like tofu

Back to the Huong Binh Restaurant for a wonderful soup of wontons, pork, shrimp, squid and quail eggs along with celery leaves, chive and fried shallots in a pork broth. That alone could have been lunch enough, but then came the “main course:” Rice noodles, grilled pork, pork meatball and grilled shrimp garnished with lettuce, peanuts, herbs, onions and a delectable sauce. Oh, and cookies for desert. Delighted and satisfied, our food tour of Seattle’s International District could have ended there.

Huong Binh Lunch on food tour of Seattle's International District

Our first course for lunch at Huong Binh. Delicious.

But wait (as they say in infomercials), there’s more on this food tour of Seattle’s International District!

We headed from lunch down to Chinatown where we tasted dim sum, stuffed buns, barbecued pork and coconut-infused rolls. We learned of other places to shop, restaurants to try and gift items to purchase. By the time we finished, we were full. OK, more than full. Stuffed. And not just of food.

We learned so much that day from Taylor that we’d never have uncovered on our own, at least not without considerable time and effort. It reminds me that sometimes a guide can make all the difference in your experience of a place.

Ten Benefits of Using a Guide

In fact, here are ten benefits a guide provides in a new place (or at least did in this situation):

  1. They make you aware of places you’d never find on your own
  2. They introduce you to new people
  3. They introduce you to new food types and sources of ingredients or new products and even ideas
  4. They show you how to use the things (ingredients in this case) you find there that may be unique to that place.
  5. They keep you from getting lost
  6. They vet the good from the bad and show you the best
  7. They make you feel like an insider or like you belong there or have a right to be there
  8. They create a sense of community, with your other group members on the tour and with the people you meet along the way
  9. They increase the number of customers and business for mom and pop stores: You know where your money is going and that it is a good deal. (Unfortunately, with some guides overseas, you are channeled to expensive tourist traps where the guide gets a kickback. Here, the guide does it out of a sense of community and desire to share what is good.)
  10. They show you how to do this yourself next time on your own
King's Barbeque House on food tour of Seattle's International District

Here Taylor explains the various types of roasted meat you can get at King’s Barbeque House on 6th Ave.

And in this case, they also give you a little goody bag with containers for all the food you can’t possibly eat at the time, as well as a coffee press that Taylor showed us how to use at the end of the tour.

This food tour of Seattle’s International District was a wonderful experience that revealed a hidden world in our own neighborhood. It also showed how valuable a guide can be to any place that seems foreign to you…even ones so close to home.

 

Discover hidden worlds in your own neighborhood

Discover hidden worlds in your own neighborhood like this scene from Seattle's Chinatown

A chance discovery led me to this scene in Seattle’s Chinatown of a store-by-store ritual involving firecrackers and elaborate dances…

How do you discover hidden worlds in your own neighborhood? As we saw last time, part of it means being open and paying attention to what goes unnoticed even around your own house or backyard. You can also take this one step further and discover other neighborhoods that you’ve either not known about or ignored for years.

Such was the case for me with Seattle’s Chinatown and International District. I’ve never felt like I really understood the place.

So when I read the Seattle Time’s article about guided food tours in this neighborhood, I was intrigued. What better way to discover a hidden world in my own neighbor than to go with a local guide who knows all the best places?

Taylor Hoang is such a guide. I’ll explain more about her next time and tell you my story of discovering the secret gems of the International District. For now, let me share with you some ways that you can discover hidden worlds in your own neighborhood. Let’s look at some reasons why we don’t explore these close-by places and what I’ve learned to do about it.

  • You discount the place because it seems irrelevant. To get beyond that, I tell myself that it may not seem relevant, but how do I know unless I explore it more? Don’t pass by a place and never even give it a chance. Drive through. Or better, get out and walk or bike the area. That’s the best way to discover what might be there that could end up being quite meaningful to you.
  • You never even knew it was there. The food tour revealed places in the International District, some just one block away from streets I’ve wandered along many times, that were revelations to me. One strategy is to look more thoroughly by getting off the main drags and exploring the side streets. Another is, as we’ll see next time, to find a guide who knows the hidden places. Yet another is to read up on the place. Get a guidebook of your own city. Read the local papers and magazines that talk about openings, tours, festivals and events. Or go online and check out these sites/apps:
    • TripAdvisor City Guides with user insights and ratings for key sites in some of the largest cities around the country…and around the world.
    • Here.com (or even Google Maps) which may not give you tips on sites to see, but shows points of interest and even street-level views of certain neighborhoods.
    • Sosh.com — This social networking site provides great insights and connections for a few major cities including Seattle.
    • Vayable.com — Probably the best of the bunch for finding local guides, Vayable offers access to people who know their neighborhoods and key sites in major cities all over.
  • You don’t know the good from the bad. This one is tougher. You almost need a guide or recommendations from locals. So do what we often do. Build on your connections. Meet a nice shop owner or person at the local museum. Ask where they’d recommend for lunch. Once there, ask the waiter about good places to buy food or other items. Once there…you get the idea. Sure, you’ll get subjective responses. But these are still more informed than your own limited knowledge of the place. Besides, they give you “next steps” for further exploration and you never know what that will lead to…including the simple delight in meeting all these new people along the way.
  • You feel like an outsider. Especially in ethnic neighborhoods, you can really stand out. Great. It’s good practice for traveling abroad. And in many cases, it helps you empathize with how people in these neighborhoods must feel interacting with the majority culture around them. Plus, you may quickly discover that your own curiosity and excitement about the place is contagious. In most cases, people respond well when they know you’re genuinely interested in the neighborhood where they live and work. Talk to a few locals, get some next step recommendations and soon you’ll feel like a native (or at least comfortable enough to continue).
  • You don’t know what to look for. You can simply explore and see what happens. I did this once in a park next to Seattle’s Chinatown and International District. I had no plan, just an hour to kill waiting for my son at baseball practice. But then I heard a sound like gunfire and I went a few blocks to discover a ceremony going on complete with dragon dance and fireworks. So just exploring may open up opportunities. Or make a quest: Look for a certain kind of food or product or type of store. Seemingly silly “games” or “treasure hunts” of your own making can help you discover hidden worlds within the hidden worlds in your own neighborhood.

So give these a try. But most of all, follow de Botton’s advice and simply develop an attitude of receptivity, being open to everything that comes your way. You may soon discover more hidden worlds in your own neighborhood — literally and figuratively — than you ever imagined.