So you’re going on your first business trip. Now what? Landing in a brand new city, grabbing a rental car, and setting off to somewhere new all by yourself can be intimidating at first. What if you get lost? Will you be bored in the evening? What about having to eat in a restaurant by yourself? I’ve been traveling for business regularly for three years now, and here are my best tips for surviving solo business trips.
Eating out alone
Eating in restaurants by myself was the most intimidating part of traveling solo for me. I didn’t want to be the weirdo sitting by myself in a restaurant at first, but eventually you’re going to need to eat food. Sure, fast food and carry-outs are always an option, but one of the best parts about traveling for work is getting to try good restaurants on the company dime. It would be a shame to pass that up just because you feel a bit self-conscious. Servers don’t always love getting tables with only one diner, and as a former waitress I can understand why, but at the end of the day you’re a paying customer and have a right to be there. But please tip well.
I’ve eaten everywhere from the counter-service place that claims to have invented the cheeseburger to a five-star fine dining restaurant that served me bite-sized pieces of food that I still can’t identify. All alone. All shamelessly. And I would seriously regret having skipped them because I felt awkward eating by myself. Mostly the burger place though. It turns out that fancy cuisine isn’t really my thing.
If you’re nervous about it, start small. You’ll see way more diners by themselves at lunch than dinner, so try that first. Pick somewhere that you feel comfortable at and then walk in like you own the place. Get yourself a table for one and order just like anyone else. The more you do it, the more normal it feels.
I tend to prefer to have a table to myself as I’d rather just sit and play on my phone or do a crossword, but sitting at the bar is another great option if you want conversation. You might be able to chat with the bartender or a fellow patron and ease the loneliness that way.
After hours on your solo business trip
If you’re a veteran solo traveler, sightseeing by yourself won’t be a new thing, but not everyone is naturally inclined to travel alone. What do you do if you find yourself in a brand new city with places to see and things to do and no one to accompany you? Just like eating out, seeing some sights alone is something you just have to jump into if it’s something you want to do.
Museums are great places to explore by yourself. If you can find one with evening hours that you can visit you’ll have the perfect spot to start. Scenic drives are great too if you find yourself in an area with more natural beauty than skyscrapers. I’ve explored Central Park, ridden to the top of the St. Louis Arch, driven part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and ridden roller coasters at Dorney Park all alone. Just like eating by yourself, it may feel strange at first, but you’ll eventually find that exploring at your own pace is a lot of fun.
Getting to travel on the company dime is an incredible opportunity and you really shouldn’t waste it. You’re much more likely to regret sitting in your hotel room alone than feeling a little awkward photographing the Golden Gate Bridge by yourself.
Getting work done
One of the things that I struggle with the most on business trips is wanting to drop everything and run off to a cool museum instead of going to work. It can be hard to sit at a desk daydreaming about the awesome adventures you’d be having if you just didn’t have to show up at the office that day. The best way to balance it out is to get as much done as possible during the day when you have to be at work so that you can spend your evenings out exploring instead of writing emails from the hotel room.
In order to maximize your evening time, make a plan before your trip. Do a bit of research in the weeks leading up to it so you have a few ideas for things that will be open in the evening. Most museums close around 5, but some have evening hours. Figure out what days they’re open late and hit them then. Googling the “top free things to do in XXX city” is another great way to find things to do. A lot of lists like that include outdoor parks and landmarks that are open late or 24/7. If you have a rough plan ahead of time, you won’t waste precious evening time trying to figure out what to do. You can also give yourself a taste of exploration at lunch by skipping delivery or fast food and checking out a cool local restaurant. It might just be enough to get you through the day.
If you’re actually stuck working all evening, hitting a good local restaurant for lunch is a good way to at least get a taste of the area you’re in. Yelp is your friend, and the locals you’re working with can often be a good resource. But not always. I’ve definitely been led astray by client recommendations before.
Having the right attitude
Traveling alone for business isn’t always ideal. It can definitely be a nice perk (there are moments where I legitimately marvel at my good fortune), but there are also times when being on the road all the time feels like a curse. I’ve gotten to have so many incredible experiences because of my business travel, and yet more and more I find myself wishing I had someone to share those moments with. In the end, it’s up to you to decide to make the most of your trip or to spend your time watching tv in the hotel room. If you approach it with the right attitude – as an adventure – you’ll probably have a great time (unless you’re working with a really unpleasant customer, which I’ve also had to deal with).
Read more about my adventures as a professional nomad here:
- The Fun Side of Business Travel
- Walking Among Redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument
- Hiking Your Way to a Spectacular View of Lake Tahoe
- Thacher State Park
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