The other day, I flew to Italy for a meeting. In the morning, I could download my favorite newspaper and listen online to my favorite radio station. I could even (somewhat to my astonishment) order bacon, toast, and eggs. In other words, I could stay in my bubble: impervious to the fact that I was in a different country, surrounded by a different culture.
On one level, this was fantastic: friction-free, restful, reassuring. Being able to cleave to my native habits made the travel less stressful; my routine scarcely missed a beat. On a different level, it was stupid.
Why? Because business travel isn't just about going to a different place to do all the same things. If it is that--stay home, and Skype. If you are going to go to the time, trouble, and expense of traveling for work, use the opportunity to learn. How is the environment different? How are the people different? What are the implications for my business? What does being here teach me that I didn't know before?
It's easy to recognize the answers, perhaps, in Italy. But I'd argue it is just as important if you're from Texas traveling to Cleveland. You're in a different place, with different values, habits, schedules, even food. The better you understand those differences and the impact they have on relationships, the better your business will be. It is human nature--and some say human justice--to treat other people as though they were just like you. But they aren't; they're different. And you can't see or appreciate that if you stay securely locked inside the bubble of your own habits.
Practically, what does that mean? Try to find and use independent hotels. Leave the hotel for dinner. Read the local newspaper (if there still is one). Watch the local news. Even watch the local game. Get in tune with where you are and where your colleagues, or customers, live. Create common ground before you meet and build it when you do. And yes, it may feel like more effort. But at least you will have traveled--and arrived.