I love to travel now, but when I was younger, my need to see new places was ridiculous. Trips would be booked on a whim, especially when others asked me to go somewhere with them. As my best friend put it, the mere suggestion of a trip would have me immediately checking my calendar and reaching for my passport.

If you are anything like me, though, then that cultural curiosity could become your entrepreneurial Achilles heel. Sometimes the wisest decision is to not visit that client in person, say no to that speaking engagement or simply skip that incredible conference opportunity. It gets even fuzzier when your business naturally includes travel. For me, I’ve become a student of separating my professional public speaking gigs from the ego-gratifying talks and categorizing the necessary face-to-face meetings differently than the potentially good networking opportunities.

Keep in mind business travel is different than consciously taking time away from the grind to work on your strategy. It is taking a trip under the guise of growing your business, and it is crucial that you build a filter to determine when you should leave the office.

Here are three solid reasons to pack your bags:

  • The opportunity cost is half as expensive. In other words, you will be at least twice as valuable on the road than you would be in your office or otherwise available. You can talk financials, as in “Based on the deal, the trip will be worth $400/hour, which is more than the $100/hour I usually bring in.” Straight numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. Equally important are the less-tangible opportunity costs. That biz trip to Australia will require two days of airline travel–and two days of jet lag recovery. You’ll need another day or two to catch up on emails, phone calls and general news. And how long will getting back your physical energy and recovering from the traveling stress affect your productivity? On your next trip, pay attention to all those details and see how long it actually takes you to prep and recover–we’re often “away” longer than we realize.
  • It is part of your leadership. What is your primary role? The goal may be to steer your company to profitability, attract new customers or manage in-house operations (or, if you’re like many of us, to do all three!). Being on the road effectively puts your focus on the travel, not on the business, even if that travel is for the business. It also means you’ll be less available or completely unavailable during your travels, which means someone else will have to steer the ship–assuming you have a second-in-command at all. There are few opportunities as powerful as meeting a client in person, visiting a culture in which you’d like to do business or attending a potentially career-changing event, but often the most valuable thing you can give to your company is making yourself as fully present as much as possible.
  • One connection would radically change your business. VC Mark Suster says it best: “[It's] smart to selectively go to a few events here and there–particularly those that you’re likely to have the highest hit rates of connecting with people who can change your business. But there has to be a limit.” Last year I spoke on the TED Conference’s second stage, but before that I was a TED regular simply because other attendees would radically transform my view of my career. I would always walk away with a sharper business perspective and, in many cases, new contacts that were worth the week-long investment.

How do you decide whether to pack your bags? Let me know in the comments.

Published on: Jul 8, 2015
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