While some entrepreneurs may view hours or days spent in transit as unwelcome downtime, business travel can offer unusual opportunities to create powerful professional connections.

Whether you meet people who end up providing new business opportunities, find great new friends, connect with someone influential, or simply reconnect with established colleagues, with the right mindset, you can improve your business just by striking up a conversation on the road.

Starting conversations.

Networking typically occurs organically in airports and on planes. Perhaps you overhear a fragment of conversation, see someone's reading material, or notice you're using the same devices--this could suggest your areas of passion and focus are aligned.

If so, it can be a green light to approach that person. I've done this countless times, and it invariably leads to a pleasant exchange, if not new business connections or friendships.

Here are three safe, effective conversation starters you can use to talk to a fellow traveling business professional:

  1. Comment on something you have in common, like unusual luggage or accessories for tablets or laptops.
  1. Mention that you've heard about the book, or regularly read the magazine, someone is holding. This can lead to questions about his or her line of work; open a dialogue, and you may discover immediate synergies.
  1. Discuss why you're traveling and what you'll be doing when you arrive at your destination. Sharing what has brought you on this trip creates an intimacy that disarms and invites others to participate in the conversation.

Small talk leads to big wins.

On a flight back from Hawaii to the Bay Area recently, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman in first class and discovered we had several mutual acquaintances.

Coincidentally, he happened to be doing a job for a high-profile individual whom I'd been planning to contact for some time. After we chatted for a while, he kindly offered to make an introduction on my behalf.

Talk about a score! I'll be meeting with that influencer later this month.

As I've said before, the surest route to creating sound connections is to provide something worthwhile--something of value--for others every time you interact with people. This means being willing to share your own knowledge and networks, too.

Intuit stranger danger.

Getting away from your normal routine allows you to see the world through a different lens, but you should still listen to your gut instincts.

As a friend of mine waited to board a flight once, he got bad vibes from a woman who seemed like trouble, so he headed to the back of the plane in hopes of avoiding her.

Alas, she sat right next to him, and despite his efforts to hide behind a magazine, she wouldn't leave him alone--even going so far as to grab his face in her hands and plant a wet one on him. Surrounding passengers noticed and told her to chill out.

Stay open to making connections, but don't interact with or sit next to just anybody. Pay attention to the whispers--if someone makes you uncomfortable, avoid that person. Choose new connections wisely, but don't be afraid to reach out.

Follow the signs.

To assess whether someone you meet while traveling will be a solid connection, consider whether that person is in your field and shares a good rapport.

If real value was traded in the form of business opportunities or introductions to influential people, make sure you exchange contact information so you can follow up and keep in touch.

For example, I was a "pen pal" via email and phone with the artist Peter Gabriel and his manager, Mike Large, for many years while I was leading the music focus at Apple.

Once, before boarding a flight to LAX, I spotted Peter and Mike sitting in the holding area. We'd never met in person, but I recognized them (no one else seemed to), so I discreetly approached them and quietly introduced myself to avoid drawing unnecessary attention. They greeted me like old friends, and we sat together on the plane, laughing, catching up, and forging even stronger bonds that eventually led to other valuable business opportunities.

Whom will you meet while traveling?