Fun and business travel may seem incompatible, even an oxymoron, but it shouldn't be for the simple reason that things you do frequently in life should be rewarding intrinsically. Travel - especially when overseas - can have that mixed reward of hassle, risk and inconvenience, coupled with exhilaration about exploring new places, meeting different people, and experiencing another culture close-up.
The first step is to make sure that your business trip is truly worth making, in terms of meeting the right people and having sufficient time to get done what lies at the heart of the trip's purpose. If the trip entails serious jet lag, you need to get yourself fit so that during intense meetings you don't function below par or suffer a disadvantage in key presentations or negotiations. For example, Shell executives were warned not to sign important contracts if they had have traveled through many time zones; they needed to rest and recoup first. In high-level international negotiations, consider having a translator to buy you extra time in formulating a response, even if you speak the other party's language reasonably well. The extra time will give you an extra edge.
But first you need to get physically ready. Here's what decades of travel, thousands of flights and millions of miles has taught us. A day before the flight, set your clock to the local destination time, and then sleep and eat on that schedule as much as possible. This usually means no liquor or food just before or during night flights, and plenty of water. Although boring, the net result is reduced jet lag plus the ability to function pretty well upon arrival, for work or pleasure. Take only carry-on luggage whenever possible in case a plane is seriously delayed, so that you can easily take another flight. After you arrive on an overnight flight, go outside, take a walk or a jog in order to acclimate more quickly. Also, do not go to sleep until the locals do, even if it means using toothpicks to keep your eyes open. If you happen to arrive at night, go to bed at normal local bedtime even if you're not sleepy yet.
And now for the fun part: build in some slack when visiting places that are culturally interesting. Rather than sign up for the tourist stuff, try to meet locals using your professional networks or introductions from friends and family. In countries with abject poverty (like India), try to see what is exotic about each place rather than where it fails to measure up to your own privileged standards.
As a visitor, make it clear to local tour guides that you do not want to be shown local crafts shops where the main purpose is to sell tourists rugs, handbags, jewelry or other indigenous products. This helps save everyone time, without lengthy negotiations to save 10 dollars here or there. But this is very personal of course, so just align your shopping appetite upfront with your guide since otherwise you will pay for the mixed pleasure of having local merchants serve you tea and pitch you products. But when it comes to savoring local dishes for lunch, being guided by someone who knows the best places makes good sense, even if there is a small kick-back. The point is: be aware of the micro ecosystem you enter when taking a private tour and try to control what you see and for how long-- unless you truly enjoy random walks.
Co-authored with Reinier Mesritz, CEO Mesritz, LLC