I try to take a three-week vacation every November to shake up my routine and expand my perspective. Removing myself from the office for 21 straight days may not sound practical, but I always set the goal of bringing one important souvenir back with me: a new business idea.
To clarify, I once took a trip to Australia and brought back two ideas that ended up inspiring business ventures: backpacker buses and resort-style youth hostels in the U.S.
Traveling to exotic locations is almost like time travel; you end up seeing something that doesn't exist where you come from. Thus, it's a wonderful way to find inspiration, and if you keep your head on a swivel, you'll identify solid business opportunities.
Working 'On' Versus 'In' Your Business
When running a business, it's easy to get caught up in day-to-day processes and activities. This can be a lot of busy work, and I consider it working "in" your business.
Traveling removes you from the daily grind and enables strategic thinking. It gives you time to step back, assess future improvements, and find new ideas. This is working "on" your business.
Recently, I backpacked through Africa for 23 days, all the while working on my business. I wrote six or seven articles, reflected on my company, and still enjoyed my time. Because my company is a startup with eight employees, time management is key. Thus, I directed my thoughts toward maximizing efficiency and limiting wasted efforts.
I call this type of distant philosophizing "management by absence"--eliminating something and seeing what breaks while it's gone. See what happens if you stop shipping every day and, just for fun, ship only on Mondays. What, if anything, breaks? Try disconnecting the phone and only communicating through email--again, what breaks?
These are experiments all businesses need to make in order to grow, improve efficiency, and enhance their processes.
You Don't Have to Travel Far
It isn't necessary to travel to a foreign land; conferences are another great way to gain perspective that encourages business reflection. They're jam-packed with opportunities, unique ideas, presentations, and interesting people.
If you can't make a conference, watch an interesting documentary or a TV show like "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" or take a day trip to a nearby town. In essence, step outside your comfort bubble, find unique inspiration, and get some literal--or figurative--fresh air.
Working in your business is important, but working on it is essential. Strategically, it's the only way to actively grow and improve. Whether you head to Africa, a local conference, or Netflix, travel provides a tremendous opportunity to step away from your day-to-day operations and determine which areas need improvement.