I travel a lot—a whole lot, on international business, and I still enjoy it. How can that be after years of standing in lines, being jostled by other anxious passengers and facing delays—all followed by intense workdays and evenings?
Well, for one thing, I make my travel days as comfortable as possible. I expect delays and have accoutrements to make the experience as pleasant as possible. I have my favorite music, downloaded podcasts, videos and books, plenty of power bars and well-stocked battery life for my electronics.
But the biggest reason I still enjoy these trips—besides having long-term colleagues all around the world who’ve become friends—is the little adventures and treats I allow myself while immersed in a foreign country and culture. When I travel internationally, I take an hour, at least, to do something that I could never experience at home. I try to make time before or after my meetings to visit places that I’ve always wanted to see.
These little adventures are refreshing and fun. And they often have cultural or historic significance, which can provide insight into the way of life of whichever country I’m in. Countless experiences like these have played an important role in developing my sense of global understanding.
Here are a few of my favorite sights to see on international business trips. Some are must-sees for first-time travelers, some offer deep insight into history, some are more unusual, and some are just plain fun.
- Paris: Take a run or walk along the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. You’ll feel like you’ve treated yourself to a vacation.
- London: Wander through Green Park and make your way to Buckingham Palace.
- Madrid: Buy a “skip-the-line-pass” to the Prado Museum and commune with Goya and The Garden of Earthly Delights. The Prado is known for its vast collection of essential artworks, dating back to the 12th century. You can use the website to target the artwork that you might want to see.
- Rome: Walk past the Coliseum and see if you can take a few moments at the Forum. It’s a lot of walking, but few things can increase your sense of global understanding like visiting the world’s largest amphitheater—and learning it was well air-conditioned despite being built nearly 2000 years ago!
- Florence: Buy an advance entrance to the Uffizi Gallery and spend time with the Botticelli paintings. Not only are they breathtaking, they will give you some cultural insight into the Italian renaissance era. A stop at Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, may also take your breath away.
- Berlin: Wander through the Tiergarten, the oldest public park in Berlin. The majority of it was destroyed in World War II, but has since been restored and offers locals—and visitors—a lush green oasis in the middle of the city.
- Hong Kong: Take the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor. You’ll experience the teeming traffic on that waterway, and see firsthand why the harbor played a crucial role in Hong Kong’s establishment as a major trading center.
- Shanghai: Wander the Bund waterfront and visit the French Concession for lunch, and to see a number of historical sites that depict the cultural fusion between France and China.
- Johannesburg: Go to the Supreme Court. If you have several hours, be sure to get a guide and go to the Apartheid Museum. Although Apartheid ended in 1994, the after-effects remain and continue to impact South African culture.
- Sydney: Have lunch or take a boat ride on Sydney Harbor. (If you have more time, don’t miss a tour of the Opera House.)
- Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia has such a huge collection of artifacts that I never have sufficient time to see a great deal of this national treasure. So it’s a good idea to spend a little time on the website and identify the items you want to see and go directly there. These artifacts offer great insight into the Mexican country and culture.
- Buenos Aires: It’s always a toss-up here between spending time at La Boca (a fun outdoor area where you can have a meal) and Teatro Colon, a supremely beautiful opera house.
- Washington DC: Even 45 minutes will give you a fabulous experience at the US Library of Congress, the biggest library in the world. There are millions of books, photographs, maps, and more, but the breathtaking architecture and design is rewarding in itself.
- San Francisco: An often-missed quintessential San Francisco site is Hyde Street Pier, home to historic ships and a fascinating maritime museum.
- Boston: Take a little time on the Freedom Trail, which passes through 16 historical sites significant to US history. It’s central city, so you won’t have trouble getting there, and you can enjoy as much or as little as your time allows.
When I’m on an international business trip, I find that if I devote a few minutes to having a brief, non-work experience that fulfills other personal interests, I am refreshed and energized. And, more often than not, these little adventures are so rich in history that they help me develop my understanding of the world around me. What more could you ask!