Krakow, Poland

Once I got to travel to Paris for work. I was thrilled. I was going to Paris. Someone else was footing the bill. I could go to the Louvre during my lunch break and take a walk through the Tuileries Gardens before dinner. It would, most definitely, be perfect.

But it wasn’t.

I arrived to my hotel and conference center with an hour to spare before the first event and then didn’t leave the hotel for the next 48 hours. Not even once. My room looked out over the back of the nondescript hotel, onto a series of other generically European hotels and apartment buildings. The conference was held in the basement of all places, and the massive ballroom had not a single window. The most French thing that happened was the taxi ride back to the train station where I caught the EuroStar train to London.

I could have been anywhere.

Krakow, Poland

Work travel is never easy. Sure, there’s the nice benefit of not paying for anything, but the very obvious obstacle of having no time to explore. Or, if there is time, it’s precious and complicated and involves some combination of working in a hotel room and sheepishly explaining to colleagues that instead of spending the hour of downtime resting or having a drink with them, you’d rather go to a museum.

Until you’ve been there, staring out a board room window while a beautiful and unknown city pulses beneath you, or worse, in a basement conference room, you haven’t experienced that peculiar mix of anxiety and regret that you’re missing out and have very little say in your experience at all.

Since that fateful Paris trip, I have been improving my work travel skills and now have it down to a bit of a science. For a recent conference in Krakow, Poland (a new city and country for me!) I pulled out all the stops, employed every trick I’ve got, to maximize the fun around the work.

First, the hotel.

My conference was held at a large hotel/conference center outside the city center of Krakow. But rather than booking a room there, like all the other attendees, I booked a room at a hotel right in city center, smack in the middle of Market Square. That meant I had to physically travel to and from the conference each day, which probably resulted in 30 minutes less sleep, but the benefit of waking up across the way from the hourly bugler at St. Mary’s Cathedral was priceless.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

Each morning I walked down the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets to the point where Krakow becomes a real city, one with commuters and trams and lots of people rushing to work. I walked past office buildings and apartment complexes and large grocery stores, until reaching my own place of work for the day. I probably saw more during those walks than my colleagues saw their entire time in Krakow.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

Secondly, I arrived to Poland a full day in advance of my first work event. I was able to do this because I planned for it, blocking off the old Outlook calendar, and scheduling in-person meetings for earlier in the week.

On this particular Wednesday, I was able to take a free walking tour of Krakow’s Old Town after getting in a couple hours of morning work, and then bought a kebab on the street to have lunch back in my room, checking emails and catching up.

After a few more hours of work in the afternoon, I stepped back out to take a local food tour with a handful of other tourists. Our tour ended around sunset and some of my new friends and I had a few pints together at an outdoor cafe and then found a cozy restaurant to have dinner. I was home by 10, did a final check of various work projects, and promptly passed out.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

At 8am on Thursday, I was down in the basement conference room at a nondescript hotel in Krakow, but I had already seen and done more than I could have hoped for.

That twang of anxiety and regret never reached me.

My final little hack and one that isn’t very popular with my co-workers: throughout the whole trip, I was clear with my colleagues about my priorities. I was the only person not staying onsite and turned down ‘drinks at the bar’ a couple of times to get back to city center to explore.

We had one big dinner out, for all of the conference attendees, and while I was excited to attend, I went to and from the dinner alone. I wanted to take a walk by the famous castle on my way to dinner and afterwards, knowing I had a long walk in the morning out to our meetings (you know, in the basement), I left at a reasonable hour to make my way home.

Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

Now that the conference is over and everyone has returned safely home, I am so glad that I made the most of my time in Krakow. It really is a gem of Eastern Europe and one that I had been trying to visit for some time. I was able to put in full days ‘at the office’ while not sacrificing my personal priorities, and when it comes down to it, that’s really all you can hope for.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

Do you ever travel for work? Do you have any more tricks I can use the next time I’m facing a board room without a view and a schedule I don’t control?

How to Travel Well While Traveling for Work

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  • April 18, 2016

    Holy moly am literally sitting in an airport about to head to Paris for a work trip – this couldn’t have come at a better time!! Will betaking your advice and utilising the early walking hours as best I can this week. My number 1 hack – have booked the latest (and cheapest) flight home on the final day of the conference to sneak off and re-visit my favourite spots in the city. Thanks for the ace tips!
    Carly recently posted…Brunch in Melbourne is INSANEMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      Have fun! Can’t wait to see how it went! Curse the basement boardroom!

  • April 18, 2016

    I rarely travel for work, but because I’m able to work remote I like to tag along on my husband’s work travel. I usually like to go find a coffee shop to work from in the morning, spend lunch time exploring a quick site and then if I don’t have to tag along to any of his work event’s I spend the evening sightseeing as well. It sounds like you’ve got a great system worked out!
    Kacy recently posted…FriYAYS # 7 – Ketchung!My Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      I LOVE this idea. I can potentially tag along for work travel as well, as long as things are ‘tied up enough’ that my physical presence won’t be missed. But it sounds like such a great way to see a bit but also you’re right in there, living like a local from the start!

  • April 21, 2016

    Great advice for making the most out of an often rigid schedule. I agree that one of the biggest things that help is staying somewhere other than the conference’s hotel. It really forces you to get to know the destination better since you are escaping the “conference bubble.” I’m glad you enjoyed Krakow, I studied abroad there and still get nostalgic when I see photos 🙂
    Julia recently posted…Turkish Breakfast Recipe: Menemen (Egg Scramble)My Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      You studied abroad in Krakow?? What a crazy adventure that must have been! I saw a bit of the university and heard about how many students come in each year. It must be such a blast to live there when you’re young and the beer is cheap 🙂

  • April 21, 2016

    Loved this post. I am about to go to a European conference and I need to follow your approach. I am luckily there the afternoon before, and the event is over two nights – so depending on the conference food (I have a food allergy), I plan to eat out at least one evening (and just cover it myself). I also am not in the conference hotel, which is v pricey, but the one I picked looks much nicer, and is by a lake!
    Rachel recently posted…I say dairy free, you hear – gluten freeMy Profile

    • April 22, 2016
      Julie

      That sounds perfect! Arriving early makes life a lot easier (or staying late), because even if you’re doing work in your hotel room, you’re not physically needed anywhere so you can get out and explore. It’s also such a fun alternative to pick your own places to eat – I don’t have a food allergy but I always like to try places I’ve read about or come highly recommended, and the work events never seem to be at those places!

  • April 25, 2016

    I love the first tip – great idea! I’m a big fan of finding leisure in a business trip, and will usually fly in at least a day early (more if it falls near a weekend) My boss actually praised me last year for flying to San Diego a day early and doing a bike/kayak tour – which I thought was pretty funny in front of the rest of the workaholic team who wouldn’t dream of such a thing 🙂
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    • April 29, 2016
      Julie

      Leigh – sounds fantastic! I went to San Diego once for work (my only time there) and it was during their single month of the year with crummy weather. Yeah, didn’t plan that one too well!