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Business or Pleasure–Why Both Can Be a Part of Your Travels

When entering a country we’re often asked by the passport control officer, “What is the purpose of your trip?”  The expected answer is either business or leisure. The assumption is that our travels must fall into one category or the other, and for many trips this is the case.  Due to time constraints in our personal and professional lives we must stay focused on the initial purpose of the trip which is often business.

View of Chicago from the river

But if you love to travel as much as I do, then maybe you should consider ways to combine business and pleasure travel. If Americans attempt to fulfill their travel dreams based solely on their limited and underused vacation days, then they’ll be disappointed. So with the help of my friends Suzette, Agnes, Noemi and Joe I hope to inspire you to combine business and pleasure travel. Each of these folks has extensive experience in this area and kindly let me interview them. Together, we’ll share some tips and advice with you to do this the right way--with your employer’s full support and knowledge.

Improve your next business trip with these 147 Business Travel Tips.

Business Travel vs Leisure Travel

When you’re at the airport, can you pick out the business and leisure travelers?   One is dressed in a suit, holding a briefcase, checking email one last time before boarding the plane.  The other is dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, wearing flip flops and chatting happily with their companion.   

Business and Leisure Travel--a photo of the Gothic Cathedral in Barcelona Spain
Gothic Cathedral in Barcelona

We tend to put each type of travel in its own box.  The goal of business travel is to get to your destination quickly, attend the meetings and conferences as scheduled, and return home just as quickly to continue life’s routine.  The goal of leisure travel is to find a fun destination and de-stress from all of that hard work we do in our business lives. What if this dichotomy is false? What if we could find time for work and fun during the same trip?  I’m not the first person to muse about this idea. In fact a new trend was named a few years ago called bleisure travel--business and leisure combined.

Many business trips are to destinations that are also popular vacation destinations.  Most large conferences are held in cities that offer great restaurants, museums, and historical sites. With a little research a business traveler can find a few nearby sites and then determine how they might fit into the schedule.

Here's a great article, 10 Ways To Travel More While You Still Have A Job.

Ways to Combine Business and Leisure Travel Domestically

If your job doesn’t include international travel, don’t despair.  Combining domestic business and leisure travel can be easy and enjoyable and doesn’t require much time.  Typically I arrive a day early and see the city’s highlights. I may also squeeze in a special restaurant during a free evening.  If an extra day isn’t possible, simply choosing an early flight may allow me a few hours to explore.

View of the city from the 95th Floor of the John Hancock Building in Chicago

Agnes resides in Southern California.  She shared a story of a business trip to Northern California that would mean not being home for her daughter’s 10th birthday.  She was crushed and suddenly dreading the upcoming trip. The solution? The whole family came along. If you are unfamiliar with California, the drive North is relatively easy and typically takes 6-8 hours.  While Agnes attended her meetings, her husband, Richard, took their two girls to Great America. A friend living in the area even offered to throw a birthday party!

Since shorter distances are usually involved for domestic travel, this makes it very manageable for parents and grandparents to combine business and leisure travel.  If a conference starts on a Monday or ends on a Friday, then a whole weekend is available for family fun. Or maybe a domestic business trip means grandparents can make a visit to their grandchild who is away at college.  Since I live in Orange County, California, trips to San Diego are less than two hours away. Several times over the years I’ve extended a San Diego business trip into a fun time with the whole family or just a romantic weekend for me and Jason.  For your next business trip, ask yourself, what could I do in this area for fun? Could you visit a museum, check-out a historical site, take a free city tour, or try a famous restaurant? All of these things are possible with just a few extra hours.

Business or Pleasure Travel--a photo of Jason overlooking Torrey Pines State Park in San Diego, California
Jason at Torrey Pines State Park in San Diego, California

Both Noemi and Suzette remember business trips to Hawaii (yes, some people are just that lucky!) that provided wonderful opportunities to explore this gorgeous state.  Noemi visited Oahu and the Big Island and took advantage of every free moment to walk on the beach. Even though most of this trip was dedicated to business, she was enjoying the vacation atmosphere which inspired her to splurge on a massage one evening.  Suzette was on the team that planned the Grand Opening of the Aulani on Oahu. The hours were long and she had been away from her family for quite a while. Fortunately, they were able to join her towards the end of her business trip. Together they enjoyed all the amenities of this fabulous new resort including snorkeling and waterslides.

Ways to Combine International Business and Leisure Travel

Combining international business and leisure travel may take more planning than domestic.  Bringing a spouse or family members could add significant expenses and sometimes add additional steps like securing passports or visas.  But the results can be fantastic! The opportunity to see another part of the world is worth the effort.

Business or Pleasure Travel--A photo of a Japanese temple
Japanese temple

For 25 years Joe has traveled the globe for his work.   When possible he finds the time to visit the local sites.  Sometimes he does this with his family and other times with his employees.  Over his many trips he has walked the Great Wall of China, visited the temples of Japan and explored the museums of Europe.  One of his priorities is to limit time away from family. So Joe plans his trips carefully to conduct the required business, visit a local highlight and get back home.

For some people international travel is often to the same destination.  After a while, this may not feel like a vacation destination. So what about a stopover or layover?  A layover is usually considered 24 hours or less, while a stopover can be longer. But either way, many airlines now promote these options to visit a new city en route to your final destination.  The best part is that this is often offered with no additional costs. There are even companies that specialize in layover tours thus offering you transportation to and from the airport and a quick visit to a local site.  

Bai Dinh Buddhist Temple in Vietnam

Benefits of Combining Business and Pleasure travel

Everyone agreed that the top benefit of combining business and pleasure travel is cost savings.  (To learn more about travel cost savings click here and here.)  Depending on your destination, the costs of airfare and hotel that are covered by an employer could save the employee hundreds, even thousands of dollars compared to incurring these costs personally on vacation.  Over five years I made four business trips to Seoul, South Korea. I used each trip as an opportunity to explore a new part of Asia. Since my employer paid the cost for the long haul flight, I saved about $1,000 each time.  

Business or Pleasure--A Photo of "The Bean" sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park
"The Bean" in Chicago's Millennium Park

But cost savings is really just the beginning of the benefits.  Agnes lists as a benefit of combining business and pleasure travel the opportunity to see new places.  She says, “I'd never been to Chicago but recently went there for business. I added some days to the trip, connected with friends there, and really loved it.”  Joe adds that international travel has contributed his overall job satisfaction. He loves the opportunities its afforded him to see the world. And Noemi points out that business travel can be exhausting since the days can be filled with long flights followed by longer meetings.  For her, a few days off at the end of the trip and exploring a new city can provide much needed rest and relaxation.

Bleisure Travel–Tips and Advice for Your Next Trip

First and foremost, let your employer know of your plans to combine a business trip with some leisure time.  Don’t be secretive about your intentions. Not only is this the ethical way to approach the situation, but in this day of social media, it’s entirely possible your employer will find out anyway.  For each of my South Korea trips my boss was highly supportive of my extended personal travel. In fact he had extensive experience traveling in Asia and often shared stories or offered advice. Depending on your organization’s vacation policy, you may need to submit and wait for approval of any days off you require. Some organizations have a compensation time policy that may allow for some time off as a result of longer days during business travel.  Be sure to understand your organization’s policies and follow them.

Suzette offers solid advice for ‘bleisure’ travel--keep your accounting separate.  She keeps family meals and travel on a personal credit card and business expenses on the corporate card.  Don’t get creative here. Be clear about when the business trip ends and the vacation time begins. If there are gray areas--like which meals your company will pay for during a conference and which they won’t--ask your supervisor or H.R. department.  Better to clarify upfront and signal your intent to be honest and transparent.

Row of bikes for rent in Portland, Oregon

Agnes’ advice is to use your extended business trips as an opportunity to visit with family and friends.  Maybe this is a whole weekend with your college roommate, or a quick dinner with a favorite aunt. Either way, it’s easy to lose touch with people we care about and a business trip can offer a special opportunity to reconnect.  

Enjoy Your Next Business Trip More!

Maybe you already combine business and leisure travel.  If so, share your stories or advice in the comments. But if you don’t do this, then I hope Agnes, Joe, Suzette, Noemi and I have inspired you to try it.  My travel bucket list is really long.  I feel fortunate that my work has offered me the opportunity to explore more of the U.S. and the world than I might be able to do on my own.  

Special thanks to Agnes, Suzette, Noemi and Joe for allowing me to interview them and include their experience and wisdom in this article.  

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