Greetings from Guinea, the 8th* country I discover on a business or work-related trip this year!
Although I like traveling and photography, I will not start pursuing these interests full-time anytime soon as I am more passionate about my career. Thankfully, I have met and worked with wonderful people who provided opportunities to gain valuable experience abroad. I attended a meeting on malaria in the Sahel in Monaco, participated in the Africa Health Forum in Kigali (Rwanda), contributed to a project and event on HIV in West and Central Africa in Geneva, and wrote a report on those experiences in Brazzaville (Congo) just in the last six months. Even in the least tourist-friendly cities, I transitioned from “traditional/ corporate” young professional between 8 and 5pm to leisure traveler and photographer after work.
Check out below some tips or advice on how to do so if you travel frequently – especially abroad – for work and want to fit in some leisure time.
*I included Senegal in the list since I relocated there for work.
Before you go…
Plan your trip strategically
If possible, take overnight flights and fit a Saturday and/or Sunday into your trip. Consider extending it by a day or two to give yourself more time in the city you visit.
Choose comfortable and convenient accommodation
Acknowledging that your organization’s or company’s travel policy takes precedence over everything else and you may not have a choice (I do not but do not complain :)), I would not advise staying at “business hotels” in residential areas. Those settings can be less interesting in terms of dining and entertainment options. Choose a hotel you will enjoy. Places with concierge services near a main road, attraction, or public transport are a godsend in my opinion.
Research your destination and develop a draft schedule or itinerary
In addition to Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and the like, I recommend doing some research on transportation, accessibility and safety, especially for solo travelers and young women (if applicable). I also try to answer the following questions: Can I go out at night? What is nightlife like? Where do young people hang out? What are my options for day trips? I subsequently prepare a (draft) itinerary taking into account what I learned.
Prepare a budget and bring cash
With airfare, accommodation and meals covered, you only have to consider the cost of transport to/ from the places you will visit and activities in the budget. You may want to get a phone and/or SIM card with credit to make calls on longer trips. I would research the rate and value of the local currency (ex: is a can of coke the equivalent of $1 or $5?) to know the average price of goods and services and create a realistic budget. Since the per diem or Daily Subsistence Allowance you receive from your workplace are not for personal expenses, I recommend traveling with more than you think you will need. This greatly depends on the destination and exchange rate, but I usually plan to spend at least $300 on trips longer than two weeks. I bring that in $100 or $50 bills to get the best rates at bureau de changes or the black market.
It is unfortunate/ inconvenient/ a shame to frantically look for and buy in a foreign country what you own. The same goes with clubbing in a t-shirt, leggings and sandals or passing an opportunity to swim for lack of a swimsuit (it happened to me). To avoid such situations, I recommend packing some things you would bring on a leisure trip. Depending on the length of my stay and destination, I might bring:
- My camera equipment
- 1-2 casual dresses and skirts
- Leggings or yoga pants
- 2-3 casual shirts and blouses
- Flip flops
- Sneakers and socks
- A swimsuit
- A nighttime outfit
- A pair of heels (because I do not wear heels to work)
- A clutch or small bag
- Insect repellent
- Sunscreen (yes, black people wear sunscreen too :))
On your way there…
Work in the plane and at the airport
Work on your way to the destination to have more time to explore and experience it.
When you get there…
Finalize your schedule
Finalize your work schedule and itinerary.
Make the most of your free time
Take advantage of all your “off” time. Take a long bath, get a facial or massage, go to the gym or swim after or before work. Eat at different (local) restaurants every day instead of ordering room service. Leave your hotel early on Saturday to experience a morning that does not involve going to work. I like to explore on Sunday afternoons when the roads are clear as many people rest, digest their lunch, recover from what happened Saturday, or prepare for the upcoming week.
Depending on the nature and location of your job (office setting vs. remote), you might be able to explore between 9 and 5pm. For example, someone who works remotely in Geneva or London can wander for a few hours during the day and still catch up on work and connect with colleagues in DC or NYC after 5pm because of the time difference.
Spend time with colleagues, especially people from the host country
In international development, we often call the colleagues in field offices who work in their home country “nationals.” If possible and appropriate, spend time with nationals because they are valuable resources. If you are part of a group of people on mission, consider exploring with other members of the group if you want some company.
Be a tourist
Document work trips like a tourist. Go sightseeing and take photos in natural light and visually appealing spots (I like to do so especially when I’m not “dressed to the nines”). I also photograph what I consider unique, interesting or different.
What do you do on work trips besides the obvious?
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