Solo business travel can be downright depressing. Even if you hate team dinners (and your colleagues), don’t mind dining alone and prefer a bit of privacy, frequent individual business trips can turn you into a hermit. After a while, you socialize almost not at all, become intolerant of other people and seek out the types of conversation that can only be held in your own head. Along the way, you can become perpetually annoyed or even seriously depressed. The tendencies that characterize your personal life can invade your job performance, as well. Sucking at work can take a toll on your self-esteem, intensifying the problem. Before you know it, you’re beholden to this toxic dynamic — extracting yourself requires a triumph of the will, which is unlikely when you’re trapped by the pressure of a seemingly inescapable situation.
Prevention is really the only course of action at your disposal. Otherwise, you’re left waiting for someone else to notice the problem and pull you out of your rut. For lone road warriors, unfortunately, regular exposure to anyone is rare. Clients are most likely to realize the situation, but that’s more likely to result in a call to your boss than to you. Your extrication from the perils of solo business traveler life thus could come at the cost of a ding to your career. To avoid this, you’ll have to be, as the management gurus say, “proactive.”
Your sanity and livelihood are on the line. Fortunately, you’re inherently equipped to protect yourself, and the travel environment offers much that you can use. However, both your mind and the hotel offer plenty in the way of temptation, so try to stay on an even keel.
Here are six ways to ward off hermitdom for the solo business traveler:
1. Dinner should not be “do not disturb”
Avoid room service at all costs. Once you get a taste of the convenience, even if you have a good reason that first time, you’ll slip into the habit of eating in bed every night. It won’t take you long to have an excuse for every occasion. Go down to the restaurant. If you have access to a car, leave the property. Otherwise, you’ll start to think that meals should be consumed in hiding. Some restaurants offer a communal table for business travelers: take advantage of it.
2. Join the club
Most business travelers have some form of elite hotel status, allowing them to hang in the club-level lounge. Skip the hotel bar, and use the exclusive offering instead. Sure, the food (and sometimes the booze) is free, which is always a plus. More important is that you’ll be around people like you. Shared experiences lead to natural conversations. And, if you and the other guests in the club are on long-term projects, you may wind up with some new friends. You may have a companion for dinner a night or two a week.
If your hotel doesn’t have a club level (or if you don’t have the status yet to get in), see if it has a manager’s reception. These are not at all uncommon (I stayed at a Homewood Suites in a Nashville suburb for that had one nightly). You can snack a bit, get some free liquor and meet the other road warriers who live the way you do.
3. Seek open spaces
You don’t have to work in your room. Instead of holing up in your cave, take your laptop down to the lobby — it has all those seats for a reason. Listen to the piano player while you peck away. Or, sit by the pool. Just being around people will help you remember that they exist.
For many professionals, confidentiality is a concern, but don’t let this become an excuse. Find a seat with your back to a wall, and you should be fine.
4. Take your client out
Yes, this is like volunteering for more work, but you’ll get something out of it. In addition to maintaining some human contact, you’ll strengthen your business relationship. Forego big team dinners in favor of one-on-ones where you can get to know each other. Just be careful not to get too chummy: it’s a business relationship first.
5. Check out the local color
If you’re on a long-term assignment, join a local gym instead of using the one at the hotel. Hit Craigslist to see if there are any groups around that share your interests. At first, you’ll be plagued by the nagging thought, “But, I’d have to drive (or walk or take the subway) to go.” Think about what home life is like for a normal person, though. You leave the house all the time. It shouldn’t be any different because you’re in a hotel.
Local networking groups can be a great outlet. You’ll meet people who want to be met, and you’ll further your career … all while keeping yourself from going nuts.
6. Find a friend of a friend
You may not know anyone where you’re going, but there’s a decent chance you know someone who does. Ask around. A friend of a friend can help you get oriented and give you an occasional buddy for dinners and drinks. It may be awkward at first, but that will go away. In the end, you’ll make a new friend, and you’ll get the hell out of your room for a while.
7. Meetups and tweetups
The internet can be useful. I’m always seeing traffic on Twitter for various get-togethers. Poke around. Also, cruise LinkedIn (if your mindset is professional) and Facebook (if it’s not). There’s always something going on in just about every city, and social media can make it pretty easy to find something that will turn you on.
8. Treat yourself to a spa experience
Chances are you need it anyway. Line up a massage one evening, and enjoy human contact of the most relaxing kind. Sit in a hot tub for a few minutes afterward. Then, go back to the drudgery of solo business travel at least somewhat refreshed.