Don’t become a hermit: eight tips for solo business travelers

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.

Silent raves come to Madrid

I’ve never understood how the concept of a silent rave ever got popular. People in a club listening and dancing to their own music on headphones. The hook is around the fact that you can dance to whatever music you want in a social environment.

How is this fun? Why wouldn’t you just do the same at home? It’s a social thing, but when do you talk? On drink breaks?

The concept originated in the Netherlands some years ago under the notion of “going wild in silence”, and ever since has been floating around Europe. A couple of months ago, Union Square in New York held a huge “Silent Disco“, apparently the first ever in New York.

In Madrid, it’s come on a small scale. Organized by a youth center at their premises, I can’t imagine it to attract too large of a crowd, but then again, it’s Madrid — you just don’t know.

According to the CNN, the DJ’s involved in introducing the concept say that they are confident that in the ever changing world of clubbing, it’s better to be seen than heard. Hmmm.

I’d go to watch, but I doubt you can get away with just being a spectator to this silliness. Maybe I’ll just go and join in.

Bolshoi in Russia: Moscow museum night is free (hence popular with hipsters)

Greetings from Moscow! Bolshoi in Russia is my variation on Big in Japan. (Bolshoi means “Big” in Russian. Get it?) Stay tuned for my live dispatches from Russia this week.

Moscow held their 11th annual Night of Museums (or Long Night of Museums) on Saturday, May 17. I haven’t seen as many people in one place since visiting China. I shouldn’t be surprised. It was, after all, a free event. The majority of life in Moscow is far from free.

Long Night of Museums, began in Berlin in 1997 as an attempt to bring more people into museums and art galleries, focusing on younger people who may not be regular museum-goers. Moscow, like 120 cities across Europe, now participates in Museum Night, holding free late-night museum and gallery open houses on the same day.

Saturday night was an interesting dichotomy for me. First, I went to the one of the galleries–Winzavod (ex-wine distillery turned into really hip industrial space, turned into gallery) and saw thousands of young hipsters roam around the galleries. You would never know whether you were in Moscow, New York or Paris. It dawned on me that hipsters are the most globalized group of people out there. Hipsters–through their attempt to differentiate themselves from the majority–look the same anywhere in the world.

After the Museum Night, I went to Opera, one of the most popular Russian clubs. It was like being in a completely different city. Moscow is like that. The “art people” never interact with the “club people”, who never interact with the Russian Orthodox “traditional” folks. It’s a different city depending on what clique you belong to. More so than in any other place I have seen.

From Russia, with love.

Bolshoi in Russia: Find me in da club (if I can get past the bouncers)

Greetings from Moscow! Bolshoi in Russia is my variation on Big in Japan. (Bolshoi means “Big” in Russian. Get it?) Stay tuned for my live dispatches from Russia this week.

I don’t think you can ever be ready for clubbing in Moscow. I certainly wasn’t. Granted, I am not really the clubbing type. I arrived in Russia last night and was told that we have VIP tickets to Opera, one of Moscow’s hottest clubs. What can you say to that? I overdosed on caffeine and I went. For research purposes only, of course.

Upon arrival, I have five immediate observations:

  • The DJ is great.
  • The women (especially the dancers) are hot beyond belief (and this is coming from a woman)
  • The guys are not hot (once again, this is coming from a woman but one not necessarily into the whole Armani Exchange and Diesel uniform look)
  • It is virtually impossible to tell “regular girls” apart from those with a pricetag on them
  • I don’t think there are any regular girls here

I realize I am completely improperly dressed because neither my cleavage nor my legs nor my belly is exposed. Then again, I am not here to find a husband like the majority of the local beauties. My friend is telling me that being a male expat in Moscow is great because Russian women are “all over you.” It is also bad because they are only all over you because you have money and a foreign passport, both of which they’d like to obtain.

He tells me this is how all club conversation between a Russian woman and a foreign man go:

  1. Where are you from? (Hopefully from anywhere in the West)
  2. What kind of job do you have? (Anything with the keywords: manager, president, etc. sounds good)
  3. Do you have a driver? (Anyone who is anyone in Moscow has a driver. If you don’t, you are out.)

If your answers are positive, congratulations! You might have a wife on your hands. A trophy wife, too! At that point, you can only hope that nobody else comes along who a) comes from a more desirable country, b) has a better job, c) has a better car (and a better driver). Relationships in modern Russia are Darwinism at its purist free-market form.

I have seen my share of meat markets in my lifetime, but none that take the trade to perfection quite like a Moscow club.

There is way too much visual stimulation in this club: several dancers, few of them practically nude, theatrical performances, disco balls, all that. I need a drink. $12 for a can of Red Bull plus $10 for a shot of vodka. Not a cheap way to get “into the right mood.” However, comparing to getting a table for the night–from anywhere between $2,000-$12,000, gulp–it seems like a bargain. The VIP tickets were great to get in here, but they don’t give you much more than that.

I shouldn’t complain. Getting into a Moscow club is not the easiest thing to do. There are lines of people dressed to the nines every night hoping to be admitted in. The bouncers are trained to perform “face control” (or feis kontrol as they say here) and examine your shoes, face and clothes to see if you are good enough to get in. Opera has a face control rating of 4 (out of 5), aka Tough. Wearing jeans and shoes costing less than $100 is not helping you here, so don’t even try it. Sneakers? Forget it. Unless, of course, you had a Bentley drive you to the club and you are willing to buy a table. That’s a different story.

You might also be saved if you simply speak English to the bouncers because they will assume you’ll be able to afford the drinks (and that you are not just one of “those people” who come here just to stare at the superhot dancers.) Let them assume away!