The art of mixing business with pleasure

Riad Camilia, Marrakech
Doing some work on a sunny Marrakech rooftop

I was frozen to my seat. Quite literally. Ice crystals on aeroplane windows are normally reserved for the outside aren’t they? The wintery coastline of southern Iceland had disappeared from view and as the tiny plane rattled it’s way through pregnant snow clouds I eagerly searched the sea below for my first glance of the Westman Islands. Full of puffins in summer, they were quite a different world in the middle of January, and one not usually visited by tourists. Perhaps if I’d known we’d be landing on a runway of sheer ice I might have thought twice about booking this side trip, but I had a couple of days to play with and wanted an adventure. This sure ticked that box.

It’s no secret that I’m not a full time traveller. I love my job, my house and my life, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Yet when it comes to trips away, I’m always one for making the most of every opportunity. Whether it’s weekend jaunts to the country, sneaky romantic nights away or even business travel.

Who says you can’t mix business with pleasure?

Business travel can be frustrating, visiting exciting new places but only experiencing them from the wrong side of the boardroom window. During my trip to Iceland I realised it didn’t have to be all work and no play. I was in Reykjavík on business yet I’d already been horse riding in the snow around Hafnarfjörður, and eaten the obligatory bit of rotten shark in the equally obligatory Viking Restaurant. Seeing the world on someone else’s time was clearly the way forward. I soon learnt it was possible to have the best of both worlds, and started factoring in extra time on my trips to explore as a tourist. All it requires is a bit of thinking outside the box, a splash of determination and lots of pre-planning.

Oh, and a splash of Icelandic schnapps to help persuade your colleagues!

Thus I found myself skidding along an icy runway with a couple of work colleagues who were no doubt wishing they hadn’t listened to my crazy idea back in the warmth of the Reykjavík bar. Alighting from the plane, our legs a little wobbly despite a perfect landing, we found ourselves a world far away from the bright city lights. Soft snowflake flurries were settling on the black volcanic landscape all around us, and as we wandered down the enticingly lit streets it became apparent we were the only tourists on the entire island. Not something I was complaining about. We spent the afternoon scrambling up hills and chatting with some friendly locals who hadn’t seen visitors on the island for weeks. Definitely the best day of the trip, and one that would not have been possible had I not been there for work.

There’s nothing better than having a job that requires you to travel for business. Until you’ve been at it a little while. What used to be a glamorous perk can often become a chore, something that non-business travellers can never comprehend. My friends would stare incredulously as I grumbled about ‘having to go to Paris’ for a week, or ‘needing to attend meetings in Belgium’ that involved socialising with clients and drinking beer. I don’t even like beer.

And frankly I’d rather be snuggled up on my sofa at home watching TV and eating a pot noodle.

Eiffel Tower, Paris
Just swinging by the Eiffel Tower in between meetings

Yet business trips like these, and those that have come about through being a travel blogger, have allowed me to experience places I would otherwise have overlooked. I’ve been introduced to people I could never have discovered alone and perhaps had a truer flavour of local culture than on any of my personal travels. Whether real or just perceived, being a business traveller gives you more confidence than when you’re simply on holiday. Without business travel I wouldn’t have shared afternoon tea and tales of 17th Century pirates with fishermen on a remote Icelandic island. I wouldn’t have exchanged banter and local lore with the inhabitants of a small Belgian town, and I certainly wouldn’t have stayed in the utmost of Parisian luxury and eaten escargot whilst being serenaded by a pianist. If you’re interested in combing these sorts of experiences with work then why not consider starting a travel blog? You can begin with it as just a hobby, then build it up so it starts paying for your travels.

I know combining different types of travel isn’t that simple for everyone, and some may not even want to blur the boundaries at all. Each of us is different, and perhaps some of us don’t even know quite what we want. I certainly didn’t until I went to Iceland. But that’s okay. Just treat the whole experience as a journey, one on which you’re allowed to change your mind! Just do whatever you feel happiest doing in the moment.

Mixing business with pleasure in Morocco
Mixing business with pleasure in Morocco

These days I have the opposite problem and have to fit in paid blogging work around my holidays. It’s a whole new take on travelling and one we’re slowly getting used to. We haven’t yet got the balance quite right, and hubbie will tell you he’s frequently subjected to thoroughly ‘non-holiday’ behaviour as he’s commanded to make himself scarce whilst I photograph our hotel room. Sometimes he has to make do with the local cat for company whilst I’m writing in the evening, and he just doesn’t understand why I need a picture of every meal we eat.

Yet we’re getting there, and are beginning to understand travel for business and travel for pleasure don’t have to be so different after all.

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  1. says: nina

    I also make the most of business travel by adding a few days of adventure on. It’s the perfect combo I think! I love your writing and look forward to more 🙂

    1. says: Heather Cole

      I’m working in outdoor education marketing at the moment! As for the shark…fermented shark is considered a delicacy in Iceland. Totally disgusting but one of those things you have to try once.

  2. says: Leticia

    Business travel is always a good chance to discover those cities that are out of your bucket list. I’ve ended coming back to those places a couple of times too 🙂

  3. says: Christine Maguire

    Great post. It’s always a good idea to make the most of any travel-related activity, whether it’s business or just a local visit to a new place!

  4. says: Rah Ul

    I am inspired, really. Somehow I always feel lazy to do anything while I am traveling. But I know I have to do something about it if I wanna keep traveling. Thanks for this beautiful article. 🙂

  5. says: Greig

    I’m an explorer as well!

    “Seeing the world on someone else’s time was clearly the way forward.” — I love this, and it’s so true. My job allows me to travel occasionally, but rarely do I have the downtime to explore these days when I’m on a plane to attend a meeting and then on the way home that same night. Definitely need to figure that out… what exactly do you do? PS… love the Iceland references. I was there for purely pleasure in February and fell in love. Skogafoss was epic, as was the horseback riding through the countryside outside Reykjavik :).


    1. says: Heather Cole

      Lots of us explorers out there! Iceland is stunning isn’t it, and winter is just as good as summer (although it’s pretty chilly riding those horses isn’t it!). As for what do I do? I’ve had several jobs, from arts donor research to computer marketing, but my favourite has to be when I worked for a travel company and had to take lots of ‘inspection trips’. Tough job but someone’s gotta do it!

  6. says: Karilyn

    Yes what a great problem to have– too much travel! But I know what you mean, it does become stressful a nd tiring after a while being on the road, entertaining and then also wanting to fit in your own time and now paid blogging work!! I have a child in school and it’s so tough for me to manage it all, although I do wish I had the business travel opportunities 😉

    1. says: Heather Cole

      Agree there are certainly worse problems to have. Hope you are able to take your child travelling, definitely the best education.

  7. says: Local Nomads

    Kudos to you for being able to seek out your own adventure on a business trip. Glad you were able to make the most of the situation!

    1. says: Heather Cole

      Yeah, sometimes all best laid plans go right out the window when there’s something exciting to see on the other side of it!

  8. says: Frank

    Always love the way you write Heather. You just brought back memories of my ex-life as an executive where I got to go places like….Winnipeg. I usually looked forward to it: flying first class, fancy airport lounges, getting treated to expensive suppers by bankers. But you hit on it: it gets old fast. Long hours travelling, sitting at supper making conversation with people you would never really want to sit with in your personal life…I did it for 20 years and it was soul-sucking. Towards the end I was like you, trying to duck out of these things and just stay at home.

    Now we blog (and travel full time), and yes, make a bit of money out of it. I laugh about taking photos of food: Spanky always making me wait to eat my food so that she can take that damn photo. I can sympathize with hubbie about clearing the hotel room so that someone can take a photo. I don’t consider the blogging side of it business travel…but like you its new and that makes it fun and interesting. Like anything, you have to break the routine and do something else.

    Just goes to show though that there are many variations that constitutes ‘business’ travel.

    1. says: Heather Cole

      I shall have to enlist you as my dedicated halo polisher Frank! 🙂 Wow, swanky bankers suppers and first class lounges for 20 years, I have to take my hat off to you, that’s some feat! I only lasted a few years and actually once left a job because there was too much travel! Hopefully you managed to save some of your soul for future adventures. And high fives to Spanky for being in the food photo club, it’s where all the best people are at!

  9. says: Rob Taylor

    I understand about the business travel bit…from the non-participant end. Sometimes my husband is gone to China or Amsterdam and he spends morning to night in a meeting room… but then extends his stay into the weekend at which point I’m gross with jealousy. I love that you can appreciate the gift that business travel is, even when you’re tired of it. 🙂

    1. says: Heather Cole

      I think I’d be jealous too if my hubbie got all the perks and I had to wait patiently at home. Hope he brings back good presents!!

  10. says: Rachel Ward

    Couldn’t agree more! It’s a great way to see more of the world, and I’ve been fortunate to experience places like NYC, Nairobi and Paris through business travel. I always make room for some ‘me time’ too, and have seen lots of places I would not have otherwise visited.

    1. says: Heather Cole

      Wow, I’d love to travel to Kenya on business! And ‘me time’ is definitely something to fit into all business travel if you can.