Stephanie Spitler
June 19, 2012 6:00 am

My most recent trip to New York City was different for lots of reasons: I stayed in a hotel instead of with friends or family, I didn’t get to hit any favorite museums and, oh yeah, I was there on business. This trip was my first experience with business travel. I’ve done a lot of traveling and have planned plenty of trips on my own, but I’ve never had to merge my work/travel lives before.

When I first found out I’d be going, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I get any free time to explore, or would it be a matter of going from the airport to the hotel to the conference center and then back to the airport?

After finding out that I would be able to get out into the city on my own, I decided it was important to make a game plan. I wasn’t sure how much free time I’d have, and when it would be (would something come up and I’d only have time to explore the city at 11 pm on a Tuesday? I’ve seen enough Law & Order episodes to know that might not be the best idea).

So, after careful planning and preparation, here are my tips for maximizing any down time you may have while on business. As I do more of this kind of traveling, I’m sure I’ll think of a million other things. Don’t worry; I’ll share.

Plan, plan, plan: Being on a business trip can be a good thing, in the sense that you’ll probably have a pretty specific itinerary. With knowledge comes power, so if you’re able to get your schedule before you leave, you should be able to loosely map out exactly when you’ll have free time. Using that schedule as a guide, you could decide that those two hours you have free on Wednesday afternoon would be the perfect time to visit the New York Public Library (especially since you’ll only be a few blocks away). When you’re dealing with a limited amount of time, you have to be strategic.

You also have to be realistic. Will 45 minutes really be enough time to spend in MoMA? Probably not. And you don’t want to rush yourself or the experience. So if you’re ok only getting a taste, then definitely check it out. But if speeding through a museum will just leave you unsatisfied, that 45 minutes might be better spent strolling through Central Park, or grabbing coffee and a pastry in a little bakery.

Prioritize: Once you’ve identified how much free time you have, it’s time to get real.  I made a list of all the places I’d like to see and things I’d like to do. Then I ruthlessly cut that list down. Because of where the majority of my time would be spent, and the little time I had, getting to someplace like Ellis Island probably wasn’t going to happen.

Once my list was feasible (taking into consideration things like “hours of operation” and location), I looked at everything and arranged them by order of what I wanted to do most. So if something came up and I only had time to do one thing on my list, what would it be? This helped to put everything in perspective, so I wouldn’t be standing on a sidewalk, paralyzed by indecision and wasting what few precious minutes I had trying to decide between shopping in Brooklyn or seeing a Broadway show.

Be Flexible: Once you’ve planned all you can, you just have to sit back and go with the flow. Anything can happen, and your boss might unexpectedly need you at a meeting when you had planned to spend that time getting lost in a giant bookstore. Since the reason you’re there is business, you have to be accessible all the time. So maybe it’s not the best idea to try to see the Statue of Liberty when your phone could ring at any moment. There’s no easy exit from an island, unless you’re willing to jump overboard and swim back to land.

Basically, enjoy your free time but be aware of where you are and how long it might take you to get back if you’re needed.

Business travel is a new frontier for me, but I found having small, concentrated blocks of time made me pare down my expectations and decide what I really wanted to see.

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