Back in 2003, I went to Beijing to conduct due diligence on a company we were looking to potentially acquire.
Until that point, my business trips were strictly professional – in and out. I never wanted my employer to think I wasn't taking my job seriously.
However, China always held a certain allure for me, and I never expected to have the chance to visit again. So, I requested to extend my stay by just one day (yes, only one day!), and my boss agreed, on the condition that I was ready to present our findings first thing Monday morning in New York.
In that one day, I managed to visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and even the Great Wall. Then, I went from the Great Wall straight to the airport to catch my red-eye flight back to New York.
Anyone familiar with Beijing will appreciate what an impressive feat that was. Exhausted, I fell asleep as soon as the plane took off and didn't wake up until 14 hours later, just as the pilot announced our descent.
The irony is, I crammed in as much sightseeing as I could that day, never expecting to return. But fate had other plans. We ended up acquiring the company, and I found myself living and working in Beijing for a few years.
That one-day "boondoggle" taught me a valuable lesson. I entered the travel business with a passion for travel, and a firm belief in its power to broaden perspectives, foster understanding, and nurture empathy, yet I went to some amazing places on business and never stopped to smell the roses (or durian, subway fragrance, or whatever the prevailing smell might have been).
Since then, I've made it a point to try and spend extra time in new or interesting destinations my business travels take me to. When possible, I would invite friends or family to join me. My most memorable trips included spending time individually with each of my kids when they were in college.
As I took on leadership roles, I encouraged my team to do the same – to take an extra day or two in new or interesting destinations, or extend into a longer vacation. I vividly recall the puzzled looks on my Chinese team members' faces when I suggested they extend their stay in a city.
Remember, this was long before 'Bleisure' became a buzzword. I am pretty sure some of them suspected it was a test of their work ethic. But eventually, they realized I was not trying to trick them.
Every trip is not just a journey to a destination; it's a step towards expanding our horizons, both personally and professionally. So as we go into 2024, give yourself (and your team) permission and encouragement to explore a little and smell the durian.