I had never been to Detroit, so I was excited last month when the writing assignment landed on my desk. Sure, it was a business trip, but business trips can be fun, right? I spent a week planning ways to maximize my free time.
And then, I flew 1,027 miles to waste 111 hours staring at the wall. That’s right — I spent only three hours outside my hotel, and my feet never touched Detroit. My hotel was across from the airport, and my assignment was two miles away — a three-hour gig in Romulus, Michigan. Other than that, I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t do anything.
On the way home, I tried to figure out my mistake. Why can’t I relax and enjoy my days off?
A business trip is more fun at your desk
Turns out, I’m not that odd. Studies show that people enjoy planning vacations more than actually taking them.
Granted, I took a business trip for work instead of pleasure, but I extended my stay by two days so I could sightsee. The only things I ended up seeing were two airports, four walls, and the backs of my eyelids.
I used to do the same thing when I worked at a newspaper. I spent all week yawning in my cubicle, counting the hours until the weekend, then I spent the weekend working, doing laundry, and sleeping. Sometimes I got crazy and went grocery shopping, but when’s the last time you enjoyed a Saturday night at Walmart?
5 ways I ruined my business trip (and how to make yours better)
1. I turned a fun business trip into a boring research project. I studied Detroit tour guides and travel blogs. I downloaded Detroit maps and itineraries. I bookmarked Yelp reviews and websites. I knew I wanted to take photos, so I scoured Flickr and Google, scouting locations. After a while, all the images blurred together into one homogenous glob of abandoned buildings and city skylines. Nothing tugged at my soul. I was so overwhelmed that the entire city became underwhelming.
Solution: Don’t read everything; read the right things.
You don’t need to know what every Yelper and travel writer has to say about a destination. All you need to know is one thing — what do you enjoy?
I searched for “things to do in Detroit,” which brought up 169 million pages of things I didn’t want to do. If I had searched for “coolest abandoned buildings in Detroit,” I would have narrowed my search to 489,000 pages. Then, I should have limited myself to making a “Top 10” list from the first three pages of search results.
When you’re on a business trip, time is limited, so don’t overthink it.
2. I planned the where but ignored the how. I knew I wanted to see the Henry Ford museum, the Renaissance Center, the Michigan Theatre, Michigan Central Station, St. Agnes Catholic Church, and Ambassador Bridge. But I couldn’t figure out the logistics. Would the QLine take me to all those places? Should I take Uber? Should I rent a car? Was it safe to be dropped off in these areas with a ridiculous amount of pricey camera gear? How much would it cost? Was it worth the money? The more I read about the transportation system, the more confused I became. Every time I got confused, I took a nap. I napped a lot.
Solution: Arm yourself with a map, a telephone, and a plan. Decide where you want to go, write down the addresses, and make a few phone calls. Talk to the local tourism board or chamber of commerce. Call local transit stations. Tell them where you want to go and ask them the best way to get there. While you’re at it, tell them what you like to eat and ask for recommendations in your price range. Ask for how to get there, too. Easy, right?
3. I needed rest more than recreation. I arrived Saturday and planned to leave Wednesday, so I scheduled Sunday and Tuesday as sightseeing days. But I’ve been working a lot, and I didn’t realize how tired and burned out I felt.
By the time I traipsed through the sprawling airports in Charlotte and Detroit, waited for my baggage, waited for my shuttle, and waited to check into my hotel, I was at the end of my patience. I threw my luggage on the bed, called my mama because that’s what good Southern girls do, and fell asleep while skimming the Internet and trying to decide where to eat. I woke at midnight, ate a pint of strawberry ice cream, and went back to sleep.
Sunday, I was determined to make up for lost time, so I cracked open my iPad to “get a few ideas.” Six hours later, the sun was setting and so was my enthusiasm. I ordered pizza and played Words with Friends, trying to ignore my growing torpor.
I worked Monday then Tuesday I woke up and realized that, for the first time in a month, no one expected anything from me. It felt wonderful. I smiled and went back to sleep. By the time I woke up, it was too late to go anywhere, and without a concrete plan, it didn’t seem worth the trouble. I went to the hotel restaurant and tried to cheer myself up with a T-bone steak. It didn’t work.
By Wednesday night, I was back in Mobile, slightly tipsy from the two Bloody Marys I drank on the plane to make up for the fact that I felt like a loser.
Solution: Don’t try to cram everything into two days.
Trying to have the ultimate experience in the shortest time possible is a recipe for failure. When you treat your time off as a job, you make it feel like work.
If you’re overwhelmed, limit yourself to one thing you want to see and one thing you want to eat. If you do those things and feel like doing more, go for it. But if you mostly want to Netflix and chill, then that’s what you should do. Your brain knows what it needs, and sometimes adventure is not high on that list. That’s ok.
4. (First World Problem Alert) My hotel was too fancy. I tend to stay at economy hotels, but this time I chose a midrange hotel which was unexpectedly swanky. The bed had a pillow top mattress and a down comforter. The blackout curtains were thick and efficient. The interior corridors kept noise to a minimum. A convenience store and in-house restaurant made it easy never to leave the hotel. Inside my cool, dark, pristine room, I was comfortable. The outside world seemed too hot, too bright, too stressful. I didn’t want to leave my cocoon. I recently did the same thing at Comfort Suites Airport in Nashville, with the same result.
Solution: Skip the frills and book a clean room in a safe place. You don’t have to stay in a hovel, but unless you’re staying at a resort, your hotel serves two purposes — it provides a bed and a shower. A lot of people pay too much for their hotel then feel too guilty to use it as a crash pad. Bare bones lodging not only gives you a reason to go outside, but it also saves money to spend on more memorable things.
5. I put too much pressure on my business trip. I might never see Detroit again, I reasoned, so I should make the most of it. I wanted to eat Instagram-worthy things, photograph unique things, and have an unforgettable experience. But everything that piqued my interest seemed too ordinary, so I continued my search for the elusive Detroit unicorn.
Solution: Face it — the best doesn’t exist. No matter what you do, you will inevitably find something cool you missed. Add it to the list for next time.
Hopefully, if you avoided my first four mistakes, you still had fun. Because remember: No matter where you go, you can always return. You will have free time again.
And next time, you will have a ready-made list created by the person who knows you best — you.