Phone calls are fine in theory, but handshakes still seal the deal. Problem is, business trips can be tough on travelers. Jetlag, homesickness and one too many stale croissants can leave even titans of industry slumped over their laptops in airport lounges.
But a new generation of business travelers is redefining the work trip. A growing number of travelers are booking business travel on Airbnb to reinvent what business travel looks like. You won’t find frequent travelers and Airbnb power users Julie, Claire, Sultan, Brad, and Stephanie in airless hotel conference rooms, yawning through PowerPoints. They’re busy brainstorming in breezy beachfront cafes, barbecuing with friends and clients, and finding creative breakthroughs in art galleries—and you’re invited.
1. Don’t sleep at the office
Frequent fliers often sleep-walk through workdays, saving precious time off for vacation. But jetlag is no match for Julie, head of digital business for a movie studio. For her next work trip to Paris, she’s planning a speedy recovery in her pick of a dozen dream retreats, including a houseboat on the Seine with a hot tub.
“Living in a nice, cozy place makes my stay much easier, friendly, even fun,” says Julie. After long-haul flights from Los Angeles, she prefers a comfortable place to land in a lively neighborhood, away from office parks and high-rise hotel zones that are spooky and deserted by night.
2. Make it an adventure
Julie is not the only businessperson who’s escaping downtown: today’s business travelers want to discover local neighborhoods while on a work trip. “Choose a different location each time,” Julie recommends. “Look for a non-traditional space in an area with stores and bars, to be able to experience the life of the city.”
3. Go where the good food is
A business expense account for meals may sound like a gourmet dream come true – until you check out the restaurant options near airports and office parks. “When I first headed to Asia, I booked all my lodging close to airports, but that’s the worst strategy ever—there’s no food culture there,” says Claire Murdough, a food and finance writer.
“For food options, neighborhoods usually beat business districts too,” she says. “I work in San Francisco’s financial district, and it’s just so hard to find anything that’s affordable, tasty and healthy. I can’t imagine what it’s like for vegetarians, or other people with dietary restrictions.”
4. Eat local food with people you like
Now when Claire travels, she looks for apartments with kitchens where she can cook dinner for friends and colleagues. Cooking also gives her a chance to discover local specialty ingredients, while saving her per diem for worthy splurges with friends.
“If your weekly grocery bill is $50, that could be one meal out at a restaurant,” she points out. “When I go to Austin, I’ll eat breakfast in and pack a lunch—then for dinner and dessert, do whatever I want. That way you get to explore the local food culture at markets and restaurants, and it really feels like you’re on vacation.”
5. Get some fresh air—and a fresh perspective
Sultan logs long hours on planes, shuttling between Washington, D.C., Kansas City, and Ft Lauderdale to conferences and client meetings. All that recycled air could leave the toughest traveler dazed and deflated—but not engineer Sultan. “Sometimes I wish my layover was longer,” he says. “I’m constantly learning, traveling, getting to meet new people. It’s a dream come true. ”
Sultan approaches work trips as opportunities to gain not just a new skill or connection, but a completely new perspective. “Chain hotels are the same wherever you go, but I want to learn how people really live,” he says. “I’m an outdoorsy, coffee shop kind of guy, so I tend to stay away from big downtown conference venues. I try to treat every place I stay through Airbnb as though it’s my neighborhood, and get to know my host.”
6. Surround yourself with creative inspiration
Sultan’s business trip wish list is filled with places near parks, beaches and arts districts. “I want a place where I can get away from the computer and get inspired, he says. “My mom’s an artist in Kansas City, so I’ve always gone to art shows and museums. I like the atmosphere and the people, and looking at art leaves your mind totally refreshed.”
Sultan finds that when he’s stuck on a tricky bit of code, escaping the world of engineering in an art gallery is the most productive thing he can do. “You could be looking at something new, and suddenly it meshes into what you’re programming,” he says. “Then you see the solution you didn’t see before.
7. Retreat to your dream home
Brad Beckstrom’s work trips drove him up a tree—literally. “I was headed to New York and sick and tired of business hotels that charge over $300 a night with nothing much more than free wifi,” he says on his blog The Frug. Then it occurred to him: he could be staying in a treehouse instead.
To find treehouses and other dream homes that fit within his work travel budget, Brad searched for both entire apartments and private rooms on Airbnb. “You’ll find that more interesting lofts, treehouses and other cool affordable locations show up as private rooms instead of entire homes.”
8. Bring the family
Traditionally, work trips mean time away from loved ones in unfamiliar places—but savvy business travelers are flipping the script. Since major credit cards offer travel points for Airbnb stays, booking with Airbnb may help frequent business travelers earn free tickets to bring family along on work trips.
For working parents, apartment rentals provide attractive alternatives to cramped hotel rooms—but Brad recommends road-testing destinations before you bring your entourage. “I always find it’s better to try something out solo as part of a business trip,” he says. Besides extra room for kids to sleep and play, there may be enough space to invite doting grandparents to provide childcare.
9. Visit friends more often
California venture capitalist Stephanie Palmeri lived in New York for 10 years, and she has learned the secret to maintaining long-distance Manhattan friendships: booking her own place near friends on business trips. “In some cities, you can stay with friends—but most New Yorkers don’t have spare bedrooms,” she explains. “Crashing on a sofa would mean putting my friends out, and it’s not comfortable for either one of us.”
Instead of the usual “touristy, corporate, cost-prohibitive” hotels around Times Square, Stephanie books Airbnb apartments near favorite haunts in SoHo. “I can pick up where I left off with friends,” she says. “At the last Airbnb apartment I stayed in, a friend of mine had just moved in down the hall.”
10. Make every moment count, without wearing yourself out
Flexible check-in and checkout help Stephanie make the most of every Manhattan minute. “I take the red-eye from California to save time, but when you arrive at 7am, you can’t check into most hotels—and you can’t exactly shower in a hotel lobby bathroom,” Stephanie says. “I find most Airbnb hosts are flexible about early and late check-in, so I can fit in a shower and nap before I start my day, or stay late for dinner with friends.”
Working smarter and staying comfortably within budget brings bonus perks. “I can focus on getting work done,” says Stephanie, “plus I can afford to stay the weekend.”