Bleisure travel, the most recent buzz term for travelers who tack on additional leisure travel days to their business trip, is a trend that has been growing steadily in recent years. It not only makes the stress of business travel more bearable, it’s an efficient, affordable way to take a mini vacation to a destination you might otherwise overlook. It’s also a great opportunity to spend time by yourself and gain fresh perspectives in times of burn out.
This spring I attended the Confab conference in Minneapolis, a city I heard much about but never visited. Like many conferences, my room was in the same hotel that was hosting the event—which meant I wouldn’t need to go anywhere. This is the convenient but disappointing thing about business travel—the actual travel is often limited to one or two locations. But Minneapolis wasn’t a city I was going to let get away from me. And so for the cheap price of a hotel gift card and $120, I added a 36-hour adventure to my business trip that not only left me feeling relaxed and recharged but also taught me valuable lessons.
Here are five life lessons that can be gleaned from any solo bleisure trip:
#1: There will be awkward moments
No matter how much you plan, there are always parts to a trip that don’t live up to the fantasies dreamt while creating the itinerary. For me, that moment came in the form of a Friday night wandering around the Mall of America with an Orange Julius in hand. I had just said goodbye to my fellow conference attendees, many of whom were eager to return home to loved ones, and now found myself completely alone. I started to wonder not only why I was there, but what I was doing with my life. There’s nothing worse than existential angst while being lost in the world’s largest mall (4.8 million square feet!).
#2: There will be moments of pure joy
Saturday morning brought fresh hope and I rented a bicycle to explore Minneapolis’ beautiful lakes. Armed with nothing but a paper map, I felt like a kid again going on an adventure. What I didn’t know from the confines of my business hotel is that Minnesota is breathtaking in spring —blue skies reflected on tranquil water, vibrant green trees rustling in the breeze, fluffy yellow goslings trailing behind the mother goose and sailboats drifting on Lake Calhoun. This experience alone was worth the extra stay.
#3: Prepare as best as you can, but allow for the unexpected
I had been planning for weeks to create the best Minnesota experience during my short stay and hoped to catch a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion, Minnesota’s famous long-running radio show. But I discovered that its host, Garrison Keillor, retired the year before and the new production was away on tour. The disappointment gnawed at me during my trip. On my way to grab a meal, I hopped on a bus only to realize I was going the wrong way. As I stared frustrated out the window, a marquee caught my eye: “A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.” It was not at its usual theater in St. Paul and turned out to be a one-time farewell performance for the people of Minnesota that just happened to fall on Saturday—my one day of bleisure travel!
#4: You can’t do it all
After several wins on my trip, I was feeling pretty confident I was going to do everything on my itinerary. There was still the Walker Art Center and dinner at Kramarczuk's deli. But after running around Minneapolis all day, including a four-hour bike ride, my body had different ideas and I had to call it an early evening.
#5: Sit at the counter
On Sunday morning I headed to Keys at the Foshay, a popular downtown breakfast spot, for a hardy travel day meal. The wait was at least an hour and the only way I was going to make my flight AND eat was to sit at the counter. Dining alone on business trips always makes me feel awkward. I just want to slump into a booth and scroll through my iPhone with imaginary busyness. But Minneapolis is a friendly town and I soon found myself engaged in conversation for my entire meal with a delightful man who had been eating Sunday breakfast at this same restaurant since he was a child. One of the best things about solo traveling is that you are forced to talk to strangers. And there is no better way to experience a city than to chat with people who live there.