As a general rule, I don’t like cities. The frenetic pace of life instantly makes me anxious and the only time I relax is when I’m on the train out of there.
I do occasionally need to visit London for work and it’s not something I particularly look forward to. People look stressed and unhappy, the pollution is terrible and everyone is in a rush. I have no idea what an Oyster card is and a bottle of water costs how much?! Certainly not an environment we Northerners thrive in.
Despite my natural dislike of cities, I’ve learnt to embrace the odd business trip to our capital by turning it into an adventure. The trick is to make sure the trip isn’t all about the meeting…
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Before adopting this approach, I used to take the Tube everywhere. It was just the thing you did – hop off the train, get on the Underground, turn up where you need to be. Being from the North, I just assumed London was massive and that you need to take public transport to get anywhere.
On one occasion, the Tube was down and I ended up walking. I was surprised at how close everything is and how easy it is to knit places together. Armed with this new-found knowledge, on my next trip I deliberately chose to walk from Kings Cross to the City. It took me no time at all, I discovered new places and realised it’s not quite as big and scary a place as I once thought.
Now, my primary purpose for visiting London is never the meeting; it’s to go for a walk – admittedly one where I’ve swapped mountains for buildings – but it’s an adventure nevertheless.
First things first, you need to make a few minor adjustments to your usual meeting attire. Think about whether you can get away with the ‘business casual’ look, as opposed to a full on suit and tie. A pair of smart trousers and a more casual shirt with a jacket can be dressed up or down accordingly and are a lot more comfortable for walking in than a suit.
You should also swap your traditional shoulder bag / briefcase for a rucksack, into which you can put some hiking shoes. I simply take my usual day pack and I’ve found it’s smart enough for all but the stuffiest office environments but there are some good ‘city packs’ if you need something a little smarter (I like Osprey’s range).
The additional footwear is perhaps less controversial, as I see many suity-types wearing trainers to and from the office these days. Hiking shoes will free you up to cover some miles before / after your meeting and save you having to re-sole your smart shoes every couple of months.
The next trick is to build enough time into your day to avoid rushing from one place to another. This takes a little planning and isn’t always possible but giving yourself breathing space before, after or even between meetings is key to squeezing in some adventure-time. Look at your schedule beforehand and work out how much spare time you have. Could you catch the train home an hour later to save you sprinting for the earlier one as the meeting overruns? Could you arrive in the morning for an afternoon meeting and give yourself time to grab a sandwich, find a park and watch the world go by?
Try to avoid the Tube, taxis and buses as much as possible. I appreciate this isn’t always going to be doable, particularly if you are travelling a little further afield but see if you could jump off a few stops early and finish the rest of your journey on foot.
If you are turning your business trip into an adventure, make sure you follow these handy tips to get the best from your day:
Plan a route – before your meeting, get on to Google Maps and devise a route. Work out the distance and how long you think it’ll take you. Memorise some key landmarks en route so you know you’ll have a rough idea of your location without having to reach for your phone every two minutes.
Keep an eye on timings – don’t miss trains or appointments because you’ve not left enough time. This is where your prior planning comes into play.
Stay safe – perhaps this is the country boy in me but do keep your wits about you and don’t inadvertently stray into dodgy areas if you are unfamiliar with them. If it gets quiet all of a sudden and you don’t feel safe, turn around.
Play dodge the smog – one of the hardest things about walking in a city is finding somewhere without traffic pollution. Try to walk through parks and away from main roads and see if you can seek out some clean air!
Look for water – there are often paths along rivers which tend to be quieter than the roads and streets arounds buildings and there’s something about water which makes you feel more connected to the outdoors. Parks often have a boating lake or a duck pond so try to plan your route around these aquatic features. They are a fantastic reminder of the outdoors when you feel hemmed in by the city.