After a long day of business on the road, I have been known to hole up in my hotel room and have room service deliver a hot fudge sundae while I watch a marathon of "International House Hunters."
I always feel guilty doing it, however, because I know that I'm missing opportunities to engage in great conversations with other people. (I don't feel the least bit guilty about the ice cream.)
That's why I'm going to follow the advice in this column I did for Gannett/USA Today. Read on...
If you're like many business travelers, you're only thought at the end of a day may be to head to your hotel room, watch True Blood and order room service.
But for Patricia Rossi, business travel is more than getting from point A to point B with a minimum of hassles. She sees it as a golden opportunity to network and make new contacts.
"Most of us already have a beautiful relationship with the (television) remote," she says. "Business travel is a great time to get out of your room and meet people."
Rossi says the hotel chain she frequents when traveling — Hyatt House extended-stay hotels — offers evening socials that allow her to meet other business people in a relaxed setting with food and drink already on hand.
"All I have to do is show up, smell good and be nice," she says.
Rossi sees something special in breaking bread with contacts on the road, and inviting more than one contact to a meal can take the pressure off you.
"People really appreciate it so much," she says.
She also organizes "tweet ups," she says, contacting regular Twitter followers and asking them to meet her if she's in the city where they live.
"You've already developed those relationships online," Rossi says. "But this is a chance to get kneecap to kneecap with people, which is so important."
Another gold mine of networking opportunities is a hotel gym, she says.
"You're in there, blowing off some stress and staying healthy," she says. "I've developed some of the best relationships with people I meet in gyms."
While many employers trimmed business travel during the economic downturn, it is starting to make a comeback. In 2012, employers spent about $225 billion on domestic travel, a 5% increase from 2011.
That uptick may be because of the bottom-line effect of employees being on the road. Specifically, an Oxford Economics study conducted for the U.S. Travel Associationfound that 57% of business travelers say trimming their travel budget during the economic doldrums hurt their company's performance.
Rossi, a business etiquette coach, says if you're reticent about approaching strangers on the road to make a business contact, try these tips:
• Be observant. Spotting other business travelers with their briefcases and professional dress is easy, but also look for body language that shows a person is open to starting a conversation.
You can start with a simple, "Where are you headed?" and see if a person is open to talking. The guy who turns his body away from you or the woman who doesn't offer a friendly smile is revealing through body language that he or she is not open to chit-chat.
• Share a business card. Nothing is more off putting than watching "someone pat his body down like he's on fire" as he searches for a business card, Rossi says.
Always keep business cards in a handy spot so you can present one easily with your name facing the recipient. If you're the one receiving the card, make a polite comment or ask a question about the company where the person works.
• Follow up. Whether you make a new business contact through an evening get-together or in the airport security line, make sure you send a follow up e-mail or handwritten note.
"If the person mentions that a daughter is graduating, send a follow-up note saying that you hope everything went well," Rossi says. "Or, if the person mentions a love of NASCAR, follow up with an article about NASCAR in a handwritten note."
Notes sent through regular mail are especially powerful for establishing a connection, she says.
"Have you ever seen people go to the mailbox and get personal mail? They rip right into it first instead of the bills," Rossi says.