Mixing pleasure with business travel

Business trips don't have to be purely about business. It's always nice when the timetable allows some downtime before you jump onto yet another plane.

Some years ago I began adding one day to the end of my work travel schedule, so that I could focus fully on the 'business' part of the trip and then have a final day to myself.

(Yes, longer would be better – especially in my favourite cities – but more often than not, one day is all I can spare.)

My non-work time on a business trip adopts a relaxing pace. There's usually a late breakfast with the locals at any good cafe I've been able to find. Perhaps a visit to a museum that tells the story of that city's history and development, or a design museum. And, for the rest of the day, shopping.

Shopping is one of the delights of overseas trips, regardless of whether your business takes you to a metropolis such as New York or a remote village in Asia or Africa.

Most business travellers I know find their trips take them to the major cities, and even the most shop-a-phobic types can be converted with a quick trip to the right store – or, if they're especially game, an outlet mall.

But over the last few years, a little of the fun of squeezing some shopping into a business trip has faded with the globalisation of retail. Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and T.M. Lewin are four international brands to have recently popped up in the shopping hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, with cosmetics colossus Sephora joining them in Sydney's Pitt Street Mall on December 5.

It's great news for Australians, even if Zara's local range sometimes seems a bit behind the times and above the price-tag of its international siblings.  In the US, for example, prices at those stores still sit below what we'd pay in Australia. So a shopping excursion on the side of a business trip still has some appeal.

I know many business travellers who were 50-50 over the push of the big brands into Aussie retail space. Having their products available during a lunchtime trip to the shops was certainly more convenient than being an eight-plus hour flight away.

But buying something different overseas, and having a small story to tell with it, has always been appealing. As each international retailer opens its doors in Australia, business travellers tell me that some of that goes away.

There are still plenty of great stores to hit on your overseas trips. I find American chain Gap is reliable for basics, and there's usually something smart on sale at Banana Republic.

Only last year I discovered Nordstrom Rack, the clearance sale and outlet store branch of Nordstrom's. If you can handle the crowds and the cluttered display racks, there are great discounts, especially on shoes.

One of the best tips shared by a fellow frequent flyer was to place an order on Amazon about a week before you depart for the US, and have your goods delivered to your hotel.

This works best for products that aren't available from Amazon's Australian store, or that can't be shipped internationally from amazon.com – although it can also tap into cheaper US pricing and avoid delivery charges to Australia.

Check the delivery times from Amazon to your hotel – you might need to allow more time if the products are shipped from another company – and make sure the address form includes your name and the dates you're staying at the hotel. (I use the style 'In Residence, Dec 15-17', for example.)

You can often take advantage of a free one-month trial to Amazon's $100-per-year Prime shopping service for free, fast delivery, and then cancel your Prime membership before that first month ends.

However, many US hotels are now levying a 'delivery and handling fee' on even small parcels sent to them and held for you. It's an insulting concept: a five-star hotel that might charge $300 a night for a room also hits its 'guests' for $5 or even $10 to accept a small package on their behalf. That can easily add $50 to a small Amazon order.

My experience is that if the hotel's website doesn't clearly advise of such a charge, this add-on cost is easily disputed and reversed at check-out.

A final tip for business travellers with some shopping on their to-do list: allow room in your checked baggage to bring that shopping home.

Choose an extra-large suitcase for your trip and pack it half-full, or bring an empty sports bag or duffel bag squashed down inside your checked luggage.

When you travel overseas, what shops do you favour and what do you tend to buy?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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