There are times I love the bursts of downtime I get on the road. I grab room service, watch the latest episode of Castle on my computer (again)...and yet there are others, when I'm in a strange city, that I find myself a little bit bored, scratching my head for things to do to fill up the time between meetings or conference sessions. So I thought I'd put together a little list, with the help of seasoned solo traveler Marybeth Bond, also known as the Gutsy Traveler.
Here are 14 activities to keep you occupied:
1. Start planning your next trip
Not for work, but for pleasure. It can take a lot of time to plan a vacation, even if it's just a short jaunt, so start doing research now, even if you don't have the date on the books. As a bonus, having a vacation on the horizon will help you power through long days when you get back in the office.
2. Buy and send a post card
If you don't have a spouse or children, send one to your mother (she'll be thrilled!).
3. Go for a swim
If you're staying in a place with an indoor pool and it's been years since you dove in for a few laps, you'll be amazed at how good you'll feel after. And if you're not, ask where the local Y is located and see if you can buy a cheap day pass.
4. Catch up on your reading
"About a week before I travel, I'll start saving magazines and articles I want to read, and that's the first thing I do when I get on the plane," says Bond. Reading for pleasure—whether that means a trashy gossip rag or the New Yorker—is really relaxing.
5. Hit the museums
Ask your hotel's concierge for a recommendation, or do a little research. Even if you just have 45 minutes to spend, it will turn your work day into a pleasure day. Many of these offer free admission; some ask for a nominal donation.
6. People watch
"When I first get to a place, I have a morning ritual: I'll go to a café, sit with a cup of coffee or tea, and people watch. Don't multitask, just watch people. It's so relaxing, and it helps you get all of your thoughts for the day organized," explains Bond.
7. Knock some errands off your list
This depends on what you're buying, and how much space you have in your luggage, but use this time to get things done that you haven't been able to do at home. Get that new pair of shoes you need, replace the make-up you've had for far too long, take your clothes to the dry cleaner so they'll be fresh when you get home.
This requires some advance planning—you need to pack tennis shoes, at least—but see if your hotel has a gym, or follow along with some YouTube videos.
9. Watch a movie – without the hotel prices
If you have a laptop and a Netflix account, scroll through their Instant service to see what movies you can stream right on your computer. There are some television shows available, too.
10. Go to the hotel happy hour
More and more, hotels are offering free events in the late afternoon and early evening, often with wine and light snacks. Why not stop by and meet your fellow road warriors?
11. Get back in touch with old friends
"I'll often go through my address book and pick out two people I haven't communicated with in a long time, and compose an e-mail to them," says Bond. You could also pick up the phone and call someone to catch up. Even more fun? Find your prom date on Facebook.
12. Go for a walk
The best way to see a new city is on foot, so why not take a stroll around the area and see what you discover? You can even ask your hotel's front desk for directions on which way to head for the best scenery.
13. Take pictures
These days, it's hard to find a cell phone without a camera, so you don't have to lug any extra equipment along. Bond says in bigger cities, she likes to walk around and take pictures of interesting store windows.
14. Visit a few tourist attractions
Why not? You don't know when you'll be back. Check out the Golden Gate in San Francisco (or take a stroll down Lombard Street), walk through Central Park or across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, visit the Bean in Chicago's Millennium Park.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com.
Thanks to Jean Chatzky / Open Forum / American Express Company