Making the Most of It: Or How I Squeezed in a Visit to Colonial Williamsburg Before My Coworkers Even Woke Up
In business travel, business always comes before travel in regards to my priorities on the road. In other words, I have to take care of things in the office before I can enjoy the sites of whatever city I may be in.
At times, this has posed significant challenges and limitations to what I can see and do on a given trip. Many attractions keep limited hours, and it’s not uncommon for most museums, cultural institutions, and historic sites to shut their doors right at 5:00. Unfortunately, I generally have to maintain a presence in the office for an hour or two after most of these sites close their doors.
Because of this, I have adapted my sightseeing. I tend to primarily focus on things that are open at night or can never close – like restaurants, specific neighborhoods, public parks, or the rare sites that do keep late hours.
However, when attractions are open early I’m known to make an effort to drag myself out of bed and do some sightseeing before going into work. This was the case when I visited the West Side Market in Cleveland and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.
When I was working in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Newport News, etc.), I was near a site I had always wanted to see – Colonial Williamsburg, a unique historic district depicting life in Colonial America with buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
But Colonial Williamsburg presented an especially difficult challenge to see during the workweek. Colonial Williamsburg’s official hours of operation are 9:30 – 4:30. Because I’m in the office from 8:30 til at least 6:00 every day, there was little chance of me being able to see the sites on my schedule.
But instead of getting discouraged, I got creative. I knew that Colonial Williamsburg wasn’t a separate, fenced off attraction. It is actually integrated into the modern day city of Williamsburg, comprising several city blocks on the east side of town. Furthermore, a ticket isn’t required to enter the streets of Colonial Williamsburg; the ticket is only necessary to enter the shops and houses and to see the shows offered.
Armed with this information, I developed my plan of attack. I would visit first thing in the morning, before the buildings were opened to the public, and spend an hour or so walking the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg before returning to work for the day.
While Williamsburg was relatively close to where I was working, it was still a 45 minute drive, so in order to make it up and back in time, I had to leave early. I was out the door at 6:00 am and arrived at the historic park a few minutes before 7:00. I parked in the nearly empty visitor’s center parking lot and crossed into the historic district.
I spent the next hour enjoying the quiet stillness of the Colonial Williamsburg. It was a cold, silent morning. Frost clung to the eves of 300 year old houses and my breath clouded my view as I tried to get a better look at the stately old buildings. I wandered up and down the streets, past a church, a tavern, and an assortment of small shops, all shuttered.
It was a ghost town, and I was the only lonely soul in it.
I would have loved to have stayed all day exploring the town, visiting the houses and shops and conversing with historial re-enactors, but unfortunately my time had run up and it was time for me to head to work. I left Colonial Williamsburg behind, jumped in my car, and made it into work just after 9:00. As the rest of my coworkers were just beginning their days, I felt like as though I’d already seen more that morning than I would at work all week.
It was an incredible experience to stroll the ancient streets of Williamsburg and it was absolutely worth the early wake up call. However, I know that I barely even scratched the surface of what the site has to offer, and that still bothers me. While I was physically in Colonial Williamsburg, I did not truly experience Colonial Williamsburg. There were no colorful re-enactors on my visit. No demonstrations of how life was lived in the Colonies. I didn’t even get to go inside a single building.
My experience was completely different from the majority of visitors (and not in a pretentious, ‘I had a more authentic experience than you’ sense). No, I did not see the real Williamsburg – I visited while it slept. Most people spend at least a day wandering around the town, taking in shows and demonstrations, and interacting with ‘inhabitants’ of the town. There are even hotels on site for those who want to stay multiple days.
But me? I spent just over an hour there. Unfortunately, it was all I had to spare given my schedule.
But would I do it again? Absolutely. And I will do the same at future sites on future business trips. For me, it is more important to take away some notion of a site such as Williamsburg than to miss it altogether. I have to be creative and I have to be flexible in order to experience the locations I travel to outside of the office, otherwise what’s the point?
When we are planning trips, whether for business or pleasure, we all go through the stages of deciding what we can and can’t include in our itineraries. Some of us are more organized planners than others, but we all go through the same process at one point or another.
We weigh the pros and cons of what is important to us, what we have time for, what is along our particular route, etc. knowing that there is no way we will ever ‘see it all.’ We must make decisions, and of course, there are tradeoffs and consequences to those decisions. In this case, I chose work (therefore preserving my job AND my ability to travel for free – an easy choice) over a full day visit to Colonial Williamsburg.
In the past I would have just conceded the visit altogether. However, now my adopted travel motto of ‘make the most of EVERY travel opportunity’ wouldn’t let me. It required creativity, flexibility, and concessions, but I made it to Colonial Williamsburg. And if I find myself in Southeastern Virginia not on business, I know where my first stop will be (hint: it’s not my old office).
Have you ever wanted to squeeze one more attraction, activity, or food experience into a previous trip? In the future, how can you get creative with your itinerary in order to make that happen?