Business Travel: You don't have to break the bank to be in business abroad

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The Independent Online
For those without an unlimited expenses account, there are cheaper options - and they are not all bad, as Sue Wheat discovered while attending a conference in Brussels.

Not everybody who travels on business has a big expense account. Some of us are instructed to keep our expenses to a minimum - and that doesn't mean just leaving the mini-bar intact. In my case, travelling to a conference in Brussels on behalf of two charities I was representing, meant finding the cheapest accommodation I could, without jeopardising my professional performance the next day.

Maison Internationale at 205 Chausee de Wavre near the centre of Brussels, was the option I chose. Some might scorn it as a youth hostel by any other name. But it is in fact perfectly positioned for anyone visiting the European Parliament and meeting with MEPs, business people and lobbyists, based in the area. (This could explain why business people vastly outnumbered backpackers.) Turn left out of the hostel, walk for five minutes past various building sites and you are in the hub of the European Parliament's administration.

Maison Internationale's facilities are perfectly adequate - although business people with primadonna-like tendencies would do best to stay away. When you arrive (check-in before 11pm) you rent clean sheets and pillow cases for 125 francs, (pounds 2) can make yourself a hot drink, buy a beer from the bar, or relax in your room.

You don't have to share a dorm - I splashed out and went for a single room (BF660 including breakfast). No matter how hard you hunt, a TV will not be found - so a good book is necessary. Bathroom and shower facilities are shared and perfectly clean. Breakfast - which included cereal, toast, meats, cheeses and tea or coffee - competed well with other hotel breakfasts I've had, although washing up your own plates and cutlery is probably a morning activity we could all do without before a 9am meeting.

Finding Maison Internationale was probably the most difficult part of my stay. When I phoned to book from London and asked which underground station it was near, the man on reception responded with Basil Fawlty- style unhelpfulness: "I do not know, Madam - I live 80 km away." When I pressed him, he finally informed me that it was near Trone metro. The walk from Trone to the hostel takes about 20 minutes - not particularly easy if you have luggage, if it is at night, and your map is of guide book quality. I only realised the full extent of his unhelpfulness however, when on leaving the hostel I found out that I could have got a train directly from Brussels' central train station to Gare du Quartier Leopold - only two minutes' walk from the hostel. Trone is indeed the nearest metro, but the train is the most sensible way of getting there.

One and a half days of intense lobbying left me exhausted and without any energy to use my remaining afternoon window shopping in Brussels. I returned to Maison Internationale and went up to the roof garden. Here I stretched out on a garden bench, used my briefcase as a pillow, and, warmed by the autumn sun, slept for two hours. Judging by my brief trip around Brussels, it is one of the few green areas available to relax in.

Maison Internationale. Tel. 00 32 2 648 9787

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