I’m sitting here in a little hotel about a five minute walk from the Tower of London in London, England. I went out for a walk earlier and found myself a bit depressed as I wasn’t even sure where to go. This is the fifth time I have been to London in a year and I find myself wondering what I should go see or do. I also realized that in seven years of working for Whitehill, this is the most repeat travel I have had to the same destination. But here I am, in a city of amazing history, and I find myself bored. Many folks who wonder how that’s even possible.
Although I love to share stories of travel, I do find myself in recent times being a little less willing to open up about my travels. Mostly because I don’t want to come off as being some sort of douche who shows off about the places I’ve traveled to. I’ve been very fortunate that my work has taken me to some nice places but a lot of people don’t get to travel at all so talking about it can sound a bit egotistical. If I talk about how I was in London for a week to someone who’s never left Moncton before, it can sound a bit douche-ey.
However, when the topic does come up, people are always asking me what it’s like to travel all the time with my work. People always seem to say things like “Oh it must be cool to get to see all these different places”. Yes, it is cool. I do enjoy it, but for all the places I get to see as part of my job, there’s a side to business travel that folks probably know nothing about. Today, I’m opting to share what it’s like to be in a job like mine. There are some nice perks but there are also some things you might not have thought of. Let’s break it down into pros and cons.
Seeing The World
Let’s get this right out of the way. I get to see the world. I have travelled all over the United States from Los Angeles, to New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Atlanta, St. Louis, Tampa, Boston, Portland, Chicago, and Dallas. I’ve also traveled to London now several times (along with a trip to Cardiff, Wales), and got a rare chance to go to Sydney & Brisbane Australia last year. I’ve even had a couple of trips to Toronto and one to Vancouver. So all in all, I do get to see some pretty nice places as part of the travel. Make no mistake, being able to see these places is an amazing opportunity and I soak in as much as I can when I go somewhere new. I took extra time in Australia to see Cairns, and did the famous Sydney Bridge Climb as well. I’ll take any chance I can to see and do something cool.
Points To Freedom
Secondly, I get to keep my points. The company I work for is very gracious enough to allow us folks who travel to keep the frequent flyer points we earn when we fly. As a result, I can use my points to fly other places when I have vacation time. I went to LA, Seattle, & Las Vegas on points and even took Tamara with me to Vegas and Tampa. I even flew my mother-in-law to London with me for a week as a Christmas gift. I’m also racking my points up currently to take the whole family on a trip next year. Having the points helps cut the costs for flights and even hotels. I stayed in a Halifax Hilton for a night a couple months ago at no charge using points.
In a world that is far more connected than it ever was, I’m now making friends around the world the old fashion way. Putting faces to names and actually getting to interact with people instead of seeing their names on a computer screen. We spend so much time interacting online that sometimes IRL interaction seems antiquated. As socially awkward as I can be meeting new people, my job forces me to be a bit more outgoing and meet these people I train so I have met quite a few interesting individuals in my travels.
There are plenty of other minor little perks/pros to traveling for my job but those are the ones that stick out the most.
Missing The Family
There are a lot of cons to traveling for your job. Let me start with a big one. I’m not at home with my family. I am fortunate enough to have a wife who supports my career and me in any way she can. But that doesn’t change the fact that when I am gone half of the month, she’s the one taking care of the kids. Speaking of kids, the kids miss me and I miss them. Thankfully technology makes it easier for me to stay in touch (when wifi works that is) and my trips are usually only a week at a time, but it can be hard to be away. I am very lucky to have a wife that is able to handle my travel as I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to deal with it. But still, being away from home for extended periods of time can be difficult.
When Do I Get To See Anything?
The whole “getting to see the world” thing is actually not quite what people think it is. A lot of people seem to think those of us who travel in our job are on vacation when we are in these other places. There’s no sight- seeing like there is when you don’t have work obligations. I spend my entire day standing in front of a class of students who are paying attention (usually) to every little word I say. My days usually run anywhere from 9am to 5:30pm depending on the client. By the time I am done, I am exhausted, my feet hurt, and many times I’ve got a sore throat from talking so much. A lot of times the last thing I feel like doing is going out and seeing anything. I mean how do you feel at the end of a long hard work day when you get home? Do you feel like going out? Not likely. But, many times I feel I should go out and try to see something because I am often in new places I’ve never been before so I should go see something shouldn’t I?
Add to that the fact that most museums, galleries, or other interesting places to see (typical tourist stuff) is all closed by the time my day is done. That means that the only real time I get to see anything is on the day I arrive after I have checked into a hotel. If I am lucky, I might book a vacation day or two ahead of or after my work trip but those meals and hotels are on me, not work. So the amount of time I actually get to “see” anything is very limited because I spend my days working. Yes, work is paying for me to be there, but they aren’t paying me to sight see. The only time I might get extra days that are covered by work is when it’s an overseas flight and extras nights are cheaper than flights. A single day can make a flight $1000 cheaper in some instances. It’s kind of crazy.
Airports, Delays, Crying Kids, and Cancellations
For folks who don’t travel by air often, there’s a novelty of being on an airplane. After having been on what I am sure is more than 100 flights, the novelty has worn off. Business travelers typically want to get to the airport, get through security, get on the plane, and to their seat as fast as they can because the sooner they get in that seat, the sooner they can relax while the flight is underway. The problem is, business travelers have to put up with everyone else.
This might sound a bit weird, but I’ve become a bit of an asshole when it comes to air travel. It drives me nuts standing behind the dumbass in security who has no clue about what to put on the belt to be screened, and sets the metal detector off, making me stand there and wait. It pisses me off to no end standing in the jetway waiting to get on the plane because some asshat on the plane is taking his good old time to take his jacket off, fold it nicely, and hold the entire line up because he forgot to take his phone out of the his bag and now has to do it. Put your shit away, sit down, and let everyone else pass first before you hold everyone up. Flights get delayed by hours because of people like this. Delays cause missed connections and can seriously muck up an entire day of travel. I just get to my seat and then I hear the screaming baby. I’ve had the screaming baby. I have two kids and know what it is like to deal with kids who won’t stop crying. I can’t get my headphones on fast enough.
Then there’s the constant fear of flights being delayed or cancelled. I’ve had plenty of flights cancelled and gotten stuck in airports waiting for the next flight. I even had to sleep in the terminal because all the hotels were full and my flight wasn’t until the next day. It’s even worse when you are on your way home, in your seat on the plane, with the plane on the runway about to take off, and the captain announces the flight has been cancelled due to bad weather. They turn the plane around and head back to the terminal. That’s when I want to look for a gun anywhere I can find one so I can shoot myself. I just want to come home.
Air travel is great in that we can go great distances in a relative short period of time, but dealing with airlines who won’t give you good reasons for delays or cancellations is very frustrating. I once had a flight delayed because the toilet was frozen. A colleague of mine had his flight cancelled because the flight attendant didn’t have the demo seat belt to do the safety walk through. My first flight on my Galapagos vacation was cancelled because the pilot couldn’t turn a knob counter-clockwise. I kid you not.
I average about 8-10 flights a month depending on how busy I am. For June, I will travel on 16 different flights, to four cities, in two countries, with two other cities being used for connections. Dealing with security lines, delays, cancellations, dumb travelers, and countless other air related follies is something that is both physically and mentally draining. The stress of flying is hard on the head, and running your ass off from one end of an airport to another is physically tiring. The last time I had to run for a flight, I ran all the way from the US connections portion of Pearson airport to the Canadian side in about 13 minutes. It was bad enough that when I got on the plane, I actually had the flight attendants a bit scared for my health as I did not look very good. I was definitely having a hard time breathing and the sweat was pouring off of me. Speaking of which, I really need to get in better shape. But, to add insult to injury, after running all that distance, the plane sat at the gate for about 45 minutes before it left. Talk about infuriate me.
Time Zones, Jetlag, & The Return
Currently it is 8:47pm where I am. But back home it’s 4:47. In exactly 7 days, it will be 3:47 and a week after that it will be 1:47, and the week after that, it will be 3:47. In the span of four weeks, I will have gone from Atlantic, to GMT, back to Atlantic, to Eastern, back to Atlantic, to Pacific, back to Atlantic, back to Eastern, and then back to Atlantic time. The general rule is it takes your body about a day per hour of time change to get back to normal. Looking at my schedule for June, when the hell will my body know when to sleep? Seriously, the time zone shifts mess with your sleeping habits and I’ve become semi-addicted to anything that can put me to sleep early because I’m always in another time zone. It can be hell. Maybe I should start reading blog posts like this one to put me to sleep.
That being said, when I finally do get home and get to stay home, I usually am quite pissy. Usually because I’ve been on a plane for so long and am just tired. It puts me on edge and makes me grumpy. It’s very hard to actually catch myself from snapping at others but I do my best knowing that it’s just my body adjusting back to being home. Getting in at 3am and then going to sleep doesn’t help either.
Then when I finally get myself back to normal, I have a little while before it all starts again. It is exhausting.
So with reading those points, do you still think it’s so awesome to travel for your work? Ironically, given the cons shown on this post, I actually do love the travel. I don’t like the cons I have listed, but you only get to live once and I have been given an opportunity to see parts of the world I would never otherwise have seen. So, I tolerate screaming babies on planes, shake my head at the 192 year old woman at the airport security who thinks her teeth will set off the alarms, and I take in everything I can. I know that the annoyances are worth it because they help me be able to make dreams of mine come true. The job I have is the reason me and Tamara get to go to Egypt and Jordan in November. No, work isn’t paying for it, but I would not have been able to afford it if I hadn’t taken this job. So I take the bad with the good because the good will always be worth it.
The next time you hear someone say they travel for their job, try and remember that there are perks to it, but it’s not all long vacations in cool spots. I said I traveled to some cool locations but I left out places like Livingston New Jersey, Omaha Nebraska, Blue Bell Pennsylvania (where I spent several hours in a hospital passing a kidney stone), and Utica New York. Sometimes you get to go to cool places. Other times you wonder where the hell you are and why anyone would want to live there.