And Now, For Something Different: Why Business Travel Isn’t Always All It’s Cracked Up To Be

One of the questions that I see most frequently is “How do I find a job that will get me lots of travel (and frequent flyer miles)?”

I remember my first business trip, which was to New York in 2000. It was great. I got to stay in a nice hotel and order room service. I set my own schedule. When my flight was cancelled due to weather, I didn’t have to wait in line because I could just call our corporate travel agent. When I thought of business travel, before I was actually doing it, that’s how I pictured that it would be all the time.

18 years later, it’s a little more nuanced. I understand the appeal of the question above, but more and more, I’m starting to think it’s the wrong question. I’m increasingly thinking that the correct question is “Do I want a job with a lot of travel?”

I woke up thinking about this question while preparing for a week-long business trip to France*,  and the answer isn’t as easy as it sounds. Business travel is often one of those “treats” that sounds like more fun than it actually is. That goes double if you don’t have control over when and where you travel. You may take a job because of your friends in the city, only to find that you’ll never actually be in that city. Here are several reasons that business travel can be no fun, including how it pertains to the points and miles games.

Where you go

business travel

No, you won’t be traveling here for business. You just won’t.

You may not like where you end up. Sure, you may get that trip in February to Arizona which is more golf than work, but you probably won’t, especially if you are a consultant (one of the top jobs for travel). Rather, you may find yourself at a company’s remote headquarters, staying in a no-name hotel and with only an Applebee’s across the street. Speaking of which, if you’re not in a location with access to a lot of restaurant options, be prepared to eat a lot of salty and/or fatty foods.

Of course, if you end up at a conference in a great location, you’re guaranteed a good time, right? Not necessarily. A conference room in Las Vegas looks the same as any other one around the world.

How you get there

You may not like your choice of airline/hotels. The fact that you want to fly Delta doesn’t mean that your company wants you to fly Delta. Likewise for your preferred hotel program. Most companies have strict rules around travel, putting you either on a preferred carrier/hotel that gives them a discount, or the lowest fare you can find, which may include ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit, which don’t have real frequent flyer programs.

I’m also seeing an increasing number of companies that don’t let employees fly business class on international flights, regardless of their seniority. Want to know how to take the fun out of travel? Try a middle seat in coach on an overnight flight where you have to work the day of arrival. You may not be in much of a mood to function, but your company’s shareholders will be that much happier.

It’s Socially Isolating

 There’s no shortage of studies that indicate that our screens make us less happy. If you’re on the road as a solo traveler, though, you may not have much else. I was laid off in 2010 and out of work for a year, and the worst part of it was not having office mates to talk to or clients/suppliers to interact with during the day. Being on the road four days per week can lead to the same sense of isolation. Whether you’re installing a technology system or listening to speakers at a conference, you’re simply not interacting with people the same way you would at home.

Despite that fact, it is almost impossible to disconnect. Even on international flights, many employees are expected (or feel obligated) to stay connected. And since you’re not in the office, you may have a hard time switching off your phone, in case you miss something important (Hint: You won’t.).

True, many of the people asking about jobs with travel are young and unattached, so there’s a bit more appeal to getting out on the road. But when you have a spouse and kids at home, you’re always leaving somebody behind. There’s no worse feeling than saying goodbye to a child who is saying, “Daddy, don’t go!”

It’s Not Good for Your Health

business travel

Doctor poses!

It can be very difficult to stay healthy on the road. If you’re traveling a long way, particularly for a short period of time, the stress can be worse. The advice is to adapt to your new time zone as quickly as possible, but that’s much easier said than done. You may be eating exclusively at restaurants, which will make it harder to eat healthily (Delivery services may make that fact easier or harder, depending on your will power.). In other words, it can be a tough environment.

Summing up…

 First, I don’t expect any sympathy for my “plight.” As I write this, I’m waiting comfortably at Logan Airport and about to fly business class to France. The fact that the Air France product is lie-flat-at-an-angle, rather than fully horizontal, is clearly a first-world problem. Tomorrow, or the next day, I may end up writing a glowing review of the Air France business class product. But that doesn’t offset the fact that I’ll spend most of the next week jetlagged and missing my family.

I’m lucky. I usually get to choose where I go and when I go, which puts me in the minority of business travelers. And when I realized that this would likely be the last business trip that I would have to take until February, I felt relief, something that might not have been the case 15 years ago.

Overall, the opportunity to travel has made me enjoy my jobs more and probably made me a more open-minded person overall. And it has certainly enhanced my personal travel, as miles and points earned for business trips have facilitated vacations.

In other words, if you are looking for a job that offers a lot of travel, they’re certainly out there. But don’t forget that the downside to a job with a lot of travel can be…a lot of travel.

 


*People travel to France. No one ever says that they are traveling to Paris, since it sounds like bragging, or at least that it’s simply a trip for fun. It’s kind of the same way that nobody ever says that they went to Harvard (even when asked), knowing that as soon as they use the H-word, somebody will say, “Oooh, Harrr-vard,” in a mocking tone and pretend to genuflect, even if they were the one that asked the question. For what it’s worth, I didn’t go to Harvard.

 

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