Business travel is often perceived as a glamorous way to see the world on someone else’s dime. Many people tend to romanticize the idea, especially once they hear the destination of a particular trip. The reality of business travel, however, is vastly different. It can be very stressful. It can also negatively affect your health and put a strain on your family life.
I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel for work. While it was difficult at times, it provided me with an amazing opportunity to see the world. It equipped me with international business skills that broadened my professional development. Like any education, sometimes the best lessons come from outside the classroom.
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Business travel vs travel for pleasure
When you travel for pleasure, you have a general idea of what your day will look like. You can decide to sleep in, stay in if you’re not feeling well, or stay up till the wee hours of the night. When it comes to business travel, you don’t have that luxury. Sleeping in or taking a day off is not an option, especially if your days are filled with business activities.
When you travel for business, your days are filled with appointments, travelling to and from meetings, presentations and relevant social events. These require your attendance and participation. That is why you’re there. You often see more boardrooms, hotels, cabs and planes than whatever country you are visiting.
Once I was in Brazil, we had 40+ meetings over a span of less than a week in three different cities. It was a whirlwind of activity and constant travel. It was exhausting. What did I see of the country? Not a hell of a lot, but it was Brazil, so everyone assumed I just had all the time in the world to see and do everything. Yeah, no.
Business travel challenge: missing friends & family
Most of the time, business travel means you are away from your family and friends for extended periods. While they’re having fun and doing exciting things at home, you are on the other side of the world in a strange country. The FOMO kicks in, and it can be tough. Birthdays, weddings and other get-togethers get missed because you are away.
Even if your company allows your family to come along, you are not there with them. While they are sightseeing, relaxing, or having fun, duty calls. You can’t be there and enjoy the experience with them, because you have work to do.
Sometimes you’re gone while bad things are happening at home. During one of my business trips, our Guinea pig, Sherlock, got sick, and Alex had to deal with that by himself. I remember being in my room, somewhere in Germany, FaceTiming with him and crying like a baby. I was on the other side of the world and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. It was devastating to come home.
Time zones also make it challenging to keep in touch. When you are on your way to meetings, they are going to bed and vice versa. It’s sometimes difficult to connect and check in. Frankly, sometimes when you get back to your room, you’re exhausted anyway, and there is no time to call home.
Time management of business travel
Another huge difference between business travel and pleasure is the ability to manage your time. While you’re on a personal trip, you can decide to take that scenic tour to the countryside. You can spend a few hours in a museum or sit on a patio while people-watching. On a business trip, your time is not your own. Your day depends on what your timetable looks like and what social engagements are scheduled for you. This is especially true in China, where formal business dinners are a norm and go on for a long time.
Sometimes even the destinations stop mattering. We attended a show in Vegas a few years ago. It was massive. Space just went on and on and on. I was hitting 20k steps in the early afternoon every day, and by 9:30 p.m., I was falling asleep, barely able to keep my eyes open. It could have been Vegas or the moon. It didn’t matter.
Travel inflexibility of business travel
Personal travel allows you the flexibility to plan your flights. You can book duration, timing and connections as you see fit. While travelling for work, you rely on what is available to you on your travel days. That means hanging out at an airport for hours while waiting for your next flight. It could also mean trying to catch a train to the next city while you’re jet-lagged or exhausted.
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You often wear business attire, which isn’t always conducive to comfortable travel. Once I had to run through a busy train station somewhere in China, dragging my luggage in a full business suit and heels. We missed the train, and I was out of breath and sweating in my suit. Oh, how I longed for my jeans and a t-shirt. In this situation, business travel was the furthest thing from glamorous.
Making the best of business travel
So, while business travel isn’t as great as travelling for pleasure, it still allows you to visit places that you might not have done yourself. Yes, it’s hard work, but it also forces you to find the positive in the smallest things. I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the places I was able to see. Several things made business travel more manageable and less stressful.
Use technology to your advantage
Being away from your loved ones sucks, but the advances in technology make that experience more bearable. I love that I can be on the other end of the world and still be able to talk to my family. With things like WiFi, Face Time and other chat apps, I can see them and show them where I am, even if that means just the view from my hotel window. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m so far away anymore. All you need is an Internet connection to bring your loved ones closer to you.
Make friends with your travel companions
I’ve been fortunate to travel with people that I got along with. That made all the difference in the world. When it comes to finding entertainment and dealing with stress, it helps to have someone there to share it with you. You don’t have to have the same interests or activities. Sometimes just having someone to talk to about your day helps.
It’s always a bonus when the person you are travelling with is easy-going and flexible. It makes coming up with travel games so much more fun. Walking around the airport to make the 10k step goal, even if that means circling the same area numerous times. Watching the same movie while on the plane or agreeing to miss sleep to catch an opportunity to see a local attraction before the next flight. Or even trying to find that vegan restaurant somewhere in Shanghai. Business travel is what you make of it.
Appreciating the opportunity
Most of the business travel I’ve done has been to places I haven’t been to before. Even with very little time, I’ve been able to see things that might not have been available to me otherwise. While visiting Beijing, we got a hosted tour of the Forbidden City and managed to see the Great Wall. If I were a tourist, I would spend a lot more time there at a time that I would have chosen. In this case, I appreciated the short time that offered me the opportunity and enjoyed it for what it was, not for what it would’ve been.
Business travel also exposes you to a different side of a foreign country. You meet with companies and business owners that you wouldn’t usually see. You learn about the business climate and the customs of that country from a business perspective. It gives you a different understanding of the culture.
Become a better traveller
Business travel has made me a better traveller. I am very comfortable living out of my suitcase, planning my time and switching between different modes of transportation. It exposed me to different business cultures, which sometimes helps when I travel for pleasure. It has broadened my experiences, allowed for personal growth and helped me develop a broader range of skills that I can use in all aspects of my life.
Take advantage of loyalty programs
When you travel for work, you can often use loyalty programs. If your credit card offers points, everything you pay for while you are away accumulates points. The same can be applied to loyalty programs with airlines, hotels, car rentals, etc. It’s a great way to use business travel to offset your trip at a later time.
This won’t necessarily work if your company has a corporate card or does not allow employees to take advantage of loyalty programs. It’s always good to inquire before you travel, so you miss out on valuable points.
Final thoughts on business travel
Business travel is not always easy. However, it’s often a privilege rather than a punishment. Some people excel at it and do it for a long time. Others get tired and burnt out, which is understandable. It can be an incredible opportunity, and it comes with a cost. It depends on each person and their situation. Managing business travel allows you to deal better with it. It’s not always easy, but in the end, definitely worth it.