I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel for work. While many people tend to romanticize the idea, especially once they hear a particular destination, the reality of business travel is vastly different.
Business travel vs travel for pleasure
When I travel for pleasure I have a general idea of what my day will look like. I can decide to sleep in, stay in if I’m not feeling well, or stay up till wee hours of the night just because. When it comes to business travel, you don’t have that luxury. Sleeping in or taking a day off is not an option.
Most of the time, your day is pretty much set with appointments, travel and any related social events that need your attendance and participation. That is why you’re there. Quite often, you see more of boardrooms, hotels, cabs and planes than of whatever country you are visiting. Once, when we were in Brazil, we had 40+ meetings over the span of less than a week in three different cities. It was a whirlwind of activity and constant travel, and 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, not so.
Away from friends and family
Another part of business travel is the fact that you are away from your family and friends for extended periods of time. While they’re having fun and doing exciting things, you are on the other side of the world in a strange country, feeling like you’re missing out. Sometimes you’re gone while bad things are happening too. 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 touch base and check in.
Another huge difference between travelling for business and for pleasure is the ability to manage your time. While you’re on personal time, you can decide to take that scenic tour to the countryside, spend 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 specially true in China, where formal business dinners are a norm and go on for a long time.
Sometimes event the destinations stop to matter. We attended a show in Vegas few years ago. It was massive. The space just went on and on and on. I think I was hitting 20k steps in early afternoon every single day and by 9:30 pm I was falling asleep, barely able to keep my eyes open. It could have been Vegas or the moon, it didn’t matter.
Personal travel also allows you flexibility to plan your flights. You can book duration, timing and connections as you see fit. While travelling for work, you are reliant on what is available to you on the days you are to travel. So hanging out at an airport for hours while waiting for your next flight or trying to catch a train to the next city isn’t that much fun. Quite often you are wearing business attire, which isn’t always conducive to comfortable travel. Like that time I had to run through a busy train station somewhere in China, dragging my luggage in full business suit and heels. We missed the train and I was out of breath and sweating in my suit. How I longed for my jeans and a t-shirt.
So while business travel isn’t as great as travelling for pleasure, it still allows you to visit foreign places that you might haven’t had the opportunity to do so 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.
Here are some things that helped me adjust to business travel:
Being away from your loved ones sucks, but the advances in technology make that experience a more bearable one. 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 am able to 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.
I’ve been fortunate to travel with people who I get along with. That makes all the difference in the world. When it comes to finding entertainment, be that walking around the airport to make the 10k step goal or watching same movies on the plane, to agreeing to get up at the crack of dawn so we have an hour or two to see a local attraction before the next flight and even trying to find that vegan restaurant somewhere in Shanghai, it helps when the person you are travelling with is easy-going and flexible.
Appreciation for the opportunity
Most of the business missions I’ve been on have 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 was a tourist, I would spend a lot more time there at a time that would have been chosen by me. In this case, I appreciated the short time I was offered the opportunity and appreciated it for what it was, not for what it would’ve been.
Business travel has made me a better traveler. 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 differ from what you see as a tourist. 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.
Sometimes opportunities appear and it’s up to us to take them. This is definitely one of those things.
Have you ever traveled for work? What was your experience like?