Reality of Work Travel

I discovered pretty early in my career that I wanted to travel for work.

I had just graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, having completed a four-month study abroad in Spain, and I still had the travel itch. I loved my new job, but we only had regional clients. The farthest I ever got to travel was 45 minutes due south through farmland to Beatrice, Nebraska.

I watched as the agency’s owners would go to Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, and other states in the region as they lured new business. They would stay overnight in hotels and try new restaurants – things I wanted to do. Admittedly, I was less interested in traveling to be able to meet with clients, and more for the experiences I would have surrounding any client commitments.

After two years, I moved to Washington, DC to work at a global ad agency. It was another regional account – my farthest drive would only ever be three hours away – but it was an improvement. I would at least have the opportunity to get to know the DC area through my day trips to client locations.

However, I quickly realized I wanted to travel farther as part of my job – flying to meetings and staying for multiple days instead of taking in-and-out road trips.

My current job fell into my lap five years ago, and aside from being naturally aligned with my professional interests, I quickly learned that I would have the opportunity to travel around the U.S. My first assignment was to go to Chicago and attend a meeting at Wrigley Field. I was beside myself with excitement.

Chicago skyline

The Chicago skyline

The Reality of Business Travel

Despite my continued enjoyment of business travel, the truth is it’s far from glamorous. It’s about 20% awesome and 80% stressful and inconvenient.

Based on those numbers, the only people who will find long-term enjoyment from business travel are those who truly want it. Wanting it means becoming comfortable with work intruding into your life: Nights spent away from home, travel sometimes extending over weekends, working late at night at a hotel because you had meetings all day and couldn’t get anything else done.

And often times, things don’t go according to plan.

A few years ago I had a meeting in Manhattan with a major weight loss brand. It was a quick in-and-out train ride – 3 hours each way from DC, with the meeting in the middle. I only brought my briefcase.

I had selected an appropriate-but-flattering dress to wear to the meeting, given the company’s image. It had angular color-blocking in white, brown, and black that hit in all the right places. My confidence couldn’t have been higher as I stepped out of Penn Station and onto the street to meet one of our executives who was joining me at the meeting. As I waited near the curb, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Excuse me, miss. Sorry to bother you, but you have a stain on the back of your dress,” an older gentleman told me.

Cue surprised look from me.

“It looks like you sat in something.”

I turned around to look at my backside.

GASP. HORROR.

A giant green stain trailed down the back of my dress, as if someone had splashed me with a kale smoothie.

My colleague arrived shortly after, and instead of preparing for the meeting, we found ourselves driving around Midtown trying every on-the-go stain removal product we could find. Nothing worked. With time and options waning, I realized I would have to resort to Dresscon 5: shopping.

I dashed into the closest store I could find – LOFT – and went straight back to the dresses. I tried on three, and settled on a slightly-short-but-still-appropriate zebra print shift. Problem solved, with 30 minutes to spare.

Confidence restored, I walked out feeling brand new while my colleague processed what had just happened. I just hoped he – one of our senior leaders – filed the whole situation under calm under pressure and not any of the potentially less desirable interpretations of events.

(Believe it or not, that’s not the only time I found myself in LOFT buying a last-minute replacement dress. Once during a date to a concert, my bright yellow maxi dress got caught in a subway escalator. I tore it out of the floorboard, and with it came gobs of black greasy goop. Unable to wash it out before the concert and desperate to get the gunky mess off of me, I ran into LOFT and bought another dress that I also still wear to this day.)

Reality of work travel - getting ready

Days often begin quite early and end late.

And Sometimes Things Go Really Wrong.

Just recently, I was held overnight in Augusta, Georgia, due to storms impacting my flight connection. It was no sweat off my back to book a hotel for another night (more points, yeah!). But for many this would be an extremely stressful situation. In addition to intruding into your personal time, business travel also requires a high degree of flexibility.

Thankfully the only consequences of my canceled flight were shifting a couple of meetings the following day, enduring a long day of morning travel followed by back to back meetings in the office, and missing a workout class I wanted to attend. Somewhere a small violin played for me.

On the flip side, just last week I encountered numerous delays on a multi-city trip that took me to Philadelphia, then Boston for the weekend, then Canton, Ohio. The trip required me to get up early for meetings each day, fly in the evenings, and work while in transit. Every single flight had issues. I sat on tarmacs for more hours than I could keep track of. My body hurt from walking in heels and being scrunched into tiny airplane seats.

When my connecting flight home from Canton (via Charlotte) was delayed due to storms, I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. To make matters worse, once we finally landed in DC  after midnight, we sat on the tarmac again for 45 minutes because our gate wasn’t ready. I’d had enough. Thankfully I won’t have to step foot on another airplane until August.

Augusta, Georgia, USA

Downtown Augusta, Georgia

Why I Love it Anyway

Despite its numerous inconveniences, I’ve had some incredible experiences while traveling for work.

I discovered Nashville, for one. Rolf & Daughters became my favorite restaurant in the whole country, and I always look forward to catching a show at the Station Inn when I visit.

Through my job I’ve had the opportunity to visit cities and states that I had never been to before: Augusta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee.

As someone who is infinitely curious, I simply can’t pass up the opportunity for new adventure.

My frequent trips to Chicago enable me to see friends and family that I would only see if I made personal plans to visit. Thanks to work, I have the opportunity to spend time with them four or five times a year.

Additionally, I eat really well on work trips. I find myself recommending restaurants in faraway cities as if I were a local. The Purple Pig and Sunda in Chicago. R&D in Nashville. Grey Ghost in Detroit.  Martini Modern Italian in Columbus (get the lamb pappardelle, it will blow your mind).

Lastly, all of my work travel gives me the means to do more personal travel. Airline, hotel, and credit card points are incredibly valuable and I treat them as a second source of income. Having the right points strategy can help you fund more travel then you ever thought possible – even if you don’t travel much for work.

Detroit Institute of Arts

I got to enjoy an evening at the Detroit Institute of Arts on one trip. Go there if you get the chance – the murals by Diego Rivera in this hall are spectacular.

The Net

Do I expect to want to travel this much for work forever? Probably not. After my hectic travel schedule recently, the last place I want to be right now is at an airport. As I write this, I haven’t set foot outside of my apartment once today, and it’s a sunny Saturday in July. I’m basking in the joy of solitude and calm.

But life on the road can be exhilarating. The airports and the hotels and the dining and the dealmaking and the energy from meetings. Seeing the country from the air, trying new places, and meeting new people.

Continuous travel is like a relationship, filled with ups and downs. If you love it, the positives will outweigh the negatives. They do for me.

If you have a heart for travel, and a flexible mindset, then this could be an appealing lifestyle for you. Getting paid to pursue your passion of traveling? To me, that’s the dream. But as we all know, living a dream still comes with a hard dose of reality sometimes.


What’s your take on business travel? Let me know in the comments!

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