There is something about traveling. It takes you out of your comfort zone and everything you see and experience is new and exciting. As a family, we have traveled extensively every summer during the last two decades on family vacations as travel is meant to foster a sense of wonder and discovery which has as much to do with encountering unfamiliar people and unfamiliar places. These trips have created lasting memories and provided numerous opportunities to experience new things together.
On this post, I am commenting on my experiences as a business traveler during the last three decades. I travel a lot on business since I work for a global company and my travel at times may include multiple cities in the same week. After having logged in more than 2 million actual flight miles during the last few years, I have developed a routine to survive the rigors of weekly travel. If you were to sit next to me on a plane, chances are we would never actually meet. I’d have my nose buried in a book or catch up on my journals on my iPad. There would be no get-to-know-you banter and minimal eye contact. And should you, by some unfortunate stroke of luck, go onto share the same hotels as me, the same shuttle bus, the same scenic overlook, you’d still find me in a similarly reclusive mood. Unless I travel with some of my colleagues or team members, I am when it comes to business travel, a contented loner. There is something reassuring about retreating deep into my personal world. It is a tiring, lonely life made redeemable by all the frequent miles I accumulate to enjoy the family vacations. The loneliness you experience comes in the form of missing your family and how you try to recover during the weekends for the next week of travel.
When I took a sip of the business traveler’s life, at the beginning of my career, it was a really smooth and enjoyable drink. Most flights offered decent food and wine and not the “gourmet party mix” by the half ounce packet and water in a plastic half-glass. Airports were not crowded and there was no waiting at the TSA lines or at the gate. There was only a very rare trip where we end up boarding, disembarking and then sitting at the gate before the flight gets canceled after a five hour delay. Planes were not full on every trip and itineraries could be changed without penalties and there were no extra fees for carry- on bags. In other words, the Air Lines treated us as real “clients” and not as if it is our privilege to fly on their planes. I do not envy anyone starting a career that requires frequent flying today. But, it is all relative since they can’t compare it to the good old days when there was a certain glamour involved with jetting up to Chicago, LA, London or even to Toronto on a cold winter day. As I take a sip of the business traveler’s life these days, I find it to be a bitter drink, but I swallow it and smile while doing so.
The feeling of total solitude hits you when you check into Room 1024 at the Marriott or Hilton nearest to your company’s or the client’s office. Somehow lying in a huge comfortable bed with five pillows ends up being far more depressing than it should be mainly because of my wandering thoughts about what my loved ones will be doing at home. Simultaneous explosion of the 4.00 AM alarm and the wake-up call begins your next day on your way to the next city. A hot shower and a shave helps to ease the fatigue but still the prospect of more travel is not the best thought to wake up to. We hop on the airport shuttle with the complimentary copy of the USA today and make it to the airport. Every airport looks like the airport before and probably looks like the one after it. On the way we call people, get a Starbucks coffee and check on our emails. My smartphone provides me the much needed diversion during these lonely business trips. I am sure that I check my smartphone at least 64 times a day and I am ever grateful for its companionship.
At the end of the day the solitude of business travel can get to the best of us. We just keep chugging along mainly because I love my job: closing deals with clients, getting the great story of my company in the market place, engaging with the excellent staff in our offices. I try my best to minimize the impact of loneliness by setting up dinner or breakfast with the folks I already know at the destination. You just have to get excited about the business aspects of your day and feel the sense of accomplishment. I have done this for about quarter of a century …and I can keep going for a while.