The Ups & Downs of Work Travel

In honor of another upcoming month of back to back work trips (with some personal ones mixed in), I thought I’d share a little of my experience with traveling for work. For those of you who do not know me as well here’s some background:

I’ve been working for the same technology company for the past 4 years. For most of that time, I was in essence half of a consultancy team. We helped our clients formulate plans to incorporate the Cloud into their IT environments. We formulated, designed, and executed major migrations to the Cloud for messaging systems. We also provided governance, best practices, and training around said systems.  We did not just stop at executing though, our goal was to maintain a long-term relationship with clients in order to form a lasting partnership. My counterpart and I, were a two (wo)man team, that tag teamed the creations and development of all the above mentioned items. Our services also consisted of a Quarterly Business Review, which were conducted on-site at our client’s office. On average we maintained about five to six customers at any given time, meaning at a minimum (not including any one-off visits or conferences) we traveled between 5 or 6 weeks a quarter or 20 weeks a year, that’s on the high-end but it’s a rough estimate. In case that math was too hard, that is almost half a year. That is a shit-ton. Recently, I have transitioned to a Project Management role. I continue to work with similar clients but mainly on the actual execution portion now, and while I probably will not be traveling quite as much for work in my new role, the need to travel for work is still there.

Most of our travel is domestic and ranges between 3-5 days, mainly weekdays. Occasionally, our clients take us abroad. When this happened our trips typically last 7 – 20 days.  Which can be both exciting and exhausting. With an undergrad in International Business, you can bet I was stoked to learn I would be traveling quite a bit. I still (for the most part) enjoy traveling for work but the novelty of the whole idea has definitely worn off a bit. The last couple of years though, have given me a different perspective on working traveling and on business men and women in general. If you are interested in traveling more for work, it is important to remember it’s not entirely a glamorous affair, which you can see from my break down of the highs and lows of working travel below!


What people don’t see about working travel

When you tell people you travel for work, the most common response I get is, “That’s so fun, it’s like a paid vacation!” Only one piece of that statement is true, I am getting paid, but I’m getting paid to work not to vacation. The second most common response I get it, “At least you get out of the office for a bit.” Umm, but dooo I?? Sometimes I’d rather be sitting in my main corporate office or in my home office instead of in a client office. I’m still just as cooped up, but lacking in my own personal comforts. No set work space, no mini diffuser running, always uncertain of where the bathroom is, and no favorite coffee cup.

Most folks tend to have this preconceived notion that working travel is all fun and minimal work. The truth is quite the opposite. On average I work more while traveling than when I’m not traveling. My typical week while traveling looks similar to below:

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  • I tend to take the first flight out for the day, which tends to be around 5-6am. This limits my chances of flight delays and avoids me having to spend the whole day traveling. While in route to my location, I tend to work but will occasionally nap if my flights are full and the person next to me is taking up my arm space. My typical time spent traveling ranges from 3- 7 hours but depending upon my destination can take up to 24 hours, hello Australian! While most airports are modernizing to be more conducive for the business traveler to actually get some work done while waiting for flights, they are still not the best place to focus. Screaming kids, loud talkers, and not enough desk space still make it difficult to focus on any given task. design desk display eyewear
  • Everything in purple is working to some extent. Even client dinners are work. Sure we might go to a fancy or nice restaurant but it’s not the same as eating dinner with my family and close friends. It’s work! Reminder, I don’t particularly know these people. We are more causal work acquaintance, than anything else. You never truly put away your “work personality” until you get back to your hotel room, and honestly being so nice and attentive for the whole day is exhaustinggggg.
  • I get less sleep when I travel for work. I live 7 miles from my main office and have a home office less than 50ft from my bed. Needless to say I don’t have a huge commute. I bought my house in the location I did to maintain a short commute. I’m a terror at waking up in the morning and a notorious oversleeper. I honestly cannot think of anything I dislike more than having to wake up, besides maybe mangos, squash, and standstill traffic. I recognize this though and have altered my life accordingly. So on none travel days I generally get up around 7:00am maybe 7:30am   if I’m pushing it (except on Tuesdays, where I get up at 4:30am), and I tend to be in bed by 10pm. So not only do I not have any of my usual home comforts but I’m normally lacking in the sleep department as well.
  • On average, I work 8-11hours a day, depending on what is happening. I only work outside normal working hours when a project tasks requires it, so I do work nights and weekends when needed. When I travel for work, I easily rack up 12- 15 hour days. The number of clients I have on a daily basis varies but on average it’s about 8-10. I tend to do a bit a work before going to the client office.  Once I’m with clients, I do my best to focus only on the client I am visiting. Because of this I find myself having to catch up on a full day’s work once I’m back to my hotel room.
  • I work for a tech company. We’re fairly laid back. I wear jeans and sandals to work 60% of the year. When I’m on-site with a client I wear full business wear. Pressed dress, jacket, pumps, full makeup, put some sort of effort into my hair, and a smile replaces my normal sarcastic grimace. I applaud people who do this everyday, it takes an effort to be presentable people!
  • It wrecks my routine. I’m a project manager. I love structure and need my routine. My eating habits get wrecked. My sleep pattern is atrocious. My brain is in overload. My gym habit is the one thing I consistently try to maintain, even if I’m missing my favorite workout classes. Sticking with my morning/evening run, my HIIT, or my weightlifting schedule helps to keep me sane and to help with any jet leg I might have acquired, which when you’re traveling half way around the world, is rough.
  • As with anyone who is away from friends and family, you miss out on things. I tend to not travel for work on the weekends, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I find I miss happy hours, birthday dinners, my weekly Wednesday night family dinner etc. In the grand scheme of life it’s okay to miss a few but when you start missing most of them you start to feel a little left out. It’s a balancing act for sure and makes it even more important to be ‘Present’ in whatever you are doing.
  • You eat alone, a lot. Thankfully, I tend to travel with one or two other folks, so I mostly have someone to eat meals with. However, I have on occasion been by myself for two to three weeks at a time, and eating dinner by yourself for that long gets sad. Don’t get me wrong, I eat dinner alone 50% of my evenings at home, but at least I am in the comfort of my own home, eating my own home cooked meal. I’ve most certainly had to become comfortable eating by myself at restaurants.
  • Not everywhere I go is exactly on the ‘Top Destination’ lists. No offense, but northern Ohio is not exactly where I want to spend a week in January. Even if my destination is in a ‘Fun’ location, I’m looking at you Orlando, I don’t specifically have time to go to Walt Disney World, because shockingly I’m working.
  • Work schedules do not always line up with my own personal schedule. While I try diligently to keep my work travel from interrupting my personal life, sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’ve had to cut personal trips short and had to move personal engagements around to accommodate. It’s a pain. Even when work and personal activities line up perfectly, I find myself too tired or annoyed to fully engage in one or the other. Not exactly ideal, but it is all about being flexible.

The Flip Side

Now that I have ranted about the negatives of traveling for work, I’ll end this post with a couple of positives, because there are definitely some.

  • I love to travel, it’s one of my biggest passions in life. Just the anticipation of going somewhere excites me. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me from feeling stagnant.
  • I have racked up some serious frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and rental car white airplane points. My particular company allows us to enter in your own reward accounts. I tend to stick to the same airline, hotel chain, and car rental companies. This way I’m earning rewards that I can use for my own personal travel in the future. It pays to stick to the same companies too. With being such a frequent traveler, I get some nice perks. *Cough* First class upgrades*Cough*.
  • For the most part, I like all my clients and I maintain an exceptional working relationship with them. Personally, I believe that face to face interactions have helped me to reach this status. Video conferencing, email, and instant messaging are great, but you legitimately cannot replicate being in the same room as someone. Also, I get my clients to myself for 2 to 3 whole business day. Meaning, I have (for the most part) their SOLE attention, so we get a disproportionate amount of work accomplished. 
  • I have gone to some amazing places because of traveling for work. I have been to Sydney 3 times for work, (we have an office there and I had a client). Since the flight is excruciating long, whenever I head downunder, I’ll be in town for 2-3 weeks. Meaning, I had the weekends to explore! Downside, I normally do not have anyone to explore with, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take.

As I’ve mentioned I wouldn’t trade the amount of traveling I do for work and honestly it helps fuel the achiever in me. Just keep in mind, most people who travel often for work are not on vacations. Stop acting as though we do not work while we’re gone. Just because you do not see us working at our main desk, does not mean we are not working. And honestly, we are all just trying to make it in this world, so lay off.

Do you travel for work?

Let me know your favorite pros and cons for work travel! I’d love to know!

First image credit: Salsa Travel Advisor

One Comment Add yours

  1. Allison Speakmon says:

    As you said, traveling for business is exhausting and not as entertaining as one might think. I enjoy the occasional out of the office breather but when you return the work you left has doubled. Teachers seldom travel out of their zone, but last week I attended a two day conference in a different city. The conference was exciting and I came back energized with new ideas to try out. What I also came back to was a mound of papers to grade and many messages to answer.
    Thank you for sharing.

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