In the old days, travel was deemed to be dangerous and largely unnecessary. Most people lived their entire lives within 10 miles of where they were born. Those who ventured more than 25 miles from home were decidedly well-traveled. It was a supremely resilient group who decided to cross oceans and look for new lands.
The beginning of the 20th century gave us cars and airplanes. Dirt trails began to give way to maintained road surfaces, such as wood or stone, and eventually culminating in paved roads connecting major urban centers. Driving from New York to Chicago was certainly a difficult undertaking with early (primitive) vehicles, no gas stations, and no highways.
Cars evolved; roads evolved; airplanes evolved. Now, we’ve reached the point where independent companies are building spacecrafts.
The Modern World
Travel has become so commonplace that it requires the mention of space hotels and Moon Colonies to make people sit up and take notice. Mobility seems to dominate our lives, and that suits the last couple of generations just perfectly. Modern workers don’t commit themselves to a lifetime with one employer, preferring to change jobs every three to five years. There is something to be said for the individual who grows up in one town, marries, and eventually works their way up from shelf stocker to store manager until they retire.
If we choose, movies and the media in general can expose us to art, architecture, history, and aspects of culture that we did not know existed. These are the aspects that inspire our wanderlust, making us think that traveling the world on the company’s dime would be a terrific perk of our job.
For a single person or anyone looking for a diversion from the mundane, business travel can offer escape; a chance to experience something brand new and exciting; an opportunity to visit locales that might never have been on your lifelong itinerary. But does that really happen?
If you’re flying to Germany to meet with the Chancellor for three days, the odds are, you are loaded down with at least four days worth of work to accomplish. It could be eight or ten hour days, plus a very long drive, to a very modest hotel, and another four hours of work in your hotel room, dining on room-service food. It doesn’t look like there are very many visits to Museum Island or the Brandenburg Gate building in your future.
In another scenario, you’re on a training mission to bring employees up to speed on a new platform that you’re rolling out; your first week might be spent installing and troubleshooting that platform. Maybe you get the weekend to yourself and can be a tourist. Beginning the next week, however, it is right back to work teaching all these people how to use the new system. ILT (Instructor Led Training) is time consuming, especially with a large staff, multiple repeat sessions, and marking papers and exams.
CBT (Computer Based Training) is better, with automatic test scoring. It leaves you more time to troubleshoot the system if problems should arise, and allows you to provide additional help to those who need it.
Unfortunately, even at its best, business travel is not always the epitome of perfection. There is a distinct physical toll that international travelers experience. Traveling through time zones can significantly upset your circadian rhythms, making it difficult to concentrate, sleep, and even affect your overall health.
Similar to a military spouse, the stay-at-home partner/parent must manage the daily affairs alone, which can sometimes wear on relationships if it is not something they have willingly resigned to. As a traveler returns, they may be hoping for an enthusiastic greeting, but are instead met with someone who is equally as fatigued.
Messenger, Skype, TeamViewer, or just about any video app will help to bridge the gap when the family is apart and generally at no cost with hotel Wi-Fi. There are even those who make a point of reading a bedtime-story to their son or daughter each night they are away. In other words, there are ways you can cope.
Of course you get to learn from others, and new faces often have new techniques or insights which you can add to your own toolbox of skills. This includes developing social and ethnic sensitivities that make you invaluable dealing with other cultures.
If you are an executive planning to head up the new office in Japan, Malaysia, Russia, or the UAE, there is no better experience than to have worked with them before. New, less established professionals can rely on your expertise to keep them from making any blunders.
Most important, when you’re traveling, the company picks up almost your entire tab, including meals and drinks, entertaining executives or prospects, as well as (obviously) your air fares, transfer fees, and taxis, etc. You are essentially, within reason, living for free when you’re traveling. If you have an especially generous employer, sometimes they’ll let you pay for an extra couple of days yourself so you can play tourist.
Salespeople are the most obvious travelers, of course. They include pharmaceutical representatives, and people selling farm equipment. Other travelers include computer technologists who spend their time rolling out new software for foreign offices. Consultants represent a large proportion of business travelers. The list is also going to include professions such as high-level contract negotiators, event planners/managers, accountants and auditors of all kinds, and public relations, of course.
If you think traveling is the life for you, reflect on a few of the foregoing observations. If you’re young and healthy, and your body is adaptable to the time zone changes, you’re single, and you want to see the world, this could be perfect for you. Your wanderlust isn’t putting a strain on relationships, and your natural resilience should carry you through for several years while you build up a vaunted reputation.
If you’re older, married, have a growing family, and in a happy, stable relationship, maybe, just maybe, it might not be the best choice. Being apart from your family for extended periods of time can create a certain amount of unwelcome distance. Familial growth (or at least stability) requires physical presence, not occasional visits. However, as we have seen, there are ways of managing if you are in a situation where heavy traveling is an absolute necessity.
If someone asks you to travel, or if you see an opportunity to volunteer for such, how are you going to respond? Is traveling for business right for you?
Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200