OK, this lesson I’ve learned isn’t quite as deep and profound as some I’ve already mentioned, but I think it’s one of the myths of being in business that a lot of travel is a measure of success. Occasionally it can be fun, especially if you’re travelling with colleagues (or even your loved ones) but a lot of the time it can be lonely, tiring and anything but glamorous. Too many seem to think that ‘business travel’ is always going to be ‘business class’ but so often it’s anything but.
When I was a child we never flew or stayed in hotels when on holiday (for several years we spent 3 days driving from our home in Scotland to the south of France) but it took me a long time to realise this was because my father, who travelled a lot for his job selling civil aircraft, spent so much time in hotels and on flights that he didn’t want to do it on holiday – he’d rather drive for 3 days than get on yet another flight (although I’m sure cost also had something to do with it too – it’s expensive flying a family of 5).
Now I travel for work myself, I rather know where he was coming from. I recognise that travel is a major part of working life for many of us, especially those of us working as speakers and coaches, and I enjoy working with clients around the UK and overseas – but I no longer see another night in a hotel as a treat. I’ve spent too many nights of my working life in hotels on ring roads around various UK towns and cities, although thankfully as the seniority of the people I work with has increased, so has the quality of the hotels I get to stay in.
It doesn’t matter what star of hotel I’m in, however (although give me a Premier Inn over a Holiday Inn any day), I’m still on my own. Dinner for one in a hotel restaurant can be a lonely business (I now take an iPad and Airpods and sit and watch TV while I eat, something I would never do at home) and while I’m comfortable in my own company, I miss my husband and dog (and I hope they miss me…)
A few years ago, a client asked if I would be interested in speaking in Honolulu. Er – yes, I would. It was quite a trip – business class flights, a hotel overlooking the Pacific, a really nice group of people to speak to and a decent fee at the end of it. But…19 hours in the air each way PLUS a 10-hour time difference really takes its toll on your body, especially when I was only on the ground in Honolulu for less than 48 hours (unfortunately I had other bookings in the diary so couldn’t extend the trip). I was away for 5 days but it then took an additional couple of days to get my body clock back on track so that nice fee, once split across all the days affected, was actually a slightly-on-the-low-side daily rate. I also spent the best part of 5 days on my own either on flights, in airports or in the hotel. I don’t want to sound ungrateful and yes, I would do it again if offered, but it certainly wasn’t a holiday.
A few tricks I’ve learned for making business travel more bearable:
- It is often worth paying for an upgrade on a train or a plane if it’s a long journey (and the client isn’t paying). I don’t now do overnight flights in economy if flying for business. It’s in my contract, because I value my wellbeing (and sleep).
- Take a few home comforts – something to lounge in in your hotel room (I take pyjamas, even though I don’t wear them in bed), slippers, a favourite mug etc.
- I always buy fresh milk when I check into a hotel – or ask for some from the bar. A cup of tea is one of my big home comforts (especially when I get up) and I hate UHT milk out of little cartons.
- I’ll identify which parts of journeys are work time and which are ‘my time’. If I’ve been at an event all day, for example, I’ll allocate an hour or two of the train journey home to clearing emails that have come in that day and perhaps doing some writing – but then the rest of the journey I’ll watch TV on my iPad, read a book etc.
- If I’m going somewhere new (especially overseas) I’ll make sure there’s time for some sightseeing and if the client invites me to join delegates on trips out or for dinner, I’ll try to say yes. For some trips I’ll ask upfront if I can pay for a couple of extra nights at the hotel after the event – the client often agrees to pick up the tab for those too.
- I’ll think about who I know at my destination and see if they’re in town and would like to meet for dinner or even breakfast. It’s so much nicer eating with company!
How do you make business travel more fun or productive?