5 Fears of Business Travelers

2495079830_05bc53d1b9_zBusiness travelers, afraid? As a class, they’re accomplished and on top of it. Most are highly skilled at every aspect of life, and at life-on-the-road in particular: from magician-like gaining of access to files in the office, to booking airline tickets on a phone while making a sale, to scheduling the ultimate itinerary for the highest possible ROI on the trip. But I have also had many confess to me some fears that lurked in the background, and those fears resonated with my own. I’ll start with the biggies:

Death by turbulence – I’m not afraid of flying at all, but every once in a while I’ll be on a flight that hits clear-air turbulence with a giant jolt, the kind where the whole plane sounds like it’s cracked in half. For a split second I will have the thought, “Oh! This is it!,” along with a huge surge of fear and adrenaline. Then I look around, see everything’s OK, take a few breaths and go back to my book or my work with a little sense of amazement. Amazement at how silly that thought was. And amazement that we’re all just fine after all.

Death by bravado – I occasionally get a little nervous when taking off into a huge thunderstorm, hoping my pilots aren’t overconfident. I project: When I am poised at the top of a ski slope, I will sometimes talk myself into a trail I’m not absolutely sure I can handle: “OK, I’m here and it’ll be a hassle to turn back. There’s no reason to think I can’t do this. OK. I can do this. I’ll give it a try.” I hope that’s not the conversation in the cockpit, spoken or unspoken. My rational brain knows flight crews don’t operate like this, but my fear brain sometimes wonders. So, just in case, I’ll say: Pilots, please stick to the blue runs. (Note: I’ve had a few taxi rides like this, too.)

I’ll lighten it up from here, I promise, but I wanted to get that out of the way. So now, a few fears more metaphysical than physical:

A costly mistake – “I’ve got this,” is the business traveler’s mantra, and the truth is that 99 percent of the time it’s true. We’re pros. But we’re all working so fast, and travel has many moving parts, and, well, mistakes are made. To add insult to injury, when we make a travel mistake it can be expensive. This summer I booked a flight on the wrong day: facepalm. A friend let a large chunk of miles expire: facepalm. Another friend thought her assistant booked the trip: facepalm. Yes, we all make mistakes. We all should have known better. Most expert travelers I know either beat themselves up about some stupid thing they did in the past or fear the inevitability they will mess up in the future.

Confessing the good stuff – This is one no one talks about, but along with the many hardships of business travel, there are a few perks and luxuries, some benefits of being away and of what you get to do. And sometimes that’s hard to admit out loud. I have been afraid to admit how fantastic it was to sleep eight hours in a king-size Westin Heavenly Bed by myself, when I left behind my husband with a toddler who seemed to not need sleep for years on end. I have been afraid to describe some of the fabulous meals and hotel rooms I’ve relished to family and friends. I keep all that to myself out of fear.

A wasted trip – Some trips are no-brainers, but some are high stakes: to land a contract, to repair a relationship, to gain a major insight. I find myself afraid before trips when the payoff could be high but is somewhat risky, not wanting to waste the time or expense for naught. More than anything, the expenditure of time with no payoff is scary. The trips to be feared most are the ones that end with the need to make the same trip back again to complete the job.

Fear? We all have it. But that doesn’t mean it stops us from getting on the next flight.

Do you ever experience fear during or about work trips?

Photo: Flickr/SimonAllardice

Private Space: Travel’s New Guilty Pleasure?

The "coffin" seat on a Cathay Pacific 747

The “coffin” seat on a Cathay Pacific 747

I slept with a man who wasn’t my husband. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, I’ll add that it was on an international flight and we never touched.

Am I the only one who feels a little exposed when I’ve had a lovely, prolonged chat with my seatmate for the first couple of hours on a flight in business class, then stretch out to sleep a few inches from him? While I do enjoy the opportunity for conversation, I much prefer what my friend calls the coffin, a walled seat in a herringbone configuration, where I cannot view more than a fellow passenger’s feet.

It’s said that time is the new luxury (a thought I agree with). But now, move over time, you have company: Private space is a luxury, too. This is according to Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board, Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, who said during his CES keynote last week: “Quality time and private space will be the true luxury items of the future.” These two commodities wouldn’t be considered luxuries unless they were in short supply.

Nowhere is private space more rare–and coveted–than in air travel. Certainly, economy passengers have no refuge from the masses (except perhaps a moment in the lav). And while the landscape is better for premium passengers, finding pockets of privacy for these travelers can take some effort, too. And often, some funds.

For me, one of the most important aspects of private space is the option for quiet–of not hearing someone else and of not being being heard. I don’t care to listen to others’ cell phone conversations, nor do I wish others to eavesdrop on mine. Uninvited phone conversations floating through the air are like pollution, and airport gates are heavily polluted.

Lounges, while offering the promise of private space, are often crowded and don’t live up to that promise.  A friend of mine once discussed her new job on a cell phone in an airport lounge. When she hung up, a gentleman several chairs away introduced himself and said he was the one she had replaced. Ouch.

Gradually, privacy has been taken away from us, a reality as uncomfortable as sleep deprivation. And when we travel, we experience both!

You’re the only one who knows when and for how long you need private space. But it’s nice to have the option, and the more private space options that can be built into travel, the better.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to be an extrovert and never care about this. But I do. Nothing against you, fellow passenger, but sometimes I just need a little time to myself.

Two Travel Lessons from an Armchair Pilgrim

3815667944_e5fae3532e_zTravel can be so romanticized on the big screen, especially when a story unfolds in the hands of a talented filmmaker. The truth is, though, travel comes with some pain.

This week I watched a quiet movie called The Way, about a man walking the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage route in France and Spain. It’s a movie I was surprised to like very much, and for several days I’ve revisited the film in my head–always a sign of a story well told. I keep thinking about the gorgeous Spanish countryside, the four characters’ interactions as they journeyed, the dinners and conversations with strangers, all further romanticized with lots of wine. I even found myself thinking momentarily that perhaps I’d walk the Camino some day.

Then, reality check. I thought about what the journey on the Camino del Santiago must really be like. Long. Arduous. Painful. That’s kind of the point of a pilgrimage, right? Suffering required. The beautiful travel experience of the Camino I was drawn to from the movie (while I sat on a sofa for two hours in a warm home) would feel quite different in real life, when hiking eight hours a day for thirty days, never being sure where the next meal or bathroom would be, and sleeping dormitory-style.

Ah, yes, travel can involve suffering.

A couple of lessons from The Way, though, are ones I want to keep top-of-mind during my own business-trip pilgrimages this year.

First, say yes. When an opportunity presents itself, jump on it. Even if it means rescheduling a flight. Even if it’s unbudgeted. Too often I find myself just wanting to get home or to proceed with the trip. Instead, say yes.

Second, resist the temptation to make it all about ease. Some of the best opportunities, some of the best surprises, some of the best learning, come about not in the comfortable, romanticized travel, but in the grind or in the disruption.

Upon further reflection, I doubt I’ll be walking the Camino del Santiago (or the PCT, in Wild, which I also saw recently) any time soon. But I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed being an armchair pilgrim this week.

Photo: Flickr/Jose Antonio Gil Martinez

When Travel Diversion Did Not Require Headphones

7953202532_85954dfb46_zI inherited a travel-sized cribbage board from my parents, and it still evokes memories from the ’60s of early evenings at motels during childhood vacations. My brothers and I would cannonball into the hotel pool, as my parents “supervised” (a term used only loosely then) while engaged in a friendly game of cribbage. Usually next to the cribbage board sat the travel flask, which appeared precisely at five o’clock, and two hotel glasses with doses of Scotch over rocks. (With four kids on a road trip, who could blame them?)

Travel requires–or perhaps invites–hours of diversion, and today that diversion is mostly digital consumption. We stream movies, we play games, we shop online, we read books on tablets. It’s even packaged for us in our seat backs or we preload it on our devices before a long flight. Now, power management is an essential skill set for travelers.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I bemoan this. When we’re playing old-fashioned games, sans headphones, there’s room for conversation and shared experience. That cannot happen when we’re plugged into our own little worlds.

I’m certainly no analog saint. I binge-watch movies on international flights as often as the person in the next seat. And I have said literal prayers of thanks for digital entertainment when my kids were little and could be occupied for hours on a transcon flight with movies on a laptop. Today, the iPad has transformed the travel experience for parents, never mind their kids.

Maybe I get too much digital entertainment at home, but even for business trips these days I like to unplug. I like having the time to read an actual book. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in a hotel room. And, honestly, my favorite flight activity is looking out the window. This all feels a little shameful to admit. So very unproductive.

Yet, travel is the perfect time to go analog, at least for a little while. What’s in your carry-on? There’s a simple beauty in pulling out a deck of cards. Or a pencil and paper (Hangman, anyone?). Or a magnetic chess board. When all else fails, word games can be pulled from thin air. Or daydreaming, the ultimate diversion. (If you’re stumped, check out The Simple Dollar, which has lots of suggestions for non-digital games and pleasant ways to pass time the old-fashioned way.)

My husband and I have been playing a lot of cribbage this holiday season with my kids. We play on my inherited cribbage board, with all my ghosts and memories. And it’s just perfect that our favored deck of cards sports a photo of the Dreamliner aircraft. In my mind, travel and cribbage–they’re inexorably linked.

What do you like to do without headphones to unwind when you travel?

Photo: Flickr/Bruce Guetner


Santa’s 747

IMG_12752014 threw some major personal challenges my way, and by the time I got to the finish line this December, I was just plain beat. I gave myself a rest, and, right on cue, an experience came my way that was pretty magical and a reminder of the wonder of travel and how lucky I am to do the work I do. The big surprise was that it was wrapped in United Airlines packaging.

Here’s my account of the best flight of the year, an article that appeared earlier this month on TravelSkills.com.

Warm wishes for very a happy holiday.

Photo: Nancy Branka