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What I Wish I’d Known Before … Taking a Travel-Heavy Job

February 24, 2018 What I Wish I'd Known Before 6 Comments

I wish I’d been aware of the social isolation and pressure to get things done in my limited time at home. There are friends I used to see regularly that I haven’t been in touch with for years now. With weekends really being my only time at home, I spend the majority of that time doing things that need to get done around the house, running errands, going to the doctor. It doesn’t leave much time for a social life or even seeing family.

Whatever your lifestyle health-wise, it will just be amplified by the travel. Work out regularly now? You’ll have an even better schedule to accommodate it. Not great about getting to the gym? Don’t romanticize that travel is going to help with a gym in every hotel. It only makes it harder and you’re eating restaurant food more than ever.

Choose your credit cards wisely to maximize perks.

The importance of inflatable lumbar support pillows. And how difficult it is to do any meaningful work on flights — neither the environment nor the ergonomics are conducive to productivity.

How much I would miss my family.

I wish I’d known I wasn’t as adventurous as I thought I was. Turns out I don’t like exploring new cities by myself.

I wish I’d known how much of my weekend time would be spent playing catch-up: dry-cleaning, laundry, cleaning, friends, family. All the little stuff that gets spread out through a normal week is condensed into two far-too-brief days.

I wish I’d bought shoes that were more comfortable.

How much I would miss my son. I originally thought that early mornings to the airport, overnight stays, and getting home late at night would impact my ability to get things done, find time to exercise, eat well, etc. However, I was quickly able to adapt and those areas of my life were not impacted. The hours from my son was the toughest part. I no longer weighed the time traveling with the time or more productive time in the office. I now weighed that time with the time a way from him. I’ve since left that job and started my own company where I can control my time based on its REAL value.

How it can strain a marriage. After doing it for 5+ years, we had not much in common. Weekends were spent catching up on chores and then getting ready to leave on Sunday or early Monday. We have no children, so we made the decision for him to spend several weekends with me at my long-term location to give us a common talking point, which did help. I gave the job up after six years and the marriage is still going strong at 41 years. The good part about the travel was the friends I met and have kept across the country and the experiences I would have never otherwise have had. I’ve been sailing in Long Island Sound and also experienced Fleet Week on a house boat in San Francisco Bay.

That the clients were actually interested in applying best practices vs. creating more layers of status quo.

Always bring workout clothing on a trip. You never know if you’ll get the chance to hit a great gym or run even if you’re not in the mood while packing. Always keep a charger, a pair of socks, and some cash in your briefcase or backpack.

You have to live on the road the same way you do at home, meaning that you must have the discipline to maintain your diet and exercise routines and not succumb to overeating and drinking.

That my employer mandates carry-ons (won’t pay for checked bags), requires adults who have never met to share rooms, believes that $45 per day will cover three square meals in major cities, and refuses to reimburse tipping of any kind.

Working a 12+ hour day. You pretty much need to be available to meet with the customers during THEIR 8-5 day job, but you also have to prepare for those meetings, etc. after the normal workday is over. I’ve seen this in both sales and implementation roles. Some companies are cheap and insist that you stay at low-end hotels (think Ramada Inn with outside doors) and have all kinds of budgetary constraints. It’s kind of hard to ask for the travel expenses policy during the interview, but somehow try to find those things out. 

Buy a second set of makeup and leave it in the suitcase for travel days. Get the back-office phone numbers for airlines and rental cars and call them as soon as you realize your plane is delayed and you need to book a hotel or car before the rest of the herd. I realized that there is an entirely other population of people on this earth who are “travel people” and they know a LOT of stuff. Talk to them as you wait to board your plane. They can save your hide some days.

When you do the math after you divide the number of real hours worked into the salary you accepted, you really only earn $2.50 an hour.

If I had one thing to do over, it would be to somehow add a day (on my own dime) and explore the city I had traveled to. Easier said than done, as most days I just wanted to get home, but sounds good anyway.

That regardless of travel schedules, colleagues still expect you to respond in a timely manner, which means working at night to catch up on all the day’s missed emails and phone calls.

How I would always be tired and spend my weekends doing expense reports, laundry, and sleeping.

While during my interview process I was asked if I would be willing to travel for my job, I didn’t think much of it, given the position description stated 5-15 percent of my time would be on the road. That’s not much, right? I should have known something was up when, on my first day, I was asked if I had a valid passport. Nineteen months later and more than 300K air miles logged from monthly trips to Europe, Asia, and plenty of domestic trips, I left after I couldn’t sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time. I could never get my body clock adjusted to all those changing time zones. Some people are cut out for it, but I learned I definitely was not one of those people.

Wish I’d known how agreeable it would be to the way I like to work. Depart, immerse, get it done, then go home. Rinse, repeat. And when I am home, I mean I am HOME.

Get a credit card that offers lounge access. Sure, it’s good to have a quiet place to work, but I also really need a place to get drunk after a flight delay at the end of a long work week.

You will lose all track of time and the seasons of life. I remember once sitting in a boarding lounge and a family was sitting in the row behind me and they were taking their son or daughter to college and it was an emotional discussion. I was touched by it, but was so consumed by my conference schedule that I didn’t even realize that the seasons of life was going on all around me while I was going from the Javits Center to the McCormick Place to Moscone Center and so on.

If you are single, your friends will stop inviting you to events because, well, you are just never home.

Flying sucks. It is exhausting for your wife who has to keep the family ship and the sailors (the kids) on course while you are gone. Eating out all the time is tough on trying to stay in good shape. As I have gotten older, the three-hour time change from West to East Coast has become a bigger impact on the sleep pattern. At least there is Uber and Lyft now so I don’t have to hassle with rental cars as often (those guys must be having a major negative impact in the revenues of Hertz, Avis, etc.)

How much weight I’d gain if I did anything other than maintaining a disciplined diet and exercise regimen.

That there is no benefit to letting the corporate office handle travel plans. Make sure to negotiate the ability to control your own travel, get a good travel-specific credit card, invoice for your expenses, and then reap the rewards. It took me a full year on a job (three weeks of travel a month) before someone let me know they asked and corporate agreed. Within the next six months of travel, I had upgraded status on all of my flights and hotels and had enough points to take my entire family on a vacation we’d normally never afford.

Unless you are going to or coming from a meeting in which specific attire is required, always fly in specific travel clothes. When you get to your destination, put all of the clothes in a bag (they are covered in whatever grossness wasn’t cleaned on your flight) and don’t touch them until it is time to fly home. This way you limit your (and your clothes’) exposure to travel-related disgustingness to just one outfit. I have sat on broken airplane seats and ruined suit pants, I have had people miss the emesis bag and get it all over a nice dress shirt, I have seen and smelt unthinkable things. But luckily I am now forever wearing clothes that I don’t worry about when it all happens. When you get home, toss them in the wash on “kill everything” cycle of the washer by themselves and you’ll feel like you are keeping germs and stink (relatively) at bay.

Try not to take travel-heavy jobs. Honestly, they are just not worth it. The novelty wears off, the lack of life balance is endemic to those you’ll meet, and in the end, you’ll be grateful you decided to find something closer to home. Unless it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, keep looking instead of being a road warrior. Very few people who have retired from travel-heavy jobs have ever told me they really enjoyed it. If you can, try NOT to take the position.

Clinical depression is highly likely. You’ll become almost obsessed with maxing out loyalty programs. Wal-Mart becomes a source of “healthy” food in rural areas. Too many people have pre-check. Too few airports have dedicated pre-check lanes. Getting squishy/soft/fat is almost inevitable. Vented car seats are heavenly. Podcasts are your best friend.

How much time would be wasted from flight connections when your home airport isn’t a major one.

The impact to your family is huge. You have to have a good support structure, and if you have kids, you have to have backup plans in place for the inevitable sickness or childcare issue. You also need to really understand your company’s policy up front about scheduling your travel and the ability to dictate some home weeks when needed.

That US companies do not consider travel time as work (contrary to labour laws where I live).

The importance of willpower and honoring your commitments. It’s too easy to cheat, in every aspect, when you’re on the road.

I wish I’d  had access to a company handbook to verify printed policies. The manager I was hired under explained that we travel Monday and Friday and are on site with clients the rest of the week. If we needed to travel on a weekend, we’d receive comp time. He retired and was replaced by a manager who felt that as salaried employees, we didn’t deserve comp time, so there were many go-live weeks where we worked seven days or even back-to-back weeks that formed 14-day hits without a break and with no comp time. When we investigated, it turns out the company handbook is mute on the subject and it’s up to manager discretion. This would have been different if we were consultants or if we were bonused on billable hours, but we weren’t. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of turnover under the new manager (me included).

The negative impact it would have on my health. Too much airport food and booze and not enough sleep or exercise.

How a travel-heavy job would negatively impact my health. The inability to exercise on a sustained and regular basis, sleep deprivation, constant exposure to sick people on airplanes and buses, and constantly being expected to lavishly entertain clients with lots of alcohol all contributed to a pretty rapid decline in overall health and fitness.

Join an airlines club like American Admiral. if your employer won’t pay for it, you can usually use miles. When your flights get scrambled, the club staff will get you re-routed faster and with preference.

It makes it very hard to have a normal social life in your home town. When you travel all week, you tend to want to stay home on the weekends. If you don’t have a strong local social circle, this can make it tough to meet local friends. It also makes it hard to participate in community events or take weeknight classes (i.e. personal enrichment classes). I left a strong social circle in my 30s and moved to a new town on the opposite coast just when I started traveling full time for work, and 10 years later, I have thousands of frequent flyer points (and some fabulous global travels) but not one new friend in my new town. Something to think about.

As a business traveler, the last thing I want to do on weekends is travel some more. It has affected my desire to do weekend getaways, camping trips, and weekends away with the guys way more than I would have ever expected.

A travel-heavy job really reduces your ability to be involved in the community, be it board involvement, local government, or coaching a kids’ sports team. Getting involved is a lot easier if you are home every night of the week.

Sometimes an existing job you took without much travel can later turn into a job with heavy travel expectations, so apparently flexibility is just expected if you want to keep your job.

The travel T&E policy, in detail. Preferred vendors. Expectations about traveling on Sundays and holidays. Coverage for airplane WiFi. Will I be carting executives around with me all the time? Can I get executives or experts to come with me when I need them?

How tough it is on your body as you age. Back problems waiting to happen.

When I was in my 20s and fresh out of graduate school, I took a travel-heavy IT healthcare job that was exciting, challenging, and fulfilling. It was at the inception of the healthcare IT industry in the 1970s and everything we did was new. This lifestyle did not promote the ability to carry out personal relationships in an ideal manner. I was focused on my career and did not consider the long-term ramifications of not having met “Mr. Right.” Eventually I did meet and marry the right person, but by this time I was in my 40s and not able to start a family. We have been happily together now for 25 years and I recently retired from the healthcare IT industry. During this entire time, I continued weekly travel with the exception of a few positions I held as a direct employee of a healthcare system. The travel takes its toll, but the chance to work with many different organizations and people throughout the USA and Canada was very rewarding. My husband used my weekly Monday through Thursday absences as an opportunity to complete his PhD and he continues to work as a professor for a well-known online university.

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Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. Most of the comments slant to the negative. One positive of a travel-heavy job is that you have a chance to meet healthcare execs and leaders from all over the country — and really get to know them….. versus only having a network of people in a city or metro area. Over years, it does incredible things to your professional network, not to mention giving you the ability to experience many different settings and organizations rather than just a few.

    • Word. The “sidebar” conversations I had with some of the people I met while doing go-lives, or beta programs, or consulting in their offices was worth more than the actual work we were doing, not necessarily even from a networking or professional development perspective, but just because some of them were just *really interesting people* and we never would have had those more freewheeling conversations if we’d met via WebEx or whatever.

      I’m glad you said this, because I tend to get mired down in the misery of road food and dubious hotel fabrics; I forget about some of the really wonderful people I got to meet along the way.

  2. There are pro’s and con’s to everything in life – and it’s always a tradeoff. The thing I find people forget every now and again is that it’s okay to say “No.” And amusingly I have found is that the companies I work for who demand that you always be “onsite” are usually dinosaur managers that have no clue how to manage real talent and have the mindset “If I cannot see you, you’re not working.” After having cherry picked enough clients that would rather I work from my home office and do MORE than waste time flying and traveling? I just smile and maintain an excellent work-life balance.

    If everyone who traveled for jobs we all know don’t always need “face time” front and center decided to say “No” a little more often? The mindset might change. But since they don’t, they just do it to themselves – and actually waste dollars of the organization paying for consultants to be on planes rather than put those dollars toward actual patient care. Why? Because they’re too ignorant or fearful of how to use a webcam or Skype.

  3. The comments about travel were timely because I am wrestling with many of the same issues-social isolation, poor eating habits, getting out of shape and basically not having a life. I am close to retirement so I will suck it up and this year I am working hard to steer my clients to more web based meetings.

  4. I did the road-warrior thing at a couple of jobs, and when I was young(er) it was enjoyable, and I kind of turned it into a little Land of Make Believe game as I strode through airports with my computer bag and rolling suitcase, in my client-visiting clothes (“I’m a Sophisticated Career Woman!”).

    Eventually I hit my limit though, and found myself collapsed in tears of homesickness in the bathroom at a new company where I was working in Florida five days a week, and home in Massachusetts for two (NOT what I had agreed to when I signed the offer letter, and I should have gotten my attorney involved. Hindsight, etc.) Since then I travel only when absolutely necessary, and now I use my evenings taking dance classes and continuing ed at a local CC instead of speculating about what unseen substances might be lurking on the hotel bedspread.

  5. Great comments and it was validation for some of my current struggles including social isolation, eating poorly and the challenge of keeping fit. I’m not sure it’s worth personal toll since I work to live not live to work.

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