For those who work 9-5 jobs in an office, the idea of a job that entails travel often has a certain allure. I’ve seen it time and again, both from desk-bound sales reps and from aspirational young people – travel is a prime motivator towards certain job roles.
It’s easy to see why – the endless tea rounds and fag breaks and petty arguments with Jen from admin can make working in the office seem like an endless carousel of inane bullshit. Which, of course, to some extent it can be.
But those of us who travel a lot for work have seen the other side of the coin. Business travel, even when you’re laying in your business class bed after half a bottle of champagne, can be exhausting. It can be physically and mentally draining – you spend a lot of time away from friends and family, your body clock doesn’t know what way is up anymore. You spend your life balancing the mundane office-based arguments about who ate more than their share of the bourbons with groggy, jet-lagged meetings halfway around the world.
So, is a job that involves travel all it’s cracked up to be? Is being almost permanently tired and rarely spending a night at home better than slowly stagnating in an office?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, if you’re the right person. The longest answer is yes, if you’re resilient, wide-eyed and committed enough.
Business travel is hard work. You’ll miss flights, breakdown on motorways, have meetings postponed or cancelled when you’ve travelled from another continent to be there. You’ll stay in some terrible hotels, spend time a long way from home in nearly-empty foreign bars, miss your family. You’ll be pushed to breaking point by hopping time zones, and then pushed past breaking point by difficult passengers on your flight, or failing to close a deal you flew 24hrs to make.
But if you’re resilient, wide-eyed and committed enough, it’s also one of the most exhilarating things you can do in your working life.
There are always things you can do to counteract the stressful elements of business travel. Check in online to avoid airport queues, get to your destination a clear day before you need to, check your passport 6 weeks before you’re leaving, book in at a reliable international hotel chain, even if it’s a little more expensive than the local alternative. I could go on, but my point here isn’t that you can make business travel easy – you can’t. My point is that you can limit the annoyance a bit, and that if you’re the right person to be making those journeys then that will be enough.
Resilience is key. Don’t expect everything to run smoothly, because it very rarely does. Your flight will be cancelled, your transport from the airport won’t turn up, your seat will be double booked and you’ll end up sandwiched between screaming kids and a fat snoring guy. This is business travel. Embrace it.
Stay wide-eyed. Remember that Steve Jobs graduation speech where he says “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”? It’s the same sort of idea – don’t let yourself get jaded by it all, never lose your sense of wonder at the fact that you’re not sat at a desk in a cubicle somewhere. Embrace new places, enjoy meeting new people, get out and about in local restaurants, talk to the old drunk guy at that nearly-empty bar.
Commitment is the last piece of the puzzle, and the one that props the others up. You’ve got to want to close that deal enough to travel halfway round the world to get it. You’ve got to enjoy travel enough that it won’t be the end of the world when all your plans go tits up and you end up having to get a stopping train from Ashford to Milan. You have to want it, you have to be committed to it.
Business travel can be stressful, difficult and antisocial – and it’s one of the very best parts of my job. Some people are happier working the 9-5 and arguing about biscuits, but if you’re not – get out there.
My last two tips if you do end up travelling for work – as far as you can stick with one airline to maximise your air miles (you never know when they’ll come in useful!), and test your selling skills wherever possible by blagging your way into airline lounges you definitely shouldn’t be allowed in. It’ll keep you busy while you wait, and you’ll be amazed how far a little confidence can get you…