Table for one? This way sir…

(Originally posted 08.Feb.2011 on my old blog passport)

The moment I start talking to people about my last job and the amount of travel involved (incl locations visited) they all go: “How did you do it? That’s crazy!”

To which I reply: You have to be crazy to do it!

Business travel is a bit like Marmite: either you love it or you hate it. I enjoyed the travel side (still hate Marmite) but I have to admit by the end (4 years later), it was getting a bit boring!

Short of being George Clooney (Up In The Air), how many of you actually enjoy business trips? Spending time at airports, security/passport control Qs, sleeping in flee infested hotels, most of which in the middle of nowhere? Dinners for one?

Last Sunday I was chatting to @onatrainagain on twitter about some upcoming business trips, and suddenly the flood gates opened…it inspired me to write this. For all the little fun and excitement, business travel is quite lonely!

Sitting in countless airports and lounges I looked around time and time again and thought: thank god am not the only sad f… here! In fact, I was surrounded by others like me! If only we dared talk to each other we might actually make those trips more exciting.

Living out of a suitcase was far from ideal! I wrecked so many too! Enduring –30c wind chill in Kazakhstan and +50c in Kuwait was…an experience! Saying bye to my partner for another week, sometimes 3 at a time was a real bitch! Sorry, there’s no other way to put it!  I’m lucky to have a very understanding partner, who now makes use of my hard earned airmiles  !

However, the one thing that always got to me (and still does): Good evening Sir! Table for one? This way please…

Here we go again…another lonely breakfast, lunch, dinner…day in, day out. The sad thing is I was surrounded by many others in the same situation, with that empty look of defeat in our faces, lonely! I hated it and I still do!

That was my Marmite of business travel!

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely loved my job and enjoyed some of the travel. I got to visit some amazing places and whenever possible made the most of it! I was also fortunate that the company had a great travel policy (any flight over 4hrs was Business, and mine were all over 6hrs – Emirates A380 to Australia was just great!), we stayed in safe/secure hotels and our well being and safety was cared for, at least in my team.

Over time I had it down to a T. A bit like George really (looks and all)! I could pack in 30 mins, the shirts were counted and folded, shoes, trousers, jacket, tooth brush, passport, visa, taxi, fly!

I understand this is not a lifestyle suitable for everyone, least for those with young families. For some people this can be stressful, lonely and not very enjoyable, specially don’t doing that often and only go for a day or two. Other’s love it! So, to make your next business trip a bit more exciting (you can always read this on the plane/train) here are a few tips (free of charge) that might help:

  • Avoid flying on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon/evening! Chances are so will every other business person! Heathrow can be hellish even at 5am! Fly out on Sunday evening or midday Monday. If you can, fly back Saturday morning. Avoid peak time trains too! It’s not stressful…It’s hellish! Passenger rage extreme (I’ve done it)!
  • If you have to fly at some hellish time of the morning book yourself at the airport hotel the night before. They usually have cheap deals and you don’t have to get up at 2am for a 7am flight!
  • Travel light/be practical (easier said than done)! Chances are you are travelling to a place where you can buy most things you need. OK, not if you’re going to be in the middle of a gas field, but you’d be surprised at the things you’ll find even there! Hotel soap/shampoo miniatures are perfect travel size
  • Purchase tickets in advance (cheaper) and look for cheap upgrades on the day! Collect airmiles/status points and use these to upgrade you for free! These aren’t just tips…these are MrArmiles’ Tips! Oh, and check in on-line! I timed it so my journey involved taxi to airport, bag drop, security, gate, fly!
  • Security checks can be a pain in the butt! Be prepared! Don’t wait till you get to the point to start removing your laptop from your bag or your phones, wallets, jackets, etc…be practical about it! Watch those around you and always follow other business people, not the 5.6 family travelling together!
  • Avoid Duty Free shops on the outward trip! You only have to bring it back again! Chances are you’ll break the bottle of Gin at some point or forget it on the plane/train! You also risk losing your flight!
  • That goes for sitting at the airport bar…good idea at the time…not so good when they call your name before threatening to offload your bags! Oh, and everyone staring at you as you crawl into the last seat right at the back (never done it myself…was usually 1A which was even more embarrassing!)
  • Choose a hotel with a gym/leisure facilities, so you can relax in the evenings. It helps reduce travel stress and keeps you fit! Hotel food is very bad for you…I put on almost 15kgs eating junk food! I was so tired from running workshops all day that I didn’t feel like hitting the gym in the evening….yep, guilty as charged!
  • Ask your colleagues/clients for restaurant alternatives in the area. Not only it will be cheaper than the hotel but you get to try local food. People may even offer to take you out and you get to see the place from the local’s point of view! Californian, South African, Aberdonian and Australian colleagues: you rocked!
  • If your family doesn’t mind (or you’re single), and your company allows, stay the weekend! Explore the place! Ask the locals for suggestions/recommendations. Look at it as an opportunity to visit somewhere new. I know it can be hard if you have a young family, but think of it as a little “me time”.  I loved walking all over Pembrokeshire and going up a mountain in Almaty. Not so much visiting Shopping Malls in Kuwait City…
  • Ask for a hotel room away from reception, from the bar, lifts and ice machines. Still, it won’t guarantee you a good night sleep! It depends on the hotel or if you have someone snoring next door, new born babies or a couple on honeymoon across the way (I had one guy and 2 hookers one day staying across from me…it was so distracting, not to mention noisy!).  Naughty tip: If you have a loud snorer next door (I had lots!), call their room number and wake them up – yes, I did it, lots of times, and they never knew it was me!
  • Get to know the hotel staff. They will look after you! The breakfast lady at the Lamphey Court in Pembroke was an absolute gem!
  • If you’re brave enough to sit at the hotel bar, do it! You can meet some interesting people (and some not so interesting). The Sports Bar at the Renaissance in Atyrau can be quite colourful…specially if you’re a male on your own (need I say more?)! Hyatt Houston Downtown…noisy! Avoid!
  • Not a social animal? Not everyone is! Order room service! Stay in your room, watch tv, read a book, listen to music and relax! My choice most of the time!
  • Talk to your family, partners, kids, etc…as often as you can. It’s expensive but worth every penny spent – they will keep you sane! Nowadays you have MSN Live/Skype/Facetime. Some hotels even give you free wi-fi (not many I know).
  • Don’t forget your passport! Enough said!
  • Remember: you may be lonely but you’re not alone!

Now off you go…turn that Marmite into some sweet jam! Oh, and travel safely!


PS: have a few tips of your own?  Share them here! I’d love to hear them!