Thursday, December 11, 2008

The insanity of constant travel

DSC04267 Some time back, Vagabond posted an article (that I haven’t been able to find again) detailing the signs that reveal when it’s time to come in from the road for a bit. ‘Becoming jaded about the places you’re in, irritated with language and cultural differences, numb to hardship, withdrawn from friends, were all indications that it was time for a break.

I think that the intensity that develops from international business travel is equally taxing, but the signs of overdoing it are less obvious.

Business travel tends to be externally driven.  There will be a call from the head office, asking if I’d have time to check in on a key customer.  It’s only a few hours flight away, a presentation, hop back at night: a simple day trip.

In fact,as I think about it, there is probably time to add a visit that I’ve needed to make to a nearby site, in effect, saving me a trip.

And there’s an afternoon free between the two: perfect for catching up with a friend over lunch who I’ve been promising to meet next time I’m in the area.

Damn, I can’t quite make it to the second appointment by 9 am if I do that, but I can get half-way there, taking the layover hotel at the airport. (In fact, there’s an added opportunity for a discount and a night’s stay towards the ten I need  to maintain silver eligibility for the year for that chain.)

Step back:

Drive 2 1/2 hours (through snow, as it develops) to the airport, a quick flight, train, tube, train, then dinner, taxi to the hotel, (exercise-sleep-exercise), taxi to meeting at 10, noon train-tube to city, lunch at 2, tube-train to airport at 4, flight to another country, shuttle-bus to layover hotel, arrive 11.  Then up at 5 am, shuttle-flight-wait-taxi.  Coffee. Presentation.  Taxi, flight, 2 1/2 hour drive (hopefully no snow), bed by midnight, in to work Friday as though I never left.

And I can see where it’s innocently become a little insane.

DSC04270 But it’s an insidious fault, because the good enablers and incentives are all aligned to produce the bad behavior.  Necessary and beneficial  work is being done, and the itinerary promises net euro-savings and time-efficiency.  There’s experience in participation, road-warrior creds for drive and energy, and the opportunity to play again when people decide who to call for the next mission.

And, personally, I really do enjoy travel, meeting customers, exchanging ideas, being active in my work.

But I’ll also acknowledge that I have to watch for the warning signs of overdoing it and taking on too much business travel.

Days that start at 5 and end at 11 are not good days, and I’m arguably not doing my best work during them.  I do manage to avoid the common vices of eating and drinking too much to compensate, but then withdraw into ternative isolation through exercise and reading.

I know that the itinerary becomes and end in itself, an endurance event where TripAdvisor entries and hotel / airline points become ways to keep score.  And, once it becomes a competition, simple human roadblocks and delays lead to further stress and irritation.

In the end, even that heroism and worldliness drain out of the experience. I suspect that once you pass that edge, it’s possible to lose all meaningful touch with life and people.  I’m not sure what follows after that (nor do I want to know…). 

Family and colleagues may well be the canary ahead of that coalmine, questioning the volume and pace of travel early on and pointing to events missed and jobs left undone. They are probably also voices worth heeding.

PS: A solid three hour drive back from Amsterdam Schiphol at the end of the trip this evening, stopping once for a break. That’s like driving to Luxembourg.  I need to get this airport stuff figured out (or take the train and avoid the construction at the Eindhoven ring…)

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