Work > Business travel
Travel for secular "pleasurable" purposes is a fairly recent concept. For most of human history, people either traveled for religious reasons or out of economic necessity, hence business travel may well be the oldest form of travel. This article deals with this concept.
I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? – Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
Sales is the classic high-travel occupation, so much so that "traveling salesman" has become a bit of a cliché. Consulting can also mean high travel, but on a somewhat less intense scale, as individual consulting gigs can sometimes last weeks or months and can easily turn into long-distance commuting. In general, any very specialized job, where customers are few but can afford to (or have no choice but to) fly in experts will tend to mean high travel.
Transportation workers such as truck drivers, bus drivers, locomotive engineers and ship crews see many places through work. The airline industry also offers good travel opportunities. Aside from the obvious pilots and cabin staff, maintenance crew and sales & marketing people may also fly extensively, and even desk job employees can often fly for free or very cheaply using space-available seats.
- Language experts can often find work as interpreters, translators and teachers abroad.
- Some academic subjects that naturally contain travel for field research, are aerospace engineering, anthropology, astronomy, archaeology, biology, civil engineering, geology, geography and meteorology; see also science tourism.
Military personnel may get to work abroad, though this depends on the country and your position. "Join the Navy, See the World" is a classic slogan. Going abroad in uniform does not necessarily mean going to war; most missions are about training, observation, logistics, or peacekeeping. Military travel comfort is usually low by civilian standards, also your opportunities to seriously visit the foreign country you're stationed in may be rather limited. Fraternization with the local population might be restricted.
Diplomacy and consular service requires travel by necessity; see diplomatic missions.
Astronauts - as astronauts are frequently recruited from among the top notch academic and pilot talent of a nation, astronauts tend to have high travel jobs prior to their first astronaut training already. As training facilities and other workplaces of astronauts are spread out around the whole country or even several continents (the European launchpad is in French Guyana), travel across the surface of Earth is a given even if you never do in fact reach space. After the active career many an astronaut has started their own related business, made a fortune as a motivational speaker or - as is the case with "firsts" in any space-related field - has become a quasi-ambassador for their country. If you don't like travel, space-faring might just not be the job for you.
Religious personnel such as chaplains and missionaries typically travel to exotic places. The assignment is usually combined with humanitarian work.
Journalism, writing and photojournalism might include travel. This is however a high-competition business with poor job security.
Health personnel such as doctors and nurses can work on board ships, or in isolated communities. In some countries a mandatory stint in some far-off region is actually a required part of your job-training
Au pair service is an interesting way for young people to see a foreign country.
Various there are also various other occupations in information technologies, human resources, management, retail etc. that require travel for various purposes such as to install or maintain computer systems or other equipment; provide training to colleagues based in the destination; establish facilities (field offices, stores, factories,etc); buy inventory; recruit locals to work in the newly established facility; etc. etc.
Some people work as digital nomads, typically working on a laptop computer near a beach or in some other interesting location.
Travel to exotic locales, staying in quality hotels, maybe even flying business class may sound like an all-expenses-paid vacation. But it's not: in the end, business travel often boils down to the stress of working combined with the hassle of travel, only now you'll often be working in an unfamiliar environment without the ability to walk down to your colleague's cubicle and ask for advice. You are only rarely in control of your own schedule. Being on the road constantly can have an adverse impact on:
- Relationships. You may not be able to see your family or significant other while traveling.
- Health. Practicing sport and eating well is harder when traveling, and the risk of picking up bugs your immune system isn't equipped to handle is higher.
- Levels of stress. After a bad day at work, imagine going to the airport only to find that your flight has been cancelled.
- Cost. If you are an independent contractor and pay all your expenses yourself, then cost of travel gets very expensive and you may be looking for the best cost break available on airlines, hotels and travel in general.
If offered a high-travel job, think about it carefully. It can be an interesting experience when young and single, but it can quickly become a drag.
Of course, business travel does have its positive aspects.
- It's free. Provided you work for a company that pays your expenses, then flights, hotels, taxis, departure taxes, whatever, they're the company's headache, not yours. But beware of the penny-pinching if not outright sadistic travel policy, and fill out your expense reports carefully. Even if the company has no implied "penny pinching sadistic" travel policy it is appreciated to be frugal and considerate with the company's expense budget. Rather being frugal or careless with the company's expense budget it DOES get noticed and can impact one's career positively or negatively in the long term.
- All expenses paid. Many companies offer per diems, where you get paid a fixed amount every day based on your destination, and it's up to you how to spend it. The frugal traveller can actually turn this in to a nice little bonus. (The other end of the spectrum, however, is the company that won't pay you anything without an itemized receipt. Again it pays to be frugal in a per diem situation too)
- Frequent flyer miles. Your company pays for the tickets, but it's you who will rack up the miles. Sitting on an airplane in your free time may lose its appeal after a while, but you can also use the miles for upgrades, vacations/holidays or flying your friends and family to town to visit you (or sending them away on vacation/holiday as a gift or taking them with you).
- New challenges, new experiences. Business travel is still travel, and you will encounter new people, new things and new situations that are guaranteed to be a learning experience and change the way you think but the purpose of the trip must be fulfilled.
Business travellers can in many cases afford high-cost options, for a speedy and comfortable journey.
- Flying: Businesspeople create the market for first and business class flights. If budget is short, consider economy class; the difference in comfort and service is not that big, on most airlines.
- For a VIP in a hurry, general aviation such as a business jet or a helicopter might save some time.
- Rail travel gives a fast and comfortable ride on mid-level distances, if available. First class (or in some cases even a specially named class "above first") is often aimed at business travelers. Level of first-class standard varies between operators, but usually allows better dining and paperwork on board than the airlines. Furthermore Wifi service on trains is becoming more and more common among major long distance operators. This means you can get more work done in the same travel time than on a plane. Many rail operators offer silent compartments, which is good if you want to work concentrated and in silence. However, do keep in mind that talking on your phone is a major no-no in silent compartments. Research has shown that (high speed) trains tend to beat planes in market share if their travel time is 3:30 h or less. DB (among others) has recognized this and offers an "ICE Sprinter" - aimed at business travelers - on select routes that makes limited or no intermediate stops to reach or beat this time.
- Urban rail rarely guarantees good comfort, but is usually the fastest way to get around in a big city.
- Driving makes a traveller independent, but also tired. Usually the only practical option in the countryside, and if you don't bring your own, renting a car can be an option. Driving and parking in an unfamiliar city can however be difficult. In addition, things like disorderly traffic or inability to read street signs in the local script may make hiring a car with a driver the best alternative.
- Taxicabs provide door-to-door service, in the best case with a helpful and well-informed driver. Can be everything from a simple cab to a stretch limousine, depending on budget.
- Bus travel is not always the fastest road transport; some long-range buses are however fast and comfortable enough to appeal to business travellers. It can however be a good option in some countries such as Japan and Sweden where there are good quality buses from airports that stop directly at major hotels. If your business operates on the proverbial shoestring (or if you are subject to the oft-quoted sadistic expense account manager) you might find yourself on a bus more often than not.
Before you travel
- Find a good travel agent. Booking online can be cheap and easy, but a good travel agent can be worth their weight in gold when your Jumbo flight is cancelled and you need to rebook in a hurry.
- Learn the tricks of the trade. Your ticket says you need to show up at the airport three hours before departure, but maybe 45 minutes will do in a pinch. However, that is a risk that could make you miss your flight and there may not be another one available.
- Have a packing routine. Invest in a good carry-on bag and learn to pack enough to survive a week with it. Figure out the optimal way to pack it, because when everything has its place, it's easy and fast to pack. If you often travel on short notice, consider keeping the bag packed and ready to go.
- Mileage, mileage, mileage. You probably know you can get miles from flying — but you can also get them from staying at hotels and renting cars, and if you pay by credit card, you can get more miles yet again. Familiarize yourself with the programs at places you visit regularly and work out how to maximize your benefit. Dedicated sites like FlyerTalk are useful for working out the loopholes and finding the latest promotions.
On the road
- Learn the language. Even a few words will smooth your way and you can pick up the survival-level basics of most languages in a few weeks if you take some time to study.
- Work out. Most business-level hotels have a gym and any hotel's front desk will be happy to advise you of a good jogging route nearby.
- Get out of the hotel. It's all too easy to sit in your hotel room, order overpriced room service, and grumble about how miserable the dump you're in is. Ask a local (or check Wikivoyage!) for a recommendation and go for dinner or a drink elsewhere.
- Find a local friend. The Internet is full of friend-finding and online dating services, and many people will gladly take a visitor for a tour of the sights, even if you're only in town for a day or two — just offer to return the favor when they come your way.
- Spend the weekend. If your trip starts on a Monday or ends on a Friday, spend the weekend sightseeing. You're already there so the additional effort involved is minimal, and you'll see more than the airport, hotel and office at your destination. If you're spending more than a week away, most companies will be more than happy to pay your hotel and expenses instead of flying you back for the weekend.
Business travellers are more likely to visit places like Lagos, Bogotá or Jakarta where few tourists would go for fun. The general advice in Staying safe and Arriving in a new city still applies, only it's much more important for business travel: a scruffy backpacker may draw interest because he probably has a wad of cash stashed somewhere, but a guy in a suit toting a laptop case, speaking into his late-model cellphone while signing bills with his platinum credit card is a far more enticing target. Consider the following precautions:
- Pre-arrange your transportation. From the airport, hotel pickup services are safe and can often be expensed. Follow hotel or partner recommendations for local transportation.
- Meet-and-greet services can be worthwhile when traveling to dodgy locales, especially for the first time, so enquire discreetly at your hotel. For fees starting from US$50 or so, you'll be met at the plane door and whisked through immigration and customs with a minimum of hassle.
- Personal security — in other words, bodyguards — are rarely necessary and may only serve to make you stand out even more. On the other hand bodyguards may be necessary if traveling to places undergoing conflict or where lawlessness is rife. See the War zone safety article.
- Dress down, unless you have a meeting that requires a starched shirt and wingtips. Jewelry, expensive watches and bulging pockets are best avoided. Try to match what the locals are wearing; even if you don't look like a native, at least you'll look like a resident who knows his way around.
- Avoid corporate logos. Kidnappers target the staff of big companies that can pay big ransoms, not those who look like they're on their own.
- Watch your stuff. Unguarded laptop bags are a very tempting prize for the snatch thief. In taxis, take them into the back with you instead of leaving them in the trunk.
- Be careful with credit cards. Foreign cards with high limits are a jackpot for credit card thieves. Pay cash or get a low-limit card for use when traveling.
- Backup all your data. Before leaving, and frequently while on the road. Applies both to laptop and mobile/iPads/other gadgets with user data. Buying a replacement for hardware is frequently much easier than dealing with lost data.
- Be careful about sensitive data - It is an old truism, but true nonetheless: The weakest link in any security is a human being. If you happen to travel around with any type of storage device/paper with sensible information on it, this is most likely worth more than all your other possessions. Guard it accordingly. A cavalier attitude towards data security can get you fired or worse. Actually losing it can get you in jail or sued for millions in damages.
Make sure your health insurance also covers travel-related illnesses, including treatment in other countries and medical evacuation.