The harsh realities of having a job with a lot of travel

This isn’t a long whining post. This is just a description of what it’s really like for a lot of people like myself in a similar position of traveling at 50% of their job and being regional support within their home area, which really means anything within about 200 miles each way is “local.”

My work week (this is two extra days than I’d normally travel):

Sunday – 5 hour commute to hotel from home.
Monday – 13 hour day.
Tuesday – ~13 hour day, depending on traffic.
Wednesday – ~16 hour day, longer if there’s traffic and/or road construction.
Thursday – 8 hour day.
Friday – ~14 hour day.
Saturday – ? (play catchup)

For those that don’t want to do the math, that’s a 69 hour week. That averages out to be a little over $25/hour. I’m salary, so anything over 40 hours is forfeit. I’ll let someone do the math on that if they really want to know what I make a year.

This is indicative of a ravel week where I’m gone 5 days and cover two cities, in this case, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. I travel at minimum every other week with 3-5 overnight stays. In the summer, I drive. The airlines are too unreliable. The week before last my flight kept getting further and further delayed that I’d have to stay over in the connecting city and not get to my destination until noon the next day. I had to be there at a client site at 8:30am. I can’t miss an appointment, and I can’t be that late. I had them bank the tickets (good up to three years, but it’s a $200 change fee per ticket), then drove my own damn car because getting a rental would have been even more time, wouldn’t have been pre-arranged so I’d not get the corporate rate (1/3 the cost of renting a car regularly) and arrived at 1:30am. Great start to the week, right?

This is the reality of business travel for a job. In my position, I’m booked out several weeks in advance. There’s no flexibility in that. A customer can’t wait until I’m free again in 6 weeks. I work when I’m sick. I load up on decongestants, mucinex and afrin and get through the day. That’s just the schedule and logistics.

The other part of having a traveling job? Loneliness. Crushing, horrible loneliness. I used to think that a job like this would be cool with the travel. I get to see different cities, can go sight-seeing, try local restaurants, etc. The reality of it is that the travel alone takes a lot out of you. My job is very mentally challenging, and therefor very draining each day. When I finish, I don’t even want to sit at a decent restaurant for dinner. I just want to get back to my room and lay down. So, I’ll grab some Wendy’s or Chipotle, go to the room, reply to the ~20 emails that actually need my response from throughout the day, figure out how the hell I’m going to mix in time for conference calls at customer sites. The secret to that? Buy the client lunch, usually a few large pizzas or Jimmy Johns. Whatever – I may or may not get to eat. Usually not – while they eat, I sit on a conference call. I’ll make the notes and recommendations that night. Who wants to be social after that?

My traveling socialization is with the hotel bartenders at the hotels I frequent. We’re all on a first name basis. I know the names of their spouses, kids, who’s having health problems in their family, their life events, etc. I don’t always have to pay for drinks, so that’s a plus. I have to be careful to not drown my loneliness in alcohol, though. I’ve been doing that at home when I’m actually home. I go through about 1 – 1 1/2 bottles of liquor a week. Mostly vodka mixed with kahlua and bailey’s; heavy on the vodka. You know the normal short drinking glasses? A drink for me of late is one of those filled to the top with no ice. I’m guessing that’s not mixing well with the whole liver and kidney disease thing.

Weeks that I’m home? Usually 8-12 hour days, depending on how far the clients are from me. That’s just so I can sleep in my own bed at night. I don’t mind weeks at home. The time in the car is made bearable with Pandora and audiobooks. I get to see my wife a little, too. She works every other weekend, so I get to see her for about 1/2 hour when she gets home before she goes to sleep to be somewhat rested for her next shift.

The loneliness isn’t helping with the depression. My depression is almost entirely chemical and fairly well-controlled with a heavy cocktail of psychotropic medications. I’ve read about studies though that confirm that people that travel as much as I do for work do feel isolated and depressed. They don’t offer many good suggestions on how to cope with it, either. One of the top suggestions is to go to the hotel bar and talk with other business travelers. Good one, Harvard researcher – mix loneliness and depression with alcohol. Anyway.. That’s my reality of traveling for a job. My experience is far from unique. It’s not just within my company, either. Others that I’ve sucked up my introversion and spoken to that I’ve seen at the hotels at nearly the same frequency as myself express the same thing. If I were single I’d likely have questionable encounters with people just to have a warm body next to me. It’d not a sex thing, it’d just to have some human contact.

So, before you take that high-paying travel job, consider what it’s really like and ask yourself if it’s worth the money. On the plus side, you get to live all that travel time on someone else’s dime. Nice hotels, good dinner per diems if you choose to actually eat somewhere, nice locations (usually), and you don’t put miles on your own car. I tallied up last year’s travel to see what could possibly be considered extra income for living expenses for half the month. It was a staggering $26,000. That’s how much cycled through my credit cards that I use for travel.

Is it worth it? I don’t know. The economy is still too weak for me to consider anything else. If I took a support role for a 40 hour week that would require relocating to either Chicago, New Jersey or Long Island. We bought a house. We don’t want to move. We’re planning on having a child, which because of my vasectomy 18 years ago will require rather invasive surgery to get sperm. Since it’s elective surgery, insurance won’t cover it. That with the IFV it will be about $12-15k. My wife will stop working after the child is born for at least 4-5 years. That’s a $67k/year loss in income. And I’ll get to see my child in passing. I wonder how she’ll deal with the isolation of being a stay at home mom that so many female friends in similar positions describe.

Is it worth it? I’m writing this at midnight because I can’t sleep. I have to get up at 5 this morning to be to a client on time.  I guess I should attempt to sleep again.

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