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Travelling for Work is Hard Work

Travelling for work often conjures images of glamour and excitement, visions of jet setting across the globe, exploring new cities, and the thrill of sealing deals. But for those who hit the road regularly, the reality can be far less glossy and more laborious.

“You get to travel for work that must be nice.”

For the solo traveller like me who endures a 360-mile round trip monthly, that word “nice”, more than grates. Let me offer an honest appraisal of the pros and cons of working away from home.

Watch the video.

The Grind of the Journey

The journey is not a short hop but a substantial 180-mile stretch each way. Long hours spent behind the wheel are the first order of business. The road becomes a monotonous blur of tarmac, dotted with service stations, and punctuated by the odd sing song in the need for vigilance. Travel fatigue can set in swiftly, affecting concentration and posing safety concerns that escalate with each mile behind the wheel.

I set off at 6.15am in the hope of reaching my destination by 10.00am. A 5.00am start if walking the dog. I’ve pretty much done my day by the time I get to work.

I genuinely feel anxious about the trip ahead, feeling a huge sense of relief each time I make my destination. Other families not so lucky.

It must be “nice” to travel for work – no it’s simply terrifying!

Lodging and Dining: A Solo Affair

The notion of staying in hotels regularly may sound luxurious, but the reality is often a rotation of similar rooms. Service station dining, whilst convenient leaves little to enjoy. Meals are consumed alone, often hurriedly, and tend to lack nutritional balance, which can have long-term health implications. My waistline is jiggling proof.

Is this the world’s biggest Burger King bag 👆 (no idea what is going on there).

Pros of Working Away

Despite the hardships, there are undeniable advantages to this working away lark. For one, I am the master of my own destiny for a few days and that can be liberating. The ability to manage my own schedule and work independently without the immediate oversight of family and staff distractions of a conventional office can increase productivity and foster a strong sense of self-reliance. Sometimes I am grateful for the quiet.

The exposure to different locations, even if primarily viewed from a motorway, can broaden your perspective. A change is as good as a rest. There is the opportunity to meet new people and strengthen relationships, to explore new areas, albeit briefly and perhaps even visit or do something in your spare time you wouldn’t if at home.

If you are going to stay away from home try and make the most of it. Do you have family and friends you can visit? Do you have work colleagues, customers or suppliers you can get out and meet. Catching up is good for the soul.

Use the travel time for personal development. Instead of listening to music have a bunch of podcasts lined up to fuel your mind. Make some calls (yes actually speak to another human) and check in with people. Or simply enjoy the peace and quiet for five minutes.

Better still why not make the most of your expertise by talking to people with a problem you can solve. Line up some calls with people in your community you can help. In my case the world of accountancy, tax and software. I make myself available (hands free of course) to help others.

Probably the biggest pro of being ‘away’ for work is the ability to concentrate on one client for a period of time. Anyone with a portfolio of clients reading this will often feel like they are not doing their best work as they are pulled from pillar to post daily. While I am away I feel like I am doing my best work and that is important to me.

Cons of Working Away

The downsides, however, are substantial. The loneliness of this travel routine can be acute. The lack of human connection, the absence of a colleague or friend to debrief with after a day’s work, or the simple act of sharing a meal can be mentally taxing.

Meal for one again

Financially, while travel expenses are covered, the hidden costs can add up—from the wear and tear on your vehicle to the potential for higher insurance premiums due to increased mileage. If driving your own car make sure insurance covers you for business mileage. How many receipts go unclaimed because you can’t be bothered.

There’s also the “time tax” of travel. The hours spent driving are hours not spent working, with family, or relaxing. This can lead to a work-life imbalance, with personal relationships, health and leisure time suffering as a consequence. My 380 mile round trip can easily take upwards of 8 hours in total. For two days away I spend the equivalent of a third just commuting! It’s boring.

The Physical Toll

Beyond the mental challenges, there’s a physical toll. Extended periods of sitting can exacerbate health issues like back pain or in my case the hips don’t lie. Service station meals are often less than ideal for maintaining a healthy diet, which can lead to further health concerns over time.

Technological Isolation

Despite the connectivity afforded by modern technology, there’s an element of isolation that comes with working away. Wi-Fi can be spotty on the road and in budget hotels, making communication more challenging. There is also the potential for feeling out of the loop, which can impact your sense of belonging and engagement.

Environmental Considerations

Another aspect worth mentioning is the environmental impact of frequent travel. While electric vehicles and car-sharing services are on the rise, conventional cars still dominate the roads. The carbon footprint of regular long-distance travel is significant, and while some companies offset this impact, it’s not yet a universal practice.

You can use the service below to see what the impact of your travel and ways to offset that.

Creature Comforts

While you are working away you are highly likely to be using someone else’s space and won’t have access to your PC, your chair, stationery (I love a bit of stationery), and worst of all your tunes. You are in someone else’s domain and you need to respect that.

All of this may not be conducive to being efficient and small tasks take longer and your are uncomfortable while doing it. Not a great combination.

Not my usual setup.

Admin

A single trip for a few days can create a what feels like a mountain of admin, booking a hotel, checking and filling car, sorting out clothes, packing bag, probably six lots of meals, mileage claims and expensing receipts (if you remember to get them all of course 😉). I’ve switched off just writing those words.

Conclusion

In summary, while work travel can offer some perks like autonomy and occasional variety, the disadvantages are substantial and multi-faceted. The physical and mental toll, the isolation, and the logistical challenges paint a picture of a demanding routine that is far from the perceived glamour of business travel.

Businesses and individuals alike must acknowledge and actively manage the impact of such travel demands. Solutions might include promoting wellness programs for traveling employees, integrating more flexible schedules, or considering more sustainable travel options and technologies.

The solo work traveller may navigate their journey alone, but they carry with them the collective experience of many who find that traveling for work is indeed hard work.

Is travelling for work ‘nice’, not for me it is a ni-cessity.

The Takeaway (literally in my case 🍔)

When contemplating strategies to mitigate the downsides of work travel, especially in the context of emerging technologies and sustainable practices, you should consider several multi-dimensional approaches that encompass efficiency, wellness, environmental impact, and technological advancements.

  1. Efficiency and Productivity Tools
    • Remote Work Technology:
      • Invest in high-quality video conferencing tools to reduce the need for travel.
      • Explore virtual reality meeting spaces for more immersive remote collaboration.
    • Travel Management Software:
      • Use sophisticated itinerary planners that optimise travel time and costs.Implement a central travel management system to track expenses and streamline bookings.
    • Autonomous Vehicles:
      • Keep abreast of developments in autonomous driving, which could allow you to work during the journey, thereby increasing productivity.
  2. Health and Wellness
    • Ergonomic Travel Accessories:
      • Consider portable lumbar supports for vehicle seats. Use noise-cancelling headphones to reduce stress during travel.
      Fitness and Nutrition:
      • Pack healthy meals and snacks to avoid reliance on service station food. Utilise hotel gyms or bring compact workout equipment like resistance bands.
    • Mental Health Apps:
      • Leverage meditation and mindfulness apps to unwind and mitigate the isolation of travel.
  3. Environmental Sustainability
    • Carbon Offsetting:
      • Engage with programs that offset carbon emissions from travel. Explore employer-sponsored environmental initiatives.
      Hybrid or Electric Vehicles:
      • Transition to an electric vehicle for travel, considering the increasing availability of charging stations. Investigate employer incentives for using eco-friendly vehicles.
    • Ride-Sharing and Public Transport:
      • Look into carpooling options with other colleagues or professionals.
      • Utilise public transportation where possible to reduce your carbon footprint.
  4. Personal and Professional Development
    • Learning Opportunities:
      • Use travel time for professional development through audiobooks and online courses. Explore language learning apps if traveling in multi-lingual regions.
      Networking:
      • Use downtime in hotels or service stations to connect with local professionals or online communities.
    • Time Management:
      • Develop a travel routine that allocates specific times for work and rest to maintain a work-life balance.
  5. Predictive and Speculative Technologies
    • Predictive Analytics:
      • Use predictive analytics for traffic, weather, and route optimisation to reduce travel times and improve planning.
      Drones and Robotics:
      • Stay informed on the use of drones for small deliveries, which could eliminate the need for certain travel.

In implementing these strategies, it’s essential to consider the cost-benefit analysis of each. For instance, while the initial investment in an electric vehicle may be high, the long-term savings on fuel and the positive environmental impact could be substantial. Similarly, the upfront costs for high-quality remote work technology could be offset by a decrease in travel expenses and increased employee well-being.