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The A to Z of London

Wayfinding my way through the streets of London


When I first arrived in London, I got lost.

London's street layout has not changed much since the medieval era. They twist and turn, and there are many narrow little walkways and alleys to go down. I'd start out walking down a street, thinking I am heading east, and wind up heading off to the north, coming out somewhere completely unexpected.

Narrow London

Narrow London

Traffic in Islington on the Cally Road

Traffic in Islington on the Cally Road

Now getting lost in a new city is good fun, but if you are trying to make a life there, and get to appointments like job interviews or medical appointments, trying to find your way through the new streets in the quickest and fastest way possible without getting lost becomes important.

"I need a map," I said to myself.

I went into a local shop and said I wanted a map of London.

"Do you want a map, or an A to Z?" the clerk asked.

I had no idea what he was taking about. "A map," I replied.

"We only have A to Zs," he said.

I shrugged and walked out. It was only later the same day when I was in another book store, looking up at the London section, that I realized what an A to Z was.

Little and Big A to Zs

Little and Big A to Zs

The A to Z (or in its written form, AZ) is a street atlas, in a booklet form. Back home in Toronto, we would have just called it a map, but here it goes by the name AZ.

AZ (that's A to Zed, my American friends) was a creation of the AZ map company, designed by Phyllis Pearsall. Back in the 1930s, Phyllis walked London street by street to create the first AZ, and named the map after the index at the back, an alphabetic list of every street in the capital. It, of course, seems completely and totally logical that something like this should exist, but back then it was a revolution.

The AZ took off, so much so that the description "A to Z" has come to mean any booklet form map. I own two AZs, though they are actually Philip's Street Atlases. I have a pocket sized one that I could carry around with me when I was out on the streets, and a larger one that sits at home on a shelf to be consulted in the comfort of my abode.

I used to carry the mini one around with me constantly, and would often consult it. Unlike in Toronto (whose streets are an understandable and easily navigated grid), where someone with a map out would be pegged as a tourist immediately, here in London the long time Londoner would take no shame in pulling out their AZ. All those windy streets, changing names every mile, with lots of little streets off them that run for only a few hundred yards. No one could really know it all (except the cab drivers, who must obtain "The Knowledge" (an understanding of where every street in London is) before being allowed behind the wheel of a black cab).

London's Twisty Streets

London's Twisty Streets

The AZ is such an institution, it inspires its fans. James May is a fan, as is Ham over at the London Daily Photo. The iconic east London blogger, The Diamond Geezer, has a whole series of A to Z posts, looking at the museums in the capital.

But the AZ is slowly disappearing. I stopped carrying my mini one around, and very rarely pull out the big one at home. It's been replaced, at home by the endlessly fascinating Google Maps, and out on the streets...

The New Maps

The New Maps

..the smart phone with GPS enabled. No longer do I pull out my AZ and then go through the process of staring at the street signs trying to place myself in the map. Instead, I pull out my phone, click on the "map" app, and wait while it "locates satellites." (Has it ever thought of looking up? The sky is full of them.)

The physical AZ still does have a soft spot in my heart, even if it doesn't have a place in my pocket when I head out into the streets of London. Getting my first one, and pouring over it trying to learn my new city will always be a key part of my becoming a Londoner.

Posted by GregW 01:20 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged books migration_experiences Comments (5)

Toronto: A Global City or My Home Town

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Writing about London as “a global city” recently got me thinking about Toronto, and why I felt I couldn’t become “an international citizen” while still living in Toronto.

One can’t read much about Toronto before hearing it linked to multiculturalism. The City of Toronto has a webpage celebrating the diversity of the population, and the last census revealed that 49.9% of the population was born in another country. It is a city with a rich diversity, and one can easily hop around town to experience various cultures - from China to Italy to Greece to India all for the price of a TTC day pass.

Monument to Multiculturalism, Union Station

Monument to Multiculturalism, Union Station

As an example of this, I recall the fourth of July, 2004. On that day Greece was playing Portugal in the final of the UEFA Euro 2004 football (soccer) tournament. I decided to go and watch the game with folks who had a vested interest in the outcome. The only question was whether I should head over to The Danforth to watch in Greektown, or head over to Ossington Avenue to watch with the Portuguese in Little Portugal. I ended up choosing the larger Greek population, and celebrated with the local Greek population on a closed Danforth Avenue after Greek won one-nil.

Toronto is very multicultural, but frankly so are many cities. What is it about Toronto that makes people equate it with multiculturalism more than other international cities?

Pico Iyer addresses this in the book The Global Soul: Jet-Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home which I read recently. In a chapter on Toronto entitled “The Multiculture,” he writes:

The first time I ever met the word multiculturalism was while reading an essay of Jan Morris’s, about Toronto, from 1984, in which she described meeting the word herself for the first time in a city that seemed to be built around it. The singular promise of Canada, for her, lay in the fact that it was no Promised Land, hand no torch-bearing statue, no vision of a City on a Hill nor constitution guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness. Canada seemed to her a vast and all-accommodating open space, “all things to all ethnicities,” with “Canadian nationality itself no more than a minor social perquisite, like a driving license or a spare pair of glasses.”

I think Jan Morris, whom Iyer quotes, was definitely on to something. The Canadian identity is a bit of a blank slate, without much of the history of European countries, nor the underlying ideology of self-made individualism that defines the American identity. Canadianism mixes the social collectivism of Europe with the Individualism of America. Being Canadian is about being an individual as part of a collective, but allowing others in that collective to be who they want to be. So one can easily come to Toronto from Delhi, and experience both the comforts of India in local shops, restaurants and clubs, and also the international experience that the rest of the city can offer.

I wrote in my recent blog entry “The Global City vs. This Other Eden,” that “I didn’t move to England looking to take on some new national identity, but rather to take on an international identity. I don’t want to be English and Canadian (or British-Canadian, if such a thing exists). I want to be global.”

If I wanted to be global, why then couldn’t I stay in Toronto and do that. After all, there was much opportunity to get out and experience other cultures. There was opportunity to be part of the global world in my work, and even in my personal life. Why did I have to leave to become a “global citizen?”


The answer, I think, lies in the consciousness with which I was living my life in Toronto. I was born in Toronto, lived there by the accident of birth rather than through a conscious choice to move there. As much as I wanted to see Toronto as the future, as a wide open outward looking place, the fact was Toronto was my history and wasn’t my choice. I was connected to Toronto as a locality, the physical place where I grew up. As global and multicultural as the city was, I was never able to shift my perception of the place as being the place town where I live.

I was unable to see the wider world contained within Toronto from within my own world. 

And so, perhaps unfairly to Toronto, I had to leave Toronto to be able to see the world contained within a city.

Some day I will probably return to Toronto - not just as a visitor but for good. I wonder if I will see the global, multicultural city or if it will still be the town in which I grew up.


Posted by GregW 15:30 Archived in Canada Tagged books migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

The Global City versus This Other Eden

Reflecting on the romantic notions of the immigrant for the land they are embarking for...

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This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

- Richard II, William Shakespeare

I recently read The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home by Pico Iyer. In the book, Iyer examines the experience of voluntary migrants and constant travellers in our increasingly connected world. Iyer calls these people Global Souls, and looks at how our sense of self, sense of place and even the physical places we inhabit are impacted by these global souls.

You can read all my thoughts on the entire book in a review I wrote for the Travellerspoint Book Club. As a quick aside, the Travellerspoint Book Club supports the Travellerspoint Foundation, which in turn offers loans through Kiva. It is a good cause, and clicking through to Amazon via the link in the book club and buying the book will provide some money for the Foundation. So, if you are interested in the book, please do use the link in the review to buy it.

A number of things struck me when reading the book, some of which will no doubt find their way into blog entries here. As a start, I have been doing some thinking around the chapter called The Empire.

This chapter is about the experience of people moving from former British colonies to England. He talks of how people, like Iyer’s parents who moved from India to the United Kingdom, come with certain expectations, built up from years of having an English school education (though provided in India) and hearing of the green rolling hills and rolling seas from Tennyson and Wordsworth. They develop romantic visions of a land of impeccably dressed aristocrats punting on the Cam and gentle countryside. It is a land full of noble Englishmen, believers in justice, fairness and chivalry.

These visions are dashed as they arrive to find a place that is modern and international, full of all the problems and prejudices of any place.

I read the chapter, and felt completely perplexed by it. It wasn’t an experience I felt at all. I realised that I really had no romantic impressions of England when I arrived. While I have noticed many of the things about the English that those in Iyer’s book point out, I haven’t felt disappointed by that at all.

In a small part, I think that is because I never received an “English” education back in Canada, but rather one that was distinctly Canadian in the fact that it was a mash of American and English values and knowledge.

Mostly though, I think this boils down to the fact that I never wanted to, nor really feel that I have moved to England. I moved to London. It was not the romantic and historic images of Victorian manor house England that drew me here, but the modern urban and international reputation of London. What drew me was the city. This city, one of the alpha cities of our global world, at the heart of the global business and travel. A place where people come to live an international life. London is in England, but had it been in Germany or Chile or Cambodia, I probably would have been as happy moving there instead.

Perhaps this paints me firmly as one of Iyer’s Global Souls – those who pick up and move elsewhere, looking for a home “in the midst of the alien and the indecipherable.” I didn’t move to England looking to take on some new national identity, but rather to take on an international identity. I don’t want to be English and Canadian (or British-Canadian, if such a thing exists). I want to be global.

I must admit, for a moment I felt smug, better than those who come to England looking for a land of hedgerows and stone walls flowing endlessly across the moors. “How silly,” I thought, “to expect the reality of a place to be the same as the imagining of Victorian poets.”

Then I thought deeper about my own thoughts before moving to London. London seemed a perfect place to come and live this global dream. The world’s busiest airport, one of the centres of global finance and business, a landing point and destination for those from around the world. I envisioned a post-national, urban city state humming on the banks of the Thames.


Where did these images come from? From the business pages of national newspapers and articles in the Economist. From travel articles and airline maps. From international thrillers by Robert Ludlum and Ian Fleming.

My visions of London were as romanticised as the vision of Iyer’s ancestors’ visions of England. My view of the city from afar as the centre point of an airline style map of the world, where millions of connections converge is probably as misconstrued of visions of England as punting on the Cam, manor houses and manners.

Now I have been in London for over two years, I have had my unrealistic, romantic visions of the place buried, and have adjusted to the reality of living here. The city does have an international flare, and sometimes wandering London’s streets can be like travelling around the world by foot. However, I have also come to accept that despite a desire to live globally, we all must live locally too. No matter how urban and international the city, there is still a physical place that is “home,” and there I wash my clothes and cook my dinner and have to vacuum the rugs.

On reflection, Iyer’s second last chapter, on England, has now grown on me. I see that it is a meditation on the baggage of expectation we bring to a place, and where that baggage can take you. You can, as one of Iyer’s friends, become bitter and disillusioned at the place and its failings to live up to the image in your head. Or you can, like most immigrants, set aside your expectations and learn to live in your new home.

I like to think that I am taking the second path. Setting aside what I dreamt, and learning to embrace the city wide awake.

Posted by GregW 11:45 Archived in England Tagged books travel_philosophy migration_philosophy Comments (0)

Road Warrior Confession: I Am Up In The Air

With the frequent flier, business travel themed movie Up In The Air in the theatres, I figured it was time to talk a little bit about my life as a frequent flier and loyalty program aficionado

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Upon arriving at the Courtyard Marriott hotel on my recent trip to Toronto, I bypassed the regular line and wandered right up to the “Elite Guest Check-in” desk.

“Checking in for Wesson,” I said, handing my credit card to the front-desk clerk.

The front-desk clerk punched my name into the computer and said. “Yes, Mr. Wesson. Welcome back. You are staying with us for four nights?”

I nodded.

The front-desk clerk continued. “Excellent. We have your Platinum number on file. As your arrival gift, would you like the bonus points, or would you prefer to get something from our Market,” the clerk asked, motioning towards the small shop for snacks and drinks.

“I’ll take the points,” I said. I smiled to myself and thought, “That’s another two-hundred and fifty more points towards my goal.”


~ ~ ~

At Home In Airworld

"I live somewhere else, in the margins of my itineraries. I call it Airworld; the scene, the place, the style. My hometown papers are USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. The big-screen Panasonics in the club rooms broadcast all the news I need, with an emphasis on the markets and the weather. Airworld is a nation within a nation, with its own language, architecture, mood, and even its own currency - the token economy of airline bonus miles that I've come to value more than dollars."
- Up In The Air, (book) Walter Kirn

I went this past weekend to see the new movie Up In the Air, based upon a book which I had previously read by Walter Kirn. In the movie, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate down-sizing consultant who spends much of his life travelling for work. Though Bingham has an apartment in Omaha, he feels more at home in “Airworld” – literally “up in the air” on the airplanes and on the ground in the airports, hotel suites and rental cars that make up his travelling life. Bingham has a goal, one he is slightly embarrassed to admit at times. It is to join the elite group of American Airlines customers who have amassed 10 million air miles.


Every so often a piece of creative work comes along that seems to capture significant elements of my life, the kind of thing that makes me sit back and wonder how the creator knew so well what I was thinking. In my early 20s, it was the book Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland, where the protagonist Tyler so embodied the way I felt about the world, I thought about changing my name to Tylerwtravels. Then, once I started working as a software engineer in Ottawa, Dilbert came along and captured the surreal world of the modern software sweatshop. After moving from technical side of computer programming more into the business side of solution design, Mike Judge created Office Space, capturing perfectly the inanities of the modern office.

Now, Walter Kirn with his book and Jason Reitman with his movie have captured my life for the last 10 years. The years I spent travelling for business, taking me across Canada and the USA, and a life that has continued now I am resettled in England. Ryan Bingham – the character George Clooney plays in the movie – is me. Though, obviously, I am better looking…

I tend not too talk too much about my job here in the blog. Partially this is to protect my clients, and by extension my job, by not revealing too much about what I do, but I have also not written much about travelling for business. There have been a few mentions here and there, – most notably in my early blog entry on travelling as a consultant.

I haven’t really written about some of the most important parts of business travel though, and that is the collection of miles and points and gaining elite status. I think I have shied away from talking about this out both a fear of embarrassment as well as concern about coming off as a complete braggart or arrogant git. Now that Gorgeous George has made it all right, I can come out of the closet.

I am Gregwtravels and I am an airline-and-hotel-point-aholic.


~ ~ ~

More Than Just Points

“As a Marriott Rewards member, you’ve earned more than points. You’ve earned the recognition you so richly deserve. And you’ve earned the privileges and benefits that celebrate your travel life.”
- Marriott Rewards website

In the movie “Up In The Air,” George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, travelling consultant and card-carrying member of the loyalty programs for American Airlines, Hilton Hotels and Hertz Car Rental. Bingham is an elite member of the programs, allowed to skip the regular queues and get upgrades to business class seats. Like Bingham, I travel regularly for business and also am a member of a number of loyalty programs.

I am a member of a number of airline programs. My primary program in North America was Air Canada’s Aeroplan program, where I collected air miles for my flights from my home base in Toronto. As a secondary program, I collected points with Continental’s OnePass program. I also have a miles account with American Airlines AAdvantage program, though since moving to England have decided to drop American Airlines and collect points on a British Airways Executive Club account instead.

I had these three accounts to cover each of the main airline alliances. There are three main airline alliances in the world – Star Alliance, Oneworld and Skyteam. Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance, along with other airlines like United, US Airways, Lufthansa and ANA. No matter if I am flying with Air Canada, United or Lufthansa, I can present my Air Canada Aeroplan card to collect air miles into my account. A few years ago, I had three airline programs that covered the three alliances – Air Canada for Star Alliance, Continental for Skyteam and American for Oneworld.

Changes within the alliances recently mean that I now have two Star Alliance accounts (Air Canada and Continental), two Oneworld accounts (BA and AA), and no Skyteam airlines. No matter, though. If I fly a Skyteam airline in the next little while, it is no problem to open an account.

Unlike Clooney’s character in the movie, I’m not a top tier flyer in any of my airline programs, and never have been. I’ve flown a lot, but I am a long way from coming anywhere close to having collected 10 million miles. Air Canada Aeroplan’s top tier is Super Elite, which requires collection 100,000 miles or 95 flights in a single year. The closest I ever came to that was when I was working in Denver in 2000. I amassed over 60,000 miles that year. Most years when I lived back in North America I would collect between 40,000 and 50,000 miles, which was enough to get the next highest level – Aeroplan Elite. In the past 10 years, I have made Elite status 7 times, got Prestige (the status one down from Elite) 2 years and wound up this year with no status at all – a lowly regular, back of the plane flier.

2005 11 06..ng Kong1.JPG

While I wasn’t a top tier flier, Aeroplan Elite provided benefits. Most obviously is that all those points can be used to book free flights. I have flown to South America, Japan, Europe and Africa all for free. Elite status also provides you with the ability to use the airline lounges at the airport, where you can get free food and drink, free wifi and a comfortable and quiet place to relax before your flight. My Air Canada Aeroplan Elite status was honoured by any airline in the Star Alliance, allowing me to use the ANA lounge in Tokyo, the SAS lounge at Heathrow and United Red Carpet Clubs across the USA.

Elite members can board earlier than the regular flying public, which comes in handy on early morning flights full of business travellers all trying to store a roller bag and laptop in the limited amount of overhead bin space. Often people who don’t travel wonder why business travellers are so against checking bags. As George Clooney’s character explains in the movie, it’s a matter of time. Imagine that you fly two flights a week, 40 weeks a year, which is about what I used to do. Say checking a bag takes 10 minutes before your flight, and you wait 20 minutes after landing to pick up your bag. That’s 30 minutes a flight by two flights a week by forty weeks a year. That works out to 2400 minutes, or 40 hours of extra time. I’ve got better things to do with almost two days worth of time every year.

Finally, elite status also gets upgrades. Since I started travelling for business in 1997, every year air travel has gotten more and more complex, crowded and annoying. The only thing that keeps getting better every year seems to be the offerings for business class. When I first started flying, business class meant a bigger seat, a glass of champagne and a place to hang your coat. Now most airlines have lie flat pods with individual entertainment systems as their business class offering.


I may have never been a top tier flier, but I did better by the hotel programs. I once read that there are two types of business travellers, broken broadly into the categories of “sales” and “consulting.” Folks who travel for sales do a lot of short trips. They often fly out to a location, have a few intense meetings, and then fly home the same night. Sales people are on a plane most days. Consultants, on the other hand, tend to fly out on a Monday and back on a Thursday night, going to the same place for weeks on end. They don’t fly as much, but do spend a lot more nights in hotels. Sales folks easily make the top elite status on airlines, but struggle to get to the top tier of their hotel programs. Consultants easily get top tier in their hotel programs, but often struggle to make top status on the airlines.

I was a consultant, so hotel programs were where I often hit the top tier of status. I am primarily a member of the Marriott Rewards program, but also have loyalty accounts with Hilton, Starwood (Westin and Sheraton), Accor and ICI (Holiday Inns and Intercontinental hotels). Every dollar spent at a hotel earns points. Like with the airlines, points can be redeemed for free nights. The amount you stay also entitles you to elite status levels. Marriott Rewards Platinum, which I am, entitles me to free upgrades, priority check-in and access to the concierge lounge for free breakfast and evening snacks.

Like Ryan Bingham in the movie, I have a secret goal as well. That goal is lifetime Gold status at Marriott hotels. Marriott has an unpublished but widely known (for those who are frequent guests) lifetime status program. For customers who have been members of the program for 12 years and have achieved a status level in the program, you can get a free, lifetime status level of Silver, Gold or Platinum.

To become a lifetime Gold member, you need to have been a member of the program for 12 years, spent 800 nights in Marriott hotels and amassed 1,600,000 Marriott Reward points. As of writing this, I have been a member of Marriott Rewards for 9 years, 6 months and 26 days. I have spent 753 paid nights in Marriott hotels and collected 1,566,460 points, leaving me to get 47 nights and 33,540 points to achieve that Gold status.

Like Ryan Bingham in the film, I must admit that I am a little embarrassed to admit this as one of my goals. Crossing that “1.6 million points and 800 nights” barrier is just passing an artificial finish line. In fact, it probably isn’t really a “finish” line at all, as I doubt upon reaching the goal I’ll just stop travelling. Also, someone recently pointed out on an internet forum I read that getting lifetime Gold status means that I spent two years and seventy nights in Marriott hotels.


Despite those good reasons not to care, I do. I’d like to achieve that goal. Perhaps it is just a silly boy project, but to me it is like getting a medal for endurance.

In addition to airline and hotel programs, the third key program in the stable of the business traveller’s frequent flyer accounts would be with car rental companies. While the car rental companies don’t offer the same type of earning and redemption potential as airlines and hotels, the benefits of being part of the program are clear when getting a car. Going to the car rental desk and renting a car requires an agent to see your license and credit card and then typing for a seemingly endless time on a computer terminal before you get your car. By joining a “frequent renters” program, you can just walk up, take your car and drive away with just a flash of your license. That can save you up to 30 minutes on a Monday morning after landing at a new airport.

Those really dedicated to earning points and status can find a whole lot of other opportunities to gain as well. There are credit cards that give air miles with each purchase, access cards for airline lounges, mortgages that earn air miles with each payment, and even other products that gain points.

One extreme example of earning air miles without ever stepping foot on a plane was when a man purchased a few thousand dollars worth of pudding and in exchange got 31 round trips to Europe. In 1999, a pudding company was having a promotion that allowed you to collect American Airlines AAdvantage miles for every UPC from their products that you mailed in. Civil Engineer David Phillips was walking through the grocery store when he spotted the offer. He did some quick math (as engineers are wont to do), and figured out that the air miles on offer were worth much more than the cost of the pudding.

He wound up buying $3,140 of pudding, and in return he received 1,253,000 air miles. Those who are knowledgeable about such things value an American Airlines AAdvantage mile at being worth about $0.01, meaning that Mr. Phillips could exchange his air miles for approximately $12,530 worth of air fare. Mr. Phillips couldn’t eat all 12,150 cups of pudding himself, so he donated the pudding to the Salvation Army, for which he received their help in removing and mailing in the UPC codes. In addition to the air miles, the donation of the pudding got Mr. Phillips an $815 charitable tax write off.


Sometimes when I talk to non-travelling friends about my hotel and airline programs, they say it all seems too confusing. “How did you learn all this?” they ask. Partially it was from coworkers when I first started travelling. Much as Ryan Bingham teaches his young coworker Natalie Keener (played by vampire-bait Anna Kendrick in the film) about packing a bag, moving through airport security and joining the airline and hotel programs, more experienced travellers did the same for me when I first started hitting the road.

The other place I learned, and continue to learn about maximising my frequent flier experience, was from the internet forum Flyertalk. Flyertalk is an online community of frequent travellers who want to make the most out of their membership in frequent flier and frequent guest programs, and also those that collect points through other means like credit cards or promotions.

Why do this, you may ask. Why go to all this trouble to earn status just to make you more comfortable while on the road? Why not just get a regular job that keeps you on the ground and at home, where you can be comfortable all the time?

The answer, of course, is deeper than just airline points, and is of course the real thrust of the movie and the book. What sort of person chooses this lifestyle? What do I get from being a constant traveller?

What is the emotional impact, both good and bad, of living the life of a road warrior?


~ ~ ~

The Hotel As Home and Fellow Travellers as Friends

When you grow older a dreadful, horrible sensation will come over you. It's called loneliness, and you think you know what it is now, but you don't… Don't worry - loneliness is the most universal sensation on the planet. Just remember one fact - loneliness will pass. You will survive and you will be a better human for it.
- Shampoo Planet, Douglas Coupland

“Isolated? I’m Surrounded.”
- From the movie Up In The Air

Like Up In The Air's Ryan Bingham, I have spent much of the last eleven years travelling for business. And like Bingham, I too have joined a number of loyalty programs with airlines, hotels and car rental companies to earn rewards and maximise my comfort on the road.

Enough about the mechanics of my life on the road. After all, the movie isn’t really about earning airline miles. The movie is about the main character’s life, and the key question is if his life is too removed from the other people in his life. At one point in the film, Ryan Bingham’s sister says to him, “you are awfully isolated the way you live.”

“Isolated?” responds Bingham. “I’m surrounded.”

A few people have over the years have said that my life on the road must be lonely. I have never found it so. It is a life that favours a breadth of relationships over relationships of incredible depth. Across my years of consulting I have met a lot of people, worked and lived in close quarters with them, and then moved on. Some of these people I have kept in contact with, some I have lost complete touch with, others are those quasi-friends that we all have nowadays – names in my list of Facebook friends and Linkedin contacts who you never hear from.

Most of the people I am still in contact with are other consultants. Some I communicate with (mostly via email) on a regular basis, some I only speak with once in a blue moon. Yet I would still consider them all friends. How can I consider someone I speak with once every six months a friend, you might ask? It is because we have lived the same life, so we understand the long silences between our chats.

The project experience is enveloping. Consulting projects are short periods of intense work. As most of the consultants are “on the road,” you spend both your time at work and your time after work together. The “work-hard, play-hard” mentality abounds. The intensity of the experience bonds those who went through it together. Once we have gone our separate ways, that bond still exists. Even if we haven’t talked to each other in six months, when we speak again we are fast friends, for we both have lived the life of a road warrior, and know that just because we haven’t been in touch doesn’t mean we don’t care. It just means that we’ve been away, on the road and knuckling down somewhere far away.

I’m very comfortable with this style of friendship. I am an outgoing person, and enjoy the constant opportunities to meet new people. That being said, it certainly isn’t a life for everyone. I have had a few friends slip by the way-side, especially those who don’t travel and thus don’t understand why I haven’t been in touch in months. Romantic relationships are often very hard to maintain when one partner is on the road as well.


This is the core conflict of the film. I took creative writing in high school, so I know that you can’t have a story without some sort of conflict. Bingham starts the film happy with his solo life on the road. He talks about attachments – both the physical things we all have like houses, cars, furniture and the emotional links of relationships – as being items that you carry that weigh you down. For Bingham, discarding these things leads to a life of freedom. In Bingham’s motivational speaker parlance, his is an empty backpack.

As the film progresses, Ryan Bingham faces a choice, between maintaining his lone wolf lifestyle of being on the road or developing deeper relationships with the people in his life. Bingham is faced to look into his empty backpack and question whether discarding all the relationships in his life have at the same time hollowed him out and left him an empty man.

I’ve had moments like that as well, times when I have questioned if my life on the road has left me with a theme park kind of life – a lot of exciting experiences but ultimately lacking in any depth. For me, though, these moments of doubt have always past quickly. A few weeks at home, and I would find myself longing to get out of town and away to some new place again. I’d land in some new place, settle into a hotel room for the night, feel the beautiful lack of domestic responsibility, and it would feel like home.

Things have changed somewhat since moving to London and becoming an expat. However, I am not far from my old life on the road. I work for a global consulting company, and we have clients all over the world. Last year I spent 6 months working at clients outside of London, though I travelled by train rather than plane to get to them, more Trackworld than Airworld. My current project has kept me in London for the last 6 months, but the London based project will eventually end and my next project could be in Santiago, Stuttgart or Singapore. In a few months time, I could be taking to the road once more.

Perhaps I will come eventually to want to give up this life of the business nomad forever, but for now I am still excited by the opportunity to get back on the road. After all, I still have to get those outstanding 47 nights at the Marriott to earn my lifetime status.


Posted by GregW 13:34 Archived in England Tagged books business_travel travel_philosophy Comments (8)

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