A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about business travel

Feeling Incomplete After Completion

Sitting back to rest after a job well done just makes me think where I should be going next...

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The last two weeks have been madness for me, and Friday was the first evening when I could finally wind down. The week previous I had been juggling working 12 hours a day on a document that I needed to get done by Friday while also trying to get myself completely packed for a move on Sunday. Saturday and Sunday were spent packing, moving and cleaning. I lugged boxes down 3 flights of stairs at my old flat, and up a flight and a half of stairs at my new flat. Monday, I woke up aching at four in the morning for my quick-hit business trip to Switzerland, and really didn’t let up with work until Wednesday evening. Thursday and Friday during the day I worked, and Thursday night I spent my time unpacking and trying to get all the companies I have accounts with to update their address records for me.

Finally Friday at 6 PM I arrived home with a blank in my calendar. I sat down on my couch, cracked open a can of lager and turned on the World Cup. After two weeks of working late every night while trying to balance a house move at the same time, I should have been ecstatic to be able to sit back, relax and do nothing.

I wasn’t though. I felt all off-kilter.

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I knew the feeling. I had felt it before. I call it the post-project blues.

Despite my calling the feeling the “blues,” it’s not so much a sadness as it is a general malaise, an uneasiness, a sense of not knowing what to do next. It is a cross between an emptiness and a feeling of being lost.

I have experienced the feeling before when I have finished a large client project. Most of my work is project based, with a set of items that need to be completed by a certain time. Once those items are complete, I can move on – hopefully leaving the client with something valuable that they can carry forward.

I always feel satisfied completing a project, knowing that I delivered something under the pressure of timelines and budgets. However, at the same time I know that suddenly I am without something that was a major part of my life for months.

The feeling I’ve had the past few days is that same feeling. Since January, when I found out that I was losing my job and having to find a new place to live, I’ve had a dual set of goals to work towards – find a new job and find a new place to live. It was an intense period, from January until May. I was interviewing with multiple companies, and then spending nights pouring over real estate websites to find a place to live. It all came together within a few weeks. I found both a new job and a new place to live. I started my new job at the end of May, and am now settling in. And, as I suggested above, I moved out of my old flat and into a new flat at the start of June.

Friday night I sat back and realised that my nights were now again free to schedule what I want. No more surfing websites for 2 bedroom flats. No more pouring over Monster.co.uk and Top-Consultant.com job entries. No more packing. No more brushing up the CV. The job was sorted. I have a year long lease at a new place.

I realized I had been running a project – not for a client this time, but rather just for myself – to find a new job and a new home. Now the project was over. I had delivered what the project was set out to do. The project was a success, and I was happy with that. But I also had those post-project blues.

Each project is like a journey. You start out at the beginning setting a destination. Then you figure out a route to get there. Then you follow along your route, and if you are lucky you don’t find too many closed roads or washed out bridges. If things go well, you arrive on time. You are at your destination.

You look around, and realize that while you are happy to be at your destination, you wonder where to go next.

So now it is time for me to pick a new journey to undertake. For the sake of my bank account, I hope it isn’t finding a new job. And for the sake of my aching muscles, I hope it doesn’t involve moving any more boxes.

Posted by GregW 16:00 Archived in England Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

The Swiss Business Trip

I spent 3 days in Zurich, Switzerland. I would write something about Zurich, if I had seen any of it.

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I just returned from 3 days in Zurich, Switzerland. My first trip to Switzerland, and her largest city.

Switzerland – land of chocolate and very precise timing instruments. Beautiful, blonde hair maidens living in the mountains, milking cows and delivering the milk to strong armed, barrel-chested men to make holey Swiss cheese.

At least, that’s what I’ve picked up from TV.

In reality, I didn’t see much of Zurich at all. There were some brief glimpses of it as I rode in a taxi from my hotel by the airport to a client meeting in central Zurich. For a short stint, the taxi emerged from a tunnel under the city and for three blocks followed the course of a river running into the Zurichsee (Lake Zurich). It was sunny and 29 degrees, and I, sweating in a suit and tie, watched with envy as folks sat on the banks of the river, enjoying cool pints of beer or quickly melting ice creams.

I’ve travelled a lot for business, and generally have been in a place long enough to get out and experience something of the city I’m in. As a consultant, most of my business visits to cities consist of multiple trips over months, with lots of time to explore.

Occasionally though, I have these quick-hit business trips. Times when I fly in, spend most of my time in the hotel working before having a few meetings with a client at their facilities. This is, sadly, the reality of most business trips. You spend your time working in a hotel until 11 PM, eating room service and not seeing much more than the airport, the hotel and an office building. You are in for one or two days, and then away again.

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I recently had a 2 day trip to Paris, where other than experiencing Paris’ first (and only) gluten-free restaurant (Des Si et Des Mets - surprisingly good), I didn’t see much except hotel, office and train station.

Back when I worked in North America, I had similar experiences dotted around the continent. In fact, I have been to Dallas, Texas three times (for a total of 5 days, 3 nights), but can only tell you two things about the place. I had a really nice steak dinner one night, though I can’t remember either the name of the restaurant or where the restaurant was, and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport’s people mover is strangely both futuristic looking and retro at the same time – like what people in 1960 thought 2000 would look like.

This is the great disconnect between those that travel for business, and those that don’t. Those that don’t travel will say, “Oh, you’re off to Zurich for a couple days. How posh and glamorous. It must be nice to spend your time in hotels being pampered.”

The truth is, business travel is a grind. It is late nights, uncomfortable flights and lonely experience of being in a strange place with none of the familiarity of home. It is getting up at 4 AM to catch a taxi to Gatwick airport, and not getting back home on the return until 10 PM at night. It is lying in a strange bed, trying to find something familiar on a TV set with few English language channels at all. It is a disconcerting mix of stress and boredom.

That’s one of the reasons I try and make sure I get out and experience the places I travel to. The chance to experience something of a new place takes the sting out of the hassle of having to be away from home. Sometimes, though, time and circumstances don’t allow – as they didn’t in Zurich.

Hopefully at some point I’ll be back to Zurich and Switzerland, and I’ll get to see more of it. If not, and the stress of business travel gets to me, maybe I can just move there. Move up into the mountains, marry some beautiful blonde milk maid and spend my days separating curds from whey to make Swiss cheese.

Posted by GregW 03:38 Archived in Switzerland Tagged business_travel Comments (2)

The Safety Net Of Everywhere Else

How moving abroad once has impacted how I look at job hunting.

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As I wrote about a few blog entries back, January wasn’t the best month. Within the space of a couple weeks, I found out that I would neither have a place to live nor a place to work in short order.

Since that time, I’ve been a bit quiet in the blog on the job and house hunting front, so now I shall provide an update. I prioritized the job hunting, and have over the past couple months settled into that. Unlike my previous experience looking for work here in the UK, things were pretty active, and I was pursuing a number of opportunities.

The problem with opportunities, at least in my mind, is that they often become a reality - if you are lucky then by becoming something more concrete, but unfortunately more often winding up with a rejection letter. I’m always happy and excited when pursuing a new job, and will admit that getting that letter that says, “we had a number of qualified candidates, and have decided to go in another direction,” always bums me out.

I have, though, managed to remain pretty even keeled during this time. I noticed something interesting that was keeping my mood up. It was this little voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “worse comes to worst, there’s still all those other places...”

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When I’ve been force to job hunt in the past, back when I was living in Canada and prior to moving to London, I always felt the pressure of finding something from the listings I could find for Toronto. “There’s only a finite number of jobs out there that I want,” I would think to myself. “I need to land one of these few options.”

This time around, though, I didn’t feel that same pressure. “If things don’t work out with one of these London opportunities,” I would tell myself, “I can always look somewhere else.”

In a sense, the rest of the world, including my homeland back in Canada, became a safety net for me.

Whether the rest of the world is actually a safety net is debatable, but that thought was there in the back of my mind, and that relieved a lot of pressure.

Before I moved here to London, the thought of starting a new job in a new city - in essence starting all over again - seemed too much to take on at once. It was too big a mountain to climb. Thinking about not getting a job in Toronto was too stressful, because it meant I would have to face that mountain.

Now, though, that I’ve moved to a new city, secured a new job and found new friends once, doing it again doesn’t seem that big a deal. I’d look at my options here in London, and if things didn’t work out, I’d look elsewhere. Looking for a job was no longer was about grabbing one of the limited set of opportunities where I was. Looking for a job is now about opening up to all the possibilities out there, where ever they may be. With a view like that, suddenly the world seemed a lot more fruitful of a place.

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= = =

That being said, I won’t be travelling off to Dubai or Singapore or Panama City for a job. I have found one here in London, though like my previous jobs its as a consulting so I’ll likely shortly be back on the road and up in the air again. I start next Tuesday.

With the job sorted, it only took a week to sort out a new place to live as well. From my current North London base, I’m heading west to live squashed between the hip-rich of Notting Hill and Holland Park and the Aussie enclave of Shepherd’s Bush, straddling the line between the two. Yet another area of London to explore after I move in early in June.

So, with a new job and a new place to live, the fog of uncertainty is lifting and the future is clearer. While I have discovered that the world is my safety net, I’m looking forward to spending some more time setting up my life here in London.

Posted by GregW 03:10 Archived in England Tagged business_travel living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

Flashpacker: a Backpacker with a Hotel Loyalty Card

More lavish than a backpacker! More independent than bus tourist! More on dry land than a cruiser! More gravity than a space tourist! The flashpacker - another subdivision of the already divided travel market.

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Last week I took the tube down to Piccadilly Circus to pick up a train ticket. The ticket was for a train from Lisbon, Portugal to Salamanca, Spain on the 9th of November. Those of you who read this blog for actual travel stories rather than just my general musing about my domestic life will be happy to hear that I am off travelling again. Sadly, it’ll just be a quick trip - a week long vacation taking in Lisbon, Salamanca and Madrid.

I had booked the train ticket online, but much to my chagrin, I couldn’t arrange to pick up the ticket at the station. The ticket had to be issued physically, which meant having it mailed to me. If you aren’t local to the United Kingdom then you might not know that Royal Mail and her unions have been having a bit of a spat recently, and as such mail to my flat is generally delivered somewhere around two to three weeks after it was originally posted. Had Rail Europe posted me the ticket, it most likely would have arrived at my flat sometime in the middle of the week when I was in Portugal and Spain.

As I needed the ticket prior to that, I arranged to trundle down to the Rail Europe office in London (convenient, that) and pick it up in person. I picked up my ticket and it is now sitting on my bookshelf, underneath my passport, so I don’t forget it.

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It is strange, having an actual physical piece of paper that I need to take with me on my trip. The rest of my trip has been booked electronically. Having to actually have a physical ticket for something seems so 2003, when I went to South America and last had to take physical tickets and coupons for items with me.

The internet has changed the way I travel, and probably the way most people travel. In 2003 I lugged around a three inch thick copy of Lonely Planet’s South America On a Shoestring to provide me with city maps, hotel recommendations, travel options and schedules and sight-seeing options. Nowadays I just troll the web for the plethora of tourism board, travel advice and hotel review websites.

Once on the road, things are a lot different than back in 2003 as well. My South American blog entries are pretty light on photos because I had a film camera with me at the time, along with 9 rolls of film. The photos are currently stored in photo albums sitting in my father’s storage locker in Toronto. Someday I’ll get around to scanning them, but for now my images of South America are mostly in my memory and an inaccessible storage locker halfway around the world. Other than my film camera, I didn’t have a single piece of electronics with me.

On my trip to Portugal I will likely be travelling with my digital camera, iPod, USB flash drive, laptop and mobile phone.

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On the 11th of November I am planning on taking a train from Salamanca to Madrid. Instead of trolling through the pages of the Lonely Planet to find the train times, I’ll hook into my hotel's free WiFi, look up train schedules online and probably even set up an SMS alert to go to my mobile phone in the event that there are delays on the train lines.

Partly the changes in the way I travelled from 2003 until now are down to the inevitable march of technological improvement. Even the rough-looking Aussie backpackers drinking on the sidewalk outside the Journeys Kings Cross Youth Hostel down the street from me all have mobile phones and digital cameras, or even more likely a mobile phone that is also a camera, mp3 player and GPS system.

Partly the changes can also be traced to the type of trip I am undertaking. Two months backpacking in South America is a different type of trip than jetting down to Iberia for a week away from work.

Mostly though, I think the changes relate to the fact that as I age, I become less and less of a backpacker.

I was recently watching my favourite TV channel - Dave - during one of the few hours of the day when the channel isn’t showing repeats of Top Gear. Instead, they had on stand up comedy from the Apollo Theatre in Hammersmith, where Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain was talking about travelling in Australia with a bunch of 19 year olds.

Speaking to some of the young people in the crowd, he says, “go for the rucksacks for a while, and later on, you stop, you never go back.” He talks about the kids on his Australia trip, in their “rucksack stance - all of the weight up on the shoulders, pushing down on the hips,” talking about how much they “feckin’ love backpacking.” The kids go through their experiences with backpacking - seeing Australia on 13 dollars a day, getting damage to their “lower lumbar regions” and sleeping in dorms with “nine Norwegians who I neither know nor trust.”

At the end of the whole line of backpackers is Dara, with his luggage - a rolling suitcase. “Look, its on wheels, you feckin’ eejits.”

Thanks to Tux In the Backpack for the video of Dara. If you have trouble seeing the video, check it out on YouTube

I know exactly what he means. I am too old and frankly have too much money to bother with hostels anymore. The last time I stayed in a youth hostel was during my ill-fated, sleepless night in Dublin. After that I decided I may as well spend some of these dollars and pounds I am collecting and get a nice hotel with a comfortable bed, air conditioning, a safe (for all these electronic goodies I am carrying nowadays) and free WiFi.

Yes, as I get older, I become less and less of a backpacker and more and more of a flashpacker. A flashpacker is someone who still embodies the “spirit of the backpacker” (whatever the feck that means), but is willing to splash out to have a little more comfort.

I first heard the term flashpacker last summer in an article on Vagabonding. Since then the term has come into normal use, at least among travel writers and marketers. At first I resisted the term, but as it has now entered the general lexicon, I guess I can’t help but admit it.

I’m a flashpacker, and I like my own bathroom.

So in a few weeks time you’ll be able to find me somewhere in Iberia. I’ll still be wandering around looking for good local places to eat, drink and interact with some of the locals, like a good backpacker. I’ll just be doing it with a nice hotel to head back to at the end of the night.

Posted by GregW 09:58 Archived in England Tagged preparation business_travel travel_philosophy Comments (1)

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