so you want to be an international business jet setter…

Here’s an interesting look at my work schedule from about 7 years ago (I dug this up from my journal, which I’ve kept daily for 11 years now).

– evening: Depart from New York, headed to Frankfurt

– morning: Arrive in Frankfurt, go to hotel, shower (European time is morning, but more like 3 am New York time).

– work a 10 hour day, assisted liberally by German jet fuel, er, coffee.

– evening: out late for drinks with colleague from Frankfurt office – beers in Germany – who knew?

– morning, afternoon: meetings with Frankfurt colleagues; separate off-site meeting with consulting team.

– evening: fly to Paris and its lovely airport, lovely late evening traffic, lovely chain-smoking taxi drivers, lovely $500 hotel room with paper-thin walls. Ah, vivre bien!

– morning and afternoon: meetings, meetings, meetings in grim lifeless Paris office – maybe one of the most humorless cities I have ever seen and my least favorite international destination (other than Brussels).

– evening: fly to Istanbul. Without opening my mouth I am mistaken by every single last person I meet as being Russian, not American – despite looking about as American as a blond, blue-eyed freckled guy wearing a Polo shirt and Dockers slacks can look in Istanbul.

– morning: meetings at consultant offices (cramped and uncomfortable but with stunning views of Istanbul)

– afternoon: on-site meetings with local office.

– evening: hit the bars with consultants; any preconceptions about the lack of alcohol in a predominantly Muslim country are quickly swept away.

– lunch meeting, which I discover in Turkey means (a) more food than I have ever seen in my life and (b) work is more or less done for the day.

– work, both at consultant’s offices and in my hotel – which sadly enough feels like a break when I’m still typing out reports at 9pm on a Saturday.

– day off, (i.e. sleep and eat long lunch reading what sports news I can get my hands on in the hotel bar)

– late afternoon: flight to Warsaw. They serve peanuts (I am allergic) and I spend the flight wondering which would be worse, vomiting in the teeny tiny Polish airlines bathroom or passing out in the teeny tiny Polish airlines seat.

– meetings with Warsaw office in the morning – about 17 people around a conference table designed for 10.

– in the afternoon, met with officers from the Moscow office who happen to be in Warsaw (which makes me irritable since it removes any reason for me to go to Moscow within the next few weeks and I love Moscow).

– morning, fly to Bucharest; spend day at work and evening in local sports bar (befriending Romanian bartender), moving on to a casino (still in the hotel – I am unwilling to attempt Bucharest proper most of the time due to roaming packs of wild dogs and a predatory look in the cabbies’ eyes when they see Americans get in the cab).

– 14 hour day; return to local sports bar where friendly bartender, in the spirit of Romanian-American friendship, provides far too many free glasses of tuica for an American unaccustomed to it.

– take 14 hour flight from Bucharest to New York wishing tuica were not so strong. Plum booze. Argh.

– back at work at corporate headquarters in New York – file expense report, file memos on trip, meet with boss, start planning next trip.

That’s 5 international cities in 10 business days (12 days total). Most of the days tended to include approximately 14 hours worth of “work”. That might mean 4 hours of meetings, 4 hours of email/calls to New York HQ, and 4 hours of report writing either in the office or in the hotel room. I usually took a break for 2-3 hours starting at 7 or 8 for a trip to the hotel bars (which tended to be quite fun, filled with other business travelers and local cheerful bartenders and waitresses), then return to my room for another 2 hours of work before collapsing. I saved the drudge work for those last two hours – updating my assistant on travel plans, filing expense report info, dealing with the non-technical emails, formatting reports (gotta get the TPS just right).

I took a step back from that lifestyle, and as a result here’s my schedule. The hours are long mainly because my client’s about 1.5 hours from my home.

Monday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Tuesday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Wednesday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Thursday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Friday: leave for work at 8, home at 5:30 (skip out early).
Weekend: I have worked one Saturday in the last 3 years (and that was at home).

I look back and think that my previous schedule was certainly glamorous from outward appearances. I was the very definition of a jet-setting businessman. I had an American Express Corporate Card and no limits on spending. The horrific demands of traveling (physical, mental and emotional) meant that the company was willing to make every single last creature comfort available, because otherwise people just wouldn’t do it. I didn’t mind so much because I was single (and likely to stay so, with my “2 weeks in New York, 2 weeks overseas” schedule. I never understood how the people who were married with kids tolerated it. Now that I’m married with one child (and another on the way) I couldn’t tolerate it.

So if you’ve ever wondered what a big-shot corporate international travel itinerary looks like, ta-da.

31 Replies to “so you want to be an international business jet setter…”

  1. Eight years ago, my husband worked for an IT firm. He was a high-level support liaison and his territory was essentially the entire US. He would get on a plane Monday morning, return home Thursday evening, work from home Friday and Saturday, then try to be a husband and dad for a few hours on Sunday while waiting for the courier to show up with the plane tickets so he would know where he was flying to the next morning. It was hideous; I was a mom at home with two small children and it really did take a huge toll. Fortunately he “woke up” and realized he was missing his entire life. Now he is in a completely different field, works from home, and has a great relationship with his kids. Business travel is NOT glamorous!

  2. One of my sisters-in-law does a lot of international travel, mostly to China. And she thrives on how it looks to others as glamorous or whatnot. Not my style. And I love hearing that story from the first commenter. Having a family sure does change priorities…

  3. Not for me. My aunt did stuff like that, but I could never handle the traveling, stress, all that. I’m not very happy when I’m away from home, even on vacation.

  4. I definitely agree that business travel, especially international business travel is very tiring and wearing. I was an internal auditor for a multinational big Pharma company, and it was work work work, fly fly, eat, drink. Do it again. It was good while it lasted, but I can’t say that I could do it again

  5. That kind of travel is not fun at all. To some people it sounds great to “see the world.” But you really only see airports, hotels and offices. If you really want to see the world, my advice is to move to one location and know it well.

  6. You’re right about it seeming glamorous from the outside. One question on Paris though, have you ever gone just to visit and not for work?

    “one of the most humorless cities I have ever seen.”

    That’s kind of harsh!

  7. Writer’s Coin, you are right, Steve never visited Paris on vacation. I’ve never been to Paris either and have no opinion, except Steve’s. I’ve said many times that we should just go to France on vacation, visit Paris and relax, maybe his grim opinion will change, maybe not ;o)

  8. BTW, I knew some people whose marriage survived because of husband’s constant traveling. They just never got to arguing, because he was always absent and that’s how their lives drifted on autopilot for many years: one grown married son, no attachments and not very close relationships between father and son, and, obviously, between husband and wife.

  9. so you want to be an international business jet setter?

    No, not after reading this post. Your body must have done some serious adjusting to be able to function on that schedule. Although I would think that the adjusting would have led to a heart attack at some point in your future.

  10. @Welmoed: I’m glad your husband “saw the light.” Some people can be happy with that lifestyle – I’ve certainly met quite a few. But if it was making both of you unhappy it’s great that your husband made the change before he missed out on too much.

    @Emily, Mrs. Micah: I agree – there is very definitely a personality type that thrives on that style of living and a personality type that really, really doesn’t. I was like that until I got married and my wife got pregnant, and then my desire for the go-go-go lifestyle evaporated within weeks.

    @Alison: As you may have guessed, I did all of this while the #2 guy in a multinational consumer goods internal audit department – which is why I hopped around from city to city, holding closing meetings and so on. I have done the “go to Lisbon for 4 weeks at time” projects, too. Internal audit is right up there with salespeople in terms of the amount of travel, and is definitely not for the weak of heart in terms of pressure. I couldn’t do it again, either.

    @PFT: Having done both, I agree, and that’s a great point anyone should consider if they want to “see the world” – you won’t see it jumping from meeting to meeting every 48 hours. I did the jetsetting international travel bit, but I also lived from 1996 to 1998 in Russia working for an American company. While in Russia, I liked living there but not working there – the stress was off the charts in the newly-free-market former Soviet Union (I had a couple of posts about working overseas here and here.

  11. I guess I’m alone in thinking your trip sounded awesome! I would miss my bike, but I think it would be great to be able to see a lot of different airports 😉

  12. I don’t know that people really find it glamorous though, in these days of focus on work-life balance. Most people look at you sympathetically when you say you’re travelling for work. You know, the first thing I thought reading thru this is how much worse the schedule would be today – you’d be noting the pat-downs, extra long lines, more time required for layovers, confiscated items, etc. I just did a six flight in four day work trip, and the security theatre I had to endure had me ready to kill someone by the end of it.

  13. I have had trips, but not so punishing as these.

    The physical the stress would be tremendous and we would be abusing our body and sure would have to pay the price later.

    I am thankful I got the opportunities to travel without such crazy schedules and flight plans.

  14. @SavingDiva: No, I thought it was awesome, too… at the time. I used to really enjoy the adrenaline and pressure and feeling of being ‘important’ in my little corner of the corporate world.

    @Writer’s Coin, Bubelah: I haven’t been to Paris just for vacation. That’s one of the points about traveling on business…people can say they’ve “been” to a city, but the word “been” has a significantly different meaning if you went on business or went on vacation. There are not a lot of cities I’ve been to on vacation AND business, usually because once I went for business I lost interest in going there for vacation. I’ve been to Prague, Budapest, Moscow and maybe a few other cities for vacation AND business. All of them I love – which probably answers the question of whether I’d like Paris a lot more if I went on vacation. I’ve always told Bubelah – it’s PARIS, not France that I dread. I’d love to visit Provence. And yes, Paris is humorless. It is a grim city – in my experience.

    And I knew plenty of people (men, for the most part) who longed to be on the road, because it meant playtime. Bars, booze and (unfortunately) women. It’s amazing how many people jettison their morals when they are in a city where nobody knows them and they can run wild.

    @Kyle, @fathersez: That’s where I was headed at one point. Then again, I had a 50+ year old colleague who must have weighed 400 pounds who traveled literally nonstop – returning home maybe 3 weeks per year (married, too) – and he had no health troubles other than a bum knee. Not to say that he’ll stay that way, but some people are better suited to it than others.

    @Guiness416: I wouldn’t think it would be glamorous either, but I still get starry-eyed looks from people when I describe my past travels in Europe and South America and Asia. When I describe my months working in Indianapolis traveling on business, not so much, true. Once you’ve lived the life, it doesn’t seem glamorous, but to me – a guy who grew up in a village of less than 10,000 in the American South – for a while it was. To a lot of people who haven’t ever woken up in a hotel wondering where on Planet Earth they are, it sounds amazing – they like to think they’d be able to do it “once in a while.” Trouble is that jobs like that never want people to travel “once in a while.”

    And I will say that the phenomenon of tightened security only brings America and Western Europe up to the level of craptitude that the rest of the world already suffered. The worst shakedowns I’ve ever had in Europe or America pale in comparison to the grotesque security shenanigans in Siberian Russia (or any part of Russia in the mid 90s, for that matter) or Indonesia (even pre-9/11). I even got arrested in Siberia because, as Comrade Madam Police Officer informed me (since I chose not to tell her I spoke Russian), “yoor papers, zey are not in orrrrder.”

  15. Heh I should tell you about Christmas 2006 chez guinness416 – having to postpone my wedding because husband was in jail in South Asia and we didn’t know when (or if) we could bail him out. His crime was carrying a six pack of beer on the street, by the way. I should really post that story to my lil blog.

  16. I think I’ll stick to the occasional conference and visit to cities where I have friends/family already. Thanks.

    Although I love seeing new places, I’m not a great person for continuously being in the company of people I don’t really know. Yet another reason why it wouldn’t suit me.

  17. I probably travel once a month for work trips that last more than a day (more often for the shorter trips). I like that amount, particularly because it allows me to add extra days for “fun”.

    The only thing worse than the 10-cities-in-12-days lifestyle is the 100-hour week in the office in your home city. Now someone tell my boyfriend that!

    And I’ve been to Paris on vacation. It’s my least favorite destination in the world. I LOVED Provence, but Parisians are ridiculously unfriendly and rude.

  18. I honeymooned in France – 6 days in Paris and 4 in Cannes. We have said ever since that we should’ve skipped Paris and gone right to Cannes for 10 days. Oh well, you don’t know until you’re there.

  19. When our sons were small my husband traveled a lot and was often gone for 5 days at a time. I think he traveled as frequently as he could to ‘escape.’ It left all the responsibiliy on me but things ran most smoothly while he was gone. My son commented at 8 years old that if Dad and I divorced they would have to live with me because I did everything.

    When the boys were 16 and 18 and an extra 16 year old was living with us, the tables turned. My job required a lot of travel and his no longer did. I loved to travel anywhere. I would tack on an extra day or two for sightseeing. Of course he couldn’t handle all the details. He had a maid come in a couple hours 3 days a week and they ate out a lot. From time to time, I would come home to find a wrecked car or a shaved head (what else can you do if you put a perm in your hair and you look too ridiculous.)

    I have been to Paris. The French don’t speak much English and they don’t have to and they aren’t going to. I have been to Buenos Aires. It looked a lot like Paris in some areas. They don’t speak much English either, that Falkland thing so they say. Every place else I have been I have found the people very proud of their English. The language I studied? French! What was I thinking.

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  23. Woof, that's a tough schedule. How far are you *now* willing to commute as a consultant with a family? Do you ever take short-term contracts that require flying?

  24. I was the very definition of a jet-setting businessman. I had an American Express Corporate Card and no limits on spending

  25. thanks for sharing. it's exactly like my life for the past 5 years, but in the asian region. i can perfectly relate to it.

    i've become so allergic to international business travel that if you offer me an all expense business class trip, i'll dump it.

    now i'm leaving the multinational company i'm working for for a more domesticated life in my family. more time with my wife and young daughter.

    sure. no more business class trips. no more elite status in airlines and hotels. no more nice dinners in fancy restaurants.

    but i could not be happier.

  26. thanks for sharing. it's exactly like my life for the past 5 years, but in the asian region. i can perfectly relate to it.

    i've become so allergic to international business travel that if you offer me an all expense business class trip, i'll dump it.

    now i'm leaving the multinational company i'm working for for a more domesticated life in my family. more time with my wife and young daughter.

    sure. no more business class trips. no more elite status in airlines and hotels. no more nice dinners in fancy restaurants.

    but i could not be happier.

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