Thoughts From Travelworld

It’s odd, really, how much travel I’ve been doing recently. I went nearly a year without any business travel and now it seems like every other day I’m away from home, in a hotel or on an airplane, I even got some yacht stories traveling around which you can visit this blog to read. As I write this, I’m (mostly) sober in a hotel room five hundred miles from my home, missing Mrs. Likko’s company and the comforts of home. I’m making time to write, though.

There’s a strange monoculture in airports, at least in the United States and to a lesser extent in airports in other industrialized countries I’ve visited. The language may not always be English but there is the same general attitude, the same pervasive sense of atomized individuals moving with purpose, producing an overall impression of chaos. If you’ve been in one airport terminal, you have tasted the essence, the atmosphere, and the experience, of being in nearly every airport terminal everywhere. In a way it’s inspiring to think that this sort of thing really is universal — until you realize that Travelworld also pretty banal and mildly unpleasant.

Of course, a cocktail helps, even if it is expensive.

In airport terminals, even at the busiest of times, it is possible to find things (placed intentionally and for this purpose, of course) that have calm. Los Angeles Extragalactic’s terminal one, which is where you catch Southwest and U.S. Air flights, has trees planted in the concourse, and live birds live in them, feeding off of travelers’ leftover french fries, the water used to water the plants, and the absence of predators.

On airplanes, you sometimes hope to get seated next to the most attractive person on the airplane. On my flight today, I sat next to a bikini model. No, really. She was friendly enough — enthusiastically so, actually. And not really all that attractive up close. You know that models get a lot of makeup and staging and lighting, and the photographers and editors photoshop the picture afterwards if they don’t like what’s there. And the model herself was, well, stereotypically not all that bright or interesting to talk to. I’d much rather have had my wife, who is both cute and clever, than this bikini model.

Upon arriving at my hotel in my destination city, I find that there is a free dinner with complimentary beer and wine at the “manager’s reception.” This sounds good. But if I were the manager, I might have hoped for something a bit better than this being offered in my name. It was sustenance, and there were vegetables involved. Broccoli in thick, goopy, traffic-cone orange “cheese” sauce, to be specific. The breaded chicken cutlet was, well, it was okay. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the same cutlets will be offered in between slices of a biscuit for breakfast tomorrow. But you know what? I remember a time that hotels didn’t think it was their job to offer food of any kind at all, much less dinner, breakfast, and lukewarm chablis from a box. So I need to quit my whining and partake of the food my client is paying for me to eat while away from home on his behalf. After all, food aimed at a general audience must be made, both affordably, and in a way that is at least minimally palatable to a large majority of Travelworld’s transient denizens.

Now, let’s say you have to pack your bag at five in the morning, knowing you won’t be home again until eleven o’clock the next night. Now, let’s say further that because it’s five in the morning, you’re going to forget something. What would you want that thing you forget to be? If the answer was “a clean dress shirt to wear with your suit tomorrow,” then you’re having the same road trip I am. And as things to have forgotten go, this isn’t really so bad. Again, I can recall an era in which hotels treated a request for an iron and an ironing board as they would have treated a call to room service to bring up one and a half gallons of 87-octane gasoline and a complimentary matchbook. Now, you pretty much get an iron and ironing board standard in your basic business hotel.

So I can do Mitt Romney’s trick of soaping and rinsing the shirt tonight and using the blow-dryer on it before ironing it to wear again tomorrow. If it doesn’t get all the smell out, well, after my nostrils acclimatize, that’s going to be someone else’s problem. After all, I’m not asking anyone for money. (That would be the guy suing my client who’s doing the asking other people, specifically my client, for money. My job is to say “No.”) I guess hotels have learned that not all guests are going to drunkenly start fires ironing their shirts.

Still, after so much travel, I’m chagrined that I forgot the clean shirt. I remembered my dirty shirts, in the cleaner’s bag in the trunk of my car at a parking lot near Los Angeles Extragalactic, but not the clean one.

When I was young and just out of law school, I thought business travel would be fun. Go to interesting places, sample the local food, maybe meet someone at the hotel bar not interested in the attachment of strings. Then I got old enough that business travel became a reality. And I learned that when you travel for work, it’s not fun, it’s work. No hotel room, no matter how comfortable, is going to be better than my own living room. I’ve no taste or interest in a short-term bed companion anymore; I want my wife. No one makes cocktails, or breakfast, with the skill or quality that I can at home. No hotel bed is as comfortable as mine, even if the mattress and pillows are of higher quality. No room in another city has my dogs there waiting to be petted and to look at me with pleading eyes, asking wordlessly to be fed bits of carrot.

Sadly, though, professional work sometimes requires leaving the comforts and pleasures of one’s home and entering the bland monoculture of Travelworld. At least tonight I got settled in and got my work done with enough time left over to sit down and write something.

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21 thoughts on “Thoughts From Travelworld

  1. I feel you, man.  Over the past year, I’ve been to Buenos Aires (twice) [1], New York, Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, Denver, and Bloomington(IL).  Some good times, but never better than home.

    In all my years of business travel I was once, back when I was single, seated next to a genuinely beautiful woman.  I said “Hi”, and she smiled dazzlingly, and said “Hi” back, with a slight and utterly adorable accent.  I asked where she was from and she said “Brazil.  That’s where my parents moved when the Jews threw them out of Palestine.”

    1. The first time during the World Series, the second during the Super Bowl.

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  2. Because ours is a universe of caprice and perversity, I have quite often sat next to gorgeous women on planes.  (One of them was a Rockette.  She was the most fun to talk to.)  My apologies to those gentlemen who may, perhaps, have appreciated the experience in ways that I did not.

    And you are dead right about the quality of cocktails made in Travelword as compared to those I can make myself.  I have stopped ordering them when I travel, because so often they’re just a chilled glass of disappointment.

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  3. Great post Burt. I just started traveling for work last December. It’s infrequent so I still kind of enjoy it. I completely understand missing your wife in bed. I sleep terribly in hotel rooms without her. My wife seems to find this endearing.

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  4. I travel a lot, and I wish I didn’t.
    I worked in only two states last year. Five the year before that.
    About two or three times a year, I wake up in my own bed wondering what city I’m in. I don’t always get it right.
    I’ve learned that I’m always going to forget something while I’m packing, so I’ve established habits to minimize that.
    It really irritates me when people say that it’s fun, exciting, or adventurous to travel.
    If I’m going to McPherson, Ks., to spend 12 hours a day at a refinery seven days a week, that’s not fun.
    I have yet to see busloads of Japanese tourists at any of the places they send me.

    I need coffee.

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  5. For what is worth, I travel about 50% of my time, and I still like it. Whenever I am home for like 3 weeks I miss the excitement of the plane, of getting to see different places (even if I have been there ten times already), of having different food, of taking hundreds of pics (not a metaphor, literally 100s) with my phone, of squeezing the odd extra day here and there to explore.

    I applied to my second job, in 1986, because they ran an add in the paper that asked for an electrical power engineer, and that heavy travel would be involved. I never regretted it (25 years and going). I hope I never loose the wonder of it. Probably the coolest trip (at least to describe in cocktail parties) i’ve had was Houston to Shaghai to London to Buenos aires to Lima and back to Houston. Two weeks altogether

    I find the possibility of doing in hours what it might have taken months not 100 years ago to be amazing and exhilarating. I guess I am a 49 yeras old child. .It’s a big planet and I want to have as much as possible of it

    And refineries are cool places. I don’t go to many, but when I do, I also take pics galore with my phone. I am based inHhouston and I take visitors to see the refineries at night from the highway. Boy, do I need a life

     

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  6. 1) If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, stay at Google’s personal hotel. You’ll know the one I mean… Hot breakfast includes a waffle iron, plug in station for your car… It’s really decent.

    2) Real executives have travel clothes — Ex Officio sells a damn nice set. (Just like real southerners wear Seersucker — it’s designed for the humidity) — they’re hard to wrinkle, and dry like a breeze (literally, if you’re in Vegas. Walk outside dripping, be dry in a few seconds). It’s kinda fun to dress like an exec sometimes — the whole “exec is on vacation, but can’t quite figure out how to dress casual” is kinda cool — less so when people start taking pictures of you, mistaking you for a rock star.

    3) Real business hotels have clotheslines in them (Stayed at a hotel in NY like that)

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  7. I used to travel for work, all conferences.

    Traveling for conferences isn’t like other work travel.  They either start on a Monday, or end on a Friday, so you can always plug in the two extra days to see the sights.  At one point Kitty had to go to Noosa, Australia for a conference and we turned it into an actual vacation.

    I can imagine, however, that constant travel to places you’ve already been and don’t have the time to go see anyway weighs heavily in the suck department, though, for all reasons described herein.  Great post, Burt.

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  8. Getting ready to head out myself for my twice-yearly overseas trip. This time to include 2.5 glorious days in Bangladesh. I’ve learned to cope with traveling, and I still do enjoy getting far away to see different places and eat different foods, even if I am working 14 hour days for most of it.

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  9. I used to travel on business.  About every 3 months I’d fly to London and meet with the customer, meet with the Program managers, smooze with my peers, and maybe make a presentation to the customer.  This was before 9/11 and I’d only do it when i could get “econcomy plus” on United.  Since I wouldn’t pay the difference between economy and Business, and neither would my employer, this was the only option.  Frankly, I can’t handle small seat pitch and I’m reasonably tall.  That was the max of my desire to travel for work.  Anything more became an ordeal.  I can’t imagine doing it nowadays.  Occasionaly i’ve done one day trips..up and back the same day.  Those are tolerable but god, the “security theatre” is often just too much….

    Ugh…

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