This article is going to be a bit different then my normal topics. Today I’m going to write specifically about a unique aspect of my personal career. I promise I will tie it to personal finance near the end, but I have noticed over the years people are fascinated by some aspects of my job. Particularly everyone wants to know about my business travel.
Background on my Business Travel
Let’s get this out of the way. A lot of people travel for business. A close friend of ours use to commute from Pennsylvania to Atlanta during the week for work. This is not the type of business travel to which I refer.
My Employer’s Work Environment
To start out you must understand the business environment I work in. I work at a larger size company, though not one of the mega corps. The company was spawned as a spinoff of a mega Corp decades ago. They do business in 40 some countries.
However, unlike most other companies I have worked for, they do not just do business in approximately 40 countries. They have operations integrated across all 80 countries. This means if you make a change to a system or process you are potentially impacting 40 some countries. Given my job is making changes to systems and processes that means my days are spent aligning all these regions at once. I am sure there are other companies out there like this, but I have not found it to be common.
My Job’s Work Environment
It does not end there though. Because I am not only a program manager and efficiency expert but also a subject matter expert it’s not uncommon for me to be brought in on the local level. This is where significant business travel comes into play. My family and friends are always fascinated when my latest trip comes up. I have run on the ground in country projects on 4 continents and this year alone will likely travel to China four times, California twice, and Spain once. Again, there may be some in my audience that can identify, but I also know what I’m talking about here is not the norm even within the business travel world.
People Think Business Travel is like Vacation
My travel seems to come in waves. Every 9 months to a year the country, or city within a country, seems to change and has so for the last ten years. The first thing people do when they hear this is ask me about some location I have been in. The second thing they do is go all FOMO about how great it must be to do business travel.
To some extend they are right. I would not trade some of the experiences I have had and the friendships I have made around the world for anything. But… there are some significant dark sides people do not think about.
Negatives of Business Travel
- Not every trip is long enough to experience anything. True, I did have a month-long trip to Australia. But I also had a 4-day trip to India. By the time I figured out which side was up and when it was time to sleep it was time to come home. You are ultimately there to work and any sight-seeing or cultural experiences are a benefit, not the purpose.
- Speaking of sleep, it is a tremendous strain sometimes. A 4 to 5-day trip to India or China takes a lot out of you. This is especially true when you do not sleep on planes.
- You miss things at home. During a recent trip to Chengdu China I missed my oldest child’s first day of school and loosing his first tooth. All in a day’s work when your company decides when and where you go.
- It can put a strain on relationships. When I got married I was business traveling internationally 12-13 weeks a year. I have scaled it back significantly in recent years, but I can tell you there are times my wife has rightfully become frustrated at my absence.
- Keeping in touch with home can be difficult. Some time zones make calling home to talk to my wife and kids difficult or nearly impossible. This can cause some of that strain I mentioned.
- Chores and other tasks you intend to do suffer. My honey do list constantly grows. But 6 weeks this year on the road did not help me to get a lot of it done.
- If you are not self-sufficient it will be very hard. Any exploring usually starts with you. Even getting to a work site or hotel might mean you land at an airport where hardly anyone speaks English and need to find your way to your hotel. It can be scary, frustrating, or both if you are not so inclined. For those who think anywhere you go people can speak English, think again.
Positives of Business Travel
There are of course many positives to be fair:
- I have been places in some countries American Tourists do not normally go. If you are somewhere long enough you learn where the locals go and you go there.
- I have friends in many countries around the world. When I visit they introduce me to local culture and experiences. For example, in Chengdu we went to a local Hot Pot restaurant where our local hosts explained how to properly eat such a meal. They even convinced me to try duck intestine (did I mention I am an adventurous eater). That would not happen if I was on my own. In fact, I probably would not choose to vacation in a western China city on my own.
- I understand other cultures and points of view. See the item above. For example, I have had discussions about things with Brexit with local Germans and Brits. That perspective truly is a cool thing to have and sometimes can be of benefit when our local media only represents one point of view.
- I have experienced some major world and regional events in other countries, opening a whole new perspective. When Osama Bin Laden was killed I was touring a Mosque in India. When I was in Australia they recalled their Prime Minister, and replaced her. I was in Germany the week of the original Brexit vote working with a Brit who was also visiting.
- The opposite of my last negative. It forces you to be self-sufficient. To survive you will have to learn how to navigate when there is no one to ask who understands your language. To take true advantage of the trips you will have to learn to pick out the things you want to see before arriving and either go on your own, or if you are lucky go with a local counterpart.
Major Benefits to International Business Travel Early
So now that I have regaled you with almost 1000 words on my business travel, perhaps at least entertaining a few of you, let us tie this back into personal finance. As the years go by I see the company I work for becoming more the norm then the exception. I also see that with kids and a wife the type of travel I do becomes harder every year. These things make me realize that business travel, especially at the level I once did is something most beneficial from a young age.
Many of the down sides are easier to bear or more mitigated when you are young. They also can have immense benefit to your future career and personal life. As such here is my career tip for the week. If you can find it try to get a job early in your career with international exposure and international business travel.
Have you traveled for business? Anyone else an international road warrior?