Some people are born for the road. They love getting on a plane every week, enjoy staying in hotels and look forward to the excitement that every new destination will bring. They are the distinct minority. Most have good days and bad, a few hate it, and many, after a while, look to give up the life and move on to something normal. With the demands of business travel – and the jobs that usually put people on planes a lot – it’s natural to want something that puts you in your own bed every night and doesn’t entail work weeks that can last 80 hours (or more).
When many people hear a frequent business traveler complain about the grind, they ask the obvious – and not inappropriate – question, “Why don’t you give it up?” what they don’t realize is that extracting yourself from a travel-heavy job isn’t easy. There are the financial implications, of course. Giving up a job with a major accounting or law firm, for example, can require a pay cut. This may mean making major adjustments that include moving to cheaper digs. These changes don’t happen overnight. It’s tough to have sympathy for people who are making good bank, so this argument tends to fall on deaf ears. The other factors, however, are harder to ignore.
Let’s take a look at four barriers that frequent business travelers have to overcome to get off the road and assume a typical professional (and personal) life.1. The job hunt
Thanks to job sites and cell phones, the early stages of the hunt are easy to address from a hotel room, airport … anywhere, really. But, turning a nibble from an e-mailed resume into a new way of life is a bit more challenging. You need to be able to show up for an interview. After the phone screen comes the face-to-face portion, and freeing up the time to do that can be tricky. Sometimes, you can plan a doctor’s appointment or other reason to stay at home an extra day and use the opportunity for an interview, but a demandin project won’t always allow you the flexibility you need. There are breaks between projects, but that leaves only a small window of opportunity. It can take more than a year for your search to turn into a new gig.
Sometimes, you just have to wait for Lady Luck to step in. The first time I left the road, I had the advantage of a great economic climate and a short travel week (three days instead of five) that left me two days to use for an interview. The one person with whom I needed to interview but couldn’t was fine with a phone interview. If I’d had to go through multiple rounds (which is the norm), I would have been stuck.
2. Comparable work
Depending on the road warrior’s profession, it can be difficult to find similar work that doesn’t involve travel (this can be particularly vexing for consultants and investment bankers). The well-educated, highly talented and experienced professionals that you find in the frequent traveler community can struggle to convince employers that their unique backgrounds satisfy a job description’s specific requirements. When this happens, there’s no alternative but to book another flight and pack your bags.
3. It’s hard to quit the devil you know
For professionals who started their careers in travel-intensive jobs, leaving the road can be scary: they have to turn to a way of life they’ve never known. They don’t know what it’s like to go to the same office every day – commuting is little more than an abstraction. They are unfamiliar with having the same boss all year long and may not be able to grasp what the nature of their work will be like. I remember leaving the road for the first time and having to construct an impression of what it would be like to go to the same desk five days a week – I lasted seven months before I was back in travel-land.
4. The money does matter
If you have a family to support, announcing that you’ll be moving to a smaller house or apartment isn’t always an option. You’re makin a decision that can affect everybody, and even if it works out in the long run, you’ll have to shake everyone’s life up for a while. With school years to consider – and school districts, for that matter – timing is everything. Also, you may have to sell a home and buy our rent another, which isn’t easy to do from the road. The pay cut itself may not be important, but everything that follows from it is.
For those who are still single, it’s much easier to make these changes, but the process still involves plenty of disruption, which is compounded by taking a new job in an environment that is completely alien.
Ultimately, of course, something has to give. Some road warriors save up some extra money so they can quit and live off their savings until they find new jobs. Others are able to find potential employers willing to interview them on weekends. And, there are always those who just stay on the road, figuring that relief will come, well, when it comes.
Read more White Collar Travel here.