How would you picture a business traveler? Would you have an image of a successful person in a smart casual business outfit, who is extremely efficient arranging work matters over the smartphone or an ultrathin laptop, while sipping a take-away coffee in an airport lounge?
That would be the average picture you get from Google, searching for ‘business traveler’. Movies and TV-shows romanticize the highly mobile lifestyle as well. Take an example from the movie ‘Up in the Air’ for instance, which pictures mobile lifestyle as fun, effortless and classy. Even the James Bond movies make these hints – James is always on the move, looking stylish and sophisticated as he goesJ. And then there are five-star hotels, business dinners and evening drinks in the hotel lobby as well. That is the picture that very well portrays the romanticized and glamorized view of a business traveler that many of us might believe in.
Indeed, a recent review article (2015) by Cohen and Gössling uncovers the social glamorization of mobility and argue that there are the physiological, psychological, emotional and social costs of mobility for individuals and societies.
Let’s just think what are the common possible downsides of going on a business trip?
Most probably you might not eat as regularly and not as great quality food (e.g. snacking at the airport). In a new place, the sleeping routine might be disturbed (e.g. jet lag) or you might just sleep less because of the late evening catch-ups with colleagues. You probably work longer hours during the business trip, as there are many tasks for the short stay, and ‘what else is there to do’ when your family and friends are far away. Finally, all the possible delays and moving around with your luggage can become annoying at one point. Now, imagine that all of this is frequent!
In their review article on existing research about the effects of frequent travel, Cohen and Gössling (2015) found that the most commonly discussed physical or biological impact is jet lag, which can affect mood, concentration abilities and physiological well being (e.g. tiredness, gastro-intestinal problems). Frequent flyers also seem to be at risk of developing deep-vein thrombosis, experiencing discomforts of dry eyes and dehydrated skin, and initiating cancer (due to exposure to radiation). On the psychological level there is a lot of stress related to travel an organizing of one’s agenda, ‘overload shock’ of unfamiliar and rapidly changing environments, as well as loneliness that results from being away from your social environment. Finally, frequent travel also naturally reduces home-based family and social life, which may impact the quality of relationships and create tensions back at home.
So, is the real picture of frequent business travelers that sad and unhealthy?
Probably not, otherwise there would not be so much business travel, and so many people, who genuinely enjoy it. Yes, we should not glamorize or romanticize the experiences, as there are obvious downsides to the mobile lifestyle, yet, there are also obvious benefits to it.
In a recent FT article, columnist Michael Skapinker suggests that ‘business travel is the best way to see the world’. Moreover, he suggests that business travel, if planned well, can be more rewarding than leisure travel. Being in a new destination on business purposes gives some structure to the day, and also leaves enough time for sightseeing and other local experiences. Finally, Michael sees business traveling as one of the options for genuine contact with local culture. In essence, where else could you see the real local life than in the office?!