During my senior year in college, I interviewed for a consulting position with a top-tier consulting firm. I sat in one of those interviewing cubicles at the campus career center across the desk from a gentleman with a blue suit, white shirt and red tie – the consulting uniform of the day. I don’t remember much about the questions except for the part where he explained that there could be extensive travel.
“Would that be an issue for you? “, he asked.
“Oh not at all”, I explained, “I enjoy traveling. Just a few months ago I went on a trip with my girlfriend to…blah, blah, blah…” No big deal about business travel for me.
A misunderstanding of business travel
He was very polite not to laugh at me or roll his eyes, but I’m sure he and his pals had some laughs about it over a few beers that night.
After several years in consulting, I’ve learned that business travel is not as glamorous as people may think. Besides the fact that you are away from your friends and family all week, you have to deal with long lines at airport security, crowded airplanes with crying babies, long lines at the car rental desk and trying to get around in traffic in an unfamiliar city.
Business travel vs pleasure travel
These inconveniences seem like a small price to pay when doing this for a personal vacation where the destination is sitting on a tropical beach or sight-seeing. But doing it on a weekly basis just to do the same work that you usually do in your home town turns it into more of a hassle. On top of that, the novelty of staying in a hotel and eating every meal out at a restaurant wears off quickly. I remember once after a week on the road, coming home on Friday night and my wife wanted to go out for dinner. A restaurant was the last place I wanted to be.
When you travel for a vacation, you generally go with people you want to be with. Business travel is either done alone, which can be quite lonely or you travel with other members of your firm working on the same project. These may or may not be the people you want to hang out with. When traveling, you’re often stuck working with them all day and then having dinner with them that evening.
I’ve also found that when working out of town, the work day is generally longer. This could be based on the fact that since they are paying more for you to travel, they want to squeeze more value from what you are doing. I think it has more to do with the fact that since the alternative is to sit in a hotel room alone, you might as well work late and get more work done.
Making the best of business travel
There are ways that business travel can be enjoyable. I have worked in New York City during the Christmas season and enjoyed checking out the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and doing a little shopping on 5th Avenue. I’ve also been to Washington DC and taken some time to see the historic sites there.
I generally get along with most people. I like to be around a diverse crowd. So when traveling with business associates, I enjoy going out to dinner with them and getting to know them better. I’ve had close friends that I worked with and actually looked forward to traveling with them. Traveling for a couple of days at a time can mean a pleasant evening or two of dining together. However, when you’re on a 9-month project, traveling together three to four nights a week, every week, monotony, not to mention insanity can set in.
Consider the good and bad of business travel
Someone considering consulting as a profession must consider that they could be assigned to out of town clients that could have them on the road more often than they are home. One of the things many people like about consulting is the variety of going to different clients and having the variety of settings. Traveling from city to city can be just another part of that and may actually increase the level of variety. However, if being away from your family, pets and friends living the life of a nomad doesn’t fit your personality, you may want to make sure there will be limited travel or think twice about consulting as a profession.
My intention is not to drive people away from the consulting profession. It’s a challenging and exciting way to make a living. But I do recognize that it’s not for everyone.
There is no way to know for certain if you will like a profession unless you actually try it. But taking a career position is a big step. If you know that a major aspect of a job is completely incompatible with your personality, you’re going to be right back in job search mode before you know it.
What aspects of business travel do you enjoy? What do you not enjoy?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.