I don't like to travel. I want to like to travel.
January 5, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me appreciate travel?

I've got a great job that requires a little bit of travel, every now and then. All expenses paid, etc. But I F@%*ING HATE TO TRAVEL, especially when I have to leave my family at home, which is usually the case with work travel.

I know there are a lot of road warriors on MeFi ... can you impart to me some of the romance of the road, help me see this for the great opportunity it is rather than the bleak "oh god, I gotta go away for a few days" that I view it as right now? I mean, I feel almost sick to my stomach at the thought of traveling for more than a few days ... why can't I view it as an adventure rather than something awful I "have" to do?

My family was a military fam, but dad retired before he had me - as a result, all of my siblings saw the world and have total wanderlust, but I'm the homebody of the crew. Are there books I can read, blogs I can subscribe to, meditations, podcasts, whatever ... or just general advice that can make me excited about travel?
posted by jbickers to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My first advice, actually, is...well, if this is how you are, why try to fight it? Not everyone is meant to be a wanderer, and that's okay.

But if you're looking more out of the "making the best out of a situation" sense, that's actually rather admirable, so towards that end --

There's a publisher of travel writing and travel essays, Traveler's Tales, which has a whole collection of different anthologies on different themes, and all of them are uniformly excellent. They have books on different destinations, and books on different concepts (travel and food, travel and love, etc.).

Lots of them are collections of a bunch of essays by different authors, and they're all fantastic. I'd pick up a couple of those and just...browse. There's very little of the "we went here/we did this" element to the stories they look for, and it's more about the kind of fun and serendipitous moments you get while traveling that are the things they write about. It's a different kind of mindset from the "oh, God, I'm away from home for a few days and I have to do X Y and Z" that they advocate, and this may be something you enjoy.

...The writing's good, too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 PM on January 5, 2009

Business travel just plain old sucks. About the best you're going to do is to embrace the suck.

The most important thing I do when involuntarily traveling is to bring home with me. Whatever hotel room I end up in, I do whatever is necessary to make it feel like "home". (for me this is primarily a matter of nice travel speakers for my iPod and a good selection of books). For you it sounds like pictures of your family wouldn't be a bad thing either.

Good luck with it. I love to travel in general, but never for business.
posted by tkolar at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2009

I travel a lot in my job. Granted, in a relatively small area (Western USA) but still. I've also had my share of being places foreign and strange. Traveling anywhere, whether it be a state over or across the world is really the same thing. Try and be apart of whatever, or wherever you are, if even for just a moment. I had an epiphany awhile back, while drinking wine and getting very drunk in Hobart, Tasmania.

"You can hang, anywhere in the world." And by that I mean is you can relax, be a part of whatever gestalt is going on, wherever you are. It's not a function of language or culture. It's a function of your will, and your willingness to let go and see the place for the uniqueness that it is. It can be a bar down the street that you've never dared to enter, or a kitchen in India that you somehow managed to gain access to, because you gave a pack of cigarettes to the right nephew. It doesnt matter.

The fact is that there are travelers everywhere and you are far from alone. My god, airports are the loneliest places on earth, with everyone in transition from one place to another, with no connection whatsoever to the world they feel comfortable in. "Just get me there, safely." So many opportunities.

Start simple. Talk to the person next to you. Offer a simple smile or a gesture. Ask a motel owner where's a good place to eat. Check it out. Doesnt matter if it works or not. You tried. And you may find that the world really isnt all the big or lonely.

Good luck.
posted by elendil71 at 4:59 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not everyone is meant to be a wanderer, and that's okay.

But if you're looking more out of the "making the best out of a situation" sense,

That's it precisely - the travel is required for the job, the other 95% of which I really love. So I'm just trying to find a way to be glass-half-full about that 5%.
posted by jbickers at 5:06 PM on January 5, 2009

I agree with tkolar that business travel tends to suck. However, I've found that I get good ideas when traveling. So even if I'm just going to some overpriced, hermetically sealed hotel in a city I've never wanted to visit, I can look forward to the fact that the experience will give me some new ideas for my business or life. I bring a small notebook to capture the ideas. Maybe you'll find that the same thing happens to you if you can be open to it.
posted by PatoPata at 5:15 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, one thing that *really* sucks about business travel is that it often ends up being so bland: taxi to airport to plane to taxi to hotel to meeting to hotel to airport to taxi to home. No wonder the best part of that is the "home" part.

If this sounds like your trips, might it help to carve out a little time for some local flavor? If you are expected to socialize with your colleagues after work, maybe you could ask them to pick someplace really distinctive to the area, like Mexican food in Dallas instead of Chili's. Or you could do some research beforehand and find some really neat place to stay instead of a Holiday Inn Express. Or if you find yourself with a couple of free hours to kill before your flight back, sneak out and go to a cool museum or something.

I guess what I'm saying is that business travel rarely bears any resemblance to actual travel, but making it more like travel could make it more fun and take your mind off your homesickness.
posted by lunasol at 5:25 PM on January 5, 2009

There's really no point in trying to change a part of your personality like that. And as others have said, business travel is definitely not adventure travel; company reimbursements and other complications tend to drive enjoyment out of the experience. Rather than trying to enjoy the traveling itself, you might instead think of ways to tie the journey back to your family, since you said that's a key reason why you hate it.

Souvenirs: if you or anyone in your family has a "collector" gene, starting a little collection of postcards or shot glasses or whatnot can be fun. Basically, keeping your family in mind for some specific, inexpensive little gifts can help, if they appreciate that sort of thing. Take snapshots of randomly interesting things to share with your family, perhaps making up stories about a particular photograph (this is more amusing when your kids are young and you happen to be creative, I think). Or keep your mind off the traveling aspect by keeping up with mobile hobbies--you can make it an excuse to finish that book you bought last year but never read, or write that novel you never started, etc.
posted by Ky at 5:38 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get yourself or your family involved in Where's George? and track the bills you spend and/or enter in faraway places.
posted by bink at 5:51 PM on January 5, 2009

I travel for business a fair amount and I sort of like it. I have a long-distance relationship though, so I'm not much further from my SO when I'm away than when I'm home. That said, here are things that I do that make me feel like I'm not in some terrible Lost in Translation mess. You won't be able to do all of these certainly, but I'm sure there are parts that will be helpful.

- Like tkolar says bring favorite stuff. Just unpacking in a hotel room is a different situation if you wind up with a semblance of something you like. So for me it's clearing all the spaces off of all the advertising nonsense and setting up all my stuff the way I like it. For you this might be a photo of your family, a favorite eye pillow, or even some favorite bath goop. Basically even though you try to pack sensibly for this stuff, keep in mind that sensibly also means something that keeps you sane so if you wind up packing fuzzy bunny slippers, so be it. I bring my favorite pajamas and basically get to them as soon as I get to the hotel room.
- have a routine with your family that INCLUDES your travel, don't make your travel disrupt the routine. For my SO this means he sends me a text message while I'm in the air that I get when I touchdown and we check in over chat on nights when I'm away. Presuming you have decent Internet, making a date ahead of time to video chat even for 10-15 minutes can help you feel less isolated
- Learn about where you're going. I don't know if you always have to go to one place or if you go many places but in either case do somethign NOT worklike where you are. I try to take a long walk around places I've never been before and if I see a weird little place that piques my interest, take advantage of my open schedule and go there. That's how I found the Michigan Museum of Surveying which was sort of fun. If you go someplace regularly, have a favorite restaurant or friend there that you meet up with so you develop that routine as well.
- My Dad travelled for work and he would always send me funny postcards from where he was, telling me something weird about where he was travelling. Not only was it fun to get mail and be thought of, but it instilled in me a lifelong love of mail and postcards and whatever (and taught me to write a good postcard) that I've carried into adulthood. Carry postcard stamps in your wallet send cards from anywhere. Use the opportunity to keep in better touch with distant relatives and friends.
- Take pictures. At a lot of places you can just get your photos printed right at a drugstore and put a stamp on them and it's instapostcard. Take a photo of you someplace funny and mail it home. Put photos on Flickr and send them to your extended family and friends. Let your travel be something that everyone can share and possibly enjoy with you.
- Meetups - there's something really nice about hanging out with MeFi people and realizing that you're grounded somewhere without even thinking about it. In most metro areas, there's a MeFite who would love to have a beer with you.
- it's dorky as hell but I try to be an emissary of pleasantness when I'm travelling if at all possible and make it my job to make everyone else's day go better because, well, mine's pretty well shot already. So I'm nice to TSA, nice to the bus driver, nice to the hotel people, nice to the person on the plane. Some people don't like this approach, but I find that if you put nice out, you often get nice back and that can make a rocky day better.
- If you know you do this all the time make sure you have the right tools for it. Have awesome luggage, awesome travel packing bags, awesome shoes and a travel outfit that you wear. Make packing and preparing a no-brainer so that you can spend more time with your family.
- Be a little self-absorbed. One of the things that is hard about travelling is that there are suddenly lots of demands on our time and our person that are difficult. Make sure you're not just asking for time for yourself but demanding it.
- Try to sleep okay. However you do that
- Think about what in your travel life might be better than your home life. This isn't like "oh I hate my house" but it can be like "oh I keep the heat on 75 in the hotel and it feels nice to warm my bones" or "this is the best bed I have ever slept in" You're not disloyal to your family just by appreciating some of the things about your travel existence which is another part of your life.

I think for me the biggest part of this was not seeing "my life" and then "my travel" as different things. If I was going to travel for work [and I could choose not to, honestly] then I needed to find a way to like it, not just because it's a better way to go through life but because I couldn't stand to be that person who went someplace fun and could just be like "ugh airplane food!!" Feel free to send me a postcard, next time you go someplace neat.
posted by jessamyn at 6:04 PM on January 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

I don't know if this will help at all, and I don't know whether your travel is going to be domestic or international, but my love for travel began when I was about 20 and read Europe Through The Back Door prior to my first trip overseas. I can't give Rick Steves full credit, but he planted a seed which totally changed my whole perception of travel. Prior to that, I never wanted to leave California really, had little interest in exploring the world. Now I've been to like 35 countries and all I think about are the cultures I haven't seen. Frankly, most of the time I feel like I'd rather be traveling than doing whatever it is I'm doing.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:06 PM on January 5, 2009

Try to engineer a little time for yourself. Business travel is much less fun than personal travel, but when I have to go away, even for just one night, I often try to 'pad' the trip with time to do something I want to do. Like, at the end of the month I have a one-night trip, and my meeting is 8 to 5 the next day, but my flight isn't 'til 11 so I can have dinner at a neat place I researched. It will feel like a reward stolen from regular life. I also try to be sure I get out and walk or run around the neighborhood, even if it's boring. There will be something new to see. Hotel staff can usually give you a running map or tell you a good place to walk.

Sometimes the highlight of the trip is just time to read on the plane, or listen to a podcast. It's more quiet time than I normally get, so I try to savor it. Time on the plane always seems conducive to deep thought for some reason - I use it to introspect a little and get perspective on life.
posted by Miko at 6:18 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you find yourself going to a town you've been to many times before, find yourself a favourite restaurant there, so you can look forward to it whenever you go back. Alternately, try a completely new food and try it again with your family when you get back.

I hate gyms at home, but I like using them if I happen to travel to a hotel that has one. Maybe come up with a special exercise routine just for when you're away.

Jessamyn has some great tips above. I like to buy travel-friendly clothes that I only take on trips, the quick dry wrinkle-free shirts Ex Officio makes and such. They make dealing with clothes a bit easier on the road.

And I fully endorse junky TV if you have the time. I do not have cable at home so I love firing up the million and one channels in the hotel.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:31 PM on January 5, 2009

If your travel is mostly domestic, i'm not sure any of my advice will apply.

My advice follows Jessamyn, tkolar's, and Miko's - I travel 150k miles per year for a large technology firm, sometimes up to 250k miles per year, all international and none to nice places.

On "home" - you need to bring items from home with you. Familiarity is very important. Now items from home can be your "travel set" or just items you travel with frequently. I'll sometimes bring tea, easily packable foods, etc. I also bring a blanket and a towel from home. These help a lot. Technology helps - I have a Mac and I get to iChat (videoconference) with my significant other and other family members. This made a big difference.

On travel: Be flexible and polite. This is the advice I give everyone. Never write yourself into a hole with travel plans; try to arrive some time before you have to do whatever you have to do and give yourself time on the tail end. You should use this time for acclimating to the local climate and sleep cycle. If you're not doing either of those things, learn a little of the language and get out and eat. Eating a good meal when I arrive (outside of hotel room service) is what I think is the keystone of starting to learn about a place. I try to walk around and get some photos too, without looking like a stupid tourist. Concierges can always help with places that have English menus and servers, etc (assuming you travel internationally, which you didn't state). I get the local people from my office to go out with me if I can.

Secondly: Pack light. I cannot tell you how much of a difference this has made for me. I carry a VERY small roll-up bag from Duluth Trading and I wear and bring clothes that I can mix and match for multiple days, with a separate bag for laptop and tech. I never. Ever. Ever. Check. Anything. The packing light thing has made a supreme amount of difference.

The last advice i'll give you is status and information. I do everything I can to make status on at least one carrier and hotel chain per year. I try to make two of each. This has really made an improvement in the entire experience. Being treated well during and after the travel experience (Carrier and hotel) make a huge improvement. Flyertalk is your best friend here in order to ask questions and understand some things - e.g. your destinations will sometimes determine which ones you're going to try to get status with.

The other thing I would advise is that "information is power". Understanding the processes and data streams behind travel, while an effort for anything but the most technical people, has been a huge help for me, since knowing what's possible helps me know what to ask for and how to ask for it. Things like knowing the availability on a flight in a certain fare class made a big difference in things like upgrades and accomodation during situations in which the airline had "irregular operations" e.g. equipment changes, maintenance issues, etc.

Hope some of that helps.
posted by arimathea at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2009

Don't look at it as travel, but just as your job. "Today, it's my job to wait in this line and then sit in this tube staring out the window."

And don't feel bad about not liking travel. Imagine how unhappy you'd be if all you wanted all your life is to be somewhere else?

That, and over-schedule and pack light. If you have an 8am meeting, for Christ's sake, don't try to get to the airport at 5am just so you don't have to be away from home that night. People who do these things, and then are shocked when things go wrong, are a scourge on humanity. If the travel is worth doing, it's worth doing right. What's worse- spending the night in an airport waiting for O'Hare to reopen, or missing the meeting?

(Itinerary tip- work backwards and give yourself more breathing room than you think you need. And then some. Successful travel is a lot of hurrying up and waiting. "OK, the meeting is at noon. It's a 20 minute drive from the airport. So I have to be in the cab at 11. It takes 30 minutes to get off the plane and get luggage, so I have to be on a flight that arrives at 10. OK, this flight arrives at 9:30. It leaves at 8. That means I have to leave the house at 5." And so on. If EVERYTHING goes wrong, you are going to be late. But if only one or two things go wrong, you'll be there in plenty of time. Again- if something's worth flying for, it's worth being early.
posted by gjc at 7:01 PM on January 5, 2009

And also, don't feel bad about "being gone". Sometimes it's good to miss your loved ones.
posted by gjc at 7:03 PM on January 5, 2009

When I did a lot of work travel (and didn't like it), here's what helped me enjoy it more:
-I stayed with friends whenever possible (I found it more relaxing to sleep on an air mattress at a friend's place and get up early to trek across town by subway than to spend yet another night in an icky hotel even if it had a real bed and was across the street from my meeting; plus it made the trip more a fun time than just work)
-Kept a bag packed with my toiletries and had a go-to set of clothes I always brought so packing was easy
-Always made time for a really good workout, even if it was putting a towel on the floor and doing situps and pushups. Running outside was always my favorite.
-Tried to eat at interesting local places. If I had to eat at the hotel I did my best to eat something approximating what I might eat at home (i.e., oatmeal for breakfast) because in my experience (or at the level of hotel I was staying at), the food was usually terrible and unhealthy.
-Used spare time to call friends and family
-Sent people postcards from random places
-Made time every evening to do something I enjoy/find relaxing--for me it was an hour of reading something interesting online, or commenting on my friends' blogs, or watching a trashy movie or show on tv, or experimenting with makeup--just something I might not have time to do at home or would feel guilty doing instead of doing a chore. Especially if you have young kids, maybe it would be nice to reframe the nights as time to spoil yourself in ways you can't do at home? Maybe have find blogs about your hobbies that you make time to catch up on while you're away?
-I always bought myself a trashy magazine or a good book to read while actually traveling (if I didn't need to do work).
-Took advantage of my expense allowance and did things like always take a cab home from the train station when normally I'd just take the subway
-Most important, use your comp time (if you get it)! And as soon as possible after you travel.
I liked the idea above of being super nice to people! I've had some great conversations with really interesting people while in hotel shuttles, waiting for planes, on Amtrak, or with cab drivers in a new city. On preview, a lot of this is advice already said above, but it really does help.
posted by min at 7:51 PM on January 5, 2009

Invest in stuff to make the plane trips / airport time better. Good neck pillow, blanket, slippers, earplugs and/or noise-canceling headphones, eyemask, etc.

Bring your own pillow from home to sleep on in the hotel.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:42 PM on January 5, 2009

Learn the words to "The Big Country", and sing it to yourself when you are looking out the window of the airplane.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:48 AM on January 6, 2009

I love food, and I find that I enjoy otherwise-tedious trips much more when I plan ahead which restaurants I want to visit. With the internet it's very easy to figure out ahead of time what a city is known for, what restaurant has to-die-for XYZ, or what store has the best whatevers in the area. Basically, figure out what you like to do while you are home and then figure out a way to do that thing in your destination. If you are obsessed with books you could try to find a local bookstore to visit. If you love architecture try to figure out some old building to admire. If you are into knitting or jewelry-making you can check out a local craft shop. If you love cars you can rent a nicer car than you usually drive when you're at home. It helps to plan these things ahead of time so you actually start to anticipate some aspect of the trip, even if it's a relatively small treat you have planned, rather than dreading it.
posted by gatorae at 8:12 PM on January 6, 2009

I agree with all the above suggesting that you use it as an opportunity to focus on yourself for a change, and also to take whatever you need to make it as comfortable and stressfree as possible.

As for reading material, try reading books about people being held hostage for years. You'll be glad that you are only away on business and not in the conditions these people find themselves - it works for me!
posted by AnnaRat at 9:14 PM on January 6, 2009

My job has me traveling for periods as short as a week and as long as six. The different length trips require slightly different approaches. For the one week trip - second everything that's been said before about packing light, junky TV, and iChat or an equivalent. I also like the idea of bringing along something that you don't have time for at home, like that book you've been meaning to read or movie you've been meaning to watch. Maybe you can take the time to call a friend you haven't spoken to in a while.

For longer trips, especially international trips, I bring a big bag and fill it with books and movies. I also make sure to bring a Lonely Planet guide for whatever country I'm visiting, so I can read up on places to visit during the plane ride and get excited to tour around.

Learn enough of the local language to order at a restaurant, so you're not limited to the hotel cafe and the two restaurants nearby that serve tourists. Even if you're language skills are terrible, it's a fair bet that the wait staff will take pity on a poor foreigner and try their best to help. Invite your coworkers to join you; they know the best places to eat, and they'll be amused by your attempts to speak the language. If you're shy about ordering, find places to eat where you can order by pointing; I spent a few happy weeks just before Christmas in Dresden, Germany, eating dinners at bratwurst carts in the Christmas market. This is the time to not be picky about eating; not only do you get to try new foods, but you also won't be able to find passable versions of your normal eats anyways (the Mexican food in Taiwan is awful). Pack snacks with you, too.

Find a way to connect home that works for you. For me, it's AIM and Facebook - not a substitute for real interaction, but enough that I don't feel totally left out.

Wander the city. Find out what makes it different and special. Bring a camera.

Also, hotel and airline status TOTALLY rules.
posted by bargex at 9:28 PM on January 8, 2009

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