Here and there and back again
April 27, 2016 4:16 PM   Subscribe

What should I be thinking about when considering a professional opportunity that would see me splitting time between two cities?

I am a consultant living in New Orleans, a city that I love dearly. One of my big clients in Houston has approached me today about working in-house for them for approximately the next year. They've mentioned some flexibility, ie. I could work in their Houston office 1-2 weeks a month or something similar, and moving there for a year is not an option for me. This is a great opportunity both for me and my company, and my boss is really in favor of me doing this. I have to make a decision very fast; in fact, we have an internal call scheduled for tomorrow morning to discuss it. What do I need to be asking or thinking of here? Clearly financial support for travel will have to play into this somehow, and I need to think of how this will affect my personal life. What else?

Other relevant details:
- I am moving into a new house (rental) this week - getting out of the lease is not an option.
- I am single and live alone with 2 cats. I have friends that have come by and checked on the kitties for short trips, but no full-time sitter.
- I have a very full, active social life here at home, but am not currently dating.
- I don't mind travel, though I've never done it monthly for a year.

I'd love to hear any advice or experiences from folks that have done this, or just any thoughts on things I should consider when making the decision to do this or not.
posted by tryniti to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is probably a very personal decision, but I had a setup just like this for about 2 years. I found it exhausting and got burned out on it within a few months (but kept chugging along for other reasons). Part of that was being away from my spouse, though, which isn't a factor for you. I do think it would be hard on your cats.

Definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY make sure there's incredibly clear (written) expectations of who is covering what expenses. Like:
  1. Flights to and from Houston
  2. Temporary apartment or hotel in Houston
  3. Utilities and other services you might need in that temporary place
  4. Car or other transportation in Houston
  5. Meals when you're on the road
  6. Transportation to and from the airport and/or airport parking
  7. Someone to care for your cats if needed
I had some friction in my situation around a few of these where I assumed it was obvious they would cover the costs, and they thought it was obvious I would cover them. Go overboard on being specific.

Also, I strongly recommend getting REALLY specific about the real expectations for how much you'll be in Houston. Again, I had a bit of trouble because both parties were a little vague ("it might be ok if you're here for a week a month"), and they expected me to be there more than I thought they did. This could have been avoided with more discussion up front.

I could probably go on for hours about this, but some I don't really want to spill in a public forum. Feel free to memail me if you have more questions. I do think this can work, you just have to be careful. Good luck.
posted by primethyme at 4:31 PM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've done jobs with that much travel (although not always to the same city, lucky you!), and in similar circumstances. I would offer the following advice:

Find a cat sitter you trust and the kitties love. It made my life so much easier to know someone was staying with them while I was away-- I paid a little more and got a daily email update and an occasional picture. Factor that in to the costs you would need to take into account.

I used social media heavily to maintain my friend groups in the different locations. It has turned me into a monster of facebook, but it meant that my friends in Place A got a look at my life in Place B and I was able to keep day to day contact with everyone. This is Facebook's main use case for me, and it really helped.

They would need to pay for your travel, and I would suggest they also need to pay for a service apartment (or something similar) in Houston-- don't be afraid to ask for this! And don't let them stick you in a hotel. It may be you will be there more than they expect right now, and a hotel would suck for that kind of long haul. Also ask for a per diem-- there will be all kinds of ways this will cost you money-- crap you don't have in Houston which you suddenly need.

Agree issues like per diem, etc. up front. Often company policies give you a different per diem if you spend more than x days in a place since they assume by that point you know how to do things cheaply. Find it out now, rather than finding it out in your pay check.

I sometimes feel like I work for, I recommend it that often-- but I would also recommend using to build your network in the new place. Otherwise the company will expect you to work insane hours and you will come back home exhausted and not wanting to see anyone. Carve out your own life in Houston or the job could eat you alive.

It sounds like fun to me.
posted by frumiousb at 4:32 PM on April 27, 2016

A little thing on top of everything else mentioned: This could be an easy opportunity to rack up very good airfare, hotel, and rental car rewards, if you are allowed to use your rewards number and be brand-loyal (a relative of mine had a similar remote-work situation for several years and funded many family vacations with points). Pick an airline with the best schedule of nonstop flights and don't let them nickle and dime you into picking the cheapest flight.

For the sake of your social life, try had to spend weekends in your home town. Maybe negotiate a schedule where if you have to spend two consecutive weeks there, you can fly home a bit early on Friday and then fly back Sunday evening.
posted by muddgirl at 4:42 PM on April 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

my parents spend about six MONTHS of their life in one place and six months in another. you are not them, but food for thought.

- they often have trouble scheduling medical appointments - by the time they can get in, they're in the wrong location. You can look at this from hair appointments to movie dates to drinks with friends to appliance repair people
- they had to buy 2 of everything
- they often have important paperwork or jewellery or outfits or whatever in the "wrong" place

the big one, though, is not something they would mention but something that i see from the outside. they are just less "rooted" people than they used to be. they both stopped volunteering cause it didn't work for their schedules, their friendships are less solid in both places, they are always looking ahead to when they have to leave again or counting their time. i would not want this life, even though they say they are happy.

i also think you would have to get very good at buying groceries in order not to let your milk spoil. but perhaps this is not a concern for you :)
posted by andreapandrea at 5:16 PM on April 27, 2016

I have a friend who did this for a year, and based on her experience, I'd recommend hiring a cleaner to come by once during your Houston week(s). Prepping for a long work trip can generate a lot of mess, and afterwards you get to come back to a nice, clean home.
posted by neushoorn at 11:19 PM on April 27, 2016

I did one week a month (plus the odd day here and there) in another city for about two years. Sydney and Melbourne - which look like a similar flight time to New Orleans and Houston? I think two weeks a month would be a more difficult proposition as you don't really have a homebase if it is an even split and would have impacted my personal life a lot more. I didn't find it a particular issue for my personal life, but I vary between super busy and hibernating at home anyway.

Find out how much you can plan out in advance when you will be there - I roughly marked the expected weeks for the whole year ahead. This let me plan my home life and also meant that people knew when to expect me and to plan meetings accordingly (to prevent too many day trips for meetings). If it is a 'suck it and see' arrangement, you might find that you never feel like you can plan for things at home and that you have to cancel social arrangements so frequently that people stop asking.

Yes to the above advice to sort out the finances. My arrangement was unusual for the organisation I worked for and so it didn't quite fit fairly into the existing policies. The other issue here for me was leave - my employer normally provided a 'travel day' to compensate for being away from home for more than a certain number of days and there was initially a debate about whether that would apply to my case. This may not be a consideration for you, but being able to take an occasional additional day is very useful for dealing with the things at home that you can't manage while you are away and for making up for the additional time spent travelling out of hours etc.

I found that I preferred to just get up early and fly on a Monday morning, so that I could fully enjoy the whole weekend at home and similarly, would rather get home late on Friday than stay over at the end of the week.

I started out staying in a serviced apartment, but for me, the reality was that I didn't end up using the kitchenette facilities etc as much as I imagined. But staying at the same place each time so that you know exactly what is there is useful (e.g. is their shampoo ok, so you don't pack your own? Is the hairdryer decent?). I liked being in more of a neighborhood, rather than a business area too, as a way of making me feel like I was in a second home.

There are lots of tips to making this work if you look at some questions about frequent travel e.g. to address the grocery and milk issue, buy UHT milk so that you always have some in the cupboard. Get groceries delivered on the day you arrive home. Definitely get loyalty status with an airline for extra convenience at the airport. Get lots of underwear and two sets of chargers (one to live in your luggage).

At first, it is tiring, but as you get used to where you stay, the fastest way through the airport and having your suitcase stocked with a lot of what you need, it gets easier.
posted by AnnaRat at 11:51 PM on April 27, 2016

I'm a consultant too. I travel weekly for 4 days out of town and back for the weekend. That schedule might work a LOT better for you than two weeks up, two weeks back. I fly out on the first flight Monday AM, and back on the 5:00 flight on Thursday. Friday, work from home. I sleep in my own bed 4 nights a week. It's pretty darn okay that way.

NOLA to Houston is an easy commute via air and if you get into a TSA known traveler program, that lets you keep your shoes on and bags packed when clearing security in the VIP line. I fly out of Hartsfield, so the line is pretty long (we ALL fly weekly) but not having to fuss with shoes, computers and toiletry bags is well worth the $100 for 5 years!

Our customers pay for the travel, flights, hotel, car rental and per diem as part of the budget for the SOW.

Leaving companion animals alone for days at a time is really mean, even if you have a cat sitter check in twice a day. (My opinion, your cats may vary.) I'd advertise for a quiet, introverted grad-student. If you don't want the person to live in, I am SURE there are grad students who would be willing to house/pet sit for a nominal sum and a chance to catch up on Game of Thrones and the quiet of their own place for 3 nights a week. Throw in cleaning and you might be able to do this for $100 per week.

Find a hotel to stay in. I agree, cooking for yourself in a won't happen. When I was in New York, I had some standard places I liked and I'd stop in, eat, and boogie to the room for the 'Click-Lock'. Your firm likely has a negotiated rate with Sheraton/Marriott/Hilton and it will factor out less expensive than a corporate apartment. It's 12-13 nights per month, on the up-and-back plan. About the same price as a corporate apartment with none of the cleaning hassles.

Our Sheraton always gave us access to the Club level, so I'd eat breakfast there, and I'd bring my take-out food up there at night. I NEVER eat in the room. I don't like the smell of food where I sleep and then there's the garbage. Most of us pass on daily maid service as well. Let me leave my shit where it is, I'm good.

A week or two a month for just the week days, that's cake! It's fun and you rack up miles and points for fabulous vacations!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2016

I also had a similar job where I flew back from NYC and Silicon Valley. My thoughts:

1. I was really really exhausted when I was doing every other week. If you could spend 2 weeks in one place and two weeks on the other it would be easier. Eventually just set the expectation for one week and I think is doable.

2. Routine helps. Stay at the same place, book the same airline, have the same cat sitter. Will help you manage your time better.

3. Your company will have to pay for it all. If they skimp on something it will make things tough on you.

I was a single guy at the time and I had fun dating in multiple cities...eventually though became a bit of a drag when I was in a relationship. I did accumulate enough that made it very attractive in many aspects so that's something to think about. Memail me if needed.
posted by The1andonly at 12:57 PM on May 2, 2016

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