I was so paranoid about oversleeping and missing my 6 a.m. flight that I was WIDE AWAKE at 2:30 a.m., 45 minutes before my alarm went off.
As always happens, there was no reason to be so antsy about getting to the airport so early (but I’m an anxious traveler so I can’t help it). No traffic, and security was a breeze. I was flying to New York for work, for just two nights. I was pretty jazzed about it. I wasn’t on some crazy project deadline, and I was staying in a corporate apartment right around the coroner from my company’s office in Dumbo, a trendy corner of Brooklyn with stunning views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
I tried to dress the part, wanting to fit in to what I imagined a bunch of people getting on a 6 a.m. flight would look like (sales people? consultants?) while also fitting into the casual hip vibe of the design agency I work for. I chose my new midnight blue cashmere sweater, with gray jeans and my plum-and-blue slip-on tennies.
Nearing 5:30 the hoard starts to gather around the gate in anticipation of boarding. And I notice: there’s a lot of dudes here. Like, a lot of dudes, solo, in suits or blazers, with hardcase suitcases and airpods stuffed in their ears. I counted 5 suits in various shades of blue. I kept hearing Tom Haverford’s voice, “Brooks Brothers boys make dope suits.” (I’m not sure he said that exact thing, but you get the idea).
Obviously, these people were going for work. This was even more striking on the plane. As I scooted toward my seat in the rear, I passed rows and rows occupied by men with thinning brown or gray hair. Close-cropped haircuts. A lot of light-colored button ups or gingham prints. Pretty much everyone was white. It was striking how similar they looked.
Where were all the women? There were obviously some. But so few. I thought of the stories you hear about women and work, of women opting to stay home, pausing or giving up careers because childcare is too expensive. So I couldn’t help looking at the sea of manly scalps thinking, I wonder who’s staying home so you could get to the airport by 5:30 in the morning?
Because that’s the thing. Unless you live alone, if you have pets, or others that depend on you, what arrangements have you made that enable you to be gone for a few days, a week, or longer?
I wonder about the negotiations, the discussions between the one that stays home and the one that travels. Who is left behind? What makes it OK to be gone?
While traveling for work, you enter a kind of stasis. Your life continues on around you but you’re separated from it. You have a narrower field of vision. I know I can easily spend long hours working because my daily routines and responsibilities have vanished. I don’t need to leave the office by 5:30, and can easily work over ten hours, or late into the night without thinking too much about it. It’s actually freeing in a way, this sharp focus on the task at hand instead of keeping one eye, and part of your focus, on the clock.
But the opposite is true for the one who stays behind. I’ve been that person too. Responsibilities have increased as we keep up all those small things that make “normal” life moving along: dog walks, diaper changes, feeding the kids, cleaning house, buying groceries, buying sundries, and on and on.
I admit I have a pretty sweet deal. No kids and my partner works from home and can manage dog walks and doggy daycare. We recently hired a company to clean our apartment twice a month.
Do these business travelers make enough money that they have a nanny to rely on? A housekeeper, a cleaning service? To what extent does their partner bear the brunt of taking care of what’s been left behind? Is travel a regular thing or occasional? Did all parties sign up for their roles or has it just… happened?
Curious if I was observing a reality or my own biased indignation (of course these are all dudes!), I looked up some statistics and they were not as bad than I thought. 60% of business travelers are men (in contradiction to another site, which said 47% were women) and the average age is about 46.
This one shocked me though: the top 10% of business travelers spend about 4 weeks of their personal time on a plane each year. One month of time, gone, on a plane! I love to travel and I don’t mind being on a plane (it’s reading time!) but that much time is nuts.
A friend of mine, a tech consultant, worked in Boston during the week and flew back to Chicago on weekends. This went on for months. But assuming she did this commute (that’s how she described it, as her “commute”) for a year, she would have spent almost nine days on the plane total, assuming the average flight time to Boston was two hours and 14 minutes. Not to mention the many nights she was actually away from home.
Even for a travel-lover such as myself, even though my ego swells when I get to tell people, “Oh, I’m going to New York for work” (65% of Millennials who travel for work view it as a status symbol), even though part of me likes the simplicity and focus of the work while gone, a month is too much time. Because that means more time in the airport, dealing with that chaos and the perennial stressball threat of delays. Because that means being away from your life, friends and loved ones. When could you try this new restaurant or go to this show? When could you indulge in your hobbies? When could you get a warm hug from someone you love?
And because I do not relish staring at a wall at 2:30 a.m., wondering what traffic is going to be like on the way to the airport.
About this newsletter
Humdrum is written by Christina Brandon, who has no more work travel planned this year. Purchase her memoir Failing Better anywhere you want, including Amazon. Connect with her by replying to this email or jumping on Twitter or Instagram. And tell friends to subscribe!