Road Warriors: The Ups and Downs of Jet-Setting for a Job

Jenna Rodrigues, a 22-year-old consultant for IBM, has flown back and forth from Atlanta to Dallas every Monday and Friday for the last 12 weeks straight, making her feel like a tourist in Atlanta where she lives and a resident in Dallas, where she works. She knows exactly when to roll out of bed to make her Monday morning flight to Dallas, what to eat, pack, wear, and do once at the airport. When her flight takes off at 8:10 a.m., she’s out of bed at 6:10 a.m. She orders an SUV (via Uber) while she brushes her teeth, pulls on a dress, tosses a blazer over her shoulders and is out the door. By 6:30 a.m., she’s on the road to the airport. She directs the driver to a secret route around traffic between spoonfuls of yogurt (grabbed from her fridge on the dash out the door). The driver drops her at the airport arrivals level where she scoots past cheek-kissing families to the security gate. Ever the savvy traveller, Jenna zooms through security with a compact carry-on. When Jenna steps off the plane and arrives at the National Car Rental desk, her executive Emerald Aisle status and travel know-how collide when a 2014 Ford Mustang complete with Bluetooth capabilities and navigation is waiting for her. Jenna loves the game of the business traveling, and it’s a game she plays well.

We spoke with three career women who regularly travel for work about the benefits and hardships of life on the road. In addition to Jenna, Sonya Genesius, a 28-year-old manager in the risk advisory services department of Ernst & Young, shared tips with us on how to manage extensive travel. She recently completed a three-month project in the Philippines leaving behind her New York City apartment. Maria Comstock is a 42-year-old account executive in the media platforms department of Google; she makes three trips per month and resides in San Francisco.

Considering a career with a heavy travel schedule? Read on for insights and advice on how to manage hectic business travel, when to take advantage of travel perks, and why missing happy hour with friends might just be worth it to see the world.

What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
Sonya: My first job was at Ernst & Young and I fell into it. I went to a Beta Alpha Psi meeting in college that was open to business majors, and they had recruiters presenting from the four big consulting firms. I identified with the Ernst & Young recruiters because they weren’t scripted; they made it a panel discussion. I thought, “Those are people I really want to work with.” One of the only reasons I got the job is because I helped the recruiter on campus get to a meeting. I saw him on the train and recognized him from the networking event, and he was lost. I helped him find where he needed to go.

How does heavy travel affect your lifestyle?
Maria: When I’m home, I tend to dive into my nest and can be a little bit of a hermit. When I travel, I try to create as much normalcy as I can which means eight hours of sleep and enough vegetables. I miss happy hours with friends when I’m traveling, and when I’m home I’m recovering from travel. Travel can be hard physically so I maybe spend more time calculating sleep time and schedules than most adults. My boyfriend works a lot of hours too so not seeing each other for a few days makes the weekends a little more special. We have a lot to catch up on if we haven’t seen each other for three to five nights!

Tell us about your support system. Do they understand when you miss happy hours and big events?
Maria: My boyfriend owns a business, so he works really long hours and frankly, sometimes I wonder if he is relieved when I’m gone a couple of nights because he gets the house to himself. In past relationships, it definitely has been a bit of a problem. I’m divorced and travel might have affected our relationship. He wasn’t comfortable with my schedule of being on the road and having fun during the week. Part of my job is to take clients out and go see concerts and have nice dinners.
Jenna: I talk to my family a lot. I find that my support system consists of people that live far away and that are people I’d only really be able to call anyway. I reconnect with people late in the evening when I’m winding down. My closest friends are the people I grew up with who now live in New York and LA. Many of them are consultants so they understand the travel and the lifestyle.

What do you like about being on the road?
Sonya: I like the fact that work can also pay for my personal trips, so I can also see new places. It also helps to see friends. As long as it’s equal to or less than the cost of flying home, they’re okay with alternate weekend travel. If you’re away for two weeks on a project and it’s hard to fly home, you can go somewhere else for the weekend. Also, you can fly somebody out to where you are if you can’t go home for a month, which is what I did in the Philippines. I flew my mom out.

What’s the hardest part about traveling so much?
Jenna: I don’t have a lot of down time. When I’m on the road, there’s this internal pressure to make the most of my life because I’m not at home. So in Dallas, I found all these different restaurants and joined a gym and tried to build a routine there. When I go back to Atlanta, it’s a scramble to remind my friends that I’m their friend. Some people just stop calling because you can only hang out on the weekends.
Sonya: The hardest part is the hours because I don’t have time to have a lifestyle after work that I would want to have. Sometimes I get off at a reasonable hour and can go out and have a nice dinner. But recently that hasn’t been happening. I write a travel blog (Seasoned Traveler), and I’d like to spend more time on my hobbies, like taking a Spanish class or writing. Sometimes you miss something personal because of traveling. When I was away for three months, I missed a friend’s wedding and engagement party. You always have to make the most of it, and good things come out of it. Some people get lonely, but that usually doesn’t happen to me.

How have you made regular travel work for you?
Jenna: For me, it was one of the best post-college situations that I could have found myself in. I have the freedom to go see people I wouldn’t have gotten to. As restricting as this job is with my social life, it’s also kind of freeing. There’s not that voice in your head that you should be home. I don’t have that voice anymore because I’m never home. I can be spontaneous with my travel.
Sonya: It is a challenge to try to manage your own schedule. One thing that helps is having a company and coworkers who understand that you have something to get to. I also make time for friends on the weekends and weeks that I’m home, and I make it a point to go see them. Sometimes my family will fly down to see me or I will fly through Connecticut to be home. I’ll fly out of a different airport if it means spending more time with loved ones.

Tell us about the benefits and perks that come along with all of this travel!
Sonya: The multiple memberships and all the points I get help with traveling for personal reasons are the best. The other perk is the freedom of it because I can make my own schedule, and I don’t have someone telling me what to do all the time.
Jenna: With National Car Rental, if I earn five credits, I get a free rental day. I have executive Emerald Aisle status, so I get free things faster and I can choose from the best cars on the lot. My company doesn’t require me to join rewards programs, so I can keep my rewards and do what I want with them. Because my friends don’t have the same resources as I do, I give away a lot of my points. Last weekend, I flew my friend out to visit. I’ve also traded a week at a hotel to my boxing coach for four months of boxing lessons.

How has traveling for work gotten easier over the years?
Sonya: Both Global Entry and TSA Pre-check have made my life much easier. Sometimes, I’ve also been able to make an earlier flight or relax in the airline lounge before my next flight from the extra time saved on security. Wi-Fi on planes allows me to send emails and work while flying. In the past, that time was all out of pocket. Having lounge access through priority pass and the Amex Platinum card has also made my life easier because I always have a place to get a snack or drink and talk to customer service, if needed. Airline status and upgrades allow me to board early and guarantee I won’t need to check my luggage.
Maria: GPS! I used to have to print off directions! While GPS was a little clunky at first (I’d accidentally drive off and back on ramps for the same highway!) I rely on it 100 percent now. Expense reporting systems are a lot better, too. I also have a CLEAR pass, which came out before Pre-check, and I find that it suits my needs. Food choices in airports have also improved tremendously. Hotel Wi-Fi is a lot better and because of the corporate deal we have with some of the hotels, I don’t have to pay an additional charge for Wi-Fi.

Share with us your strategies for maintaining a healthy (or sane!) lifestyle on the road.
Sonya: That’s been a challenge lately. There are certain rules I have at restaurants, like not eating the bread and only ordering dessert once or twice a week. I always pack gym clothes. We recently started an “on the move” challenge within the company. They gave each team pedometers to track our steps to encourage us to work out. When I am at home, I use Blue Apron because I don’t have time to grocery shop. When I was in the Philippines, I opted to stay in an apartment with a kitchen so I could cook.
Maria: I don’t drink on the road. Having a cocktail can really send the whole trip on a downward spiral. I want my clients to still think I’m fun, so I order a Diet Coke with no ice in a pint glass—it looks just like a dark beer! As soon as I get on the plane, I set my clock to the local time where I’m going to land and to get in the mindset of the location. When I land, I put on my workout clothes and I search for yoga studios near my hotel. I go to the grocery store to avoid room service, or worse: the minibar!

What does it take to succeed in your field? What characteristics help you thrive in your fast-pace travel schedule?
Jenna: The biggest skill I’ve had to learn is to be comfortable with ambiguity. People don’t tell you how to do your job. You don’t know when your job is going to change, so you have to be confident and comfortable with that. Also, I realize I have two different lives. I have my home life in Atlanta and my road life. I remember when I was in Argentina, it was like being under water for three weeks and coming up for a breath of fresh air. It was totally different! I have different friends at home. I have different friends on the road. I have a different bed on the weekends than I do during the week.
Sonya: You have to be really outgoing and willing to try new things. I have coworkers who hate trying new foods and hate leaving home, so you really need an adventurous spirit and to be outgoing. I’ve met a lot of people traveling that I wouldn’t have met if I were afraid to sit at a bar myself.
Maria: There are a lot of things that are helpful in my field: staying positive, intellectual curiosity, finding solutions to complex problems, and listening closely are essential.  

What’s your favorite place you’ve been for work?
Jenna: Dallas has been my favorite project because I felt like I lived in Dallas and I was a tourist in Atlanta. I had a pseudo-family on the road. The people I made friends with there mostly were my coworkers. I also interacted with the people at National Car Rental, where they know what cars I like. We joked around every Monday morning.  
Sonya: The Philippines was the coolest. I never thought I would go there by myself but I spent four months there alone without any other coworkers. I didn’t know much about the people, and they’re the nicest people ever.

What advice do you have for those contemplating a career with major travel?
Sonya: Have patience because you’ll constantly have to wait at the airport. Get global entry. That saved my life. When the customs line is so long it wraps around the baggage claim, I can breeze right through. Make sure you have a support system of people you can call that will understand when you’re running late or delayed. If your family and friends don’t support you, it’s tough.
Maria:  Use your travel time wisely. It’s important to have face-time with clients, but travel only if really necessary and productive. 

We’re teaming up with National Car Rental to reward millennial business travellers out there — just a few items to make your days on the road easier!

We’re giving away the following:

  • $100 Amex Gift Card

  • $50 Starbucks Gift Card

  • Elleven Techtrap

  • Zoom Energy Pack Rechargeable Battery

  • Colorplay Leather Luggage Tag

  • Camelbak Groove Stainless .6L

Want to win these road-warrior necessities? Leave a comment telling us: how often you travel and share your favorite tip for managing hectic travel. You have until Sunday, July 6 at 11:59PM CST to enter. We will announce the winner on Twitter and Facebook on Monday, July 7, so be sure to follow us there.

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