Women’s Business Travel in the Real World

businesswoman sitting on conveyor belt and waiting for her luggageAll the recent articles about mommy business trips have my dander up, and there’s not enough Selsun Blue to settle down this cranky old broad.  Bring on the coal-tar shampoo, baby.

The real skinny on business trips is that they stink equally for moms and dads. 

Business trips are exhausting and usually only fun the first time, when you are twenty-three and have your first expense account.

You soon figure out that business travel is a part of a challenging career, and another task you do to get ahead and stay ahead, to grow in your field and be a part of the team culture.

Before I landed this cushy, highly paid, sit-and-write-til-the-cows-come-home-Nellie writer job, I worked for three decades in health care marketing and sales.  I worked for several national companies and one global company, all of whom liked the festive cabal atmosphere of sales and marketing people in large convention centers for days on end, from dawn until dusk. Now there was the occasional five-star restaurant involved, but even that gets old.

And the economy changed all that. I digress for a moment — as we old folk do — and wax philosophically about the “good old days” (before 2009).  In an early job I spent a week at The Colony on the beach near Sarasota, Florida, where part of our day was spent in tennis lessons with the house pro.  Then there was the American Hospital Association meeting at a Phoenix Hotel with three “swim-up” bars. My husband got to go to that one; of course we paid for his flights and meals, but usually college librarians who are assistant professors don’t stay in hotels, er resorts, when there’s a fine Comfort Inn right there.  I remember going to the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Louisville with a gaggle of other reps and managers and the tab was over four grand. 

The good old days disappeared, and so did my job, but not my memories of business trips.

Shall I say more?  The forced dinner parties with colleagues or customers, the ungodly time after the first cocktail and before the flaming dessert arrives, the oh-my-lord do I have to be with these people for one more second ennui that overtakes every one of these meetings eventually.  It’s real, people, and it is hard work to keep that positive attitude for four days in a row.

Remember the old adage about why Ginger Rogers was more skilled that her dance partner Fred Astaire?  The saying goes that Ginger was the more able because not only did she have to follow Fred’s steps, only backwards, but she did it in high heels.

The same is true for the business convention or sales meeting.

While many of my business trips were regional, and involved putting on Snoopy goggles and a scarf for the Red Baron flight to Cleveland, I also traveled all over the United States.  The last company I worked for before my “early retirement” in 2009 had the uncanny ability to book nearly every meeting in a theme park, and then allow us no time to ride “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Not much is more annoying than staying in a Minnie-room at the Disneyland Hotel surrounded by thousands of happy, peppy people on their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland, and you are there to learn about Cox-2 inhibitors.

Okay, one thing more annoying: the company renting out the entire Universal Studios theme park in Florida for a treasure hunt when it is one hundred and ten freaking degrees and the humidity is worse, and you are menopausal.

Let’s revisit one business meeting in the lovely state of New Jersey.   It’s December and you are finally departing from a week-long training session on a bus with your colleagues.  You’ve been up since 6 a.m., which your body thinks is 5 a.m. because you are not an East Coaster.

You are immaculate in your tailored suit with perfect hair and jewelry and those damn high-heeled pumps.

Now you are getting on the bus with your box of training manuals including four three-inch ring binders, your computer, your suitcase, your hanging bags, and you are doing it all in those high-heeled shoes.

Finally the bus drops you off at Newark — the most glamorous of the New York area airports —  and when you work through the crowd of suitcases that the driver dumped on the sidewalk, yours aren’t there.  The driver has driven off with your stuff.  You have less than an hour to catch your flight because you followed company rules and didn’t leave the meeting earlier.  But you are so organized that you have the training center number on your cell phone, you call, and within ten minutes the driver is back, apologizing   You  have your stuff and you make the plane. All in high-heeled shoes.

You don’t miss your connection in Chicago, as you have on numerous other occasions. And at the little airport, at the end of the rainbow, you can see a nine-year-old boy who missed his mommy running towards you, thrusting a package of Cracker Barrel fruit slices in your face and then kissing and hugging you.  That’s the reward.  Oh, and the husband is there with a dozen roses, because he knows it’s been a long bad week, but he’s not running in the airport.  A big guy has his dignity.

This ridiculous fable does have a point.  Except for the high-heeled shoes, men and women face the same challenges on a business trip, and they also go on business trips for the same reasons whether they are bloggers or people who sell urinal cakes (yeah, I knew a guy who had that job and brought passion to it every day.)

I am hopeful that all the flack caused by the Wall Street Journal‘s sexist article about :mommy business trips” will cause its editorial staff to seriously look at how these issues were/are covered.

As a final thought, I can’t help but wonder what it is like when WSJ — men or women — travel on business trips.  Perhaps there is a story in that.

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines. Amy specializes in health writing, with a passion for rehabilitation and disability issues. She also enjoys writing about politics, travel and the arts. Follow her on Twitter at @ravenonhealth, at her web-site www.amyabbottwrites.com or as  Bernadine Spitzsnogel on Open Salon.  She likes to hear from readers at amy@amyabbottwrites.com.

Image via iStockPhoto/Hongqi Zhang

  • Joan Haskins

    And to think, all this time I wanted a job that gave me business trips… Funny and very revealing article, Amy.

  • Ah, those dangerous, toe-numbing, yet sexy high heels…gotta love ’em. Great article, Amy. I agree with you. I don’t believe gender makes any difference on business trips.

  • After I had kids, I over-glamourized business trips in my mind, after having left the full-time workforce because of them when I entered motherhood. I couldn’t agree with you more – they are taxing, regardless of gender.

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