While conducting interviews the other day for a new position in my department, I was reminded that many people don’t understand what a business trip entails. Many who do not regularly travel for work may believe that it is glamorous and filled with adventure and luxury. Sometimes it is, but even that comes with a price. I recall back home in Antigua, the general public would associate me and my work with a connection to a particular government. I was branded with a specific political party because I traveled with the Ministers during meetings where I was advising them. That’s small island politics. People brand your politics by association if they can’t find a more obvious means to do so.
One story I often tell when I am attempting to demystify business travel is about when everything seemed to blow up during a CARICOM (Caribbean Community) regional workshop on trade in services negotiations. This is a link to the workshop news item. Being in Geneva at the WTO as a trade negotiator for selected Caribbean nations, I was one of the experts designated to prepare the region for an upcoming Ministerial Conference. Ministers and senior government officials, often with the private sector and their associations pulling strings for their business needs, meet and battle government regulations affecting how goods and services move between countries. For those reading who are not in the trade policy arena, think of the Ministerial Conference as the highest level of decision-making for international trade laws.
Traveling for work is not always a luxury
I traveled a lot. However, I never made it to a million-mile frequent flyer level, at least not with one airline alliance. I was up to platinum, I think once, for a short while. I was often gold-level. When I worked for the WTO Secretariat and the OECS Mission, we were required to fly business class for flights over six hours. Some may see this as a luxury, but it was necessary given the many back-to-back trips we had. We often needed the space to work on a flight. I don’t mind traveling economy class for my personal trips, but for work, I agree with the WTO that it should be business class for any flight over a certain number of hours.
Then, upon heading back to Geneva, I had to prepare for another trip, in addition to catching up with family and personal life routines left undone while I was away. The next day, I boarded a British Airways flight without sleep the night before because I was in the office until 2:00 AM when my flight was 6:00 AM the same morning. I was preparing for a regional workshop in Barbados. I had enough time to prep for my seminar on WTO trade negotiations, go home from the office to pack, and head to the airport for 5:00 AM check-in for a flight to Barbados via London. While in my business-class seat, I worked, tweaking PowerPoint presentations and materials I needed to hand out to participants. During the 8-hour flight, I finally fell asleep maybe an hour or two before we landed.
For the love of taxis
Do you know how sometimes suitcases look the same, maybe except for the tags or some colored string people tie to differentiate them? I was so tired that I picked up the wrong luggage at baggage claim and only realized it after checking in at the hotel. After calling the airline to alert them of the mistake, I called a taxi to take me to the airport to exchange the luggage. The airline staff said they had mine but needed the other to exchange. I also needed to get the other suitcase to the hotel where the luggage-less travelers were staying. Upon arriving at the airport, the taxi driver opened the trunk. The luggage was gone. Vanished! I was perplexed and by now, solidly suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep and jet lag caused headaches and diminished my mental judgment and motor skills. When I called the hotel and described the suitcase, they informed me it was in the lobby. The hotel staff had removed it from the back of the taxi van in error, thinking the taxi had just arrived.
I had to pay for another taxi to bring the luggage to the airport so I could exchange it with the airline and then send the same taxi to take the tourist’s bags to their hotel. Then I paid for the first taxi to return to the hotel with my luggage.
Finally, after four taxi fares in one night, I returned to the hotel and crashed into bed. In the morning, I was ready for work. I turned on the shower. Instead of crystal clear water spraying from the shower head, the tap turned on a weird sewage connection to the drain pipes. Yes, sewage waste, with all its brown, thick, liquidy, and smelly magnificence, was filling the tub from the drain. I calmly turned it off, packed my stuff, went downstairs, informed the front desk of their problem, and told them I was leaving the hotel and was not paying for that night. I did not have breakfast there and still needed to get dressed and ready for my workshop in the same hotel.
No matter the problem, work goes on
Here I go in another taxi. I went to another hotel, which was perfect but more expensive than my per diem allowed because it had a five-star rating, and I booked at the last minute. After the first night, I checked out and retook a taxi to another hotel where my per diem permitted me to remain without bankrupting myself. Part of this hotel was under repair, but I was familiar with it from previous stays. Apart from the glacially slow elevators and construction noise from 8:00 AM, it was fine.
I told the meeting of my experience thus far, including to the participating Minister, who embarrassingly was also in charge of tourism along with her trade portfolio. She apologized. A few months later, the hotel closed permanently since the owners were not maintaining it to the best. Likely, it must have also happened to authentic tourists since it happened to me.
Business travel can be grueling! Next time, I will tell you about when my plane almost crashed over Dover, England.
Please read about my other adventures on the beach as a child in Antigua.