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Travelling for business is lonely, annoying and, oh, so welcome

Travelling for business is lonely, annoying and, oh, so welcome
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First Published: Sat, Feb 03 2007. 12 00 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Feb 02 2007. 11 48 PM IST
 There’s the airport where you strip down to your hosiery to get “wanded” and delayed into ever-receding departure times. Once aloft, there’s the dignity of spreading processed cheese on a cracker with a red plastic stick. 
But it’s easy to romanticize business travel if you compare it with the hassles of the office. 
Gene Matarese, the director of sales at a packaging company, relishes the peacefulness of an airplane. “It’s the ideal office where you’re not bombarded with a lot of extraneous stuff,” he says. No petty office politics, no incessant interruptions, and no damage control. 
“I can get more accomplished on a three-hour flight than I can sitting in the office for eight hours,” says Mari Baxter, a business consultant for a childcare franchise, adding that she has picked up the same folder 10 times today without working on it.
She’ll travel 16 days this month. During that time, she’ll work efficiently, knowing she’d have to make the trip again if she doesn’t complete her work. The same sense of urgency doesn’t fuel her work at the office. “It’ll be there tomorrow,” she says.
Business travellers understand one of the emerging truths of today’s office: One of the best places on earth for quality work time isn’t actually on earth, but at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet above it. Even in a pressurized cabin, where the air seems little more than dehydrating microbes, it can be heavenly. 
Marketing consultant Jeffrey Hirsch achieves a Zen-like peacefulness hard to replicate in the terrestrial world, except maybe in a house of worship. “The feeling is one of total freedom, calm and timelessness ... sometimes nearly bliss,” he says. “The secular world is left behind—no calls, no emails, no IMs, no clients, no nagging ex-wife, no problems whatsoever.” He says he’s more productive and creative in-flight. 
That’s why some people would welcome cellular service on planes as much as a drastic drop in cabin pressure. “I’m dead set against the idea,” says Gil Gordon, a telecommuting consultant who views the plane ride as his “little island of sanity”. Says Mr Gordon: “It’s the adult equivalent of a timeout for kids.”
Even when a plane ride is bad, it’s not that bad. Tony D’Angelo, formerly a consultant for a software company who has travelled as much as 49 weeks a year, says unforeseen travel problems taught him how to cope. “I learned to reduce stress by saying I have no control over it,” he says. Airborne, he says, “I only have the flight attendant coming up and asking me if I want something to drink.” 
In a survey conducted by American Express Business Travel, 78% of respondents said the top reason they like travelling is “boredom busting”; only 7% worried about getting behind in office work. Similarly, in a survey conducted by the National Business Travel Association, 60% of business travellers said they enjoy it, and even more heavy travellers (69%) enjoy it. 
What business travellers don’t like is being away from their families (55%). “The fifth time you see Paris in a year without your family, you’d rather be in Bismarck, N.D., in winter with them,”says Paul Vanderwarker, formerly a national sales manager. 
Some see value in the separation. “I missed my family terribly when I was travelling, but I enjoyed the respite from hypercharged toddlers and bathroom interruptions,” says Elizabeth Gray, formerly an account manager at a software company. 
Gary Schmidt, management consultant with 2.5 million air miles, says he does his best strategizing on planes and often sleeps better on the road because he’s not crowded into his bed with his wife and two dogs. “Big advantage,” he says, adding, “On the road, you can’t go to the dry cleaner, pick up screws needed for the light switches, buy the can of stain the front gate needs so desperately. Maids clean your room, other people cook all your meals and others tend to do the driving.”
Some say travel can do wonders for familial relations. Marshall Goldsmith, of California, a tireless management consultant with 14 million miles under his wing, used to tally the number of days each year that he spent at least four hours with his kids. In 1993, it was 131. By 1995, he asked them if he should shoot for 150 days. But, he says, they had seen plenty of him and vetoed the idea. Now, his travels allow him to see his daughter on the East Coast more often. 
He thinks his marriage has also benefited from his travels. “It’s like you’re dating,” he says. Mrs Goldsmith says it brings to mind an inscribed plaque she once saw: “How can I miss you if you don't go away?” 
Still, his constant travel can be disorienting. Mr Goldsmith recalls once taking his seat at the symphony, and having the hardest time finding his seat belt. “The symphony doesn’t move,” Lyda, his wife, reminded him. (Jared Sandberg keeps a close watch on workspace etiquette from downtown Manhattan. Comments on his column are welcome at wsj@livemint.com)
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First Published: Sat, Feb 03 2007. 12 00 AM IST
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