Should Frequent Travel Seem Less Glamorous?

There’s no denying that frequent travel looks glamorous. That’s probably largely because it is, in many ways. But probably more because we live in a day-and-age where everything can be made to look glamorous thanks to social media. Heck, if you add enough filters or shoot from the right angle, you can make anything from lunch at McDonald’s to a root canal look glamorous.

Instagram

So what are the real effects of travel? Is it all as glamorous as it sounds?

The University of Surrey in the UK just published a rather brilliant report, entitled “The Darker Side Of Hypermobility.”

The report is about 30 pages, but they provide a great summary of their research.

The premise is as follows:

In his critical review, Cohen first explores evidence denoting that a high social status is often associated with frequent travel, particularly in more privileged societies in Northern Europe. The amount of miles you’ve travelled, how often you hop on and off a plane, the number of places you’ve lived and iconic places you’ve visited all articulate ‘network capital’ and a higher status in life, especially now we have the platform of social media to display our ‘travelness’ through interactive maps, ‘Selfies’ and ‘check-ins’ for our friends to see and admire.

And here’s the research:

Cohen explains that the consequences of hypermobility need to be addressed, firstly because it’s becoming increasingly common due to more low-cost travel, therefore affecting more and more people, and secondly it is a significant barrier to behavioural change in our consumption and environmental sustainability.

Cohen explores the following consequences of frequent travel. Physiological: jet lag, deep vein thrombosis and increased exposure to radiation. Psychological: stress, anxiety, travel disorientation, feelings of loneliness and isolation (for both the traveller and the spouse left at home) and identity confusion. Social: the negative impact on spouse and children at home, feeling out of sync with your home community and weakened friendships.

And lastly, here’s the conclusion:

Cohen states that these negative personal and social costs have been silenced by the glamorisation of hypermobility through advertising, social media and other forms of public discourse. He concludes that in order to pursue the de-glamorisation of frequent travel, we need to better understand the discourses that make it fashionable and aspirational. Only then can we ‘break the intricate bonds between high mobility and social capital, and to ultimately change transport behaviour’.

I’d say the report is spot on, and one of the best reports I’ve seen on the effects of frequent travel.

Where does the truth lie?

Somewhere in the middle, for sure. To some degree I think we all suffer from feeling like the grass is greener on the other side. When I’m not traveling I wish I were traveling. Sometimes when I am traveling I wish I weren’t traveling.

Travel comes with challenges for sure. People plan a summer trip to Europe for their family, thinking it’ll be nothing but great memories and fun. But the reality can often be different.

Having flown nearly five million miles and having lived in hotels for about 16 months now, I do have a few general thoughts. They don’t all directly address the article, but:

  • Leisure travel is definitely more fun than business travel. In a way the two can’t even be compared. Business travel is almost like an endurance test, where you have to do your “normal” job while dealing with jetlag, being away from wifi for a dozen hours at a time, etc.
  • It’s important to set realistic expectations for travel. Know you’ll be jet lagged. Know you’ll get scammed. Know you’ll get lost repeatedly. Know you’ll get into huge arguments with your friends/loved ones due to a combination of jetlag, exhaustion, hunger, etc. And know that you’ll probably end up forgetting all the bad things and still have a great time.
  • Move slowly. It’s sort of cruel how little vacation time Americans have, on average. So the tendency is to want to squeeze in as much as possible, and often to do four destinations in a week. If you’re a super experienced traveler and love to move at a fast pace, that might be fine. But if you’re not, or you’re traveling with multiple people, I think it’s much wiser to take your time and really stop to enjoy a couple of places rather than to cram in as many places as you can.

For many, I think social media bragging rights are almost a reward for being a road warrior. They’re away from their friends & family, they’re exhausted, etc. So being able to “brag” on social media is sort of one of the few things which makes the experience rewarding, twisted as it may be. If anything, it keeps road warriors relevant, so when they’re away from their family and friends, they’re at least not forgotten, thanks to their social media presence.

Sunset

All that being said, while travel is exhausting when constant, it is still pretty damn awesome, if you ask me. When you ask people why they want to be rich or what they want to do when they retire, the answer more often than not is “I want to travel.” Travel is, after all, one of life’s “peak” experiences.

Even if you’re on a business trip and are going from meeting to meeting, just being able to spend an hour outside enjoying a completely different culture really is a huge reward, even if you don’t really stop to appreciate it at the time. For example, I’ve only ever spent a day in Cairo, but even so, being able to visit the pyramids was something I’ll never forget.

Pyramids-of-Giza

But like everything in life, the key is moderation. Do I love my lifestyle? Yes. But I also know I need more balance. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

What do you make of hypermobility — is it a reward or a punishment?

(Tip of the hat to Sanjay)

Comments

  1. For someone whose well-being depends on selling the dream by hawking credit cards, you better hope that frequent travel seems glamorous

  2. I used to travel excessively for work. Sometimes 45 weeks a year. Overseas at least once a month. Lots of upgrades, lots of lounges, but it was exhausting. It was before cell phones, so you spent a lot of your time at airports on payphones with a day planner trying to get all your work done before the flight. Lots of day trips that get delayed. Lots of hassles, etc. Then I made a career change and pretty much quit traveling by air for about 8 years. Just the thought of getting on a plane filled me with dread and anxiety.

    Now, I travel for fun. I can financially travel better and having a cell phone and the internet makes travel amazingly easier. I actually look forward to my elaborate trips. I am having a blast.

    So, I agree with the difference between business travel and fun travel. When I traveled for business, the thought of spending vacation on a plane would make me shudder. A vacation was staying home for 4 days in a row.

    But, let’s face it, if you travel well (thanks to the tips on websites like yours) and you travel for fun, and you travel sparingly, it can be pretty darn glamourous. I am not sure I want to really change that. It is a treat for me to travel occasionally and travel well.

  3. When I travel someplace new, I NEVER go with organize tour groups. I do it on my own. Visit a couple must see places and get a vibe for the place. If I like it, I go back. I never understand why people have try and cram as many places to visit in a short period. If you like it, you can always go back.

    Business travel. Luckily, most of my travel for work involves international travel. I would dread doing US domestic travel.

    I’ve said this before and will say it again. You must have good health. We all take this for granted. No amount of pampering in the lounges or 5 star hotels can compensate for bad health. If you don’t have good health, you won’t enjoy any form of travel.

  4. I once commented to a tour guide that I just do what ever I feel like doing when I travel. So if I don’t see “everything” it doesn’t matter because I never know what I’ve missed. Instead, I can focus on my experiences at my leisure and enjoy myself every moment. The guide wished that all travelers did that.

  5. I’m in my late twenties and flying, whether for business or leisure, is still a treat for me every time.

  6. It’s a little shitty flying to San Francisco from Los Angeles for a meeting (you’re not on the plane long enough to actually relax, tack on the airport at either ends, travel to and from–parking shuttles, etc…). You get there, power through your meeting, coax your clients into leaving early for the day, and then hit the bar SO HARD that by the time you leave in your Uber for the airport (because BART is no longer an option in this state), you’re not even sure you should be allowed to board.

    It’s also a little shitty flying to work events and not sleeping the whole time and then having to come home and get to the office bright and early the next morning.

    All of that being said, the times I’ve had have [mostly] been amazing, and as tired as you inevitably end up, feeling a plane leave the earth is still magical all these years later. The one thing that I have lost is the excitement/pride I used to feel when telling someone I would be in Amsterdam/Berlin/Paris for work. Others still think it’s fabulous…I just think it’s exhausting and fun.

  7. Great post, Ben!
    As you said: When I’m not traveling I wish I were traveling.
    For me it’s always been about the journey, getting from A to B, just as much as the destination itself. But these days I think I travel a lot smarter than I used to, I pace myself, especially when traveling in company, pick flights that promise the most sleep and reduce jet lag, I don’t do extra segments just to ‘maximize’ the experience and have more champagne, I spend as little time as possible in airports and lounges. Bottom line: can’t wait for the next trip (which happens to be this weekend, transatlantic…)

  8. Not all business travel is equal. Slogging it out on a connecting flight on a CRJ to some highway town where the best hotel is a sprinhill suites can suck. (Though even then, if you get out of your room and find a bar that serves food, you can meet interesting people. A table for one on business is dreadful. A bar with food? Gives you a chance.). But sometimes business travel can be ok, even when if all you can eek out is a couple of hours. In fact, sometimes not having the pressure of being in an interesting place and having to squueze in seven things is quite liberating. (“Well, here I am in San Francisco. I’ve got time for one thing. Hey, the Giants are town.” Or, wow the first Alcatraz tour is at 7:00 a.m.” Or even just, “say Mr. Concierge, where is the best place in Portland For a two or three mile run?”). I had an overnight in Vancouver last month with little time other than to watch the sea planes take off and land early in the morning with a Starbucks. Was it worth crossing borders, packing a bag, dealing with immigration and connecting on a dash-8 in SEA? No. But for 45 minutes in a beautiful place I hadn’t been in years, it was quite nice.

    For family vacations, I am not a social media guy so I don’t have that burden to worry about, but I can see where the pursuit of recordability and social media currency could be inconsistent with some of the reasons I like to travel. And in fact, I struggle with the camera. On the one hand wanting something tangible to help me remember but on the other not wanting the pusuit of the right shot to take me out of the moment of being with my family. It’s a struggle, but at least spotting the issue helps to keep it from getting out of control.

  9. “For many, I think social media bragging rights are almost a reward for being a road warrior. They’re away from their friends & family, they’re exhausted, etc”

    This is something I’ve never understood and that I personally think is such a crap motivation to fly or to justify flying. That whole process of social media bragging/reporting just takes you out of the moment – you are too busy thinking about maximising the marketing impact than just enjoying what’s in front of you.

    As someone who repeatedly flies just for the experience itself, and rarely anything else, I never feel any desire to show off about it. I do it for me, not anyone else. I don’t even like to get into publishing trip reports (even though I love reading them) – which at least have some value compared to inane Instagramming and the like – because I feel like it interferes too much with just being in the moment. I’m always happy to provide feedback or fill in gaps for others in relation to those flights, but trying to document it to the nth degree while onboard is just too much disruption. Talking about your flights/travels only has a point, in my view, if it is to help others make the most of their travelling opportunities (sharing intel).

    In my view, public scheduled aviation isn’t glamorous – I feel that lingering nostalgia is a hangover from the days when truly only the world’s top 1% were able to fly (and wearing dinner suits and evening frocks and furs was the standard). Flying is so much more accessible and therefore down to earth these days – even though there are still good things on offer.

    Cut back the hype, and even when you always travel in the premium cabins, the reality is that flying is a grind in quite a few ways. But I love trying out new cabins and aircraft and visiting new lounges etc – I love planning and anticipating it (Alain De Botton states that this is where the real payoff is), and if I’m lucky, I love the experience of it (and even if it doesn’t live up to expectations, I take the view I’m more informed by it). To brag to someone else about just seems to diminish it (I guess if you have to make a song and dance about, it can’t have been as good – it’s like your trying to make yourself believe it was). To each his own, I just find it counter to what motivates me to fly.

  10. I went back and re-read your old posts, starting from when you were first thinking about leaving Tampa, in chronological order with your recent travels in mind. Based on your last 6 months or so of posts and Instagram photos it seems like maybe you’ve settled on Southern California as a “home base”. This post really drove home that feeling for me. Maybe it’s an over analysis on my part but this post plus your recent travel breaks seem like you’ve decided Sothern California is “home” – even if you haven’t gotten the proverbial house and a dog yet.

  11. I have found that there are three types of people in the world when it comes to travel.

    The first group tends to be incredulous about anybody who claims to travel more than once a year on their annual vacation. The concept of the road warrior trudging from city to city, anonymous hotel to anonymous hotel and living out of a suitcase is just as alien to them as martians selling icecream.

    The second group are the “oh, you’re so lucky to travel so much” people. These are the folks who think that a business trip to Europe with a redeye outbound and a day full of meetings is somehow similar to their dream vacation that features gondolas, rose petals and a masseur with fragrant oils.

    The third group are the grizzled veterans for whom nothing can raise an eyebrow. You flew 100,000 miles in a week? No big deal, I did 200,000 miles once. Had to change camels in Timbuktu on the way to Lesotho? Well, I took a flying cockroach to Nauru.

    The more you trend towards the third group, the less you tend to enjoy travel.

  12. There are cultural and historical reasons for why travelling seems glamourous. The cinema, for example. And, remember, thirty years ago a coach plane ticket used to cost the same as an executive ticket costs today. In my family I have people (oncles, aunts) that have never had a chance to take a flight — and probably, never will. The point is, travelling is not cheap. Not for the regular guy, who has a family and works 6 days a week. It is not just about money, its about time, family and self-organization. It costs more than dolars or euros or pesos. For you young people, with family support, and who lives in the USA and have access to credit card offers that not other country in the world has, it is pretty easier. But not for the rest of the world, I assure you that.
    Cheers.

  13. Timely piece as I start a 2 day trip to Singapore to deliver servers because FedEx isn’t fast enough. Am I excited? Sure, I haven’t been there before. However, I’m also missing a weekend with my family, flying for 28+ hours each directions, and expected to be immediately working in a data centre on arrival, at 1am, during Singapore’s 50th anniversary holiday. Anyone who thinks this is a vacation is so, so wrong.

  14. Remember the good old days when Ben traveled and wrote trip reports, rather than quoting research about traveling and writing social media trip reports?

    I loved those days.

  15. @Neil S — when was that? I thought he just lived inside 1st class cabins, luxury chain hotels and airport lounges. That’s what everything was about….and that ain’t travel.

    I miss photos of champagne bottles I couldn’t afford to drink, and endless fruit and buffet spreads on hotel trays.

  16. This article reminded me of a piece I read on your website a few years ago. It was a story about a lifelong traveler in Mexico recounting the beauty and sadness of traveling to too many places in the course of his life…it was very profound. Do you remember this piece and could you supply a link back to the original story? Thanks

  17. @Tony: It’s easy–we cram too much in because most of us only have the time and money to go on maybe one “big” trip a year, and unless you are in your twenties, you should be realizing that life is short, and the years you’ll be healthy enough to travel are relatively few. I’m trying to skip some places in order to enjoy the one or two I really have time to get to know (per trip). But, it’s hard to be 100 miles from a great city, halfway around the world from my home, and know I may never see it. And, it’s always a struggle to choose between the places I love and want to see again, and the hundreds of wonderful places I’ve never seen. But, I’ve done the “10 cities in 16 days” and don’t want to do that any more. So, more time, fewer places going forward. Ah, but the places I’ll miss . . . .

  18. Haven’t read the whole journal article yet but have to agree with the summary. I never understood the “I hate you” or “I’m so jealous” responses I received when answering about my weekend, spring vacation, birthday, etc. Just stated the facts, never bragged. One of my parents worked for an international carrier so we’d jet off for trips pretty often compared to my peers. Looking back, I never thought it glam. Until I started reading blogs last year, I didn’t know that flying F and J, or being able to travel at all, carried that much prestige. Thank you for bursting my bubble. Anyway, I’ve stopped posting to Facebook because it looks too much. One of my friend said she feels down when she sees people posting fun photos on social media. I thought it was harmless, sharing like the way my extended family sits down to see each other’s photos.

    Re travel — I appreciate everything we got to experience but looking back, it was not always rosy. I remember standby lists with some carriers, having to call xyz to list or get confirmed, sitting on the tarmac for hours, rude gate agent (DL in ATL — two encounters omg), and so on. On a BKK-LAX trip, mum be like, “Let’s go to Melbourne on the way [for one day]”. Needless to say, I was pooped. Spent more time with the hotel bed than anything else, and even hunted down and ordered the duvet cover when I got home. But in frequent travel, one sees a lot that puts things in perspective, or is that “identity confusion”?

    I’m leaning toward @Sean M’s #3 type but I’m moved by others travel experiences. For example, those who have spent their whole lives saving up to go to Mecca. A few months back, my fiancee encountered an old gramps on board who couldn’t make the trip until then — ex-SIN flights are not cheap! And now, reading up on immigration issues, I come smack face-to-face with the fact that some people who merely want to see their loved ones and it is incredibly difficult for reasons of personal finances, bureaucracy, etc. whereas, here we read airline timetables like they’re for the morning downtown train.

  19. I can see what you mean about how travel is very glamorized via social media nowadays. I love to travel and to see and do things I want, I sometimes have to sleep in really sketchy motels, do hours of research on an area to do my best to prevent myself from being lost, travel in the most uncomfortable buses and of course the frequent layovers. But I really don’t mind it because I appreciate everything I have seen and learned. At one point I traveled through Philadelphia airport so much that I memorized every inch of Terminal F and even had a routine. But I never got bored.

    And then my friends from my hometown in CA decided to take a trip to NYC to visit me. I have lived on the east coast for 4 years now and I still hadn’t seen those big tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty, so I thought it’d be fun. But when we got there, I realized they were all in this trip for the glamour. I had to really explain to them how unrealistic their initial budget was for Manhattan and I had to coordinate back-to-back-to-back tourist attractions that they just wanted pictures for Instagram at ~ they eventually realized when we reached the Manhattan bridge in 90 degree humid weather that it was not going to be fun walking across it. I got ridiculously annoyed at them within days because I don’t travel for the glamour. I have fun really being in the moment at new places with new people. I didn’t expect everything to be done and documented for Instagram.

    But in terms of hypermobility, I feel that it is a reward. All the balance I need is a place of my own that holds all my belongings and that I can continuously return to, but I don’t need to be home all the time. I enjoy that my current occupation requires me to travel a lot and my boyfriend also has a wanderlust so he understands my need to get out of the house so frequently.

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