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The Business Trip: When Getting Away Is No Getaway


starshine%20mug.jpgI don’t travel much for work.

What I do is sit in a cramped corner of my dining room trying to string lucid sentences together while dogs and children manufacture melee at my feet. It’s crowded. It’s messy. And each paragraph I type is punctuated by phones ringing, the clothes drier buzzing and a demonic toy called the Pound ‘n Sound Xylophone.

I think the infernal din has affected my hearing because when a client proposed a five-day “business trip” recently, all I heard was “justified alone time” and answered, “Oh, please, God, yes!” before I’d really thought it through.

I know some guys who travel a lot on business and consider it a hassle.

“I would have thought he’d be thrilled to have peace and quiet, a little mini-vacation away from three kids and family chaos, but he doesn’t enjoy it at all,” says a friend whose husband leaves home for a week at a time.

Most moms left juggling meals and bedtimes back home say they’d gladly trade places with their jet-setting husbands, just for the chance to fly solo.

I longed to paint my toenails in a hushed hotel room, sprawl out on a giant empty bed, take a bubble bath without the company of rubber duckies and order room service (do they have lobster?) on someone else’s dime. I wanted to stay up late watching R-rated movies heedless of who might overhear the foul language, and sneak off to the hotel gym at 11 p.m. without having to tell anyone where I’m going.

demonic_toy.jpgMy assignment was to meet up with two photojournalists on the East Coast, interview a few folks and throw a feature story together. Since we wouldn’t have to stop to refill sippy cups along the way, or help anyone with multiplication homework, the job was going to be cake.

Silent, satisfying, grown-up cake.

And it would have been, I’m sure. Except that it turns out business trips truly suck.

Solo passengers are a red flag for airport security, who rifled through my luggage and patted me down for weapons while I stood barefoot and indignant near the shoe-shine man.

Traveling alone also means dragging your bags with you into restroom stalls, and having no one to turn to for change of a $20 bill when you need to tip skycaps, cabbies and bellhops. The first time it happens, you cough up the Andrew Jackson; from them on, you stiff the poor guys.

What I didn’t realize about corporate-sponsored travel is there’s not much leisure time built in. My fantasies of leisurely adult meals with linen napkins were snuffed out by frantic dashes into donut shops and hasty swipes at the hotel’s lukewarm waffle buffet. I had to eat lunch at a gas station one day.

Calls home were strained, as I couldn’t pour my heart into “Twinkle, Twinkle” while my colleagues were listening. My older son kept ratting out Dad for his lax bedtime rules and the amount of fast food they’d been eating. When I missed my kids, I showed their picture to strangers, but no one seemed to care.

I spent the days irritated at my colleagues, who were unable to find a freaking parking spot without the help of the rental car’s global positioning system.

I collapsed, exhausted, back in my hotel room each night, triple-checking the door’s chain lock behind me. The room was as quiet as I’d hoped it would be — so silent I could hear my jeans hit the floor and my unpainted toenails scratch against the stark, taut sheets of the cavernous bed as I passed out, alone.

On the last night of the trip, dead set on the me-time I had yearned for, I bought a pay-per-view movie and fell asleep 20 minutes into it.

I was never in my life so happy to return home, where my family had strung a homemade “Welcome Home!” banner across the front porch, with plaid and polka-dotted letters scrawled in oranges, purples and greens. It was the loudest sign I’d ever seen.

Which was good. Because quiet, I had recently discovered, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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