Life in A Suitcase

More often than not, those who travel alone do so as part of their professional duties. 

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne
Writing from Hong Kong

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us ~ Anon

People love to travel. But not all relish the idea of going it all alone, away from the comfort zone they have built around family and friends. Statistically speaking, Andrew Graft, in his article Travel and Tourism- The Ultimate Collection says that in the United States alone, “$1,036 billion was spent on traveling in 2017 (US Travel Association); 2.7% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) attributed to travel and tourism (US Travel Association); Business travel accounted for $317.2 billion in spending in 2017 (US Travel Association); Leisure travel accounted for $718.4 billion in spending in 2017 (US Travel Association); Americans spend $101.1 Billion on summer vacations”.

The Dalai Lama is reported to have said “once a year go someplace you’ve never been before”. He is certain to be happy to hear that, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO): “a total of 4.3 billion passengers were carried by air transport on scheduled services in 2018. This indicates a 6.1 per cent increase over 2017. The number of departures rose to approximately 38 million globally, and world passenger traffic, expressed in terms of total scheduled revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs), grew solidly at 6.7 per cent and reached approximately 8.2 trillion RPKs performed. This growth is a slowdown from the 7.9 per cent achieved in 2017… Over half of the world’s 1.4 billion tourists who travelled across international borders last year were transported by air”.

What the Dalai Lama did not say is that one should travel alone. Nor did he say that one should travel with family and friends. Even ICAO does not go so far as to identify how many of the 4.3 billion passengers travelled alone or how many travelled alone on work. Amy Gallo writing in the Harvard Business Review says “[Ask] anyone who travels for work: It’s not as glamorous as it looks. Yes, sometimes you get to explore new places, meet interesting people, and rack up frequent flyer miles for future vacations. But you’re also yanked out of your regular, comfortable routine, spend too much time standing in airport security lines, and you’re miles away from people who know you well. The excitement can wear off easily—and many business travelers are left feeling lonely”.

More often than not, those who travel alone do so as part of their professional duties. Gallo correctly identifies as one factor that induces stress while being alone in a hotel room as the sense of loss of the companionship and love of home and family. The psychological factor has been termed “the darker side of hypermobility”. The Economist, in an article titled The sad, sick life of the business traveller says: “Frequent flyers experience “travel disorientation” from changing places and time zones so often. They also suffer mounting stress, given that “time spent travelling will rarely be offset through a reduced workload, and that there may be anxieties associated with work continuing to accumulate (e.g ‘inbox overload’) whilst away”. Due to the absence from family and friends, “hypermobility is frequently an isolating and lonely experience”.

The author is of the view that there need not be a darker side of hypermobility if the issue of “travel loneliness” shifts from psychology to philosophy. Starting from Oscar Wilde, who said that nothing which occurs is of the slightest consequence, to Immanuel Kant who based his Categorical Imperative on teleology (founded upon the Greek work “telos” meaning purpose), if the traveller focuses on the purpose of travel, the inner sense of being isolated in a strange world of strangers could well disappear. The most important and valuable human feeling is the sense of achievement. Travel, for whatever purpose it is undertaken, should be calculated to give the traveller a sense of achievement. Although ideally a person who undertakes travel should be accompanied by a colleague or two, that would help keep the focus of travel on mainly work, and where the work schedule would take precedence and obviate any room for pondering over the downside of being away from the comfort zone, immersion in work and the attendant achievement that would accommodate the work could be a beneficial influence on the psyche, whether one is alone or among colleagues.

Then there is another dimension. Stephan Spencer in his article in The Harvard Business Review titled How to Make Any Business Trip Less Boring says that too many of us treat business travel as a curse. It need not be. Spencer goes on to say: “The next time you travel for work, I want you to try something: Treat every moment as an adventure. Interact with the locals, avoid getting online, and take at least a day to do nothing but explore. While that might sound like a good way to lose your job, it’s possible to do it all while actually increasing your productivity”.

On a personal note, the author experienced the exhilaration of “telos” in his current business trip to Hong Kong where, inter alia, his work related to assisting in a book launch during an international conference. The book was inspired by the President and CEO of the company and contributed to by the professionals who work therein where the President/CEO himself was the lead author. From the inception of the book project, the sense of direction, purpose and leadership experienced by the team of authors of the book chapters through the leadership of the President and CEO saw an excellent product being launched at the conference. It was a proud moment for all of us. The stress of long-distance travel was forgotten, replaced by a glow of pride within and a profound sense of achievement. My colleagues and I treated the whole trip as an incredible journey, where, as Miguel Cervantes said: “ it is not the destination but the journey that counts”. Every moment was an adventure.

The author is a Senior Associate at Aviation Strategies International.


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