Out of Office? An Alternative to Business Travel

Out of Office? An Alternative to Business Travel
Photo by todd kent / Unsplash

Originally posted on Linkedin

My first time flying out of the US on business, I was an MBA student and marketing intern, headed to my choice of Costa Rica or Argentina. I would leave in 72 hours, and still I wasn't certain where I was going.Seven years later, I've worked in eight countries on three continents, but I've never really been out of the office. I'm writing this from my apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, but I might as well be sitting in San Francisco.Here are the lessons I've learned from an untraditional career of business travel:

Traveling is easier

When I first left the US in 2008, the iPhone and Kindle were still new and Lonely Planet was a printed book. My company laptop doubled the weight of my duffel bag. Unlocking your iPhone wasn't really an option, so leaving the country really meant a kind of unplugging.

Everything today is just so much easier now: in a city most Americans would consider less advanced, I can sit down at a cafe with the lightest of backpacks containing a Macbook and iPad. My sim card was purchased at the airport for a few dollars and has comparable internet speeds to the US, and if that fails the local cafe has a fiber connection.

When you travel on business, these changes are less obvious as the default sim card is paying for roaming and Kindles stay home. Just know that its become stupid easy.

Traveling is less dangerous

As a traveler you have to constantly be aware of potential thefts and crimes in a new place. These threats however are quickly getting reduced. Consider:

  • You now can find at a glance all of the travel advisories from the state department updated in realtime
  • You can learn about standard cons on wikitravel before you arrive
  • Traveler cheques are a thing of the past, as you can just go to the ATM whenever you need it
  • As your material wealth goes digital, and you prioritize experiences, there is less upside for thieves

These four trends will continue to make traveling safer as the information networks become more dense.`

Five stars is no longer interesting

I remember a conversation I had with a boss who had spent most of his career taking intercontinental flights and enjoying world class meals. He just couldn't understand why I'd want to travel with a backpack and on busses instead.

The dominant script around business travel is a focus on luxury, starting with the airline classes and extending to the hotel classes. Everything it seems is perfectly graded by quality so you can place yourself at the right level.

This standard quality becomes boring when you enter new cultures: no matter where you go, you find the same USDA choice steak or Kobe beef matched to the same reds. These meals are great, sure, but their manufactured normalcy, once a marvel of globalization, is now commoditized and boring.

When you travel this way, you're able to break free of the societal expectations of status and enjoy a variety of accommodation options. In one day you might have a $1 coffee, a $2 bowl of street soup, and a $200 dinner. Why not?

Traveling slow is cheap and memorable

Compare the five star business traveler to the independent business traveler. While the five star eats these predictable meals, comped to a business in exchange for their time, the independent business traveler is able to try local cuisine without the pressures of business.

My friend Jodi, once a corporate lawyer, published 10,000 words dedicated to the variety of food just in Saigon. This cuisine, this variety, is unavailable both in the US and in five star hotels worldwide. It also happens to be far less expensive, but don't less this distract you: its delicious!

Consider: would you rather travel in first class on a direct flight for 15 hours, or take two economy tickets over 40 hours with a stopover in a new city, complete with a tour of local cuisine and two hours in a luxury spa? These are the kinds of choices that open up to you with independent business travel.

First class is relative

One weekend I was flying to a nearby beach getaway for the weekend, and I paid $3 extra to get first class on Air Asia. What does $3 first class look like? In this case, its the front row of seats and just a little bit more comfortable.

Sitting down next to me is the Managing Director of a $1B company, headed to the same town for the weekend with his family. I now had an opportunity normally found only in business or first class, for the price of a latte.

Strange market inefficiencies like this appear all the time, but its easy to miss them when your travel expenses go through a business account and beach holidays are less common.

The best places are cheaper than you think

I was sitting at Peet's at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and I noticed the woman next to me looking at flights to Hawaii. We started talking, and I learned she was planning to take two weeks and fly somewhere, and she's never been to Hawaii. Well, she's never been to Bali before either, so with a quick search on Skyscanner I found a similar flight to Bali for $200 less. Yes, Bali, that enchanted land where Julia Roberts found love.

If it seems crazy, it is: traveling across the globe often is sometimes the same price or cheaper than traveling to a US state. You just need to have that passport.

--Our generation has this strange mix of freedom and staycations: Gotomeeting, smartphones, and laptops allow us to work from anywhere, but they also eliminate the need to go somewhere for a particular reason. Whether you sit at a cubicle, a cafe in SF, or a cafe in Bali, you're never really out of the office. So why not plan some indie business travel? You can always come back.