The science park, Gdynia.
Not quite Croydon
After screening job applications, I began to wonder why so many people have “interests: travel” on their CV to make them sound more unique and thought? Oddly, no one ever puts interests: business travel, probably with good reason. Business travel is really no fun, admittedly this is a massive #middleclassproblem, but. Going somewhere “new and interesting” for work sounds amazing, but when you arrive only to stay in an identi-kit business hotel in a science park on the outskirts of somewhere that looks a little bit, but not quite like Croydon, the shine goes off. My nadir experience was spending less than 24 hours in Gdynia (Poland), apparently the twin city of Gdansk, in the middle of winter. Gdansk, so the guidebook tells me, is a beautiful example of eastern European mediaeval architecture, Gdynia – less so. All I saw was the airport, some rain, a Tesco, a science park, some snow falling whilst my taxi driver drove at >10000000 miles an hour, Gdansk dock in the dark and the airport. At least there are connecting flights from London (Luton), so I only had to drive for another 2 hours to get home, rubbish.
Another day, another Novotel.
|2 stand up guys in Bangkok|
One of the soul destroying features of business travel is the decision by someone to make all business hotels look the same. Except the shower controls, which are always different but have only 2 settings, too hot or too cold. When the decision was made to make all hotel rooms look the same, did they decide that two king sized beds was necessary and more worryingly, what were they last used for? On one trip to Bangkok, a Thai friend with whom I did my PhD escorted me round her home city. Turns out that to most people white man, Thai woman means a different kind of escorting. When we got to the hotel I was told very politely that ‘extra guests’ were not allowed. Now this was mortifying on a whole number of levels. Firstly for my friend who is an academic running her own lab and was horribly pigeonholed because of me, secondly for myself for apparently looking like a western sex tourist but finally for my night’s sleep and the hope that the sheets get well laundered if this is a common problem. PS answers, she isn’t, I am not, they do. It’s not only that these hotels are all the same, it’s also that they are all not home and inevitably I have a sub standards night sleep, because it’s either too hot, too cold, pillow’s too hard or not (even with the pillow menu), bed’s the wrong shape, there’s a pea under the bottom mattress, I ate something with coffee in sometime earlier in the week etc. On reflection I might be a fussy sleeper.
The king of rock and roll
|Thanks Courtney, that looks lovely pet|
I could go on about the enumerate, ungrateful petty problems I have when I am travelling, But this has all taken a slightly unfunny, Michael Macintyre-stating the bleeding obvious-it’s funny coz its true riff. Instead, I will admit a lot of my whinging is for ‘comic’ effect – and because I like the sound of my own voice, even on paper. There are, to be honest, a number of positives about travelling with work. The biggest one is that you get to pretend you are a Rockstar, admittedly not a huge cocaine snorting, 18 girl orgy, room trashing, TV out the window, rolls Royce in the swimming pool, Keith Richards/Keith Moon/Axel Rose/Tommy Lee Rockstar. To be honest it’s a bit closer to being James Blunt, but he’s still a Rockstar (and does have an awesome Twitter response history). Leaving clothes on the floor, not making the bed, leaving the lid of the toothpaste tube and coming back to find the room immaculate, amazing. It is just possible that my aspirational Rockstar status is a bit adrift from reality, but I bet Kurt Cobain never put the lid on the toothpaste – that’s probably why Courtney Love shot him. Like I said, not superstar stuff, but still quite a treat, especially when you spend most of your time clearing up after wayward children and PhD students. Having low expectations helps.
How to win at travel
Asides from the low budget Rockstar fantasies, there are a number of things that do make life on the road endurable:
Skype (other free video conferencing software is available)
One of the toughest things is being away from your family. In the not so distant past, staying in touch would have meant acquiring handfuls of small change, then standing in some freezing, piss filled phone booth or paying exorbitant hotel dial out rates. Now with the ubiquity of smart phones and Wi-Fi you can video link into the heart of the home at the most inconvenient times – bath time is best – to remind yourself of the chaos you have left behind at home and that being away from it for a few days is probably not so bad.
I am not entirely clear about the economic arguments, but having one currency for every country I go to is amazing. It means having a wallet preloaded with some kind of monopoly money which you can use for every trip. Until you go somewhere in Europe which isn’t in the EU. (NB John’s travel tip – they use Krone in Iceland)
One way in which I differentiate between different places is to go for a run. Again t ’internet is a Godsend as with the help of mapping apps you can find a reasonably decent run. Normally around some of the finer turn of the century soviet era light industrial estate in the rain, but at least you see something to indicate you’ve left home.
One thing I only recently discovered is that you are the customer. If you are from outside England, this is probably not a revelation, but to us it is mind blowing. Rather than meekly putting up with a pokey garret next to the lift with a broken toilet, I have started asking for a quiet room at the outset and if it is no good going back and asking for another one. This has considerably upped the quality of the experience.
Amazing things sometimes happen
Swimming in a glacial melt river in Iceland that has been heated by volcanic run off to bath hot temperature whilst being paid by the EU. If every member of UKIP got to do this I think they’d soon change their tune.
Drinking Belgian beer with Danes at 2 in the morning… what could go wrong?