Many people tell me that traveling is a real perk of my job and it is difficult to disagree. I have travelled a lot as an academic and I have been to many different places, not quite every continent covered, but easily 20 different countries and some of the greatest cities on Earth. But here is my deadly secret… I hate it and find it rather tedious.
“Why?”, I hear you gasp! Well, here are my top 10 reasons, in no particular order:
1. I am just a home bird really. I miss my home comforts and my family.
2. A lot of trips mean traveling alone and it can be incredibly lonely, especially on a long haul flight and a big impersonal conference on the other end. Eating alone is a particular pet hate of mine, although on the other hand, I really detest sharing breakfast with anyone. Trips with colleagues can be a different prospect a some fantastic group trips to conferences (e.g. Toronto 2004, Granada, Budapest) are recorded in the lab annals as truly legendary.
3. Many trips are to conferences that are held in mega- complexes where the only bit of the country you get to see is the conference hall and the hotel. Almost all hotels are the same (see point 5 below), wherever you go and so that lovely trip to Washington DC might just as well be in Bolton.
4. Airports. Whenever I travel I am always early (a character trait not shared by family members) and so I have spent countless hours waiting in terminals.
5. Some hotels are vile. Overheated, noisy flea bitten holes in Greece, a monstrous hotel-cum-shopping mall in Texas, a rent-a-room-by-the-hour knocking shop in Brittany. It ain’t all 5 star glamour (though I have had some of that too).
6. Enemies and hypocrites. I have bitter professional rivals and these are mostly encountered on trips abroad. We all pretend to like each other and may go through excruciating experiences like sharing a taxi, or a convivial meal (blunt knives only).
7. Delayed flights. Many of my colleagues will confirm that I am an impatient, grumpy traveller at the best of times. Delays make me livid and bring out the worst in me. Aberdeen has always been a bugbear- often stuck there for longer than necessary, but the biscuit was firmly taken by the 13 hour, unexplained delay going from New Jersey to Vermont. There was almost an international incident then.
8. Languages. I am British and therefore have no aptitude for foreign languages. I am humbled by all of the people I meet for whom English is a second language that can be wielded as effectively as a first.
9. Hangovers. Natural by-product of when a trip is going well. Some of these have been legendary (Dublin 1999).
10. The work I return to. The nature of academic life means that while I am off gadding around the world, nobody does my work for me. A week away means a backlog and it can take 2 weeks to get back on track.
On the other side of the fence, some business trips are fantastic. I meet interesting, friendly people. I make new friends and learn new things. I broaden my horizons and develop important collaborations. I have seen great places like the Alhambra, the Smithsonian and Niagara Falls and yes, I lead a very privileged life. I just wish that these things would all come to me at home occasionally.
Having said all that, if you want to invite me to speak at your conference please do get in touch!