Oysters and Hurricanes: Bad Decisions in Business Travel

Before I became "CareerJanet", I was Oil Spill Janet, working for a small environmental consulting firm that contracted with a large government agency that got involved any time someone accidentally broke a pipeline or leaked some sludge. There's a lot of travel in this business. When the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in 2010, I was contracted to go on site to the command post, based in New Orleans, as part of the spill management team, and thus began several months of continuous business travel. I was in my mid-20's. This was heaven.

On Location

New Orleans is both the most ideal and least ideal location to put a whole bunch of extremely hard-working, stressed out consultants, scientists, Coast Guard officers, and oil company managers. The city was the most accessible and logical hub of the gulf coast to this particular incident, having enough hotel rooms to accommodate the several hundred personnel stationed there on behalf of the environment. And, the city specializes in helping you relieve that work stress in any way you need to.

Blurred Lines

There is something weird, especially for new professionals, about the blurred lines between colleagues that come with business travel. Usually you only see each other in the office, and there are typically clear delineations around the activities you might engage in with your coworkers. For me for example, it was usually limited to office work, maybe lunch, and the occasional happy hour that inevitably ended up in work discussion. But when you live in the same building as your coworkers for weeks on end, work across a giant fold-out table from them for 14 hours a day/ 7 days a week, eat 3 meals a day with them, work out in the same gym with them, and then go out to bars with them until the wee hours of the morning (because what else are you going to do?), you begin to see them in ways that are rather uncoworkerly.

Getting to Know You

I realized this the day that one of my colleagues threw up in the street next to me, after having an unfortunate reaction to the combination of oysters and hurricanes from the Bourbon street restaurant we were coming from. He'd offered to walk me back to the hotel because it was late and I was on my own. I offered him a piece of gum and said I wouldn't mention it.

And then I realized it again when I went to the gym in the Marriott and a 4-star Admiral was pounding out miles on the treadmill, rage music blasting into his headphones, short-shorts hugging his tush. I smiled and waved and he did an eyebrow raise of acknowledgement, with a half-smile, and then went back into the zone. Brow furrowed. Feet pounding. Short-shorts...still there.

It was the admiral here who taught me my best lessons about business travel.

  1. Find appropriate and healthy ways to separate from work. It's easy to sort of be in work mode all the time when you're on business travel. But you'll do yourself a favor if you get a break. Take a walk around town on your own, see some sights, write a postcard home to mom, or go run some hard miles. Get away, in a way that allows you to feel good about yourself and reminds you of the non-work aspects of your self and your life. Disengage from the work sometimes
  2. Give your coworkers some space and some respect. They're human. Most of us are not the professional versions of ourselves all the time, and when you're on business travel, you'll usually find that people slip into their normal or less professional versions of themselves at some point. Give them some space to be themselves, to do their thing, or be who they need to be outside of work sometimes.
  3. Don't mix oysters and hurricanes.Drinking to excess is never a good idea, in general, your doctor will agree with me. It's especially not a good idea when you're with colleagues. And it's still not a good idea even if the rest of your colleagues are doing it, even on business travel. You can argue with me about "but my boss bought the drinks" and "dude he was so wasted", and how it's part of your work culture or whatever, but let the other guys be the ones that people tell stories about. You can be the one who delivers the amazing presentation the next morning, who has a round and tells a great joke and then goes back to the hotel because you want to get a workout in before breakfast. The funny drunk ones might be funny and drunk, but you're the one who will get promoted and invited back.
  4. Learn to embrace the balance.You're traveling for business, so be professional when there's work to be done. Out partying at night (even though I just told you not to)? Show up to your meetings the next morning on time, well-dressed, and hide your hangover. At the same time, especially if you're on a long trip or several consecutive trips, you'll need to feel like you need to let down sometimes. That's ok. See Lesson #1. It's all about balance. 

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.