Why Business Travelers Are Tired and Hungry

by Robert McGarvey

Two facts about my state when I return home after a multi night business trip: I am tired, exhausted if the trip has been over a week, and I am hungry for a decent meal.

You probably are too. Exhaustion and hunger are baked into today’s business travel.

Tell me again about the sybaritic joys of business travel.

I still hear people describing business travel that way. I just don’t see it in my life.

Did I ever? You bet. Forty years ago, when I was introduced to business travel as a cog in the oil industry, we lived pretty good. Our hotels were mainline brands – think Hilton and Sheraton and Hyatt — but we ate well indeed and we drank very, very well (too much, honestly, but this was the Mad Men era).

No more.

We stay in the same level hotels – in my world a J.W. is a stretch and don’t ever try for a Ritz Carlton – and the big brand hotels are fine, honestly, at least by my standards.

I do grumble about how little I sleep and I am not alone. None of us sleep well, apparently.

That’s partly why I am so tired when I return home after a trip.

A new Intercontinental survey reports that we sleep on average five hours and seventeen minutes per night on the road. Some of that sleep deprivation is just our discomfort in an unfamiliar environment but a lot of it is because our schedules are jammed nowadays. Yes, I am old and I recall when the work day on a business trip ended at 5 p.m. when it was time to occupy the hotel bar (and when employers did not question bar tabs, they just reimbursed them).

But we are in a different era where every business travel day is scripted and long.

But the impact on sleep is just the start of the impacts on how we live on the road.

What has really plummeted downhill is the eating and drinking.

I wish I could say, oh, on my latest trip to New York, I dined on a great steak at Wolfgang’s but that rarely happens (in fact I recall the last time I did, maybe seven years ago).

Time is the issue. Not so much money but time. It goes back to the heavily scripted days which, for me, usually start around 5 a.m. Why so early? There’s email that needs replies, new emails that need to be written, and I know if I don’t get them handled in the early morning they won’t be done. So I am accustomed to waking up when it’s still dark, fiddling with the inroom coffee maker, and getting on email.

About 7 a.m. I am out and looking for a bagel or a hard roll, usually for a solo breakfast, sometimes with a business contact.

Then on to meetings.

Lunch? You bet. According a report from business dining consulting firm Dinova, dining is the third biggest category of business travel expenses (after lodging and airfares); it totaled $77 billion in 2016. So eat we do on the road.

Eat what? Per Dinova, ” For many, local experiences and flavors top the list; a full 77% of business travelers said they prefer to ‘eat like a local’ while traveling. Another 52% said they search for restaurants that are popular with locals, and 49% research food that is unique to their travel destination.”

Sigh. Not me.

Sure, when I can, I head to Katz’s in New York for a pastrami, or I grab a hot dog at Pink’s in LA, or an Italian beef sandwich in Chicago.

But often I can’t. It’s about time. Time that I don’t have.

The Certify expense analysis report more accurately reflects where I eat. Starbuck’s is its number one dining venue. McDonald’s is number two. And I am baffled that my go-to doesn’t place in the top five: Subway. That’s where I eat pretty much every day on a business trip.

Could I expense more than I do? Yep. But I don’t have the time to eat fancier meals. Many nights I’ll grab a Subway sandwich and a diet soda, head up to my room, and work on email and blogs between bites.

Glamorous? If you say so.

But that’s my travel reality and it’s the reality of many of the travelers I know.

Ask me where I’ve eaten my best meals on business trips in recent years and the answer is loud: the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas or Dallas, where I have supped many times.

How good is the food? Why ask me. I already told you what my best is and that should tell you my qualifications.

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