best work-travel movies

Few movies get the business travel experience right. Here, I’ll walk you through two that accurately depict the best and worst. By being so accurate, I think you’ll experience a kindred connection.

I’ve read that when Sofia Coppola brought her cast to Tokyo to film “Lost in Translation“, they were all suffering jet-lag, which in its most extreme, challenges your sense of time and place. The exhaustion you see is apparently real. I doubt that the same is true of the cast and crew of “Up in the Air“, but the tells of an experienced road warrior are present and pervasive throughout. Each of these movies resonates with me as true – if not in whole, at least in their parts. Here’s why:

Reliable Idiosyncrasies

We all have them. Going through security, I need 2 bins. I zip the liner of my carry-on because I’ve already slid my bracelets and phone inside. I’ve probably selected shoes I can wear through, or I’m wearing slip-ons. Laces and buckles aren’t even considered. My coat, if I have one, is slung atop my suitcase, which I swoop onto the conveyor in one swift motion. When I get to my hotel, my suitcase is placed on a solid surface, never fabric (bed bugs) and anything that might wrinkle is hung. Bedspread comes off (ew). Every traveler has these quirks. I knew someone who cleverly, and immediately upon arrival, used the ice bucket liner to cover the TV remote. When George Clooney goes through security in the video above, I’m right there with him. THIS is a guy who does this everyday. I totally buy that.

Motivated by Status

George. OH, and loyalty to brand.

When George meets Vera Farmiga in the hotel lounge, which by the way, yes – business travelers go to the hotel lounge with, um… regularity. They rattle off the pros and cons of various rental car agencies. In the days before Lyft and Uber, this was a big deal. Today, it’s probably a little more centered around hotels and airline carriers. I have friends who no matter where we’re going, they must stay at a Hyatt. Others, it’s a Marriott – non-negotiable. Points. It’s all about the points. Which, of course define status in the most major loyalty program of them all – the carrier loyalty. That’s a sub-plot for George, so I won’t give it away. But, I’ve flown with colleagues on separate carriers from the same city to the same destination because we were loyal to different airlines. The right status becomes the project within a project and the benefits can be sweet. It’s also icing on the cake when your loyalty earns you a personalized greeting – I mean, it just makes my day when they know my name and my preferences without asking.

What time/day is it?

While the rest of the world outside sleeps…..

“Lost in Translation” sets its characters on the other side of the world and accurately depicts the challenge of trying to adopt the correct sleep cycle. We all have our tricks for getting ahead of jetlag – it takes discipline like anything else. The desperation they feel as they struggle to adapt gives me just a teeny bit of anxiety; hoping the next trip doesn’t find me in the same boat. It’s real. And, add to it the pressure to stay in-touch back home. I actually find Asia to be easy – it’s just upside-down. Call and say good night on my way to work, and wish them a good day as I head off to bed. Much of Europe is harder. I’m always too early or too late. Even bi-costal in the states is a challenge. And, dontcha know it always gets sorted out just in time for you to return?

I just want something “normal”

“We’ll have 2 of these”, he says pointing angrily at the menu picture. Every picture is seemingly identical.

I’m a food fanatic – I live to eat, not the other way around. And, I adore the new flavors, aromas and sights travel has to offer. But, at some point, every traveler I know hits a wall. I do it, too. I just want something normal. Something plain. Something that I don’t have to read the ingredients or have explained to me. I don’t want to work so hard to explain my want to you. You feel it in Scarlett’s and Bill’s frustration in stores, hospitals and restaurants in fleeting moments. The feeling is a little claustrophobic to me because I feel “stuck” and angry. Having someone with me who can laugh at how moronic I’m being and then do something equally moronic, makes it all alright again. Which leads me to my final point.

The people you meet on the road

When you’re both out of your element and out of your routine, you do develop a special bond. Early mornings, late nights, long days in the office, dinners, cocktails, sightseeing, shopping. You’d be with your family or your bestie in any other setting, but fate has thrown you together with this person or people and they become familiar in a way that I don’t even know I can articulate. Each of these movies plays with this in different ways. I’ve always said that becoming best friends on the road is something that happens fast and it happens hard. It’s really the best part of traveling for business. When you remove everything else, you connect with people you might never have spent time with – and, now you’re spending days or a week with them. It’s unique ….and precious.

So, give them a watch

I’d like your feedback. Do these movies speak to you? Remind you of your experiences on the road? To me, they stand out among a sea of pics that often depict business travelers as caricatures rather than people who just happen to spend their lives on the road while their “lives” continue on without them in a place called “back home”. Now, don’t go reading too much into it – George and Vera’s relationship becomes, well, complicated. But, Scarlett and Bill sum up lots of people I’ve known on the road – we were connected at the hip for that space in time, and hopefully there will be another. But, now is now. And, it’s special.

…when your wings are clipped

When last we spoke, I had QUITE a few trips on the books – that’s changed. I’ll bet it’s changed for you, too. Take this time to reflect and plan.

  • Spring Break to Hawaii – canceled
  • Spring Break to South Beach – abruptly ended
  • April in Hollywood for my beloved TCM Film Festival – Canceled
  • May in New Orleans for a Travel convention – Canceled

You see the pattern here.

I made my last business trip in March (that’s my flight on March 4th pictured above). At that time, we were focused on no hugging, not social-distancing. I gave my team the option of staying at home, but we all agreed that we’d take the necessary precautions to get some face-time. For us, we’d just been grounded for a few months already, so we were raring to go. During those 2 days, we slathered ourselves with sanitizer and exchanged tips for opening/closing doors without using hands. Instead of a typical meeting table where everyone vies for access to power outlets, we vied for the isopropyl alcohol. It wasn’t normal.

Days later and only hours before our planned trip to Oahu, I told my husband I worried about getting stranded in Hawaii. Southwest Airlines understood my concern and helped me pivot to a new itinerary. By switching to South Beach, for a high-end, 4-night getaway, we’d be a little less stressed and come back refreshed. We landed, had lunch, had a heavenly meal in the Art Deco district….and, called the airlines again. We came home the next morning. Being away just didn’t feel responsible. It wasn’t normal.

We got a private terrace, thinking we’d feel appropriately sequestered. Alas…

We have a new normal now and I have to remind myself that adventure doesn’t have to require an airplane to a far-away place. I’m not going to write one of those up-lifting pieces that paints a big silver lining on the whole situation. There are enough of those already floating around out there. Instead, I’m going to tell you 5 ways I’m channeling my energy and maybe this will stimulate an idea for you.

1. Make a List

(You’re kidding me, right….?) No, seriously – if I don’t write down what I want to accomplish, I’ll scroll news on my phone, flip channels and ultimately (literally) waste an entire evening and have nothing to show for it. Instead, I start jotting down tasks in the Notes section of my phone. When I have a lull and think that there’s nothing to do, I can refer to my list. Low and behold, there is infact something to do, and ipso-facto, something to accomplish:

  • What’s something you want to accomplish TODAY?
  • How about something for the weekend, week and month?
  • Crossing off something ahead of schedule can seem VERY productive. Still you have to know what that something is in order to cross it off – so write it down now – get it out of your head.
  • What about something you’ve been noodling for ‘someday…..’ Could you give it an hour a week? A little progress here and there might add up to helping you finally get it off the ground.
  • Even if it’s menial, write it down – an hour for reading? Write it down, do it, cross it off. LOOK – you accomplished something.

2. Leverage New On-Line Options

I mentioned before that channel flipping is a terrible time-suck for me and then I feel like I’ve literally wasted my time. Note: Killing time and ‘wasting’ time are 2 different things in my book – and, it’s a shame to waste time. So, I have a few things I want to accomplish to this end:

  • Select films to get excited about.
    • Build on my Letterboxd list – Letterboxd has a lot of film nerds in one place. Build your own lists that you can keep private or make public. I have them for Christmas, Halloween, certain locations like Hawaii and Vegas. Movies enhance moods for me. Edgar Wright posted his Top 1,000 and that’s been a good solution for my husband and me. We found 82 mutually acceptable movies right off the top. No more fighting or scrolling – just pick one and start viewing.
    • Many streaming services are offering first-run movies (think – would’ve been in theaters if not for all this). The price of rental is about the price of 2 theater admissions.
  • Museums are on-line (!!) Can’t get to NYC, no problem. Didn’t have the funds or the time to make it to Florence? Just pull up a chair and your laptop.
  • How about a Broadway musical? (for FREE)
  • Film Festivals are going to be available from home, too. Think: SXSW and even TCM is going to host an at-home version. I’m hearing it’s all at no charge.

3. Move Around

Clear your head. With minor precautions, you can go outside and move around in the fresh air. Take advantage of not being stuck in a boardroom, and take that teleconference on the move. Explore your options. If you let yourself sit at home and eat chips (I’m assuming you do this, too…) just because your normal social options are off the table, you’ll decline emotionally and physically. Stay active. Have you noticed all the on-line workouts? While the gyms are closed, those classes you normally didn’t have time to get to are now available on-demand? This is HUGE for me. I’ve been curious about Zumba (don’t judge me), but I hate to try things publicly that might make me look silly and uncoordinated (because I’m in fact silly and uncoordinated). So, I’m trying it at home.

4. Pick up the phone

Ordinarily, I’m not one who calls to actually talk now that I have so many other (more efficient) options for communicating. I’m an extreme introvert, so I’ve recently found the shelter-at-home to be a license to stay home and I’m not hating it. But, that’s not true of everyone. Some friends are struggling a bit. I plan to make my relationships stronger by connecting via phone and (gulp) video to make us all feel less isolated. So, this has been kind of a new (again) experience for me. Very old-school. Pick up the phone – you’re probably not interrupting them. Literally no one is “just walking out the door” at the moment.

  • I’m hearing and seeing amazing pics of virtual Happy Hours – and, there’s no driving involved.
  • Friends are doing Facebook Live videos that I’m now addicted to – and, you can host watch parties for almost anything. This is totally social.

5. Plan what comes next

When all of this is done, and it will all be done at some point, what will I do next? Where will I go? On several levels, we all might shift perspective. If you have income now, you’re probably saving a lot more than you were before, so maybe a splurge. If you’re negatively impacted economically, then your future travel will shift shape, but it doesn’t have to be scrapped. Budget travel options are out there in abundance for a good reason – lots of people use them. Put pen to paper and think about what you want next. With the right perspective, a new paradigm in and of itself can be a motivating project.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

We have to band together and support one another. Travel will be (or maybe have already been) hit harder than it was post-9/11. This is an industry I love and I want to help them get back on their feet. I still have a trip planned for late-summer. Keep the faith – prices will be extraordinary. Turn that into a boon by booking the trip you couldn’t afford last year when they were charging top-dollar. Win-win opportunities are out there.

So, where to start?

  • Pick a location (or more) and plot a course for 4-6mos from now
  • Book at today’s prices
  • Order a guidebook to be delivered
  • Start collecting pins @ Pinterest (lots of good tips there)
  • Start following the boards and forums @ Trip Advisor for your destination
  • Use Trip It to start mapping your days and excursions

And, as I reflect on my travels this time last year to Singapore, India and my beloved film festival in Hollywood, I could get a little down. Or, I could look ahead and know that future travel will be a little more special to me because it’s made itself even more rare.

Until then….

Adventure doesn’t have to happen on the road. It can be anywhere – trying a new workout, learning a new skill, identifying what this recipe might have tasted like without all the impromtu modifications……(again, I assume you do this, too).

Use the slowness of the universe to explore things you didn’t previously have time to – whether that’s reading a book, watching the AFI Top 100, or trying your hand at a new endeavor. Adventure is where you seek it and you can convey yourself emotionally and intellectually….that’s kind of like travel, right? That’s what Ann’s doing a lot at the moment.

I sent myself a pick-me-up to support my favorite local florist.