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.