Tag Archives: Essay

Ooh de lally (Thoughts on Solo International Travel for Work)

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I often pass this fella on my way to my company’s Hong Kong office from my hotel.  Undistracted by passing traffic and immune to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, he looks like he’s listening to a storyteller weave a fascinating story.  // 35mm film photo, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, August 2016.

I travel a lot for my job.  I am largely responsible for my department’s function in the Asia Pacific region, which means if I’m not visiting our Hong Kong or Japan offices, I’m attending conferences in Singapore, Malaysia, and other places around the region.  This year alone, I’ve been to Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.  This doesn’t include local travel within the continental U.S. that I’ve also had to do.

The travel affords me the opportunity to shoot in a variety of locations, and, between my love of exploration and my love of photography, I am pushed to leave the confines of my hotel room to explore my surroundings and seek beauty in a new city and country.  (I have a growing backlog of photos documenting my travels that I have queued up for blog posts.  One of these days, I promise, I’ll get around to sharing them with the world.)

The perks of work travel are great.  But, today, I’m focusing on the not-so-wonderful aspects of traveling for work.

Solo International Travel for Work

The majority of my Asia trips are solo.  The reason for this is because my team is lean, our budgets are tightly controlled, and we usually can’t spare extra people to travel without good reason.  Plus, Asia was the reason I was hired.  So to Asia I go.  Alone.

Due to the frequency and length of my travel, my fiancé can’t accompany me either.

So I go it alone.

And, despite the perquisites of travel to a new and exciting place, it still kind of sucks sometimes.

The Californian and Asian time zones are as diametrically opposed as time zones can be.  It’s better when I am staying through a weekend and can plot out an entire day of true explorations.  But when it’s work travel, the majority of the days are spent in meetings or talks/discussions, when “home” is still awake.  By the time I have freedom in the evenings, everyone back home is asleep.  This means that there is a rare sliver of time in which folks back home are awake and can talk.  The rest of the time– especially that time right around dinner and before bedtime– it’s radio silence.

When I don’t know a soul in a new city, and I’m faced with only a few hours each evening to spend on my own, it’s a bleak look I have on life.  The loneliness can ache.

People have different takes on this: Some stay in their hotel rooms and eat club sandwiches and watch on-demand movies.  Others, like myself, try to explore to the best of their abilities.  Many meals have been eaten alone while wondering about how friends and family are sleeping back home.  I’ve become much more introspective.  Perhaps I’ll begin writing again.

It’s during this travel that my Kindle and I have become best friends.

I wrote about this on Instagram a couple months back:

singapore-from-above

(Quote from my Instagram post in October 2016)

International travel by yourself can be lonesome, even if the cities you are visiting are exciting and packed with millions of people. Literally.
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But I don’t know these strangers, and they don’t know me. We scurry about in our tiny lives, oblivious to one another’s presence. I’m a random face passing them by momentarily on the streets of their life. They, the same, for me.
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Even my local colleagues, though friendly and willing to devote time to me, have their own lives and families. I try not to infringe on their time.
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It’s especially difficult when it feels like everyone I know in the world is asleep. The witching hour at home is hustling and bustling here in Hong Kong.
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I’m still here. Alone. Watching people flow through their lives while mine feels like it’s standing still.
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It’s not so bad, most of the time. I’ve been devouring books like I haven’t done since grade school. So something good is coming of this. And I’m exploring a lot, so the strange is becoming familiar. So there’s that.
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One more week.
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Bird’s eye view of tiny, tiny human beings in The Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

I have a couple months of respite to recover from the travel and the jetlag.  I’m off to Shanghai in January, and I’m looking forward to it.

But for now, I’m resting.