One thing that I think is a universal truth, is that young people think traveling for work is awesome … I know that I did. The irony of this is that I didn’t actually do much work-related travel when I was young.
When I was younger and recently married, my wife held a job that required her to travel all the time. I don’t mean “a lot”, I really do mean that she traveled all – the – time. She would hop on a plane Monday morning and wouldn’t come back home until late Thursday evening. This happened every week for years and since we were young and didn’t have children, this sort of travel provided us with all sorts of opportunities that we would never have been afforded otherwise. She racked up frequent flyer miles, hotel and rental car points like crazy and we would cash them in and go exploring. We even went to London over a three-day weekend at one point because, why not? It was awesome! There was one part of this sort of travel that I found somewhat uncomfortable. Because my wife traveled so much, she had status everywhere and cashing in these points typically yielded us some amazing hotels with ridiculously awesome rooms that under regular circumstance we would never have been able to afford. As a result, we couldn’t actually do anything at these hotels other than sleep there. More times than not, based on our youth and overall appearance, I was prepared for the Concierge to catch us halfway through the lobby and redirect us to the nearest Hostel. What 20-something year-old can afford a room in Florence, Italy that chandeliers over the bed and frescos on the ceiling and cost $1,000 a night? not us but thanks to my wife’s super-status, this was fairly common.
Things have changed since those days – my wife no longer travels non-stop, we have a 11 year-old (which makes weekend jaunts to London a bit more difficult), and I am now the person in the family that does most of the traveling – which I would have thought as a residential architect would never actually happen.
Technically speaking, only about half of my traveling is for work. We currently have projects in Wisconsin, California, and Oklahoma, but we’ve recently finished up work in Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia … pretty remarkable considering we are a small firm of 8 people and half of our work is residential. In addition to traveling for specific projects, I get asked to frequently speak on the subject of “Digital Communication” – in particular to how Architects can communicate using digital technology because …[waving hands over laptop] people seem to think that I am an expert in this area which all things considered, I suppose I am. Sometimes the travel associated with these presentations is pretty awesome, but even at its worst, it’s still pretty good.
Earlier this month, right after I was in California for a residential project, I flew up to Minnesota to present at the Lake Superior Design Retreat, a 2-day event with somewhere between 60 and 100 people in attendance. It was an intimate experience and I think I managed to talk to just about all the people there at one point or another. I met some interesting people but the thing that was most memorable about this particular design retreat is that a large number of the attendees were NOT architects. There were 4 featured speakers and there wasn’t a designated topic for the event – it seemed completely random. I’m not sure how my presentation went over but I do know that it got some laughs so I suppose at the very least, people were entertained.
Right on the heels of the Lake Superior Design Retreat was my daughters Spring Break – which is historically a time when the entire family (all three of us) take an early vacation. I don’t know what it is about my workload but this March trip is almost always the one I feel like I “need” the most. This year we decided to get off the radar map and we went to Black Point Cay, Exumas, Bahamas. My flight was from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Miami, Florida, to Nassau, Bahamas and then a 60 minute charter flight on Flamingo Air to Black Point … which is generally considered to be in the middle of nowhere, and just south of the Bermuda Triangle.
I have never flown in such a small plane before this trip but it was quite a thrill to fly as the “Copilot” for this last leg. The view was amazing and I didn’t think about crashing once. Of course, “bursting in to flames” crossed my mind when the pilot climbed out of the plane by going through his window once we landed.
Where we stayed was a short boat ride to all sorts of interesting islands with some remarkable sights and experiences. Not too far from us was a place where they have wild swimming pigs. Technically, I think they’re floating.
You just can’t make this sort of stuff up.
All these pigs want is for you to feed them … which I suppose doesn’t make them all that unusual because I’m pretty sure that’s how ALL pigs are.
There was even an island that goes by the name of “Iguana Beach” which was full of … that’s right, iguanas. Like the swimming pigs, they aren’t all that afraid of humans. Unlike the pigs, if you got too close (and by “too close” I mean “if you tried to touch them”) these iguanas could mess you up. I had one run across my foot and the claws on its feet left about a 6″ long bloody scratch – which is something you think about when there are sharks in the water.
Obviously, staying on a remote island in the Bahamas is a pretty good way to spend a week. There wasn’t much notable architecture to look at but it was good to simply be in an area where things moved really slow.
So, I was lucky in that this year we spent 8 days on an island in the middle of nowhere. The bad news is that from a business standpoint, we spent 8 days in the middle of nowhere. I know, boohoo for me. I’m not asking for anyone to feel sorry or me, I just bring it up because between California, the Lake Superior Design Retreat, and Spring Break, I have been out of the office and working remotely for 17 of the last 22 days … this includes weekends. Once I returned from this extended stretch out of the office, I was only in the office for 1 day before I leaving again and hitting the skies to travel up to Wisconsin to check in on our cabin project.
I have become somewhat used to this pattern but even for me, this is a lot in a short window. Working remotely is certainly not ideal but I have endeavored to make it work out of necessity. Texting, emailing, calling the office from my cell phone – all of these are fairly manageable (unless you are literally out on an island) but there is always that pile of “we hate you” work sitting on my desk waiting for when I finally make it back into the office. I don’t love traveling for work in the way I used to think I would. Young Bob thought work travel was a way to go to new places and explore whatever whenever I could find some spare time. Now traveling for work means meeting new people and going to see my projects getting built. This new sort of travel is way more exciting – there is nothing better than getting a project built (re:”It Doesn’t Count if it Doesn’t Get Built“)
I have a lot more travel to do this year – many more trips to California, a few more to Wisconsin – I’ll even be presenting in April at the Wisconsin American Institute of Architects State Convention – Philadelphia for the AIA National Convention where I’ll be taking part in a panel to discuss the playhouse competition, and if I’m lucky, I think I might be going to Israel this summer on an architectural tour. Amazing!
Being an architect is a wonderful job and I’m glad that this profession has allowed me to carve out a career that suits my personality and meets my creative needs. Traveling for work – especially when you get to build projects around the country – is remarkable.
I hope you all love your job as much as I love mine.