Business Trips

In the course of my career I have had to go on a lot of business trips over the years. Some of these have been far more enjoyable than others. This article will tell you about some of my experiences during these trips.

The Travel

The vast majority of the business trips I have made have involved visiting customers in different countries – all around Europe, and also in the US and some in the Middle East. So all these trips have one thing in common, which is that they begin with a plane journey.

I always fly out the day before I am required to be on site. It makes very little difference which country you are visiting in Europe, the journey time is much the same because the actual flying time represents only a small percentage of the total journey time. Most of the journey time is spent getting to and from the airport and hanging around in the airport itself.

I reckon that the journey time is round about 7 hours. Some of my colleagues like to get the first flight out of Heathrow in the morning with the intention of being on site just after lunch. This is a nightmare, and I never ever do it. I always travel the day before, trying to arrive at the hotel at a sensible time in the evening. I do not mind giving up my Sunday to do this. To me it is preferable to the ridiculously early start that is otherwise required on Monday morning. That way I can arrive at the customer offices fresh and ready for the day ahead.

Coming home is another matter. I am always keen to get back as soon as possible, and that usually means flying back on the Friday afternoon/evening. The time difference (sometimes 1 hour, sometimes 2 hours) also helps with this, travelling back to the UK.

The Work

There are two reasons I make these trips. The first is for design work via a series of customer meetings in their company headquarters. The objective is to produce a high level and later a low level design for the system being installed. These trips typically last about a week each and the work tends to be confined to normal business hours (say 9:30 am to 5PM). However, they are very mentally tiring by virtue of the fact that you are constantly representing the company in front of the customer throughout the day. The meetings involve people from many different departments, all of which have their own particular concerns for the delivery, and as a result a lot of difficult questions get asked. This typically means that when you get back to the hotel your work is not over and you need to start researching answers and solutions to the issues and questions raised ready for the next day.

The second main reason I make business trips is to get involved in the integration and testing work when the system is being delivered and fitted into the customer network. This type of trip certainly has a customer facing aspect to it, but not to the same extent as the design work. More of the work is between you and your colleagues with some involvement from the customer. However, the work does tend to go on longer on these trips, as there is always pressure on the delivery schedule. Work usually ends up finishing around 8 to 8:30 PM (having had a 9AM start).

So it is fair to say that whichever type of business trip I am on, I am prepared for soemthing of a challenge with the work I am doing, and certainly expect to work long hours.


The working day might be very full on these trips but when we get to down tools my colleagues and I always head off for a meal and some serious drinking. It does seem to be a case of work hard, play hard on these trips, and it is rare for the party to break up before 1AM. We usually head into the city to tourist areas of wherever we happen to be, Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Athens, Madrid, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Dusseldorf are all places I have visited often on these trips. So these evenings are part sight-seeing and part eating,drinking and having a good time.

Within my company there are two different ways in which expenses can be paid – some people opt for a daily allowance – here there is an opportunity to make some extra cash if you are careful with your spending. Alternatively you can opt, as I always do, for receipted expenses. There is no opportunity for making extra money, but you can enjoy your nights out courtesy of the company picking up the tab. For obvious reasons, the people who have opted for the daily allowance are the first to leave the party leaving the others to carry on into the small hours.

At some point on most trips, the customer will invite you out for an evening, sometimes with an organized event such as skittles. These evenings are quite good usually – and often the customer will arrange something in a less touristy part of the city which is always interesting to see. But because you are with the customer, these evenings tend to be a bit more restrained.

Occasionally I go on trips on my own or with only one or two colleagues. On this type of trip I will normally just eat at the hotel or in a nearby restaurant, and maybe take advantage of the hotel pool and sauna, but I do also like to book myself some entertainment such as a concert or a trip to the opera. Prague is a particularly good destination for this. The company does not pick up the tab for additional entertainments such as this, but I recall the opera tickets in Prague being very inexpensive. I recall drinking champagne in one of the intervals and worked out that it was costing me about 50 pence a glass.

Best ever Business Trip

Some trips stand out in the memory. My best ever business trip happened in January 2000. We had sold a voice mail system to a telecoms company in Cape Town, South Africa. They needed to connect their own systems to this voice mail system, using the software API provided, to create and administer customer mailboxes. I was providing support to the developers that were trying to get the API working.

There had been ongoing email exchanges between myself and the developers for a period of about 3 weeks, and they really were very close to getting the interface working. However, it seems there was a lot of time pressure on the project, and the project manager suddenly declared that they needed immediate on-site assistance.

So with 2 days notice I was packed off to catch a flight to Cape Town. Leaving a cold and wet British winter behind, 12 hours later I emerged into the sunshine of the South African summer. My taxi swept me past the slums of the shanty towns that surround the airport (that was a real eye opener) and to my 5 star hotel where I enjoyed a nice meal and a swim in the open air pool.

The next morning I arrived on-site to start helping out on the interface. There were a few simple issues to correct, and literally within 45 minutes the interface was up and running, at least to the extent that the software handshaking between the 2 systems was operating. This meant that the developers could get on with the task of creating the workflows they needed. There was not much that I could do most of the time, but as each bit of development was completed I could advise on any problems or questions they had about the interface.

And so a pattern was established for the whole time that I was there. I would spend an hour in the office in the morning answering any questions that had come up, and most days I also went into the office in the late afternoon for about an hour. The rest of the time was my own which meant I could indulge in typical tourist activities all paid for courtesy of the company that had demanded my on-site presence. Things I was able to do included

  • A boat trip around the bay
  • A visit to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years.
  • Ascending to the top of Table Mountain by cable car
  • A coach tour of the vineyards around Stellenbosch
  • A trip to the botanic gardens
  • A trip to the aquarium
  • An afternoon on the beach
  • An evening at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront

Here I am at the top of Table Mountain


Not only was I able to do all this, but the exchange rate between the UK and South Africa was so favourable at the time, that any personal expenditure was minimized. One evening at the hotel I ordered the most expensive Cuban Havana cigar they had available – it worked out at a little under £10.

Needless to say, I don’t think this business trip will ever be beaten.

Worst Ever Business Trip

Candidate A

This first candidate for worst business trip first dates back a long time, to about 1991, when I was quite a junior software developer. I had been given the task of installing some software at a customer site in London.

In those days software was stored on quarter inch tape drives. I went into the computer room, inserted my tape into the drive and issued the required command to write the software to tape. I was using the tape drive of the main system (rather than any external drive). The internal tape drive always has designation /dev/rst0

Having created the tape and checked its contents I left it on my desk ready for the following week. The next week, on the appointed day, I picked up the tape and set off for London by train. It was about a 2 hour journey to the customer offices. After the usual introductions I was escorted to the computer room to install the software. At this point I discovered that the tape contained a lot of stuff, but none of it was the software I needed.

I could only assume that someone had used the tape I had left on my desk for another purpose. Irritated and embarrassed, I returned home having arranged to come in again the next day with the correct tape.

It was at this point that things got really bad. I went in to the office the next day and could not find anyone who would own up to having used my tape. I gave up asking and went into the computer room and wrote the software out to the tape again, and again checked the contents. All correct. I ejected the tape and left with it immediately to the customer offices in London.

When I came to install I discovered that the tape still did not have the correct software on it. Aaaaaargh. Needless to say this was a difficult conversation with the customer. I noticed that the tape contents looked remarkably similar to what they had been the previous day…

It turned out that the computer I was using to write the tape was also used for doing daily backups. An external tape drive was used for this and the tape used was permanently left inside the drive. It also turned out that the administrator of the system had somehow reassigned /dev/rst0 to this external drive and the internal drive was now /dev/rst1. So I had been writing my software out to the daily backup tape and then taking a different tape to site. Doh!

Candidate B

The second candidate I have for worst ever business trip is much more recent, maybe about 5 or 6 years ago. Two years prior to this I had been working for a while on a particular project – in the design stages. However, I had not had any direct recent involvement with the project at all. In fact the project had been completed a year previously and was up and running in the customer network.

I have no idea why it took the customer so long to request this, but they suddenly asked for training to be provided. Now, I am not a trainer, but my boss asked me to go along and give some “ad hoc” training. The training was scheduled for the following week, so I had little time to prepare. In any case my boss had told me that no formal training materials were required, and it would simply be a case of sitting at a desk with the relevant people in small groups to answer their queries and run through different aspects of how the system worked.

I was still busy with my current project, so I really did not spend much time at all other than to reacquaint myself with some of the details of the project. The following Sunday afternoon off I flew to site.

I arrived on site at the allotted time of 9:30am the following morning. I had gone to the offices in which the design meetings had taken place. I provided my contact name at reception and several phone calls ensued. My contact could not be located. Eventually after about 20 minutes it transpired that everyone was waiting for the training in a different office, about a 20 minute taxi journey across town. No-one had thought to advise me that the training was at this alternate site.

So I eventually arrived over an hour late in the correct location. I was escorted into an office where there were about 15 people sitting around a large conference desk. They were looking somewhat unhappy about the delay. I was ushered to the front and someone started connecting up my laptop to the overhead projector “for your presentation”. Groan. I had no materials at all to display other than the project documentation that the customer already had.

So much for ad hoc training. The session quickly descended into questions and answers, and of course with the project having been live for over a year now, this was an opportunity for every little gripe and niggle about the system to be raised. Terrific! I found myself fending off questions about parts of the system I knew nothing or very little about. There were clearly some people in the room who already knew a lot more about the system than me. I could have benefited from them training me!

Needless to say I was fantastically grateful to escape from this after about a 6 hour grilling. Several pints of beer were consumed at the airport I can tell you. I also had a very frank and annoyed conversation with my boss later in the week.

Society | Work

QR Code
QR Code business_trips (generated for current page)