Notes from a Rusty Traveler

When the publisher of Associations Now took his first business trip in more than a year, he had to dust off his old travel know-how. Familiar annoyances on the road were eclipsed by the joy of (tentatively) reconnecting with colleagues in person. Here’s his firsthand account.

It had been more than 450 days of saying hello to clients virtually from my attic office, but I finally hit the road last week to attend a hospitality industry event in Florida. I didn’t know I’d be such a rusty traveler, but I was, in many ways.

First, there were the mechanics of airports and airlines. I had to think for a moment about downloading my ticket, and then how to get it into my electronic wallet. I had a moment of panic when I realized that my TSA precheck was nowhere to be found and that the airline didn’t recognize my frequent-traveler status. (It’s not the end of the world to be in Group B or C, but even toward the end of a pandemic, I discovered that seat selection is important to me.) Luckily, I remastered the download/upload process without invoking customer service.

Then there was the drive to the airport. Even at 6 a.m., there was more traffic on I-95 in Maryland then I would have thought. Return-to-work is happening. But I still found plenty of premium parking spaces open on the first floor at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Nice.

Hands free at precheck: Slip in your ID and away you go. No more license exchange with TSA, and the agent did not require me to show my ticket. That’s an improvement born of necessity.

Airport food service, as you might expect, is not adequately staffed. But it’s OK because everyone, everyone, is just so happy to be traveling again and working in the travel business.

It was laughable how much I had packed away into cold storage in my head. I was so rusty that the flight attendant had to remind me to fasten my seatbelt.

Back on Board

Aboard the plane, I found comfort in prior annoyances: the travelers who managed to bang every armrest on their way to the back rows with their roller luggage; the tugging on my seat as people moved in and out of the row behind me, only outdone by the immediate reclining of the seat in front of me. And on what planet is it OK to listen to entertainment on your device without headphones? But after so many travel-free months, all these irritations quickly faded.

It was laughable how much I had packed away into cold storage in my head. I was so rusty that the flight attendant had to remind me to fasten my seatbelt. I was grateful to be traveling this remarkable country of ours again, in comfort but with a little apprehension.

Face to Face Again

The hotel meeting experience has changed, at least for now. There’s a bit more high tech and a little less personal touch. It is a demanding business, working within the guidance and restrictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local governments. The team at the hotel where I stayed was exceptional.

An app allowed me to self-administer a health check every morning, followed by the requisite temperature screening. Only after both were successful was I given a pass for the day’s events. Group table discussions were limited to three people, making for more in-depth and concentrated exchange, even though they lacked the variety of problem-solving approaches that come with a larger group.

An evening event outdoors was delightful, especially after such a long hiatus. Poolside and mask-free, we were all awkwardly navigating hugs, handshakes, fist bumps, elbow bumps, or just contact-free but welcome smiles and hellos.

I was thrilled to be back on the road, meeting people with such different backgrounds and ideas from my own.  I was happy to fling my mask from my face as I settled into my vehicle for the trek back home. Or is that back to my office? Both in one for just a little while longer!

We are all expectant while we wait, watch, and anticipate a return to whatever a new normal looks like. But for a few days last week, talking and laughing with colleagues and customers in the same room, it almost felt like old times again.

(John Rowley/DigitalVision)

Karl Ely, CAE

By Karl Ely, CAE

Karl Ely is senior vice president and publisher at ASAE. MORE

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