Business Travel for a Flaneur

With the prospect of Covid – 19 coming under control, we can contemplate the revival of business travel. Some will have mixed feelings, seeing business travel as an imposition that often can be avoided by conducting meetings and conferences online. Others may look forward to business travel as an opportunity to get away from home.

The Permission Structure

I made business trips more enjoyable by adding a day or two of personal time to get over jet lag before the event, or a day or two after the event to reward myself, or, if possible, both. Two factors created my permission structure. My wife, even when our children were small, encouraged me to take the extra time away. She knows me well enough to realize that I would appreciate these mini-holidays and be grateful that she facilitated them. (Souvenirs were a tangible expression of gratitude.) Second, the funding sources for my business trips – either the University of Toronto, which administers my research grants, or the organizations inviting me – permitted me to add on extra days at my own expense. I recognize that other people may not have this flexibility, either because their loved ones don’t approve or their employers don’t permit them to add personal time to business trips.

Flaneur for a Day

I had to use my time well. I would normally explore a city on foot to understand its layout and the relationship between different landmarks or neighbourhoods and to see its street life. I would move more briskly than the flaneur’s characteristic saunter. My interests in art and history led me to stop at museums, galleries, monuments, and cathedrals. A good breakfast to start and a not-too-leisurely lunch, usually at a museum or gallery cafeteria, kept me going. In London I walked from Russell Square to the Victoria and Albert Museum and back, and in Paris from Trocadero to Nortre Dame and back. Both are 10 km. return, a good distance for an entire day, with lots of time for museum and gallery visits.

Looking back over the last 20 years, I have had days of flânerie in London, Paris, Sydney, Melbourne, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Taipei, Lima, Boston, and Washington. There is usually less business travel during the summer, so I’ve generally experienced streets that were less crowded and cooler temperatures than in high season. Oslo in November was fine, but Helsinki in mid-January was brutal.

Virtue-Signaling … Not to Me

On more than a few occasions I met academic colleagues at the same conferences and seminars who seemed proud that they were arriving as late as possible, leaving as soon as possible, and spending every minute of spare time working on their laptops. I consider this a form of perverse virtue-signaling, intended to show colleagues they are always in demand and truly indispensable. I have disdain for those who are doing this intentionally and pity for those doing it inadvertently. I recall a conversation with a former cabinet secretary who wistfully told me that she should have taken personal days in the past and looked forward to doing so in the future.

The Bottom Line

Recalling these days of flanerie, I realize that they were among the most memorable and enjoyable in my life. I was exploring, experiencing, encountering, and enjoying. When travel resumes post-Covid, I look forward to similar opportunities, except that, as a retired person, I won’t need to get home as quickly and that my wife may be able to join in my flanerie.

2 comments

  1. Lucky me, also an academic who loves to travel, my wife was usually game to go along. And when our kids got big enough, they were up for it too. My only regret is that I never got my wife to take the longer journeys to Shanghai or to my beloved St. Petersburg. That’s a missing space I hope to fill in my retirement future. Flannerie a deux!

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