Sunday, 27 November 2016

Who takes the strain?

The more frequently I travel in business, the less exciting I find it. Trips taken as part of my duties, an inevitable element of my job, come as a scourge even if I happen to visit a new place or drop in on a long unseen but likable one.

This week was particularly wearisome. As I had to take three business trips on three consecutive days. The prospect had been ghastly from the day I had learnt the New Factory had nearly run out of the (tight anyway) travel budget for 2016, so sleeping in hotels along the way would have broken the bank… Literally…

On Tuesday I drove to Poznan to take part in a workshop. After looking at the train timetable and how far out destination was from the train station, I had chosen to go by car. Given there were three of us, the choice was also economically justified – cost of my mileage allowance (covering also motorway tolls and parking charges) was over 150 PLN lower than cost of three second-class return train tickets, not to mention two taxi rides in Poznan. Woke up at four a.m. to pick up my two colleagues from Warsaw at half past five and to make it to outskirts of Poznan before nine a.m. The workshop finished at four in the afternoon. The drive to Warsaw, including stopover at the petrol station in Poznan, took three hours. Choosing the car had the big advantage to all of us – we were nearly three hours earlier at homes (we would not make it to catch the 16:34 Intercity service from Poznan, while for the next at 18:40 (arriving to Warsaw at 21:15) we would have had to wait for nearly two hours at the station or around. The (not brand-)new car has now over 1,000 kilometres higher mileage than when I took it over two weeks ago. I was only negatively surprised by fuel consumption – more than 10 litres per 100 kilometres on average on a motorway… I expected the smaller engine with sixth gear to be more economical…

On Wednesday I let the train take the strain. Woke up at quarter past four to catch the 6:40 a.m. Pendolino to Gdansk to a conference. I travelled on my own, so this choice was more economical and practical, since in the train, using my smartphone as wi-fi router, I caught up with work (at least handled all e-mail from the previous day and delegated some stuff to an intern). I don’t know how PKP IC has fixed it, but currently there are nearly no problems with mobile internet coverage aboard. Besides, journey duration of less than 2 hours 50 minutes on a 372 kilometres route is impressive. To compare it with driving you would need to add time necessary to get to a station some time ahead of train departure and from a station to your destination (door-to-door), yet in the meantime you can have a rest, read a book or work!

On my way back from a conference venue to the train station, I strolled along Długi Targ, part of Gdansk old town. The day was chilly (+3C) and foggy, dusk was nearing. Few locals and tourists roamed around. In the distance, Neptun’s fountain, a landmark in that part of the city.

Closer to the station and looking in the opposite direction. More lights ere on, fog lingers lower and swathed the church tower. The place had its charm, yet the weather was not conducive to sightseeing. Indeed one should work harder in this dark and gloomy period of year and enjoy more time outdoors from April to September.

Approaching the train station, as the file date suggests, it was around four p.m. The street was jammed, unlike in western Poznan a day earlier, where I covered the distance of 6 kilometres between Komorniki junction and the destination in fifteen minutes both in the morning and in the afternoon.

At the woe-fully organised conference (the event was free-of-charge, therefore it was a promotional show of dobra zmiana and commercial sponsors) I learnt over 66 billion zloty is to be spent on modernisation and development or railway routes by 2023, so in the coming years, especially in 2019 and 2020 we should expect investment boom on railways and… lengthened journey times. Several experts doubted whether spending such vast amount of money was feasible and advised the Ministry of Infrastructure and PKP PLK (rail infrastructure owner and administrator) to focus on priorities so that the possible large part of the funding is properly spent. Whatever happens, by the end of the investment boom travelling by train on many routes might be a nuisance.

On (I woke up at six a.m., what a relief!) Thursday I went to a city roughly somewhere between Gdansk and Warsaw to meet a client. I drove my colleague’s company car (she does not feel particularly confident driving long distance, so for our safety and comfort I offered to sit behind the wheel) so not a chance to sit back and relax (though I like driving) for a single moment. At least the meeting was fruitful.

Had it all been arranged in a civilised way, I would have taken a train to Poznan on Tuesday morning, took a train from there to Gdansk, checked in to a hotel in Gdansk for a two-night stay on Tuesday evening, took a train from Gdansk to somewhere between Gdansk and Warsaw and then a taxi to a client on Thursday and returned from there by company car to Warsaw. The additional cost would have been less than one thousand zlotys…

Compared to private holiday trips, business travels are a school of hard knocks. An indispensable element of such journeys is rush. Agendas are always tight, you are always in a hurry. Organising logistics, if you travel on your own, might be a challenge, but if many people take the same trip, logistics becomes an ordeal. If you travel for private purposes and pay for something, you only care whether it is expensive and you can afford it. In business trips, you need make sure you get the properly issued invoice and that each of your expenses is justified and qualifies for reimbursement. When you return to the office, you have to account for travel expenses, scan all invoices and tickets, send original documents to accounting department, fill in several formulas, get sign-offs, etc. Stopping by for a moment or sightseeing are rare exceptions, I cherish them whenever they crop up.

Since mid-October I have been in the same mode as a year ago (seasonality, fourth quarter of each year in my profession is the most busy period) and wondered many times what I have been chasing after… Working well more than 50 hours per week and travelling leaves little time for looking after one’s own affairs and is fatiguing. I must say, I am much more exhausted physically than mentally. Intense work and stress have not taken much toll on my brain and psyche, but my body apparently wishes to resist it…

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