Footloose Flying: Better Business Travel Sans Stuff

At the place where the business-travel imperative to stay nimble intersects with the consumerist impulse to stay fashionable, there exists "minimalism." This is the idea that we ought to be more honest with ourselves, that you and I must rigorously examine what we really need to get by. For me, that's an espresso con panna with a whisper of cinnamon.

Minimalism challenges that. Minimalism travels to a place where anything of size grande is blatantly excessive; and let's face it—it's really hard to run and catch a plane balancing a cup of coffee that enormous. Actually, I'm not certain there's even a place in the minimalist universe for Starbucks. (Or is there?)

Still, where I think road warriors would have a nice appreciation for minimalism is with its tenet advocating the abolition of unnecessary noise and distractions. If minimalists had their druthers—assuming that airplane travel itself wouldn't be judged "unnecessary"—wouldn't they want to invent "Minimalist Class"?

I suppose that road warriors have to be satisfied with small miracles. I count among my holiday blessings the writing of Nina Yau (@ninayau), a true believer who espouses turning your back on the mindless accrual of stuff. Her theme is "choosing what's genuine in life," meaning both in your acquisitions and your travels. Sounds serious. Yet her posts are witty, bright, and motivational, and surprisingly well grounded in reality—a rare quality among idealistic writers.

It's terribly easy to bash minimalist thought as goofy or trendy, yet it's nearly impossible to disagree that we (especially Americans) are entirely too focused on material acquisition. ("Way too much stuff," if you ask Nina.) I would have to agree with the observation that the more you emphasize the stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you. Soon stuff becomes a limiting factor in your life choices. (It would be wrong at this juncture not to include a link to the late, legendary comic George Carlin and his rant about "Too Much Stuff.")

I have to admire those minimalists who have taken the pledge to cut their stuff to just the top 100 items they need in life. Wouldn't it be great if some of these people flew? Sure, doing the "100 Pledge" may be taking it to an extreme, but actually it's more popular than you might think. I have to confess that I've never counted the items in my carry-on, even knowing that I'd be traipsing around airports for weeks at a stretch. But I ought to. Soldiers through history have managed with far less, under far worse conditions. It is entirely possible—and certainly advantageous—to limit ourselves to only those things we actually use, and not the things we might conceivably use. Business fliers should be among the first to embrace the cause.

One of the biggest selling points of living with less is that you realize (and enjoy) the state of being untethered. For one thing, you become truly mobile. Such mobility touches upon an idea from a writer I've mentioned before, Fast Company contributing writer Greg Lindsay (of Aerotropolis fame), who has talked up the concept of a creative class of employees who add much value to a corporation (not to mention their own personal lives) by inhabiting a role which is independent of any particular office. Freed of a home base, such an employee can work from other offices in other cities. Working from home becomes an eminent option that maximizes family time and personal options. Again, this isn't particularly new; lots of executive platinum types have been doing it for ages. Lindsay's point is that it shouldn't be viewed as strange or special to travel regularly and work from home, because being anchored to an office actually hinders performance and working conditions for many types of workers. Traveling is closer to a necessity for many businesspeople.

How does Lindsay's idea of a mobile creative class-type road warrior relate to the minimalist committed to owning very little stuff? Easy: Too much stuff ties a businessperson down too much. Being able to work efficiently—and well—goes hand in hand with being focused and not fussing with the extraneous. I think many of us feel great satisfaction in those moments when we are able to take a call, edit a document, and send it on its merry email way via the company VPN—that is, when we are lucky enough to secure a Wi-Fi tie-in at some airport somewhere. We are able to complete a task and contribute in an important way by using just a couple of powerful virtual tools. To think that it was not so long ago that we required a cubicle, desk, lamp, wall socket, Ethernet connection, printer, copier, stapler, etc., before we were able to be productive.

That said, even the most organized and efficient traveler brings a few odd items on trips which they would admit in retrospect were unnecessary. I know I've been guilty of that. Lately, I've been thinking about reducing my stowage. It's a difficult balance; no one wants to be caught without the right electrical adaptor. But who hasn't gotten tired bones from lugging deadweight across airports that never seem to end? These are important things to think about. With apologies to Carlin, that's because bringing less stuff might make us dispense with a few bad habits, and perhaps even take notice of our surroundings. This is truly where less is more. As for business travel, leaving some of that gear behind might remind you that your most valuable tools are already with you. They reside in an open mind, positive attitude, and firm handshake.

Road Warrior  •  Miami  •  Madrid  •  amadeus.com • Twitter: @tentofortysix

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[Image: Flickr user paul goyette]

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1 Comments

  • Bruce Turkel

    Hi Michael: I am committed (obsessed?) to minimalist travel and wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about my first trip sans bags or carry-ons of any sort. Here's the link if you're interested: http://bit.ly/teEMc7 . Thanks for a thought-provoking article.