Consulting… Just hearing the word invokes images of people hustling through airports with their compact roller suitcases that are streamlined so they fit in the overhead compartments perfectly. Images of clean cut men and women who are hired to come into a project at any point in time and help set it straight. If you do a Google Image Search for “consultant” you will see a host of pictures of sharply-dressed people basically telling people what to do.
I got my first taste of the consulting lifestyle while I worked at Epic Systems in Madison, Wisconsin. Now before you get riled up, I know that working at Epic did not make me a consultant, I am simply saying that I got a taste of the consultant style of living: staying in hotels 250 nights/year, eating meals over my laptop, driving rental cars more than my own, and getting all the perks of the travel lifestyle. This last past is what I want to talk about today.
Whenever people hear how consultants have all the rewards clubs points you can dream of, or access to VIP travel clubs, it sound glamorous. But each of these perks comes at a cost to your self. Being Platinum at Marriott is great, but you probably easily forget what your bed feels like. Getting upgraded on every Delta flight makes traveling easier, but it means you often have to leave your friends and family.
Today, I want to talk about the four main living strategies when it comes to consulting. I realize that there could be some alternatives like living on a boat or something, but for the most part, there are four options: living locally, short-term hotels, temporary relocation, and long-term hotels. Each type appeals to certain types of people and repulses others.
This is the rarest of the consulting living situations. For this to happen, you either have to live in a big city with a lot of opportunity, or you have to seek out specific career openings and reject those that don’t fit.
The benefit to those who enjoy this is that you can keep your current living arrangements. This is good if you have family, especially young kids. It is also good if you have needy pets.
You generally get to drive your own car. While lunches are probably covered, you generally end up eating your own food most of the time.
I personally am not cut out for this style
I think that this is the most common living situation for consultants. Every Monday morning or Sunday night they fly out, work and stay in a hotel, then fly back on Thursday or Friday. This is costly to companies, but it is normal. These costs are built into most budgets.
This style benefits younger travelers usually. It is very taxing on the body. In an ideal setting, multiple flights early in the day then late flights coming home is draining. But in reality, weather and life happens. Flights get delayed, people get sick, things change. These are tough. You never know what is coming at you.
Now if you make these trips enough, they become routine. You begin to make friends in both town, work and home. But it remains difficult to plug in when you are in either place. A big benefit to this is the rewards clubs and points that are showered on you: Platinum at hotels, Diamond on airlines, Skyclubs, Seat upgrades, Executive Elite car rentals, Gas perks, Dining clubs… but they do come at a sacrifice
The normal scenario: you have just finished a contract that invoved traveling every week to some random town in the midwest. You get a new two year contract in New Orleans. This is your chance to stay in a cool city. Instead of opting for the Short-Term hotel life again, you decide to take the offer and look for an apartment for a couple years in the Big Easy. This option seems ideal for people like me. I don’t have any real attachments, I love seeing new places and getting into the local culture, and I love new experiences.
Unfortunately, I have not gotten this opportunity yet. But I know it is in my future. Sure, you have to forego the hotel points and the airline miles, but this gives back some clarity of mind and personal time. you can also use this time to make the city feel like your own. The side benefit is that, if the city is cool to visit, you can easily convince your friends to come visit you for a weekend, especially if you have a spare bedroom. Because let’s be real, aren’t we getting too old to sleep on futons?
for the homebodies out there or people with young marriages, this living setup works well. You get the best of both worlds. You get to see your significant others and pets almost every night. You live in your space.
Sometimes, you get job offers in places that make traveling to and from every week illogical. My current situation makes weekly travel impossible. In these cases, we rent hotel rooms by the month. This is ideal when the project is something so awesome you can’t turn it down, but there aren’t better living situations. Some places, Saudi Arabia included, aren’t conducive to renting apartments. In this case, we rely on long-term hotel living.
The tough parts include the inability to customize your living space, the cookie cutter feeling of your area, the difficulty in having family or pets. The cool parts include daily maid, room service 24 hours/day, hotel amenities, rewards points. Hearing a front desk staff member greet you every time you walk in or out is oddly comforting. Getting to know the hotel staff as if they are neighbors makes things more comfortable, but it still feels artificial. There are many movies that portray living in a hotel as very luxurious. This has some merit, but I feel more weird living in a hotel for this long. Maybe my feelings will change.
Ultimately each of these four styles has benefits and problems. You have to weigh your options with your currently opportunities against your desired style of life. What is important to you right now? What do you think? do you have any consulting experience stories?
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Well, I must ask, are you checking in, sir?
Until next time.