Insights in health & wellness branding


An Unusual Break from Business Travel: The Things We Miss

17 March 2021   |   Laura Bartmess

This time last year was a busy travel period for me, taking me to LA, San Francisco, Philadelphia, then Boston. The latter trip was right on the heels of the Biogen Coronavirus outbreak and marked the first time I recalled feeling a little uneasy about COVID-19. But I had two more trips to take in March – a photo shoot on the coast of South Carolina, and then our family’s yearly Spring Break trip to Florida – so full steam ahead! Of course, those trips didn’t happen, as the world mostly shut down within days, bringing travel to a screeching halt.

While meetings, presentations, pitches, and happy hours continue to fill up our virtual lives, we just aren’t getting on planes anymore and doing those things in person. For me, the break in traveling was quite nice – not missing school and social events, not dealing with travel stress. And it has certainly been rewarding to see how successful we can actually be in a remote setting. That said, with a year to reflect on the new normal of not getting on a plane, I asked some colleagues to share what they now miss about business travel. Spoiler alert: Lots of people miss the camaraderie and the drinking – coincidence?

Hillary Perry, Senior Account Director: For me, bonding has been the thing I miss most about work travel that COVID has taken away. I miss connecting over a drink or two with clients and colleagues, along with a quiet night’s sleep. Even the airport hotels are quieter than my crazy kids! I do NOT miss my flight home from O’Hare getting cancelled 50 percent of the time, though!

Kristen McGirk, SVP, Account Director: I miss grabbing a drink with my co-workers after a long day with the client. Celebrating a good, productive day and, more importantly, getting caught up on all things not work! Also, the first 15 minutes of a flight. You have to have all your devices turned off and no one can reach you. It is so relaxing.

Jody Van Swearingen, SVP, Creative Director: The thing I miss most about travelling for work is the feeling of possibility. I love that feeling as you pack up and head out for a client presentation to sell-in new work. Or, as you head to Austin to learn more at SxSW. Or to New York to judge creative and collaborate with others to review and select the best work in the industry. These trips carry with them the feeling of limitless possibility. It starts the minute you get on the plane and the captain comes on to say you are ready for takeoff. When the plane leaves the tarmac and you sail into the sky, I get that instant rush of excitement and possibility – that feeling that you are headed somewhere different from where you left and that when you get back you will not be the same. You will have new work to do, new ideas to share, and new work to inspire others.

Brad Graetz, SVP, Creative Director: I miss the bonding. I love to travel with other AT employees I don’t get a chance to spend much time with during a normal business day — talking on the way to the airport, spending time together in the Admiral’s Club, having dinner and drinks together, and really getting to know what their lives are like away from work. I also miss spending time with clients and getting to know them better. I like seeing their office environments and how they are in person on a normal day instead of just for half an hour on a phone call with us. Having dinner with them and hearing about their lives and their families away from work. Overall,it’s the people and the relationships. I’ve made unexpected friendships and gained appreciation for a lot of people, which has strengthened the respect I have for everyone’s contributions and what drives them.

Jay Carter, EVP, Chief Strategy Officer:  I am a guy who has gotten on an airplane a couple of times a week for probably 20 years. The enforced travel restriction has been freeing. I spend more time with my lovely bride Rhonda and my family, and my dog actually thinks that he’s my dog. I have had a chance to think. That last part is huge, for while I do not miss the glamorous life of the road, I have found that I profoundly miss my friends in more distant places (many of whom may read this; you know who you are). I see light at the end of the tunnel, I can discern that it’s probably not a train rushing my way, and I look forward to a time when I can do what I do best professionally… spend time with fellow marketers working on solutions that will ultimately provide better healthcare to people. That’s still a wonderful and exciting profession.


For me, in addition to all the things above, I also miss:

  • Getting to O’Hare early and spending spend some time in the “corporate safe zone,” aka The Admirals Club/United Lounge. Finding a corner where I can check email, have a cup of coffee, and eat a snack that I’m not really that hungry for helps me relax before my flight.
  • Having dinner with my clients. It’s so nice to be able to spend an hour talking and sharing even small tidbits about our lives outside of the office. Those conversations and time together can really elevate the relationship.
  • Scrambling to find something at the airport to bring home to my kids. I like to bring them back a little something from wherever I go, and it’s not an easy task. I’ve tried really hard not to bring home shot glasses from the airport gift shop; however, I can’t say that hasn’t happened at least once (they’re perfect for a small glass of OJ).
  • And lastly, I miss seeing the Chicago Skyline as we bank over Lake Michigan and line up for the runway. I’ve seen it so many times, and it’s always a sight to behold. Maybe it’s because it’s such a beautiful city or maybe it’s because I know it means I’m home. Either way, that’s something I look forward to seeing again soon.

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About the Author

Laura Bartmess, SVP, Account Director, has more than 26 years of agency experience in healthcare marketing, with a focus on rare disease. She’s well aware that the time spent in airports, hotels, and rental car parking lots while traveling on business brings a fountain of funny, odd, and disturbing stories – some are even worth retelling. Outside of the office, Laura enjoys cooking, traveling, writing and enjoying Chicago with her husband and two young kids.