I recently returned from Hamburg, Germany, where I went to a conference on digital games. It was my first real trip for work unless you count the time I drove to CT to draw blood at a clinic for Lyme disease. I don’t.
I’ve been fortunate to travel to many great places around this country and the world, so the idea of travel itself was nothing new to me. But the concept of working while abroad was unsettling. To land, slap yourself out of jet lag, and have back to back meetings from morning until night, and then parties from night until morning. I know many people who do it rather regularly, and something that abusive on your sense of time and place sounds horrible. I was lucky, then, that the team at SuperData isn’t insane.
For a traveler like me, who meticulously plans out most of his itinerary, the thought of handing over the decision process to someone else was also odd. Other than general details, I didn’t know much about the arrangements until I really sat down a day or two before to look. I’m the kind of guy who heads to the airport having memorized the flight number weeks before. Maps are printed, important numbers are laid out. This time, though, it was both refreshing and nerve wracking to just pack and show up. But that’s what I did.
Of course Germany is a fantastically functional country, and used to travelers for business and pleasure. The flight and trip to the hotel were easy. It was then, oddly, that I felt kind of stuck. With nearly two thankfully-offered grace days, I had time to fill in a city I knew nothing about. I had planned nothing, knew little about where I was. Did you know Hamburg is way in the north? Other than the nagging hint of bitter cold, I didn’t. So I did what I normally do in foreign cities. Grabbed a map and started walking.
I pride myself on this travel tactic. I’m very comfortable traversing the compass anywhere. Between the woods of Connecticut, the streets of Manhattan, and whatever is going on in Florence, the places I’ve lived have equipped me with a great sense of direction and the knowledge that something awesome is likely just around the corner. And you won’t actually find it on the map.
In this way I see everything from the local fish market to churches, museums to little alleys with cafes. It’s endless exploration and I always stumble upon nearly all the major sightseeing anyway. In a city like Hamburg, whose main center is a few miles in radius, I feel like I’m familiar with most of the city very quickly. I could tell you how to get from A to B and oh! there’s a cool place to get a sandwich, just a few hours in.
My crisscrossing pilgrimages, though, do have the nasty habit of destroying my feet. By my calculation I put in a good 14 miles my first day in Hamburg. The second day I did at least 8. This would have been not horrible if I hadn’t then had 3 days of on-your-feet-all-day-in-nicer-shoes. Suddenly the work part of work travel kicked in. Compounded by a violent jet lag that rose up, cruelly, a day late, my bleary-eyed, limping shuffle around the conference probably inspired a Walking Dead: Deutschland Edition.
Still, for a reanimated corpse I must have been charming and intelligible enough, because the work part of the work travel went quite well. Maybe it was the language barrier. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a Eurotrip without some sort of union shenanigan, and my connecting flight to Frankfurt on my final day was botched by a strike. Had I been on personal travel, there would’ve been some minutes of mild panic while my cash-strapped mind wondered how far it would be to walk to Frankfurt. (Did you know Hamburg is way in the north?) Very far. But thanks to the home team and a midnight walk over to the train station (my need for planning wouldn’t let me wait until morning) I was equipped with a ticket on the high speed rail. A pleasant train ride later and I was in Frankfurt, sore-footed, exhausted, but happy to have a job well done behind me.