The Realities of Work Travel

There’s work travel and then there’s work travel.

When we think of travel, we generally think of an undeniable, animalistic excitement – that which stinks of newness and possibility. For me, it’s that feeling that keeps me getting on plane after plane, punching in my credit card number several times a year.

However, travel isn’t like that for everyone. Some of us don’t get to get home because travel has forced us into a whole new one.

My friend was employed by a large sales company near our hometown following graduation, a great company at that with awesome pay and killer benefits. When she earned a promotion, she was informed that following a few months of training, she would be assigned a territory and she would have two weeks to move.

Upon moving to her new city, she was given a phone, an iPad, a laptop, a car, gas money, grocery money and a hotel to stay in for a few weeks until she was able to find a place to live. After a few weeks, she settled into a cushy luxury apartment in the city where she received her assignment. She has a walk-in closet and very impressive adult furniture. Not too shabby, right?

To me, her life is dreamlike. To be sent to a new, exciting city where one has no lingering ghosts. To make an enviable salary and live in a beautiful apartment. To buy your own groceries and make as much noise as you want and come and go as you please.

To someone who lives in a boring town without the means yet to move out, this is truly otherworldly.

Being as loudmouthed as I am, I eagerly conveyed my excitement to my friend. She couldn’t wholeheartedly agree.

“It’s kind of exciting at first,” she says. I listen to where she goes with this and I start to think. My friend can’t just pop over to a new, cool restaurant because she has no one to go with. There are not yet bars to frequent, friends to see or parties to go to because my friend doesn’t know one soul in the city. 

Any semblance of a life that she once knew is now gone, replaced by possibility, yes, but nothing solid in sight. In the long run, I’m sure it’s great. But when you’re bored on another Saturday night at home, now apt with possibility does this really feel?

This is true work travel.

And it also didn’t really occur to me when I was busy dreaming of what it would be like to go somewhere cool and nowhere near anyplace that I had ever been.

Travel is exciting. It’s fun and new and cool. But when you can’t go home, because you have been relocated in your travels, the novelty can wear off before a comfortable sense of familiarity can seep in.

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Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Forgotten Child

I am returning from Chattanooga today. No, not Nashville, because believe it or not, Nashville is not the only city in Tennessee. It’s Chattanooga. This fact is lost on many of the people that I inform of my travels.

Chattanooga doesn’t have a great reputation. One of the smaller Tennessee cities, it’s still ranked as the fourth most dangerous statewide city in 2013, in a state already named as the most dangerous one in the nation. Plus, when compared to its bright and sparkly sister, Nashville, it’s music scene nor tourism measures up.

Even though the hilly, quiet city is no international destination, it does have some character that distinguishes it from its famous neighbors such as Knoxville, Atlanta and Nashville. Chattanooga, reminiscent of the Meatpacking District of Manhattan with its lines of historical and refurbished warehouses, is marked by a rather exciting railway and mining history.

My friend who recently relocated to the city, the reason for my visit, took me to Lookout Mountain, a scenic city attraction and the epitome of the railway and mining reputation of Chattanooga. Made up within the mountain is the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls and Rock City.

Rock City's formidable peak.
Rock City’s formidable peak.

Rock City, the premier park that brings brings visitors up the 1700 feet above sea level that is Lookout Mountain, is decorated with various festive displays within its interesting rock formations and pretty peaks. The self-guided tour is easy and family friendly with some cheap thrills along the way, including one zookept albino deer, displays within the Fairyland Caverns and a spot where visitors can see seven states from its lookout point.

At the peak of Rock City, seven states are visible.
At the peak of Rock City, seven states are visible.

The highlight of Rock City is the Fairyland Caverns, a small cave system in which someone very meticulously created elaborate displays of creepy gnomes doing storybook deeds or playing in the rocks. In the darkness of the caves and lit by fluorescent lights, it’s a strange walkthrough, especially accompanied by the upbeat Christmas music.

Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City's Fairytale Caverns.
Rock City’s Fairytale Caverns.

Near the end of this twist of displays is Mother Goose Village, a circle of storybook scenes including Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella and the Three Little Pigs, all very brightly decorated and also accentuated by the festive music. It’s both impressive and daunting, like the beginning of a bad horror movie.

The other, and more standout element, of Lookout Mountain is Ruby Falls, the tallest underground waterfall in the world settled interestingly in Tennessee rather than in Mexico, Nepal or Canada.

Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall on earth, hidden deep within the rock-formation ridden caverns which can be reached in a guided tour. Guides point out cutesy formations such as “Steak and Eggs,” “Fish” and “Western Sunset.”After about a 30-minute walk, the cave opens up Indiana-Jones style into a large, formidable opening where Ruby Falls is very extravagantly lit up in changing fluorescent colors.

Ruby Falls is the world's tallest underground waterfall.
Ruby Falls is the world’s tallest underground waterfall.

I asked our tour guide about the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a much-talked-about city attraction that hasn’t been making much sense to me. The tour guide disregards with a wave of her hand. “Eh. It’s like a hotel or something.” Not surprisingly, the Choo-Choo doesn’t impress her.

My tour guide was right. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is a former train station and now-hotel which was dubbed with the name after the catchy 1940’s song. That’s pretty much it.

I didn’t take a ride on the Incline Railway, or “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” but apparently it is the world’s steepest passenger railway and, in operating since 1895, is a National Historic Site. The blonde teenage girl working at Rock City who I asked about it said she had been there on a third-grade trip and it was “super boring.”

I think we can all agree that Chattanooga is no Nashville. It doesn’t have a lot of fancy bells and whistles or wandering country celebrities. However, holding the tallest underground waterfall in the world the ability to see seven states at once isn’t something to scoff at either.