Traveling for Work: Insights and Tips

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Travel jobs come in many shapes and styles. There are the traditional travel jobs on cruises and airlines and then there are jobs in every industry that allow you to travel, such as sales, public relations, sports and business.

Diana Sisson talks about her current job at the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory, which allows her to travel all around the United States. While she does that, she makes sure to take in the sights.

How did you get started in this line of work?

Sheer dumb luck, and persistence. I was underemployed about two years ago and applying for everything under the sun. I got rejected from everything from NASA to Starbucks, and the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory (CCRL) was just one of many, many applications I submitted online. It wasn’t until the in-person interview that I knew I badly wanted to work here, and I was over the moon when I received a job offer.

What exactly do you do and how much time does it give you to travel?

I inspect concrete, cement, rebar, pozzolan, CMU, and brick testing laboratories for conformity to ASTM standards. Just about any time a large building is built, a lab will test the materials being used to ensure that they meet requirements for strength, durability, etc. I ensure that accredited laboratories are all doing it the same way, following those national standards.

I have a lot of time to travel! We’re on a 5/7 week schedule, which means I travel for five weeks, and then I’m in the office for seven, for a total of four big trips per year. During the seven weeks in the office, we will also hop out on “specials” where we travel to a location just to inspect one lab, versus the 8-10 we might see on a “main” trip. An inspector can expect to spend about 25 weeks on the road per year.

Where have you visited while you were working? 

Hoo boy – I’ve only been at this for a year and a half so far, but I’ve been to New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado and Wyoming. The further west I go, the more National Parks I visit (Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes), while on the East Coast I tend to stay in urban areas (Manhattan, Indianapolis) for fun activities. 

An inspector can expect to visit all 50 states if they stay about seven years, but the average life expectancy in the job (we don’t die, it’s just how long we stay) is three to five. The job is taxing on one’s self and one’s family.

If someone wanted to do what you do, what skills would they need to have?

Very basically, you need a Bachelor’s degree in a science-related field. You should have the mindset to be away from friends and family for a month at a time, and be prepared to miss out on parties and events. You need to be comfortable being alone, as inspectors largely travel alone. Crucially, you need to be comfortable handling confrontation, and be skilled in conflict resolution or else have thick skin.

What are the pros and cons of what you do?

The travel is a pro and a con; you get to see parts of the States in the middle of nowhere, and huge cities, and great parks, and understand the complexity of what it means to be an American, but you’re also always getting ready to leave. It’s hard for my family, and I've missed out on bridal showers, birthdays, concerts, and just hanging out. People start this job for the travel, and leave because of the travel.

The job itself is also a pro and a con; you are an expert in the interpretation of a specific standard that all accredited labs are held to, and are regarded as such. The downside is that everyone else may believe that they are an expert, and can get quite upset when you have a difference in interpretation. Hence the conflict resolution skills required.

What advice would you give someone who wants a job where they can travel?

Make sure you’re prepared for the consequences. Are you ready to miss friends’ events? Are you and your partner/spouse ready to be apart for long periods of time? Has your potential job warned you of these possibilities? Buy a good suitcase and a set of noise-cancelling headphones for the plane. Check your bags and don’t bother with the carry-on hassles.

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