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A woman looks out at the financial district from a window in The View gallery at the Shard, in London
Reuters/Luke Macgregor
Opening horizons.
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Business travelers find their hopscotching helps develop empathy

By Lila MacLellan

We may need to find more empathy for the business traveler—a new survey suggests these road warriors are more sensitive than we think.

In a survey of more than 1,300 business travelers by The Harris Poll, on behalf of Hyatt Place and Hyatt House, nearly half (48%) said they travel for work to get ahead and better support their family, versus 33% who said they were seeking praise or recognition. And 87% said that business trips help them be more empathetic to others.

That’s a fair distance from the ambitious, self-absorbed, lone-wolf business traveler stereotype we’re familiar with. Think of those depicted in novels like Up in the Air (2002), whose film adaption starred George Clooney as the emotionally stunted, peripatetic downsizer Ryan Bingham. He is accused of using work and a heavy travel schedule to spin “a cocoon of self-banishment.”

The knock on American business travelers, in particular, is that they’re uninterested in the lands and cultures they travel to. Indeed, when it comes to food, interactions with others, and so on, many prefer to play it safe.

But Hyatt’s data actually make perfect sense. Travel, for obvious reasons, breaks the illusion that one’s usual home is the center of the universe, or that the work you do will have the same effect in other places. Experts suggest exposing children to travel early if you want them to grow up to be more empathetic adults. So it shouldn’t matter whether your trips involve warmed-over reconstituted scrambled eggs and awkward networking, or backpacking and dining with the locals. If your eyes are open, it still counts.

Below are selected results from the Hyatt poll, broken out by the three countries of origin from which the survey drew its audience.

How much has business travel helped you be more empathetic toward others?

A lot/somewhat
Total85%
US68%
India90%
China88%

How much do you agree with these statements?

“Being exposed to different people through travel (business or leisure) allows me to feel more empathy towards others.”

Strongly/somewhat agree
Total87%
US77%
India89%
China89%

“I enjoy traveling for business because I get some alone time.”

Strongly/somewhat agree
Total81%
US68%
India81%
China88%

When traveling for business, how likely are you to feel lonely without your friends/family around?

Very/somewhat likely
Total65%
US57%
India67%
China67%

There’s another side benefit to travel: Scientists say it should make you more creative, because the new sights, sounds, and requirements of getting through the day force the brain to form new neural connections, improving your neuroplasticity.

So maybe the jet lag is worth it?