WHY DO WE TRAVEL SO *#!?*! MUCH? The notorious discomforts of the road notwithstanding, business journeys offer subtle psychological rewards that can turn some trippers into travelholics.
By Peter Nulty REPORTER ASSOCIATE Paige Larkin

(FORTUNE Magazine) – DO YOU COMPLAIN at dinner parties about the hardships of constant business travel, and then proudly drop the names of your exotic ports of call? When you leave the family behind, do you experience a small pang of guilt -- and a big jolt of enthusiasm for the road ahead? Do you tell your spouse you'd like to cut back, even though you'd be deeply disappointed if your travel budget were slashed? If you have answered yes, you have felt the hook of travelholism. Many inveterate executive travelers know the symptoms. Why do so many suffer -- even seek out -- the hardships of travel? Does the urge to roam lead people to travel more than business really requires? The health of corporate budgets, not to mention family relations, often hangs in the balance. As with most compulsions, pain and pleasure intertwine. Complaints spring quickly to many executives' lips. ''I lose prestige when I travel, because I'm a nameless face among thousands in the airport pipeline,'' says a management consultant who logs up to 125,000 miles a year. The reason that many liken air terminals to cattle yards and airplanes to cattle cars, as James A. Wilson, a counseling psychologist and management consultant in Pittsburgh, explains: ''People feel like cows.'' Yet the lure of the road may exert a larger influence on travel patterns than anyone suspects. The U.S. Travel Data Center in Washington, D.C., estimates that the number of business trips totaling more than 200 miles has increased roughly 34% in the 1980s. That's not a stunning increase, but it has taken place despite an economic slump at the start of the decade and a subsequent wave of unprecedented corporate cost cutting. To be sure, many executives have a real need to be on the go. Often business is best conducted face to face. Says Wilson: ''If your aim is to 'transform' others, a hot new buzzword, conduct your business in person.'' Also, the best intelligence is usually gathered in the field. Stephen Moss of the Arthur D. Little consulting firm, an expert in streamlining manufacturing operations, has been making one or two business trips a week since 1957. Moss once tried to limit his staff's travel by having videotapes showing troubled factories sent to his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, he says, ''We couldn't see on the tape how workers were feeling or where the dust was piling up. Some of the most telling evidence just wasn't visible.'' Yet the decision to hop a plane is influenced by more than the simple needs of good management. At its worst, travel can be an addiction, a close relative of workaholism. William Lutz, a psychologist with TriSource Group Inc., which counsels executives in the New York area, points out that travel often calls forth adrenaline -- to catch a plane, to close a big deal. Adrenaline produces heightened awareness, clearer thinking, and a greater sense of being creative and alive -- all agreeable sensations that could lead to psychological dependence. EXECUTIVES frequently cite these feelings as part of the pleasure of travel. Says Denise Brennan, an assistant controller for General Signal in Stamford, Connecticut: ''Sometimes I have these bursts of energy, followed by a sense of well-being like a runner's high.'' And John J. Mann, a vice president of sales for General Foods USA: ''It's a kind of release. I feel more creative.'' Medically speaking, it's unclear whether people can become addicted to -- that is, physically dependent on -- adrenaline. But, according to Lutz, it's been well documented in law enforcement and in the theater, for example, that some people seek out risk and excitement in an unconscious attempt to stimulate their adrenal glands. So, too, might the hotshot East Coast investment banker eager to win a new client in California. In less severe forms, wanderlust can still be potent. For some people, travel slakes psychological thirsts that desk and hearth cannot fully satisfy. The point intrigues Harry Levinson, founder of the Levinson Institute in Belmont, Massachusetts, a group of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who also consult with managements. He cites three principal motives for mobility that may overlap or take different forms: -- Aggression. In Freudian theory, the two urges most essential for survival of the species are aggression and sex. Aggression enables people to compete for food and defend themselves. Since in civilized society one rarely spears a mammoth or chases off a marauding wolf, aggressive energy seeks other outlets. Levinson believes one such outlet is physical movement. It could take the form of acing an opponent with a tennis serve or dashing for three planes in a day. Consider how fond inveterate travelers are of telling war stories. These tales frequently recount heroic physical journeys. ''My tour de force,'' says punster John Ketteringham, senior vice president of Arthur D. Little, ''was the day I took off from Dusseldorf at 7 A.M., flew to Paris, caught the Concorde to New York, and then took a flight to Houston where I attended a luncheon of the American Heart Association. Then I flew on to Las Vegas in time for an 8 P.M. dinner with clients.'' His working day lasted 24 hours and included two business meetings, four airplanes, five cities, and 6,500 miles. -- Independence. According to myth, the business tripper does a good deal of carousing on the road. While the truth is less sensational, freedom is unquestionably a big reward. Just what form the reward takes may vary. Some people have trouble achieving intimacy and prefer the more casual encounters of a journey. Others want to avoid problems at home. But in any case, says Levinson, ''We all like to break the mold, to get out from under our surroundings -- and ourselves.'' Many busy executives cherish their independence on the road for one reason: the chance to work uninterrupted. Says Donald Straszheim, who takes at least ( one trip a week as chief economist for Merrill Lynch: ''It's a good time to work. At the office I get 200 calls a day. At the airport I call who I want, and on the plane the phone never rings. I'm never bothered by my secretary, and I never talk to anyone. I don't mind a three-hour snafu in my airline schedule. I just go to the Red Carpet Club and work. I'm alone.'' Freedom also means regressing to a time in life before family and career preempted one's energy. Many admit feeling freer to watch television at night or go to a bar. Says Tamara Erickson, a consultant for Arthur D. Little: ''Sure I like to treat myself. I read novels late at night.'' Why doesn't she do that at home? ''I'd feel compelled to do something useful.'' Others take advantage of the time to focus on an avocation, Levinson says. Kenneth Roman, who traveled to 22 countries last year as chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, says proudly, ''I have regular squash partners all over the world.'' -- Curiosity. Veteran travelers typically display a hunger for stimulation, which in turn produces knowledge that can help in decision-making. The chairman of a big corporation may try to peer decades out into the future before determining whether to build a new plant or open a new mine. Says Levinson: ''People who are solving very complex problems can never get enough information. Travel gives them access to data they couldn't get any other way.'' Kenneth Roman of Ogilvy & Mather likes to cite a line of novelist John le Carre's: ''A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.'' Roman says he is on the road a third of the time, meeting clients and talking to the people under him, because it adds a dimension of understanding. Says he: ''My people learn exactly what I want, and it's mutual. If it's all memos and telephones, there is nothing but misunderstanding.'' Roman also enjoys the intellectual stimulus: ''I've been to Korea and China. Last January in Caracas I met with a man who knows Fidel Castro. As a consequence, I can read the newspapers with more interest and deal with world events better.'' William Ebsworth, a portfolio manager for Fidelity Investments of Boston, likens travel to a ''living civics lesson.'' Ebsworth recently returned from Tokyo and Hong Kong, where most of the people he observed in offices were laboring six days a week. He concludes, ''I learned firsthand what we're really up against.'' THESE THREE principal urges to roam are buttressed by some ancillary benefits. One is that most companies view willingness to get up and go as a sign of dedication. Consequently, travel assignments are often received like badges of merit. Brennan of General Signal recalls feeling on early business trips, ''Hey, they must believe in me.'' Brennan, who has worked there for eight years, is now an assistant controller. American Airlines tickled that nerve last year with a television ad showing a ruggedly handsome executive dressing in black tie for a night on the town. He gets a call from the boss. ''So why am I always the lucky one?'' he asks. ''Hey, that's what you get for being so good'' is the answer. Then the boss explains that a big deal is falling through on the West Coast and suggests that our hero catch a flight at seven or eight or nine o'clock in the morning. Replies Mr. Rough-and-Ready: ''I'll be on the nine o'clock . . . tonight.'' Ta-dah. Egos are also boosted by the chance to live somewhat higher on the hog than usual. Says Moss of Arthur D. Little: ''I admit it. I enjoy a good meal and a turned-down bed.'' Adds his colleague Erickson: ''Linen sheets. I like linen sheets.'' A busy traveler once confided to psychologist Wilson that he knew his family life was in trouble when he started equating his home with a bad hotel. And Wilson recalls one patient, accustomed to dining on the road in fine French restaurants, who touched off a family crisis when he complimented his wife on her ''good peasant fare.'' Another benefit is the raft of frequent flier programs, though some people travel so much that they can't take advantage of their accumulated rewards. Erickson lets most of her free airline coupons lapse for lack of time and energy to travel for pleasure. Straszheim of Merrill Lynch gives his secretary a free flight coupon every Christmas. Last year she went to Alaska. Dedicated trippers have devised some clever psychological stratagems for dealing with the strains that travel inflicts. One man always sits in the front of airplanes so as to be less aware of the madding crowd behind him. Another has duplicate accounts with credit card companies. If his wallet is lost or stolen, he can cancel one set and use the second. Others pay hundreds of dollars of their own money to fly first class or use the sheltered oases of the airline clubs. Wilson says some steady travelers hide little notes -- love messages or jokes -- around the house for the family to find in their absence. One left a message taped to the bottom of a toilet seat, although Wilson doesn't recall the note's contents. Other voyagers carry with them favorite objects, such as photographs, blankets, and pillows, or they send taped messages home by express messengers. ''Generally,'' concludes Wilson, ''we'll use any medium to assert our presence in the home and vice versa.'' Because psychology is such a powerful factor in travel, it's inevitable that some business tripping is unnecessary. Says Dr. Richard F. Bloom, a TriSource psychologist: ''I suspect that any time a trip is of borderline value, the compulsive traveler will go.'' Wilson, who is writing a book about the social psychology of in-house auditors, reports that they generally spend between 30% and 60% of their careers in out-of-town travel. He says that if they are on the road less than 30% of the time, they start showing signs of cabin fever. If they spend more than 60% of their time traveling, their families may disintegrate. In between are a lot of trips that may have little purpose; many companies are searching for ways to rein in the compulsive traveler. So far the new tax law, which allows companies to deduct only 80% of meals and entertainment expenses, appears to be having little effect on corporate per diem allowances, according to John Hawkins, a sales director for MCI Planners, a travel consulting firm in Dallas. One travel manager who has worked for major corporations says she once tried to get rid of a policy that permitted frequent first-class flying. She was besieged by angry executives vowing to travel no more. In the end, the first-class policy went unaltered. Unfortunately for managers who might like to get a handle on this problem, business trips are often like fishing trips. It's hard to know in advance if you are going to catch something, but you can be darn sure you'll never catch anything if you stay at home.