- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Are Your Bags Packed? Decoding Civilian Job Descriptions Relating to Travel
by Tom Wolfe, Senior Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by:

Tom Wolfe

As separating military personnel search for a civilian career, many are surprised to learn that travel can be a significant component of certain employment opportunities.  Business travel can be exciting and even glamorous but it can also be demanding. Time away from home is common in the military and it may have something to do with why people leave the service.  It is important to decide early in your job search how much travel you are willing to accept.

There are two types of travel in the corporate sector.  Some travel is of a local nature only.  You spend a portion of your working day away from your office and your desk, traveling in the local area only.  The advantage of this type of travel is that you are home every night.  The disadvantage might be a significant amount of time in your car or on the subway.  Regardless, the organization may describe this situation as "some travel” since you do not pack a suitcase and you can expect to have dinner at home every night.

The second type is the overnight variety.  The nature of the work and/or the distance from the office makes getting home every night impractical or impossible. You will need a suitcase because you will be staying in hotels.

Can you accept either of these varieties?  If so, to what extent?  In the case of local travel, what percentage of the working day or week is acceptable?  With respect to the overnight variety, most companies talk in terms of a percentage, however some use descriptions, such as “occasional,” “frequent,” or “low.”  Ask them to convert this terminology to a percentage and it will be easier for you to understand the requirement.  Or maybe not.

Let’s say a civilian job description list as a requirement moderate travel.  You ask for clarification and they give you the figure of 20 percent.  That might sound high or low to you, but what does it actually mean?  Assuming limited weekend travel, it means that you will be spending, on average, two out of every ten working nights away from home.  Notice I said working nights.  What is a working night?  In the basic sense, it is the night before a working day.  Given that the average month has about 20 working days, then 20 percent travel means you will spend an average of four working nights per month away from home.  The word “average” brings up an additional point:  are we talking one night per week, two nights every other week, one four-day trip per month, or some other 20 percent configuration?  Do you have a preference? How much does it matter?

Another issue to consider is the type of position.  Most manufacturing, operations, engineering, and general management jobs have little or no regular travel requirements.  Other jobs, however, are by their very nature travel-intensive.  Consulting, sales, vendor quality, tech rep, field engineering, auditing, and recruiting are examples of positions where travel is common and you should expect to spend a certain amount of time away from home.

How much travel can you accept?  You need to be prepared for that question when you are reviewing civilian job descriptions and interviewing for a position. Determine your personal percentage (number of working nights out of town per ten).  Consider the options available to you, accept the fact that every job requires some sort of sacrifice, and decide if your sacrifice might come in the form of time away from home.

If you are willing to travel, or perhaps even attracted to a position with travel, many additional doors could be open to you. You may also receive a company car or membership in airlines' or hotels' "valued member" clubs.

On the other hand, if one of your biggest reasons for leaving the military is “too much time away from home,” consider the old adage and look before you leap.


Tom Wolfe is the senior contributing editor and he served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978.  Used with the author’s permission.

Return to February 2009 Issue