How to feel at home when you're away

It's not the point of travel for most people, but feeling at home does make a business trip easier


Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 13

Larry King, the CNN talk show host, describes himself as a "creature of habit." On his monthly trips to New York from his home in Los Angeles, he stays in the same suite at the Regency Hotel, requests the same bittersweet chocolates in his room (for his heart condition), orders the same tomato soup from room service upon arrival, keeps the same workout gear and business suit stored there and even has the same hotel driver pick him up from the airport.

"This place has become my home away from home," King said. Which is exactly his point. "Otherwise, I get very homesick when I travel."

King, in his inimitable style, gives voice to one of business travel's unspoken downsides, homesickness.

"It's embarrassing for adults to admit to an emotion" most frequently associated with summer campers and college freshmen, said Julia Turovsky, a psychologist and associate director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Rutgers University. Nonetheless, she said, "this grown-up version of separation anxiety has very real symptoms," including fatigue, compulsive behavior, headaches, indigestion, forgetfulness and insomnia.

Because those symptoms can also result from general travel stress, sometimes the sufferers do not realize that what ails them is not so much their hectic schedule as a craving for the familiar surroundings they have left behind.

The best way to cope with homesickness is to bring along mementos that evoke the comforts of home, like a digital image of your dog on your laptop screen or a tape-recorded message from a child, Turovsky said. Psychologists call these keepsakes "transitional objects," though they may colloquially be thought of as security blankets.

Recalling the reassurance that they once found in their own blankets and dissatisfied with the versions that the airlines give passengers, US Airways employees David and Renee Dillinger designed a softer, more supple blanket they now sell through, their company in Pineville, North Carolina. The blankets, which are advertised as disposable, are US$25 for a pack of five.

"When people get on a plane, it's not so much warmth they want from a blanket, but to be coddled," Dillinger said. "It's almost like a barrier against the cold, cruel world out there." When he travels, he adds, he always takes the slippers and a travel bag that his grandmother gave him 15 years ago.

For Jane Evans, a senior vice president at Focus Features, a filmmaking division of NBC Universal, the comfort item is her yoga mat. "I pack it with me everywhere I go," said Evans, who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, performing her yoga postures on hotel-room floors "brings me back to my center," she said. "It grounds me home."

Evans' company released Lost in Translation, the 2003 movie that depicts two lonely people who meet on business trips to Tokyo. Maria Grace, a New York psychologist, called it "a quintessential film about homesickness and its many ramifications." In her book Reel Fulfillment, she advises travelers to bring or rent films that elicit happy memories.

The travel industry is well aware of the loneliness of road warriors. Some hotels, eager to act as surrogate mothers or spouses, do everything but tuck their guests in at night. The Loews Corp, which counts the Regency in New York among its stable of 18 hotels, has a program called "Home Sweet Loews" that serves up amenities like chenille throws, book lights, air purifiers, white noise machines, humidifiers, reading glasses and lighted makeup mirrors.

The Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan figures the best way to be a home away from home is to preserve its appearance, down to the last piece of molding. The Algonquin underwent a US$4 million lobby renovation in 2004 "with meticulous care to keep it looking exactly as homey as it has always been," said Anthony Melchiorri, the general manager. "If we'd changed a stitch, people would have felt like we redecorated their living room while they were gone."

If pampering counts, then Clarence McLeod, manager of the exclusive Gold Floor at the Fairmont Washington hotel, may have mastered the art. "We would feel lost in Washington without him," said Judi Smith, who comes for 10-day stretches with her husband, Terry Smith, chief executive of the Federal Home Bank of Dallas, and their son. During a recent stay, McLeod sent chicken noodle soup and a teddy bear to the Smiths' quarters when their son was sick.

"Guests want a psychic hug and a lot of TLC after a day of being run over in Washington," he said.

A common trick that frequent travelers use to ward off feelings of isolation is to return to the same eateries and, perhaps, to order the same dishes. When he visits Paris, Geoffrey Zakarian, the executive chef at Country restaurant in New York, has dinner at Chez George; tea at a salon called Mariages Freres; hot chocolate at Le Grand Colbert, a brasserie at the Palais Royale; and a drink atWilli's Wine Bar. "These places become my moveable feast," he said.

Security blankets come in all sizes and shapes. For some travelers, a ring or a locket can be all the consolation they need. For Hironori Hozoji, who moved to San Diego from his native Tokyo three years ago to become an investment officer for Jafco Life Science Investment, it is the atmosphere of his favorite airline that makes the difference.

"Just to look at the Japan Airlines logo on a plane makes me relax," he said. "And when I get on, I feel like I am home already. It's like a little Japan. They know how to steam the rice just like my mother makes it."