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I work for a company/project with people in multiple countries.

For a couple months, there had been talk of traveling to get everyone together in [far away country] at the end of this month, but I hadn't heard if it was confirmed.

When I asked, it turned out travel was confirmed, but I wasn't on the list of people to go, so simply nothing had been communicated to me. Now that I asked, I have been included on the trip.

It played out something like this:

Me: "Hey boss, we had been talking about travel to [country] at the end of this month. Is that happening? It's almost time and I don't know if I should be booking a flight."

Boss: "Yes, we're going. You weren't on the list of people to go. We didn't know that you wanted to go! It's not too late though! You're going now."

This all happened very fast and I wasn't sure how to react because I hadn't even thought about if I wanted to go, I didn't think it was up to me. Flustered, I complied with my boss and applied for my visa for [country] and began asking coworkers about their travel plans. I haven't booked a flight yet.

The more I think about this the more I really don't want to go, for reasons including:

  • I am really, really dreading the long flights and layovers. I am prone to back and neck pain, I have to stretch a lot to mitigate that just from a regular work day. I don't know how I will tolerate 20+ hours of travel
  • The meetings we will be having in [country] are, frankly, boring and pointless. I know because we do this every quarter. I prefer to take them from the comfort of home where I can call into the meeting and work on other things, rather than have to be attentive to something pointless in person.
  • I am realizing I would have to cancel some plans next week. (These plans are not important enough to qualify as a good excuse not go).

As the dread builds I am considering calling my boss to ask if it's too late not to go. But that would involve specifically telling him I don't want to go, which I think may reflect poorly on me. If I had known that travel was confirmed but I was not on the list I would not have asked and would have been perfectly happy with that.

Can I try to backpedal out of this without shooting myself in the foot?

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    How long ago did the conversation happen where your boss said "you're going now"? If they assumed you wanted to go and therefore said you're going, without much input from your side, that's probably the scenario where they'd be most likely to understand and accept you backing out (excluding scenarios where you might have a good excuse). But every moment you wait from that conversation onwards makes asking about backing out look worse.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jun 10 at 21:58

9 Answers 9

24

Go on the trip.

That's my personal advice, unless you have actual medical advice telling you not to do this.

I don't know how I will tolerate 20+ hours of travel.

You talk about layovers, so I'm assuming you aren't doing more than ten or so hours on a single plane. If you haven't done this before you shouldn't assume it will be an impossible problem for you. At layovers you will get to stretch, and frankly you can even do it on a plane to some extent. The first time I did a long plane trip it was much easier than I thought it would be. If it goes OK then you know you can do it in the future. If it doesn't you've learned your limitations at the company expense.

The meetings we will be having in [country] are, frankly, boring and pointless.

You're going to have to attend them anyway, and while I understand the downside of not being able to dial in and ignore them, the upside is that you get to visit a remote country. If the company thinks the meetings are important enough to fly people to get there then they may be more significant than you think. They may not be relevant to your immediate job but they may be relevant to your next job, or the job you want to have. Listening to boring and pointless meetings is a frequent part of being a working professional. You may also get to network with other people in the company. Knowing people in other parts of the company is going to be beneficial to your career.

Going on this shows dedication to the company, and will enhance your employment prospects. Not going on it after effectively saying you would will diminish your employment prospects. Also, if [country] is a nice place to be, consider taking some vacation before or after the meetings and go look at it - whether it's beaches, museums or mountain ranges

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    Also, check out questions on Travel about coping with long flights. Stretching, sleeping, what to wear, what to bring -- I do a trip regularly that is between 24 and 36 hours depending on routing and layovers. It's a learned skill and you can get better at it. Jun 10 at 15:26
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    I would emphasize networking more. I've worked with colleagues from other locations, many times, and work has always proceeded more smoothly after in-person meetings. Video calls do help to a degree, but they do not match the chat at the coffee machine, the lunch together, or the evening outing at the restaurant/bar, ... Meetings are "doctored", whereas out-of-meeting chats allow you to learn about their family (that guy who's off every Wednesday to take care of his children), their hobbies, etc... and allow you to relate to them, and them to relate to you. Jun 12 at 11:46
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Just tell your boss asap that you would prefer not to go as you have personal commitments. There is no need to explain what they are, and see what the reply is. You should have said that straight away, but sooner is better than later when they may be making reservations etc,.

There's nothing wrong with that, just don't change your mind again.

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Your opportunity to decline this trip without looking bad was the moment your boss told you "You're going now."

But rather than letting him know that you could not make it (the reason would not have been important), you went along with it and began a long drawn out process to go on the trip.

Can I try to backpedal out of this without shooting myself in the foot?

At this point, unless you have a very real emergency or issue preventing you from traveling on this trip there is nothing you can do without shooting yourself in the foot. Your options are:

  • Tell the truth - would probably look bad for you.
  • Make up a lie to be excused - Unprofessional and dishonest, and could easily come back to bite you.

Go on the trip and take this experience as a lesson learned for future encounters such as this.

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  • Wasting large amounts of company money on a trip you don't want to go on is not very professional either.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 15 at 13:41
3

"I don't know if I should be booking a flight" sounds like "I'm interested" to me. Your boss probably (correctly) assumed you wouldn't want to go, so didn't ask. When you did, they happily added you.

Backing out now would likely lead to disappointment. That doesn't have to hurt your prospects, but it's really not a smart move.

I would advise you to go. And given that you're going, try to cope the best you can, and at least attempt to summon some enthusiasm - you come across as focusing on the negative aspects of the boring meetings.

I suspect going and being negative about everything will not do much for you either, both in terms of your boss (who was positively surprised you wanted to go after all), and for you personally - make the best of it.

I would add that it's not a given that a company pays for trips to a foreign country, so I'm pretty sure this is also about meeting people. So I would suggest you mingle a bit as well - I'm pretty certain there must be someone interesting amongst all those people!

As suggested elsewhere, you can also use this to take some holiday, and just look at the country. Have a good time :)

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You were initially excluded because your company didn't think you were interested. That's true; only a miscommunication (your inquiry interpreted as communication) got you added to the invite list.

I think the best thing would be to be honest: ask your boss if it would be possible to back out for the reasons you stated (at least, the preference to avoid long air travel and the conflicts created by the late travel plans), but be prepared to follow through if they've gone out of their way to accommodate you or if your presence is more important than initially implied.

Really, "end of month" implies no more than 3 or 4 weeks notice, which is pretty short for the length of trip you are describing. It also implies it hasn't been that long since you were added to the invite list, and it would be reasonable for you to claim that you had prior obligations you found unable to break.

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"'Can I try to backpedal out of this without shooting myself in the foot?"

You can always backpedal, though you should have thought about this when your attendance was approved/welcomed. As @JoeStrazzere mentioned it will look a bit odd since you couldn't make up your mind. Considering the short notice, it might be in your favour. Just be honest and explain why you would feel more comfortable attending those meetings from home. Maybe you want to reason with above arguments, family etc. - just be sure to stay genuine.

Depending on your role and position in your company as well as your personal and private obligations, try to evaluate if the possible undesired outcome of backpedaling overweighs your uncomfort in actually showing up for this trip - but that's up to you to decide..

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If you truly have chronic pain to the point that you shouldn't be traveling for your health (ie the kind that cascades and will make you de facto incapacitated and/or miserable), you shouldn't just tough it out and harm yourself. This is a disability issue. Tell your boss that you are having health issues and while they won't affect your normal work, you've realized that it would be ill advised for you to travel out of country right now and go through a whole Thing. You can even just tell them the truth and say that you wanted to know if you NEEDED to do it, and then you didn't want to be a bad employee so you went along, but your dread has been growing as you realize that your health cannot handle this right now.

This is from my point of view as someone with a substantial enough musculoskeletal disability that there is no way I wouldn't have to tell my boss at SOME point if I worked in-office (I specifically WFH because of this). If you are able to be in the closet and you have a strong desire to, then, I respect that. But be honest with yourself about whether you are at the point that you need to start setting some boundaries for your health. If you do decide to go, I recommend you fly delta, who have EXCELLENT disability services and will transport you and your luggage across the airport (via pushed chair), let you through security without waiting in line, and seat you early and at the front of the plane if necessary. You do not have to prove to them that you have a disability.

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    Moreover, I would further recommend that the OP talk to their doctor about getting a note recommending against it. "Sorry boss, can't go. Doctor's orders."
    – nick012000
    Jun 11 at 13:20
  • For sure-- if someone has serious chronic pain they should have such a letter onhand / potentially on file with HR anyway.
    – Ejaz
    Jun 13 at 0:51
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You might consider a middle ground between backpedaling and standing firm with your original agreement to go, where you send your boss an email phrased roughly like this:

Hey boss,

I’m about to book my flight for the trip to [country] at the end of the month. I noticed that this would cost the company [X] [units of currency] and would mean missing [Y] hours of work productivity due to the amount of time spent traveling (not even counting excess fatigue from missed sleep, time zone changes etc.).

So, I thought I should say that although I’m excited about the opportunity to do this fun bit of work travel and am grateful that I was invited, I wanted you to know that my desire to go isn’t actually very strong. I could just as easily attend the meetings remotely and this would save the company money, and I would also get more work done that week.

In summary, can you tell me your thoughts about whether you really think it’s preferable that I go ahead with the booking? For my part I’d be totally fine with it either way, so I thought I’d check with you and do whatever you think is best for the company.

The idea here is to signal that you have a mild preference to stay home, while also reminding your boss that that would be the cheaper option for the company (what boss doesn’t like to save a bit of money when offered the option?) and giving them a credible motivation — wanting to do what’s best for the company — that doesn’t make it look like you’re acting out of a purely selfish interest. You can call this strategy a “soft backpedal”. My sense is this will go over much better than a “hard backpedal”.

Of course, if you go this route, you must be willing to go (and at least pretend to be mildly enthusiastic about the trip, or better yet, find a way to actually get excited about the idea) if your boss says that they prefer that option after all.

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The only time that it's really too late to back out is when the trip's been funded. Yes, you haven't booked flights yet, but have them made accommodations and pre-payed for your stay? If so, it's too late.

You could ask your boss. Say that while you're interested in meeting in person, you hadn't been planning on going and you're not really up to traveling at the moment - since you didn't know about it until, at most, four weeks before the trip, you could say that you're concerned about your lack of time to plan. Bonus points if you mention concerns about a big looming deadline or project that needs constant attention. If you do this, you have to do it ASAP.

Consider though that it could be a great opportunity for you. Being chosen for travel, with all of its expenses, signals a desire to include you at a higher level. The ability to network and bond with colleagues in person might be invaluable to your future.

On a technical note: you could check and see if what seats are being funded for the flight - if everyone's flying bare minimum economy or first class/business class, that might change your perceptions and arguments.

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