My most memorable business trip: a historic Blizzard

I recently had to write a short essay about “the best business trip I have ever taken” as part of an online English class I am taking. Figured I’d turn this into a blog post. It’s interesting to contrast this article with how I burned out in 2018/2019.

Back in the days, I was a consultant for McKinsey and Company. My wife and I were living in London in a tiny studio. In case you are curious, the address was 23 Queensborough Terrace, London, W2 3SS. You can’t tell from the picture below, but my wife, Erwan, was hiding behind the dresser.

Our studio in London

The luxurious side of this business trip is what made it exceptional to me. I’ve detailed various prices in this article to reinforce this idea. Not to brag!

January 2015, McKinsey wanted to fly me to New-York for what was supposed to be a one-week business trip. I had never flown outside Europe at the time. Which meant that I did not have a passport. I remember our Partner telling me “well, that’s going to be a problem, Andrew. How soon can you get one?”. So McKinsey first flew me back to my hometown in Belgium, Chimay to request a passport. We got to see our family for a few days, on McKinsey’s dime.

The travel team of McKinsey booked me a business flight to NYC with British Airways ($5000). The upper deck only had room for a dozen of business class travelers (“D-Club Executive In Uk” ). Living the dream. What I had watched in movies since I was a child. This was the beginning of my luxurious trip to New-York! They handed me a menu with a selection of drinks and food, amongst them, a steak. That I couldn’t resist. After which I reclined my seat into a bed to watch a movie. I remember the air attendant asking me what I was doing for a living. He was probably wondering what a hillbilly like me was doing in the executive cabin… When I told him that I was a Software Engineer for a top management consulting firm, he replied: “Well, you must be really good at what you are doing!”. I smiled. Inside, I was thrilled. He then walked me through his favorites sightseeing spots and gourmet places in New-York.

I landed in New-York, JFK, in the midst of what seemed to be the beginning of a blizzard. I headed straight to a 5-star hotel, the New York Palace Hotel ($600/night). They had booked me a room on the upper floor (“Premier Skyline King Room”) with city skyline views, overlooking iconic buildings such as Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Manhattan’s West Side. The hotel had no restaurant. Wait … in-room service only. I felt like I was in “Home Alone” when Kevin books himself a room in the said Plaza Hotel. I had a minibar, snacks, bathrobe, sleepers, etc.

Live Like Kevin McCallister With the Plaza Hotel's in Home Alone 2

And my room:

New York Palace hotel premier skyline room

I got myself another steak for dinner, with wine. They brought it to me on a nice table on wheels with white napkins etc. I felt like a prince. That dinner cost “me” (well, McKinsey) over one hundred bucks at the time. Same for the breakfast, I’d order-in various types of breakfast with an average cost of $80.

Pancakes at New York Palace Hotel
Burger at New York Palace Hotel
Steak at New York Palace Hotel

The blizzard (“Winter Storm Juno – A historic Blizzard”) grew stronger and stronger to the point I couldn’t fly back to London anymore. McKinsey extended my stay for another week. We had received an alert on our phone from the City of New-York. The notification read as follows: “Emergency Alert, All non-emergency vehicles must be off all roads in NYC by 11 PM until further notice”.

Emergency Alert Screenshot

I couldn’t believe my eyes! They were about to lock down Manhattan. And I was lucky enough to be there… They blocked every major crossroads with police cars. New-York City was mine to walk on the streets! That’s a view from my hotel room at the time.

New-York streets empty

And here I was… watching CNN wearing a bathrobe.

inter Storm Juno - A historic Blizzard
Travel ban NYC

I was working hard during the day. I was acting as a liaison between London and our client in New-York. Yet, I was spending my evenings and lunchtimes visiting New-York. Imagining how my life would be here (we ended up moving to New-York later that year).

I decided to explore New-York’s finest restaurant such as Smith & Wollensky ($200 bill, oops). The kind of place you can’t turn back once you are inside and you feel like you don’t belong!. I also tried, “Ippudo Westside” and many others.

Smith & Wollensky Outside
Smith & Wollensky Steak

I may have over-requested the overnight shoeshine service. I would request this service every night by placing my shoes outside of my front door. One morning, I couldn’t find my shoes back. Turns out someone decided to play with them overnight. And kick them away in the hallway!

I also had a strange experience where the light of my nightstand turned itself on and off. It freaked me out so much that I decided to unplug it altogether. Yet, I remember staring at that lamp hoping it would stay shut. I will never know what happened there…

I got the chance to go to several other business trips with McKinsey since then. And I even brought my wife to some of them (before we had kids).

Florida – Tampa, March 2017

The second most sumptuous 4-star hotel I have been in my life. The Vinoy, Renaissance at Saint Petersburg, Florida. Wild dolphins a few meters away from the hotel. With an average price per night of $600.

Florida palm trees
View from the The Vinoy's balcony rooms

This is from there that we announced our families we were expecting our first child (Matti) for September 2017. This T-shirt was my birthday gift from Erwan. Huge success on the streets!

View from the The Vinoy's balcony rooms

Austin – Texas, April 2016

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Denver Colorado, September 15, 2016.

Denver Colorado Skyline
Denver Colorado Baseball game

I feel nostalgic after writing these lines. I also feel grateful to have had the opportunity to have lived those moments. Wait, what if there was a way to live this lifestyle?

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