Practicing Religion While on the Go

When he travels on business, Rick Surratt, a salesman in St. Louis, always brings along his Bible.

Hedab El Tarifi, an information-technology manager in Los Angeles, never leaves home without her Koran.

And Harry Herbst, a New Jersey insurance agent, wouldn't think of setting off without his Hebrew prayer book and other items necessary for his daily communes with God.

The three are among an untold number of business travelers for whom religion on the road is as routine and automatic as checking into a hotel, despite such pan-denominational challenges as finding time to pray and more faith-specific hurdles like keeping kosher in Nashville or reckoning the direction of Mecca from an airplane seat.

Mr. Herbst, an Orthodox Jew, prays three times a day — a compact he is loath to break even when traveling on behalf of his insurance and financial services company, Harry Herbst & Associates. Along with sales folders and his appointment book, room must also be made in his suitcase for a prayer shawl and a sacramental box used in his morning supplications.

"Just like I take clean clothes with me," Mr. Herbst said. "They're part of who I am."

Mr. Surratt, who travels eastern Missouri one to two nights a week for CBM Inc. selling electrical transmission equipment, says he has trouble functioning if he does not start off each day on the road with half an hour of praying and reading the Scriptures in his motel room. "Sometimes I can't," he said, "and I feel like I'm missing something, like I'm more vulnerable.`

Ms. El Tarifi's solution to this conundrum is to follow the adage better late than never. Once in Florence, Italy, her busy meeting schedule regularly required her to put off as many as three of her daily prayers in row, but she never failed to make them up in her hotel room in the evening.

"If you don't do your prayers on time, it doesn't mean they've dropped as a duty," she said.

While surveys on the religious practices of business travelers are hard to come by, more than two-thirds of adult Americans polled in August by the Barnabas Institute, a nondenominational religious research organization in San Rafael, Calif., said they were taking steps to lead more spiritual lives. And Miki Vasquez, president of Barnabas, says business travelers have more reason than most people to explore their spiritual side.

"When we're out in the world, we just feel more vulnerable," Mr. Vasquez said. "We're more conscious of car accidents when we drive long distances or an airplane's vulnerabilities when there's turbulence. We ask ourselves, If this is the last day of our lives, do we know where we're going? We tend to have a lot of time on our hands to think about those kinds of things when we travel."

Anecdotal evidence backs up his hypothesis. Jeanne Mills, who works as a concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, the site of numerous trade and professional conferences, says she receives two to three times the queries from guests looking for houses of worship than she did before Sept. 11, 2001. And Mitchell Noyes, a concierge at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Chicago, said he received as many 50 requests a week from guests looking for a place to pray.

"Just because they're away doing business doesn't mean they stop their lives," he said.

Finding time to minister to those religious lives is not always easy, however.

Ms. El Tarifi, who handles information technology and Internet-based business applications for GE Rotoflow, a unit of General Electric, said traveling typically complicated her Muslim obligation to pray five times a day. She observes morning and nightly prayers in her living room and spreads her prayer rug across the floor of her cubicle at the office two or three times a day.

That kind of time on the road, however, is frequently hard to come by, she said. "If I'm in the middle of an airport and I have my luggage and I'm basically struggling to make sure I don't miss my next flight, it would really be very hard for me to drop everything and do my prayers," she said.

In such instances, Ms. El Tarifi postpones her prayers until she has enough time to recite them, even if circumstances preclude the kneeling and repeated prostrations typical of Muslim worship.