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The Globe and Mail

Hillary Clinton: A prolific traveller, by profession

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves before boarding her plane, Thursday, June 28, 2012, in Riga, Latvia. According to the State Department, Clinton set a new frequent-flier record after touching down Latvia, her 100th country as America's top diplomat. She has made 70 trips, completed 337 days on the road, and spent the equivalent of over 73 days on the plane, equaling over 1,750 hours.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/The Associated Press

In four years as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has collected more air miles than many people rack up in a lifetime – thanks to one of the most taxing travel schedules of any profession on Earth.

Since her appointment to the most important cabinet position in Washington, Ms. Clinton, 65, has travelled more than 11/2 million kilometres on trips to Serbia, Senegal and 110 other countries. In all, she has spent more than a quarter of the past four years simply travelling from one place to another.

"Those are big numbers," said Tim Winship, a travel expert with the website who spent more than 20 years working in the frequent-flyer-program industry. "In the real world, those are the kind of customers that airlines bend over backward to keep."

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Unlike Ms. Clinton, most heavy-duty travellers don't have access to government planes or a standing military. But Ms. Clinton's extremely hectic schedule has come under the spotlight in recent weeks after she fainted and suffered a concussion while sick with a stomach flu. Ms. Clinton's doctors ordered her to refrain from overseas travel following her concussion. That order alone is likely to greatly reduce Ms. Clinton's Herculean workload, as her term as Secretary of State comes to an end in January.

"It is a stressful lifestyle, there's no doubt about it," Mr. Winship said of travel-heavy professions. "There is this perception that, gee, all that travel sounds pretty sexy. But at the end of a month, where you've been on the road for 20 or more days, you are physically and emotionally exhausted."

One way to measure Ms. Clinton's severe travel schedule is to consider what her mileage would have netted her in the world of commercial airlines. In many frequent-flyer programs, the top-tier, "Elite" status is handed out only to flyers who log somewhere in the range of 160,000 kilometres a year – Ms. Clinton's average yearly total is more than double that requirement.

This week, Ms. Clinton is back in hospital after a follow-up exam revealed a blood clot between her brain and skull. Doctors are treating the clot with blood thinners and expect Ms. Clinton to make a full recovery.

According to the State Department, most of her travel is done on a reconfigured U.S. Air Force Boeing 757 – a plane whose commercial variant normally carries more than 200 passengers. Instead, Ms. Clinton's plane is essentially a travelling office, outfitted with the latest in security and mobile communications. The first two years of Ms. Clinton's term as Secretary of State saw her log about 340,000 kilometres a year. But the past two years have been significantly more strenuous – in 2011, she travelled almost 435,000 kilometres, visiting 46 countries. The following year, Ms. Clinton travelled to a whopping 71 nations.

In just one trip in September of 2012, Ms. Clinton visited the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, East Timor, Brunei and Russia – covering some 48,000 kilometres.

Outside of government officials, there are few professionals who can match Ms. Clinton's time in the air. Airline professionals, of course, log countless kilometres, as do professional athletes, but usually on a certain number of well-travelled routes, rather than to military bases. There are some travellers who outdo even Ms. Clinton's prolific flight schedule, such as salespeople or hired consultants who essentially live on the road.

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Ms. Clinton's travel itinerary will likely become much less stressful in the coming months, as she leaves the State Department. Should she decide to make another run at the White House in 2016, however, that will quickly change.

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