Surviving Business Travel
Minimizing Stress During Business Trips
If you travel for work, you know it's often not quite the adventure that some may think.
The surprises, inconveniences, and delays can be "interesting" when you're on vacation. But with business travel, you need to focus on being productive – so typical travel discomforts can often seem worse, because you're also dealing with business pressures.
How often do you travel for business? Do you make occasional trips to conferences, regularly visit clients in other cities, or fly two or three times a week (or more)? If you travel frequently, you may have a high tolerance for the stresses of constantly moving around. But for many of us, the demands of traveling for business cause anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, and often low level physical illness. If your flight is delayed, if you have a flat tire while driving, if you're so tired that you can't think – then your hopes of working successfully can disappear.
The good news is that there are several ways to ensure that your travel will go as smoothly as possible, allowing you to concentrate on your business goals.
Planning the Trip
Preparing for your trip involves more than making flight and hotel reservations. Here are some ways to avoid the stress of travel:
- Airport security – Allow more than enough time to get through airport security and customs, deal with checkpoints at borders, and make flight connections.
- "Off hours" – Begin your trip during "off hours," if possible. For example, avoid driving during commuter rush hours or flying during holidays or summer vacation months. Also, you'll probably have fewer crowds on Tuesdays or Wednesdays – so try to travel on one of those days.
- Time to organize – Arrive at your destination with enough time to get organized – check into your hotel, review business papers, and so on – before you have your business meeting.
- Rental cars – Reserve your rental car in advance, and allow time to pick it up and become familiar with various features (locks, emergency brake, hazard lights, headlights, windshield wipers, and satellite navigation) before driving.
- Jet lag – Flying may cause jet lag (physical and/or emotional exhaustion after long flights through several time zones), so allow for time to rest and recover. Medicinenet.com has some great tips on minimizing jet lag.
- Rest stops while driving – If you're driving, allow time for rest stops. You might want to plan for one or two extra stops, more than you may think you'll need, just in case. It can be dangerous to drive when you're tired!
- Entertainment and free time – Plan on ways to use your free time (if you have any!) during your visit. Search online to find museums or other area attractions, local restaurants and clubs, golf courses, tennis courts, spas, and so forth. If there aren't many other activities available, use your free time to relax – read, draw, write, or do something that brings you joy. Plan ahead how you'll use "down time." This will ease anxiety, help you look forward to the trip, and give you a sense of accomplishment while you're there.
- Your home – Finally, do whatever is necessary to feel confident that your home and your loved ones are safe while you're gone. If you have friendly and trustworthy neighbors, tell them you'll be away. If you take certain precautions in advance, this will help you relax as you travel.
Many of these tips emphasize allowing for extra time. This can put you in a better mood as you travel, and you'll be more ready to handle any problems that may arise.
Unfortunately, baggage is necessary when you travel. Luggage can make your business trip miserable if it's too large, too heavy, poorly packed – or lost! Whether you're traveling by car or plane, it's always best to pack "light" – take as little as possible, and only what you really need. If you plan to carry your suitcase, make sure it will fit into the overhead compartment, or under the seat, on the plane or train. Airlines have very specific rules about luggage size, so check your airline's regulations.
Here are a few tips for packing light:
- Choose clothes that you can easily "mix and match" – in other words, wear different shirts or jackets with the same slacks or skirt, or vice versa. Many people pack shades of one color only, such as blue or black, or only colors that go together.
- Make a packing list ahead of time. Then, if you pack at the last minute, you won't forget necessary items.
- If you're a frequent traveler, consider keeping a suitcase packed and ready to go. This will save you time if you have to leave without much notice.
While You're Traveling
Whether you make a quick overnight trip, fly across the country or the world, or drive 300 miles, the most common advice for all travelers is this: drink lots of water, eat lightly, and sleep whenever possible.
Here are some more specific suggestions:
- Food – Inexperienced travelers are often attracted to strange new foods (even airport food can be tempting), but frequent travelers often avoid this. Bring a healthy snack with you, buy your water as you travel, and get plenty of rest. You can try the local food later, when you're well rested, and your body is ready to handle something new.
- Shoes – Pay special attention to your shoes. How many times have you worn shoes that cause discomfort during a long day? If you fly, wear shoes that you can quickly slip on and off. It's easier to pass through security gates, and easier to remove your shoes during the flight, so you can relax. With any travel – in planes, trains, or cars – wear shoes that "breathe" (give your feet some air).
- Airport "clubs" – If you're delayed for a long time at an airport, you often don't have to sit in a hard seat at the gate. Your airline may have an airport club that's much more comfortable. Check www.askthepilot.com to learn about "those hidden spots in airports across the U.S." Also, many airports have on-site gyms or workout centers, or there may be gyms nearby.
- Comfort supports – Use travel pillows, headphones (to block out noise), and iPhones or other MP3 players, if your budget allows. However, if you're driving, it's safer not to use these devices. Drink water, and eat periodically. To pass the time, it helps to talk with other passengers – but be sure they don't prefer to sleep.
While You're There
Your hotel, your new surroundings, and the challenge of your work can affect your energy once you've arrived at your destination – at least, after you've had your food, water, and sleep.
Here are a few tips to follow:
- Balance – Staying healthy and happy during your trip depends on balance. On one hand, it's natural to want to explore and do things differently when you're in a new place. On the other hand, it's important to maintain your daily routine. You're there to represent your business. This means that you'll want to eat, exercise, keep in touch with your family and do everyday activities, just as you do at home.
- Pre-ordered food – If you have specific concerns about your diet or food restrictions, you can pre-order all of your food and have it delivered to your destination. For example, Healthy Heart Meals provides this service, and there are similar companies all over the world. Once again, pre-trip planning is the key. Research meal delivery options online, make your selections, and relax – you'll know that a made-to-order meal is always available.
- Mementos from home – Will you be away for a long time? Bring a few things from home: photos, desk items, books, or whatever will make your hotel room feel familiar. Maintaining a healthy emotional routine is especially helpful for long trips, to keep your body strong and your outlook positive.
- Inactivity – Inactivity during business trips – when you mostly sit in meetings – can lead to physical stress and mental exhaustion. Fight this with exercise, long walks, energetic shopping, or whatever activity you enjoy that involves a lot of moving around.
Business travelers can significantly reduce stress with detailed advance planning, and by setting up a relaxed schedule for the trip. Avoid heavy foods and drink lots of water – this keeps your body and mind energized. And do your best to maintain your usual health routines and/or recreational pursuits. This will help you continuously focus your mind and keep a positive outlook while you're doing business.