A family member recently voiced concern about all the traveling that I have been doing. He told me the stress of all the travel seemed unsustainable in the long term, and he couldn’t imagine that I would be able to continue doing so much business travel until I retire many years in the future.
I responded that as a user experience (UX) research consultant, it’s true that I’ve had done a lot of travel. In recent years, due to a shift in demand for my services, I’ve gradually been replacing all DC-local Federal work with non-local commercial and state government work, which has meant much more travel. But truth be told, I generally don’t find work travel to be that stressful.
As I thought about it, I realized that the primary way I avoid work-travel stress is by faithfully maintaining my routines.
Maintain your exercise routines
I’ve written before about treating your body like a work project, talking about how important exercise is for me. I regularly run, swim and use cardio equipment + weights at the gym. This keeps me sane and helps me deal more calmly with stress, be it stress from work or any other cause. I realized long ago that it is critical to maintain my same routine on the road.
Running is no problem. For the most part, I find that I can find somewhere to run just about anywhere I go. And while I really am not a fan of treadmill running, in the very worst case, just about every hotel I stay at has a treadmill available.
Cardio equipment is a bit more tricky. While hotel gyms usually have a minimum of a basic exercise bike and a basic elliptical, I don’t usually find this equipment particularly satisfying. (My favorite gym-cardio workout is an adaptive motion machine.) But decent gyms are easy to find. My local gym is independent so it’s a member of IHRSA, which gets me into other independent gyms, if nearby, for a lower-cost entry fee than I’d otherwise pay. But even without an IHRSA gym nearby, I will stop by a gym that looks to be most interesting and simply ask how much a guest pass costs. Sometimes by telling them that I’m from out of town, they just let me in gratis. Other times, I pay a small guest entry fee.
A lap swimming pool is often the hardest thing to find. While admittedly, when nothing else was available, I use hotel pools and just swim in circles when the pool is empty, this is not so enjoyable. Yet I sometimes can find decent municipal pools as well as passable pools at many of the aforementioned gyms. (But good luck finding out how long a pool is, be it 20 yards, 25 yards or 25 meters – most staff don’t actually seem to know this!)
Maintain your sleep routines
Jetlag is never fun, and the adjustment can be stressful. Sometimes needing to adjust to a new time zone is unavoidable either because of work requirements or simply because the time zone is so far off from my ET standard. But other times, I just do my best to stick with my normal Eastern time zone. This week, for example, I’m spending a few days on the west coast with no work obligations after 7 PM. I fully intend to stick to my own time zone, going to bed by 9 PM and waking up by 4 AM. Although I wake up long before sunrise, I find it much easier on my body and my mind to not try to adjust. And it’s wonderful to be able to get to exercise and clean out my inbox before having to start work with my clients.
At home, I usually watch a show and read a few pages of a book (of the physical paper variety) before bed. Given the variability of hotel wifi, I try to download some shows onto one of my devices in advance of my travel, and I bring a physical book that I immediately place on the nightstand next to my bed.
On a typical day, I average two cups of coffee. I often find that its easy to end up increasing my caffeine intake when traveling. I never sleep quite as well in a hotel room as in my own bed and wanting to stay fully alert as I interact with clients is built-in encouragement to stay caffeinated. But at most, for good sleep, I try not to exceed three cups even when travelling. While in my own time zone, I try to avoid any caffeine after 3 PM; I adjust this timing to whatever time zone I’m in, and whenever I plan to actually go to bed.
Maintain your eating routines
For those who don’t travel much, or maybe those who do (but not me), it might seem awesome to get an expense account and eat out breakfast, lunch and dinner at the best restaurants. But that’s not normal eating, and I know that what I’d eat in normal life is going to be healthier. So what do I do? I do my best to stay at a hotel with a fridge – if not both a fridge and microwave – and I go grocery shopping. I buy brands that I like and food that I normally eat. I get fresh produce and healthy foods. While not every meal is going to be on my own time, and sometimes there are work obligations that get in the way, by and large I find that the normalcy of my meals helps to keep me feeling centered.
Also, I always travel with a large assortment of granola bars, protein bars, nuts and other non-perishables. Nothing messes with my comfort like being hungry and not having food available. Especially true when in another time zone and feeling hungry at a different time than your clients!
Maintain your tech
For a long time, I just traveled with my laptop. But after getting used to my three large monitors in my home office, I always found catching up on work in the mornings or evenings to be more difficult with a single smaller monitor. Now, in addition to my laptop, I often travel with a tablet that becomes a virtual second screen via Bluetooth. In addition, particularly for longer trips, I have a very lightweight GeChic monitor. With the monitor and the tablet, I can now work easily with three monitors, which helps me to maintain continuity with non-travel life.
I do my best not to keep any critical or sensitive files on my laptop in case it gets lost or stolen, but I can remote into the computer on my desk for extra computer normalcy.
I also swear by my power strip. It’s light and portable with two standard plugs and two USB plugs (I also have a 240 volt version that’s not quite as lightweight but comes with a full range of international adapters). In my backpack there is also always a dual-USB adapter, one or two emergency batteries for my devices, and a host of wired and wireless dongles for transmitting an image to whatever I may encounter. Collectively, this avoids unnecessary stress at the airport (need to ask someone to share a plug, no problem!), at the hotel (Myshows on the hotel TV), and with clients as I transmit my screen easily.
Routines create comfort
If you do find travel stressful, particularly when it’s work related, figure out what your routines are and how you can best replicate them on the road. What is going to make you feel as close to normal life as you can? Consider these ideas, know yourself, and then do your best to recreate an environment in which you are most comfortable and most familiar wherever you go.