How to make business travel manageable

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Last year I traveled almost every week. Some weeks I traveled to three different cities.

If you are excited about business travel, thinking it's a free ticket to see the world, you should stop reading now. But if you are having trouble maintaining your personal life in the face of tons of travel, these tips from a cynical traveler will make life easier for you.

1. Stick with your priorities. When people travel to another city, why do they throw out their to do list for sightseeing in random museums? If you have on your top three things you want in life: go to the gym, stay in touch with friends, read a book a week, then sightseeing is not on the list. You don't need to do it when you travel. You need to stick to your priorities. If sightseeing is on your priority list, then get a new job, because you have no control over where you sightsee if you have a job with a lot of travel.

2. Eat really well. First of all, you're not paying for your own food, so you should eat really good, healthy food, which is always more expensive than junk food. Second, if you have a rule for yourself that you always eat well when you travel, then you will actually be healthier from traveling. Most people eat crap when they travel because they are tired and they feel like the calories don't count because they are across state lines. That attitude will make you burn out faster. I can't find a link but I'm sure there's a study to support the hypothesis that you deal with the stress of travel more effectively without McDonald's.

3. Think of balance in terms of weeks, not days. I know I want to spend time with the Farmer, spend time with the kids, be around for dinner invitations, and tooth-fairy moments. I used to worry about this every day. If I didn't have breakfast with the kids, then I had to have dinner. Now I think in terms of weeks. If I was gone all week, I take off a day from work to have extra time for my personal life. If you are good at your job, and you travel a lot, no one counts how many days you take off.

4. Get elite status. Somewhere. Anywhere. When everyone is staying overnight at O'Hare, the people who are platinum are getting rebooked first. When you are waiting on the tarmac for an hour at LaGuardia because air traffic control cannot remember how many planes are in the air (which, really, is like, every day) if you get upgraded to first class, you're drinking free wine and eating firm grapes while you are a prisoner of the airport. To get elite status, it means that every time your company wants to save $50 to put you on another airline, you have to say no. If my company will save more than $300, I'll travel on an airline that I am not platinum on. Make sure your company knows you're doing them a favor.

5. Do not agree to stupid meetings for geographical reasons. Just because someone you never want to hang out with lives in Saskatchewan and you're gonna be there doesn't mean that all of a sudden you should hang out with him. You have a life. And you surely have stuff you can do that evening besides hang out with a loser. Or maybe he's only a half-loser. The thing is, you don't have time for half-losers at home. They are the same everywhere: Still just a distraction from the real work of living the life you want.

The bottom line is that you need to respect your life. Your life cannot be on hold while you travel. The travel, if it's really frequent, sort of is your life. So the values you have—be spiritual, be frugal, be healthy—have to prevail during your travel. This is not vacation travel. This is not a vacation from your life. Business travel IS your life.

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  1. Medstore
    Medstore says:

    First time I actually read a post about business travel management. I read time management, life management, but this puts the finger on the wound. Or at least my wound. Business traveling is often exhausting and disorganizing for me. Thank you

  2. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Any help here? I am finding that I enjoy travel more than being at home. I have a VERY hard time coming back to reality now- sure, the work is hard on the road but it’s always, always fab by the end of the day. Fun nights out, great dinners, beautiful hotels. Always exciting.

    Come home to husband and kids. Trashed house, bills, no excitement or interest and I walk in the door and hit a wall. Sure, things are tough at home right now because we are pretty damn broke, but I need to fix this situation. I can’t be all bummed out and miserable, waiting for the next chance to get out of Dodge. Anyone else share this experience?

    • Jess
      Jess says:

      I would suggest making actual plans for the times you are home. I know when I travel a lot, I can get rather mopey when I am actually back. So it helps me to plan dinners with friends, look into outings, buy concert tickets, etc. Just give yourself things to look forward to and stuff to do so that it isn’t all monotony and mundane daily tasks. Also, spice up your sex life. Then you’ll definitely miss that.

  3. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Can you please remind my colleagues that if I post one picture on facebook, it does not mean I am having a great time? Apparently people think that the one second it takes to snap a photo cancels out the hours of sitting in random vehicles, bad hotel rooms, uncomfortable beds, meetings, cramped quarters with people who need to shower, etc. Can you also remind them that travel to Asia from Europe does not automatically equal glamour? Maybe they forgot how long it takes to get there, that I travel in economy, that Asian countries are almost impossible to navigate, and that I can never seem to have a normal meal and return borderline obese.

  4. bob
    bob says:

    Overall, good suggestions – except #1

    I go on business travel quite often, and you should keep in mind that everyone’s business travel is different. I own my own business and make my own rules – and when I travel on business rule #1 is to party like a rock star.

    Now, I also have a “real job” on the side, and I have to travel for that too. But often times I’m sent away for a week or two, and at the end of 8 hours, I’m free. And if I’m gone for 2 weeks, the weekends are mine. So should I stay in my hotel room and cry myself to sleep? Should I not sight-see? Of course not.

    Now, I’m being partially facetious, but my point is that the rules that govern your business travel don’t necessary apply to everyone else. If you’re stuck with a client 14 hours a day, then I agree – you can’t party and do business.

    But if I happen to have free time, I’m sure as heck gonna take advantage of it. I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years, and I’ve been very successful in business and life.

  5. Woody Panele
    Woody Panele says:

    My wife and I travel extensively and work our own little business which requires internet connection and not much more than our laptops. While traveling in first world countries is easy, when you want to go off the beaten track, things can get a little challenging. Not only does the expense go up, but the reliability goes down, all for the sake of being in paradise – what gives?

  6. Chris H.
    Chris H. says:

    I travel weekly for business, now. This wasn’t always the case. I get paid a lot more than previously, an my new company has an amazing benefits package. Is it worth it? It’s nottruggle with that question every week. A couple of thoughts to add to Penelope’s list…

    Whatever your life is at home, do your best to recreate it on the road.

    Make sure you set expectations with your family about why you travel.

    Setup protected time to talk with family memberd individually on a predictable schedule.

    Set firm boundaries on travel committments. No travel whatsoever on Sundays, no redeyes, and home Thursday evening at a reasonable time (not midnight).

    If you’re traveling cross-country across time zones, travel during business hours. If it means you burn a day getting there, that’s the price of bringing people in.

    Don’t kill yourself to make the first flight of the day. These days with TSA delays, etc. making a 6am flight is the net equivalent of taking a redeye. Most of us will have to be up by 2:30-3am to make a 6am flight with enough time to commute to the airport, park, check baggage, go through security, eat and queue up for boarding.

    Never, ever use your own credit to travel for the company, because then it’s not available for you, and this is simply a bad beat.

    Opt out of ride sharing with co-workers unless it’s absolutely necessary. The restrictions it puts on your schedule and independence will cramp your activities outside of work very quickly.

    Stay out of the huddle. Don’t feel like you are obligated to spend every AM and PM hanging out with your team. You wouldn’t do that at home.

    Don’t be afraid to keep your own schedule. If you work best from 7-4, don’t feel obligated to stay until 7pm because your team wants to roll into the client at 10:30am.

    It can be very difficult for people to recognize and respect your boundaries. Watch out for the clique-ish herd mentality where people gang up on you. Happens most frequently with young turks and ppl who think travel is a team building activity.

    Your employers are renting you from 8-5, and that’s all.

  7. C. Hansen
    C. Hansen says:

    Get status as quickly as possible. It doesn’t mean much these days, but it helps.

    Upgrade whenever possible. $49-$79 can put you in a better class seat. Airlines have commoditized the upgrades: play the game.

    Spend as little time as possible in the airport. Time your commute better.

    Recreate your life at home on the road. If you golf ever day after work, bring your club and make sure you use them.

    Have clear boundaries for non-working time.

    Don’t send or respond to e-mail after working hours, unless it’s an absolute hair-on-fire emergency.

    Live your life separately from your business associates. We’re paid to work together, not to live together.

    Try to spend the least amount of time politiking after work that you can afford to. Most organizations require this, but it’s not healthy.

    Eating good food means having reliable transportation under your control, and keeping those boundaries active.

    The biggest thing I have found is that most people who are junior expect to huddle up into groups and travel around doing things because they don’t have good travel experience, and because they think that this is ‘teaming’. It’s a poor excuse that allows work to take over your life.

    I find the whole concept of doing everything together boring and exhausting. Live your own life. You’re paid to work, what you do on your own time is your own business, including travel.

  8. Airla
    Airla says:

    Interesting point of view. I do not have personal experience on the subject, but as I see from some friends who travel a lot for business, they seem to enjoy it and to definitely change their lifestyle while they are in a different place. I think that if someone has such a privilege, should take advantage of it for sightseeing and manage their time as they want, given that they are integrating their obligations as number one priority. It’s about self control.

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