In the airport a fight attendant said to my six-year-old son, “Where are you going today?”
He said, “California.”
She said, “You’re a lucky boy!”
He said, “Actually, I’m really tired of going to airports with my mom.”
This is because I’ve been taking him on all my business trips. And he is learning something important about business travel: It’s really, really hard to do a lot of it, and you need a strategy. To be sure, there are people who travel almost every day of the year. I think they’re nuts. They don’t have a life. I’m talking about people who travel two or three times a month, which I’ve done, on and off, for a long time. Those trips take a toll, and you need a plan to keep yourself sane.
1. No sightseeing.
Forget museums and other tourist hotspots. If you travel once a year, sightseeing is exciting. If you travel enough to wonder if your home is really your home, then you need to keep a semblance of routine so you feel like you do have some sort of life outside of work. The trick, when you’re traveling a lot for business, is to stay sane in the midst of constant new surroundings, not to pile new stuff on top of new.
I try to stay on one time zone the whole trip, eat the same foods each day, wake up the same time each morning, and go to the gym. I book hotels according to how good the gym is. I used to book private Pilates lessons if I was missing my Pilates lesson at home. Now I book cello lessons for my son if we are gone for one or more lessons.
2. Buy two of everything.
Duplicate sets of clothes means that you can stay packed all the time. Packing and unpacking constantly is really annoying if you travel for business. It’s just sort of a way to extend the trip even longer because the transition times are longer. And forgetting stuff on the trip makes the trip hell. If you have duplicates you avoid all these problems. Bonus: the second set of this stuff is usually tax deductible because you wouldn’t have bought it if you weren’t traveling for work. (But check with your accountant or tax software to make sure you’re incorporated.)
Another thing you can do with the duplicate stuff is leave it in a place you go to a lot. I go to NYC a lot, so my son keeps a skateboard, helmet and pads at my friend’s apartment. That way he can maintain his skating routine without having to schlep the equipment back and forth.
3. Meet a friend.
I’m going to tell you about the time I spoke at the Natural Products Expo.
First, you should always look at the list of people who will be at the show and figure out who you want to meet. You should contact those people beforehand to ensure that you get to meet them. I did not do this. But my friend, Heather Stouffer, did, and she texted me.
I said to my son, “Let’s go visit my friend!”
Heather is the CEO of Mom Made Foods. She is the person who gave me tons of coaching on how to launch a food business, when I was going to sell goat cheese. In fact, she was so generous with her time and information that I decided I’d rather die than deal with the shipping issues surrounding perishable food.
My son did taste tests while we talked.
It’s draining to meet all new people all the time, and I’m always careful to limit interactions with people I don’t know. But seeing a friend is different. Tom Rath’s research at Gallup shows that if we have a friend at the office, it’s almost impossible to hate our work. I have found that when traveling, if I have a friend in that city to meet up with, it’s almost impossible to hate that day of travel.
4. Be a tyrant about your hotel choice.
When you travel, the fewer surprises the better. So you should pick a hotel chain and stick with it. When I had really well funded companies, I stayed at a Westin hotel wherever I went. The beds were so fluffy and cozy. Staying at a high-end hotel can make you feel a little better about missing out on your whole life back home. Which is why companies are often willing to spring for the higher hotel rate.
When I travel for speaking engagements, I have less control over the hotel, but I always end up in a good one because it’s where the conference is. When I stayed in Las Vegas, I was at the Cosmopolitan. With my son, of course. A nice hotel in Vegas means naked women all over the walls, condoms all over our room, and casinos at breakfast.
Which reminds me that fun stuff you don’t usually do, you should save for home. Stuff is fun when it’s a break from your routine. Stuff is not fun if it’s adding to the already unpredictable and tenuous life of a constant traveler. That includes shopping, movies, and even gambling. You don’t need to gamble at a casino. You can do it at sites like this.
So don’t pick a hotel because it’s fun. Pick a hotel because it allows you to create more stability during your travel life.
5. Avoid the Red Eye at all costs.
It’s so enticing to book a Red Eye. When you look at the landing time it looks like you almost won a free day. And on top of that, companies will almost always upgrade you to first class if you take the Red Eye.
But there’s a reason for that: The Red Eye is impossible to sleep on without drugging yourself, and you are basically losing a night of sleep in order to gain a day of work. So it’s a great bargain for your worklife at a terrible cost for your personal life. Every time I get home from the Red Eye I’m a grouch, and I have to sleep in the middle of the day, and I vow to never do it again.
But of course, I do book the Red Eye again. And here’s what happened last time I booked the Red Eye, and we were standing in line to board a plane at 11:50 pm: