Surviving Business Travel

“With age, comes wisdom. With travel, comes understanding.”

Sandra Lake 

With travel comes the understanding of so many things:

  • The world is small (but time zones are many).
  • The human body was never intended to sit in a metal canister with dozens of close strangers for hours on end.
  • It’s ok to latch on to something (a particular pillow, a love of toiletries) that makes extensive travel bearable for you.
  • Toilets are not always in a configuration you might expect.

Over the last seven and a half years, I’ve traveled over 800,000 miles. I personally know some people (but not many) who have traveled even more than that. And if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that travel is physically hard on the body. Survivable, of course, but you have to enter a different mindset than what’s required for day to day living and working at home.

In my case, surviving travel is complicated by a couple of things: one, I’m a woman traveling alone, and two, I have a couple of food intolerances. Both result in some particulars in how I plan, but frankly I think those particulars can and should apply regardless. Some of my thoughts below on travel are things that you’ll see time and time again in other travel advice posts. There’s a reason for that, but I’m more than happy to add my weight to those tips.

The first travel tip is, if you do nothing else, bring snacks! Never assume that (edible) food will be available. In my case, finding wheat- and dairy-free food can be about as easy as finding hen’s teeth. And assuming I do find that hen with teeth (I think they are called velociraptors) the food in question is not usually particularly tasty nor healthy. Sane snacks do require more thought than you might expect, though. If you’re traveling internationally, for example, bringing fresh fruit or beef jerky is a hard “no”. And bringing something sugar-based (typical grocery store trail bars, I’m looking at you) isn’t going to help either. Also, be prepared to declare anything that looks like food if you’re traveling to Australia and New Zealand. Do your homework for the legal requirements at your destination (which may translate into: figure out where the nearest grocery store is to your hotel or other lodging).

My favorite travel snacks are:

  • Nairn Oat Crackers
  • Packets of Justin’s nut butter (these are under 3 ounces, just sayin’)
  • Packets of tuna
  • Vega One protein powder
  • Dried fruits and nuts

Those snacks are not just for the flight (though food on the flight is important, and those special meals you can order in advance? Not my favorite thing.) I bring enough for a meal or three to help cut back on eating out, and to support simple, healthy eating when I’m too tired to make good choices. These do not take up a lot of space.

Next up: hydration. It’s a fact that air inside an airplane is super dry. It’s also a fact that air in highly air-conditioned conference centers is pretty darn dry, too. But water is tricky. For one thing, it’s heavy. You can’t pack in water like you can pack in food. For another, it’s of varying quality. Tap water straight from the tap is not always your friend. But if you don’t drink enough water, then you can expect a higher resting heart rate when you’re trying to sleep, a harder time recovering from all the wine you had with dinner, and all sorts of other annoying difficulties.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, though, a stainless steel bottle plus any one of a number of UV water purifiers can make water much more easily available, regardless of where you are in the world.

Third, a note about being a woman traveling alone (though honestly, I think men should be doing this, too). This one boils down to: do your research. How do you intend to get from the airport to your lodging? Are the taxis considered safe in that city? Does the hotel have a shuttle or limo service? Do you speak the language? Are you prepared to haggle? In some cases, this research isn’t all that critical. Personally, I’m not too worried about travel to London; I’ve been there a dozen times. But travel to an entirely new destination? I’ll take a look at Wikitravel just to get a feel for what I’m getting into, and then consider whether I’ll feel safest if I contact the hotel in advance to get a driver, or whether the taxi services look reputable, or whether the city/region has a specific ride sharing service that is commonly used. Similarly, if I’m presenting in a new country or region, I’ll also take a look at eDiplomat to see if there are any particular tips, tricks, or cultural expectations that I should be aware of in order to make my presentation and engagement with the clients better.

And, for my final travel tip: don’t try to be a hero. Whether it’s personal or business travel, the goal is to survive and be at your best when you get to your destination. A ridiculous arrival or departure time, a super short layover, a crazy number of hops: they aren’t worth the $100-250 difference in air fare. Truly. They aren’t. And if your corporate office insists that they are, that’s worth a fight to change policy. In my case, I’m an independent and I will pay the difference if I need to in order to make sure I’m at my most effective when I arrive. I’ll make up the cost by being able to put in billable hours sooner rather than later.

2 thoughts on “Surviving Business Travel

  1. good advice. also maybe
    – try to schedule so you do not have to rush / panic
    – do what it takes to be comfortable, maybe enough to sleep if possible
    – being a boy, and hence less safety constrained, i will take public transport for the anonymity
    – oh, and most important, stay home if you can; who needs a grim conference room 10,000m away?

  2. Also helpful: see what your government says about your destination. The Government of Canada Travel Smart app provides a ton of useful features including current safety / security assessments and tips, emergency contact info (embassies and consulates), and the ability to register your travel with the government in case of an emergency.

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