Sure, travelling for business may send you to cool locations (or, you know, the middle of nowhere), but do it frequently enough and it's bound to take a toll on your body and your mind. Much of this is due to the stressors that spring from being away from your family and routine, not having access to your usual comforts, trying to make it to the gate on time, dealing with road rage and flight delays, and losing an average seven hours of productivity each time you travel.
Business travel picture from Shutterstock
According to several recent studies, the more frequent and lengthy these trips are, the more pronounced the effects, with extensive travellers 260 times more likely to report poor health and 92 times more likely to be obese.
Still, business travel isn't going away anytime soon, and just because you're on the road, doesn't have to mean a diagnosis of high blood pressure and poor health. Let's take a look at a few key steps you can take to safeguard your health on the road -- and your sanity.
Search for amenities and location. Once your destination has been reached, you want to keep your commute as short as possible, so ensure you're booking somewhere close to where you'll be doing most of your work. Additionally, make sure the hotel has Wi-Fi available and the kind of amenities that will help you relax, like a gym and a spa.
Bring your office with you. While it's probably safe to assume you'll be packing your laptop and tablet, it's also a good idea to bring a powerboard, as many locations lack an appropriate amount of plugs for all of your devices. Additionally, an extra hard drive and USB key are essential so that you can transport and backup important data without worrying about it getting lost or stolen (cloud storage is also an option). A portable laptop stand, external ergonomic keyboard and mouse can also be useful in creating a comfortable mobile workspace.
You know what? Bring your home, too. Whether it's a favourite pillow, comfy PJs or your own hair dryer, bringing your most useful or assuring devices from home will instantly give your brain a cue at the end of each day that it's time to relax.
Build in time for relaxation. You know what we said about looking for a hotel with a gym and spa? That only matters if you actually use them. While it may be tempting to pack in as much on-site networking as possible, doing so isn't useful if you wind up collapsing in your end. Make a hard and firm time when you want to return home for the night, or put "relaxation" right onto your calendar so you can't overbook yourself.
Take healthy snacks. One of the most stressful things about business travel is that you don't have nearly as much control over your diet and you don't always know when you'll have a break to eat. Bringing along healthy snack options like dried or dehydrated fruit, nuts and trail mix, or protein bars will ensure you've always got a healthy option for staving off hunger.
Pack strategically. Checked bags get lost and they also can take forever to unload, so it's always a good idea to go with carry-on. Pack only as much as you need, opting for wrinkle free clothing that can be layered or used in multiple situations, like dress shirt that be worn to the office or made fancy for a night out with your clients. If you travel frequently, keep a toiletry bag well-stocked and ready to go even when you're home, as well as a packing list you can return to each time for a memory jog.
Know how to work the airlines. When booking your flights, go non-stop whenever you can, preferably in business class to avoid the biggest amount of delay headaches and to snag more space for yourself. Check in for your flight before you get to the airport so that you don't have to hustle in the airport, and check its status as you do so. When you arrive at the airport, make sure to ask about upgrades. Pack noise cancelling headphones for the plane as well as an inflatable pillow for later in the flight and work to do throughout the flight, so no amount of delays can get in the way of your productivity.
Know where you're going once you land. If you're new to a city, getting to and from where you need to go can be incredibly stressful. Make sure you know ahead of time just how you'll be transported where you need to go and who to contact should anything go wrong.
Memorise your itinerary. Or at least familiarise yourself with it. Business trips often require tight connections, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time causes unnecessary anxieties.
Most of all, let go. There's a lot about business travel that stinks, but you can't really control. When the plane is delayed due to weather and the gate agent is clueless, take a deep breath, and think about who you can call next rather than, say, screaming. Getting angry helps no one, you're surrounded by people who are in the same boat, and your heart rate will go back to normally if you stop trying to control something that is fundamentally uncontrollable.
Tips for international travel
Get your passport and visa ready. Make sure your passport isn't about to expire and that you have all of the visas necessary long before you go to avoid last minute panics and expediting fees.
Pack your converters and adapters. Many electronic plugs offer a wide range of dongles that can be switched out in most countries, and the current will adjust automatically. Hair dryers and straighteners, however, are another story, and you'll want to make sure you have the right convertor or that you purchase a local version of your device ahead of time (if, for example, you travel frequently to Europe, you may just want to get a European hair dryer). A universal adapter, which provides every kind of plug in one adapter, is a lifesaver and will conserve a lot of packing space.
Exchange your money ahead of time. After a long flight, the last thing you'll want to do is race frantically around the airport looking for an exchange office or an ATM. Instead, do your currency exchange ahead of time so you can land and head right out of the airport with the cash to pay a taxi. This will prove useful even if you plan on using a credit card while overseas.
Familiarise yourself with the language and the culture. Having just a few local terms mastered will help you navigate your destination city a lot more smoothly, and it will be a show of respect to your business partners. So, too, will adhering to local customs, whether that means bringing a gift or bowing as a greeting. Taking the time to do these things will go a long way towards establishing trust and respect right off of the bat, and it will also ensure you're not inadvertently offending anyone. That said, there still may be cultural and language barriers in place, so be prepared to over-communicate and over-deliver until the message gets through. Have patience, and prepare multiple presentations and strategies just in case.
Get to the airport even earlier. Plan to arrive at the airport at least two to three hours before leaving so you'll have plenty of time to get through security and international checkpoints. Check travel advisories, too, especially true if you'll be headed to an unstable part of the world. In this case, make sure you have contingency plans in place so you know how to get out of the country should anything happen.
Have a plan for staying connected. Will your company be paying for an international calling plan or a local mobile phone? Or will you have to work over Wi-Fi on messaging apps like Viber and Facebook? International roaming fees can be outrageous, so clear this with your employer ahead of time.
Be nice to customs agents. For whatever reason, business travellers often receive more scrutiny than others. Be patient with this, polite and communicative, never taking anything personally. The customs agents are just doing their jobs; let them, so you can be free to do yours. Watch what you eat. If you're headed to a developing nation, try to avoid raw fruits and veggies as well as tap water, unfiltered ice, and of course, tap water, opting for bottled and cooked options instead. In more developed countries, just keep the fare as light and familiar as possible, at least when you know you've got a big meeting the next day. Sure, you'll want to sample the local goods, but save it for a day when you don't have a big presentation.
Adjust to local time immediately. Don't submit to your fatigue! Try to stay awake throughout that first tough day, sleeping when the locals do and rising when they rise. This way, your circadian rhythms will much more quickly adjust. You may want to consider bringing along melatonin pills to take before bed to ensure you're tired enough at the appropriate time. Last but not least...
Try your best to blend in. If you're headed to a conservative country, cover your head if that's required. If the population doesn't wear thongs, then you shouldn't either. Blending in means getting to observe and enjoy the culture without attracting unwanted attention. In addition to cutting down on stress, this will also imbue with a better understanding you can apply to your business deal.
The bottom line
Business travel can certainly be stressful, but it doesn't have to be. By taking a few preventative measures and making sure you schedule in a little you time, you may actually wind up enjoying your time away -- and landing that big deal, too. Good luck!
Beverley Reinemann is a former Australian expat and writer based in London where she balances her love of travel with her freelance social media business, her solo female travel blog Pack Your Passport, and her job in online marketing at Distilled London.