I often joke with my wife that until clients are willing to hop on a plane and come to me, I’m likely facing several more years of slogging through airports and hotels. As leaders, we’re responsible for teams, partners, and vendors that might span a couple of cities or continents, making travel a significant part of our jobs.
Many of us suffer through travel with little thought, but it’s worth taking a few moments to examine and optimize travel habits to make it a bit easier. Here are a few tips and practices that help me survive more than 100 flights and associated hotels, trains, and taxis each year.
SEE: How to stay cybersecure while traveling for business: 6 tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Lighten your travel load
At least once a year, and ideally on a quarterly basis, dump out your travel bags and examine their contents. Those dozen business cards from the 2003 convention and the flattened protein bar that expired two years ago are obvious candidates for the trash bin. But you’ll also likely find empty pens, incompatible power adapters, and a small pile of cruft that you’ve been lugging around for months. You may also find items that you bring on every trip but rarely use. Each item you remove is a few grams less stuff to carry, and your back will thank you.
If you want to go even more extreme in optimizing your travel load, try getting all your travel gear down to a single bag that you can carry on your back or shoulder. About a year ago, I adopted One Bag Travel and found it to be a game changer. With my hands free and no wheeled bag bumping along behind me, I’m far faster and more maneuverable from airports to crowded buses and trains. Even if you don’t want to reduce to one bag, switching to a smaller suitcase or briefcase or just lightening your load can make travel that much more manageable on many fronts, with fewer items to pack, track, and carry.
I also recommend buying a travel set of key items like toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrushes, etc. I have a travel toiletries bag that never gets unpacked at home, minimizing the possibility of forgetting one of these key items. This is a great “insurance policy” that costs only a few dollars.
SEE: Photos: Suit up for business travel with these carry-on bags (TechRepublic)
Lighten your mental baggage
Your head is the single most important tool for stress-free travel. Staying calm during travel, expecting the unexpected, and trying to remain civil to your fellow travelers and the workers that make this all possible can be the difference between arriving home tired but content and having a near-breakdown. Have backup plans and the phone numbers for your travel agents on speed dial, but if they can’t help during a delay or other challenge, embrace the opportunity to finish a book, binge watch some TV on your iPad, or even get a couple miles of walking done in an airport terminal (my record is 5 miles during a monster delay in La Guardia). All of these are far better alternatives than allowing your blood pressure and anger to rise in a situation that you can’t control.
SEE: Business pro’s guide to hassle-free travel (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Plan your vacation first
For many of us, the new year is when we start laying out major business trips and identifying sites we’ll need to visit, a task than can quickly grow daunting and exhausting. As the calendar turns, before planning that monster global grind, plan a vacation with friends, loved ones, or even a solo trip to recharge. No matter how many business trips I have listed in my various travel apps, I always like to have one family vacation in that list. Even if that trip is months away, it always seems like there’s a light at the end of the travel tunnel. If you travel regularly, you’ve likely accumulated various airline, hotel, and credit card points that might reduce the price, a reward that makes all the challenges of travel a bit more tolerable.
You can even plan a break at home, although there’s a very real risk of allowing that break to turn into a work-from-home week. If you do wish to take a staycation, plan it with the diligence you’d apply to an elaborate vacation, scheduling important activities, setting “away” notices at work, and avoiding the temptation to take calls and sneak in a work break that turns into an all-day affair, especially if family and friends are involved.
Work travel doesn’t have to be miserable
Despite improving technologies for communicating across great distances, the travel requirements of IT leaders will likely continue for the foreseeable future. However, with some streamlined tools and techniques, the right mental state, and planned breaks from the grind, it becomes a lot more bearable.