How to Reduce Stress as a Traveling Professional

(Originally published July 12, 2016)

Do you find it difficult to get things done while on the road? Do you dread the stress of a business trip? If so, you’re not alone. In a 2012 CWT Solutions Group study, researchers found that the major stress factors can be grouped into 3 main categories:

  1. Lost time: situation in which work is difficult or impossible (e.g. Flying economy on long haul)
  2. Surprises: when an unforeseen event occurs (e.g. Lost or delayed baggage)
  3. Routine breakers: inability to maintain one’s habits (e.g. Unable to eat healthily at destination)

There are a few relatively simple things you can do to address these factors and reduce the stressful impact they can have. We have compiled a list based on lots of feedback from frequent business travelers:

Pack wisely — Many people pack at the last minute and don’t put much thought into it. However, there are lots of potential stress factors that can be avoided with a little bit of planning. First, if possible, don’t check bags. This allows you to skip the baggage delays and to completely avoid the risk of the always-dreaded lost bag (which ensures a stressful trip). When packing, take a few minutes to look up wrinkle-free packing tips on the internet (for example, how to fold a suit), since time not ironing is time that can be used productively. It also helps to store small items in a predesignated location in your suitcase: your cables, connectors, dongles, devices, and anything else that can be easily lost or misplaced. Don’t forget to pack for weather, since time to go buy a warm jacket or an umbrella can add another layer of stress.

Arrange for voice and internet access BEFORE you go — Getting stuck without access will seriously limit your productivity and add to your stress level. Make sure you have a plan in advance! Confirm that the hotel has Wi-Fi, and come up with a “Plan B” if it doesn’t (for example, tethering your laptop to your cellphone). For international travelers, understand what it takes to get your cellphone working in your country of destination, and get it all set up in advance.

Exercise and eat on schedule — Don’t let the trip derail your normal exercise routine. Yes, the schedule is tight, and it’s easy to think that skipping your 30 min morning jog makes sense, or that there’s no time for breakfast. However, not only will that throw you off your routine, it will also reduce your overall energy throughout the day. It’s okay to call the hotel in advance to find out what kind of exercise options they have, or even bring your own portable exercise equipment. Food is just as important! Sticking with your exercise and eating routines will keep your energy up and allow you to be productive, which will help keep that stress down. And of course, keep hydrated!

Don’t forget your medicine(s) — When you’re trying to be productive, nothing can add to your stress quite like a bad headache or an allergy attack. It never hurts to be prepared. Bring little medicine packs just in case!

Understand or determine your perfect jet lag curve — For those longer trips that span multiple time-zones, learn how your body reacts to jet lag and plan around it. Maybe an early morning flight works best for you. Maybe a red-eye flight gives you the opportunity to get your sleep on the plane. This one is a bit more trial and error, but for a good starting tip: Only sleep if it’s nighttime at your destination. This will keep you from getting into a bad cycle and allow you to adjust more quickly to the destination time.

Create an office space — Working directly from the hotel bed sounds nice and relaxing, but it just isn’t a productive space (especially when you fall asleep!). Set up a real workstation at the room desk, in the business center, or even at a local library. Use a SPUD to give you that productivity-maximizing dual-screen setup anywhere you choose to work. Make sure to bring a portable (and comfortable) mouse to use. If you’re sensitive to ambient noise, or just in case they give you a room right next to the elevator, it’s not a bad idea to have some noise-cancelling headphones on hand to really create a distraction-free environment.

Consider being loyal to a business — If you can stick to a single airline or hotel chain, you may be able to earn some significant loyalty rewards from first-class seats on the plane to an upgraded hotel room. If you’re not the one making the travel plans, consider using a credit card with rewards during the trip to give yourself that little extra bonus.

Charge everything — If you want to keep productivity up on the plane, or even during taxi rides, make sure all of your mobile devices are fully charged in advance. That includes your laptop, cellphone, wireless keyboard or mouse, SPUD, wireless headphones, and anything else with a battery!

Give yourself rewards — Remember to reward yourself: if you can get X and Y done on the plane, you’ll have time to go see the world’s largest ball of twine on Saturday morning! Setting goals keeps you productive, and rewarding yourself will certainly help to manage that stress.

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