How to Travel for Work and Stay Sane
Lessons from traveling at 100%
Some of the things I am going to share in this post are going to be blatantly obvious, yet other lessons shared here might help a new consultant starting their career, or this may be helpful for anyone who travels for work from time to time.
I work for a organizational transformation consultancy based in Brooklyn called August. In August (the month!) of last year we won a huge contract with a client based in Europe. I had a few options: Try to work and deliver remote from NYC and travel to Europe periodically to meet with my client and the teams, or relocate to Europe and deliver onsite.
Since the work that I do, generally, requires hands on facilitation and training, daily coaching, and facetime with leaders to be change champions, I decided to relocate. It was one of the best, and scariest decisions I’ve made in my life. I never thought I would have the opportunity to live and work in another country, so I jumped on the opporunity. I still have no regrets! I’ve learned a lot about myself, about the work that I do (and how to do it better) and have made deep and meaningful relationships with people doing org design and innovation in London, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Toulouse, and Budapest, to name a few.
In September 2017, I left Brooklyn, my home of over 10 years, and moved to France. For the first 6 months my commute was simple, like my commute in NYC — I got to ride my bike to work on good weather days, or I took the subway on days where the wind or rain was unbearable.
About 6 months into my contract, the scope of our work shifted and I was going to have to commute weekly to Germany. Cool! Lucky me, I was never the constulant that had to travel weekly to client site by train or plane or required spend most of my week in another city. My longest commute was from Brooklyn to Midtown — if you ever had to deal with the A or F trains during rush hour, Manhattan might feel like you’re commuting to another city — so this was my first time becoming a “traveling consultant.”
Generally the lessons that I’ve taken with me come down to these points: (1) Consistency is key, (2) Make nice with people who are willing to look out for you and, (3) Become a member of your new community where you are traveling.
Here are a list of the things that I’ve done that made my travel experience that might help you too.
- Stay in a decent hotel. When traveling, the last thing that I wanted to deal with was a hotel in hard to reach location, unfriendly staff, or an uncomfortable bed. When changing timezones, it was even more important that to me to find a place that will make me feel comfortable enough to get a good night’s rest. To categorize “decent hotel” I use these metrics: friendly staff (based on Google reviews), a location close to the city center and easy access to public or private (taxi) transport to the client site, a gym, laundry service. These amenities might seem trivial for some, but consistency was important to me. Most of these amenities I never thought I’d use, but these came in handy throughout my travels from time to time — especially the gym. Most AirBNBs are unable to offer these services and check in and check out times can be tricky. To avoid a headache (and the AirBNB messaging app) I opted for one great hotel, after trying 2 others and stayed there every week for the 5 months. To find decent hotels I used the app Hotel Tonight to start my search and try a few places out. I wanted to stay in hotels that were not American/International chains to help support local and independently run businesses. Hotel Tonight offers a lot of deals at local hotels in thousands of cities.
- Know your flight preferences. Know what your flight preferences are and be clear about what what you like and dislike about flying — we all have them! I know a lot of people who are ok taking the first flight at 6 or 6:30 am and can work through the whole day. I’m definitely not one of those people. I tried to choose flights that would allow me to travel mid-late afternoon the day before I needed to be onsite so that I could be fresh for the next morning. That said, I tried to keep my onsite days Tues-Thurs as much as I could to avoid traveling on Sunday evenings. Keeping with the consistency theme, I often traveled the same route at the same time each week to and from the client office. If that flight was full (or was cancelled) I had a back up flight preference that I would book again to keep the schedule as regular as possible and to avoid the pre-dawn flight! Another obvious tip is to join any loyalty programs your carrier offers. Through the loyalty program with Lufthansa, I was usually able to get a business class seat for the same price or less than a regular seat. The perks of the business seat are: lounge access with strong wifi to do work and take video calls, first access to flight changes due to delays or cancellations, priority for your carry-on (so you’re never stuck checking it at the gate), and extra leg room on your flight. Again, these all might seem like no-brainers or you might be thinking “girl you bougee”, but spending the extra 10–30 EUR for a bit of comfort when you’re on a plane every 3–4 days is worth the spend and the convenience.
- Use a reliable driver. It’s no secret that the EU has had a hard time embracing American taxi apps like Uber, but a lot of cities offer a local ride-hailing app that you can download and support the local taxi drivers rather than sending your money back the Sillicon Valley. Do a little research to see which ride-hailing apps are available in the city to where you are traveling that offers drivers a fair wage and benefits. Some of the apps I found useful were MyTaxi (Germany), Chauffeur Privé (France), and Gett (UK/London) — all of these came from recommendations directly from drivers who I’ve met. If you want to go a step further, ask a driver that you like and feel safe with if he has a card or can pick you up regularly. A huge unlock for me was having a driver that would pick me up and drop me off to my destinations each day without having the wait for a driver through the app. This was a huge game changer for me. I still could pay through the app and make sure that my transaction was secure, but I had someone available, reliable and who could get me to my destination on time. I avoided waiting 20–30 minutes on rainy or snowy days and never had a surge charge. This made travel to airports, to the client site, to offsite locations a breeze. I just had to send my drivers (there were a few buddies that would rotate) a text with my destination and times at the beginning of the week and it was all handled by the crew. All while supporting a local small business.
- Eat at a few good restaurants. Whether you have a special diet or not, find a few places that will offer you a healthy meal. While traveling I was noticing that I was putting on a few pounds just from not eating right or exercising regularly. So after about a month in, I narrowed my food selections to 4 restaurants (including the hotel) that I would choose from. I made sure that each restaurant had great reviews (again Google reviews!), offered healthy options, they were in walking distance (to get in a little exercise), and could seat 4–5 people if at any time I wanted to take my clients out for a meal. I also forced myself to make time for my meals and take the walk to the resturant to feel like I was able to give myself back a piece of my day. Often when traveling for work I would feel like I always had to be on because the client was paying me to be there, but making a balance for client delivery and self became important when stress was high. Even if I ate at the hotel, I tried to turn off the computer and read something for pleasure. Taking a step away to enjoy (and meditate) over a meal is a small radical way of showing self-care especially in a world that is driven by deadlines, time management, and sometimes high-energy clients.
- Compliment helpful staff. This, too, should be an easy one! It’s easy to say, “yeah, just get a driver that you like” or “stay at a hotel that has great staff,” because I am the type of person that wants to learn everyone’s name and make them a friend! I tried really hard to make sure the staff at the hotel and the drivers knew that I appreciated their time and business with me. The staff that I had the honor to work directly with often have thankless jobs. Just saying, “I hope you have a great day!” or “Good morning Ms. Rausch!” or making small talk like “How was your weekend?” and “How are the kids?” builds a rapport. Even though I don’t speak any German at all (Bitte, danke schoen, guten tag — is about my limit!) I’d give it a try even if it got a few laughs, just to show respect. In return, the staff always made sure I had everything I needed.
- Be open to new experiences. If your job allows you to and if you have the flexibility, stay a weekend or fly in a day early to learn about the culture and history of the city that you are working in. Being an American in Europe, every day feels like a history class to me whether it be art, architecture, WWII, or politics. Getting a chance to sit at a coffee shop, enjoy an afternoon at a local museum, lay in a park or botanical garden, or drink a beer (or wine) from a local brewery is always a nice way to become a member of the community you’re working in.
The tips above are tips that worked for me. I can’t say they will work for everyone in every situation, but they made travel feel less of a burden. I had less choices to make each week and I was able to navigate my way like a local toward the end of my 5 months. I will truly miss the staff that cared for me in Germany!
What are some of the tricks that you’ve picked up during your work travels? I’m here to learn, too! Looking forward to trying new tips and tools you all have learned along the way.