Ahhh the lovely phrase “traveling for work.” To the naked ear it sounds like a dream come true, especially if your job is paying too! Sleeping in hotels and Airbnbs, squeezing in tourist time to sightsee, and trying new foods in work destinations – these are the greatest perks. However, what do you do when it becomes too much? Traveling for work, or even quitting your job to travel the world, has become the new #goals. But how do you balance it all without compromising your mental health?
Since May of last year I have been traveling for work AND school as a full-time graduate student (non-consecutively). A 3-month summer practicum in Berlin for my social work coursework. Then a new job called for a few stints to Kansas City, D.C., and Seattle. Even when you do something you love, positive stress and fatigue is real. It can be a lot of work and you need to take care of yourself. Therefore through trial and error, I have some tips to minimize stress when you are traveling for work.
Plan time for your homework
This one is for all of my students! If you’re traveling for work, while also in school, planning will be SO important to balance your school work with your “work work.” The most ideal situation would be to do all of your homework before the trip. However, we know that is not (or hardly ever) the case as you are preparing for the trip beforehand. Take advantage of the travel time and get some done on the plane or while you wait to board. Or, the weekend before your work trip, get ahead on homework then.
Do work in the airport or on the plane
Even if you don’t have homework in the traditional sense mentioned above, chances are you have something to do. Ironically, there is work you are sacrificing during traveling for work time. Depending on your departing flight time, plan to get to the airport a little early to do work as you wait. Take conference calls in-route, respond to emails, schedule meetings for when you return, etc.
This way you can relax on the flight, or vice versa! Either way, both are good opportunities to incorporate a little work with a little rest all at once. You may also find you are more productive in the airport on plane too! By the time you land, you only have to focus on the reason you’re traveling for work in the first place.
If traveling with a co-worker, get separate rooms
Though this depends on your organization and available funds, I would highly recommend separate rooms for yourself and co-workers. Everyone needs a break from someone at some point. Regardless if you like them or not, you need personal space while you’re traveling for work. Now you don’t have to completely ignore you co-worker when the work is done – unless that’s the relationship you all have. I’m not judging! Yet, we all need personal space even following the most successful work day. This can look like eating dinner on your own or getting food delivered while watching a movie in your hotel room. After a weekend-long trip traveling for work, that time away from each other at the end of each day to decompress is key.
Travel light (and invest in good luggage)
A few days of work travel does not require a full 50lb suitcase – it’s not worth it! Carry-ons, via a backpack or suitcase that fits in the overhead, are the better move. Using a carry-on you don’t have to worry about your luggage getting lost or stolen. That’s the worst and would not start your work trip off on the right foot. In the same breath, having a solid backpack or suitcase is an investment to purchase. Find something sleek and easy to pack for best results, including packing cubes that separate your work clothes from the leisure ones.
Get some form of exercise
Working out is not only good for your physical health, but for your mental health too. While you enjoy the big hotel bed and personal shower, why not head down to the hotel gym? Getting a little exercise in walking on the treadmill, running, or lifting a few weights can get you active. For people who don’t get that much action or movement during their work trip, this can also be good for you.
The gym not for you? No worries. Try taking a walk around the block near your accommodations or to a tourist attraction nearby. You can also walk to your lunch or dinner spot, instead of ordering a Lyft or Uber. Staying active as you are traveling for work can relax you personally and professionally.
Print what you need and invest in TSA Pre-Check
Sometimes that mobile pass won’t cut it, or you will forget to charge your phone. Just in case, print all documents you need for your trip and look into TSA Pre-Check. On your way in or out of your work trip, standing in long lines is the last thing you want to do. TSA Pre-Check makes it easier for travelers to go through security, customs, and beyond. You save time, even in the busiest airports. As someone who (surprisingly) does not have TSA Pre-Check, this is something I am investing in this year. And if you do more international travel Global Entry is the better of the two. Global Entry includes TSA Pre-Check, therefore you get the best all in one.
Book your flights to be in and out (or extend them)
Sometimes you get sent to the same places while traveling for work. Once the high of visiting D.C., L.A., London or any destination multiple times wears off, you may not enjoy it as much. Schedule your flights to arrive just in time to do what you need to do, and leave right after your engagement is complete. The organizers may want you to stay longer – yes, it happens and they will try to persuade you. And if you clear it with your boss, you can possibly extend the trip too and work remotely! Be sure to have clear boundaries in the contract about your responsibilities for the work opportunity.
Set clear boundaries with your work about travel
Speaking of boundaries, do you know the protocol as you are traveling for work? What is included on the company card and what isn’t? What is the budget for food and transportation? How many hours are required for the trip? And how will that affect you when you come back to work post-trip?
These are the kinds of questions to know the answers to prior to traveling for work. You don’t want to be overthinking your every move during the work trip. Sit down and clarify any questions you have before you go. It will make your trip run so much smoother and set a precedent for future trips as well.
While it’s cool to be traveling for work, which can seem like the reward, treat yourself to something else. Go to a nice meal, drinks at a cool bar at the end of work engagement, a manicure or pedicure, etc. Maybe there is a spa in the hotel or elsewhere you can indulge in once your work commitments are complete. Traveling for work can wear down the body, and a massage always sounds like a good idea. As a die-hard traveler I squeezed in a visit to the NMAAHC in D.C. while on a work trip because I love museums! Whatever you love, whether that’s entertainment, bookstores, parks, etc. make time for something you love to do. Contributing to your own happiness is the ultimate way to treat yourself.
As someone who balanced a part-time job, 5 classes, a 10-hour per week practicum, and a side hustle (aka Sojournies) last semester, I know life can get hectic. It’s necessary to understand your limits and take breaks when you need it. This may even mean declining work trips when the option presents itself. Traveling for work sounds super adventurous, until it doesn’t and wears you out. Hopefully these tips make it easier to balance it all. Good luck and remember to take care of yourself! No trip is worth sacrificing your health.