Tips for bite sized self care during and around work travel?
September 23, 2016 10:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm a busy consultant (woman) who's started traveling a lot for work, and need to get better at taking care of myself despite being over-planned on these trips. I'm already doing what I can, but I'd love your tips and tricks, road warriors.

My trips are irregular, mostly to clients. Picture 4-5 trips from California to Toronto and 1-2 to Columbus before the year is up, each 3-5 days. I'm with a team, and typically scheduled from 8am (not my time zone, so more like 5am) to 11pm (client/team dinner + drinks). I might get a single hour of free time on a trip, if I'm lucky. I'm always rushing back home to be with my 2-year-old and hubby, but if I'm honest the trips would be just as fast-paced if they were longer, due to the nature of my work. We fill the time we have.

After a few of these trips, I'm feeling really scattered, tired, behind in work, out of touch at home, and ungrounded. I woke up at home the other day, wondering where I was, after another work dream. Help!

What I'm already doing:
- I've got a subscription to yoga videos, and use them a lot at home. In the field I occasionally manage a 20-minute restorative yoga practice.
- I eat as healthy as possible. I'm often not ordering the food, but I try for oatmeal at breakfast and salad at lunch (which is what I do at home).
- I use benadryl to get to sleep early the first night in a new time zone.
- I often have to work on the flight out, but try to never work on the flight home. I always write a letter to my son on the flight home, and zone out.
- I try to walk a lot, when I can. I don't feel comfortable running or walking alone in a city I'm not familiar with, though.
- I get to stay in nice, comfy hotels, for the most part. I always eat the free apple (why's it always an apple?) and drink the free water.

What are your other rituals and tips for taking care of yourself when you have small amounts of time when you're on the road? One friend brings his own coffee setup, for instance. Not my comfort thing since I don't make coffee when I'm at home, but it's the right kind of idea.
posted by nadise to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I bring my own herbal tea, a book or one of those meditative coloring books and some colored pencils, and a lightly scented tealight candle or two, and try to dedicate 20 minutes before bed to enjoy those things.
posted by erst at 11:03 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oooh, I so feel you. This is not an easy environment to be centered in. What are your 'come down' routines at home? Is there anything in them you can bring to your work trips? Perhaps it's a good book, a nice tea, or a soothing bath product.

If you don't have a routine to re-engage at home, consider starting one. Maybe it's a certain shower gel or candle in a fragrance you like, a type of activity, or a particular Youtube channel. Start training yourself to associate those things with relaxation, then take it on the road so you can have a little calm oasis with you wherever you go.

I have an essential oil (jasmine) I apply and a book of light fiction to read when I'm on the road. These things signal to me that I am in 'calming down and centering' zone. Twenty minutes of that and I feel so much better. A video call with my partner right before bed lets me go to sleep easily. I always bring my favorite tea to make in the morning, and I try to take a few breaks during the day to walk around a nice area of the city (try local, well-travelled parks or shopping districts if you're nervous) by myself. Clients often want to join to show you their town, but I find that stressful, so I tell them I want to get a feel for their city on my own if they ask.

Also, I don't want to scare you, but Benadryl is not a good solution for sleep, as even small amounts have been linked to dementia (I'm not happy about this either!). I have switched to melatonin myself, and you may find one of the new topical creams or sprays very effective for your shifting schedule, as the oral medications sometimes take too long to work.
posted by ananci at 11:21 PM on September 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

My thing was to work out in the hotel gym in the morning, knowing that I'd ordered a room service omelette to arrive at [workout + shower] o' clock. (For me, healthy eating is protein + veggies. But you could do this with the oatmeal.) Even if I didn't want to lose 45 minutes of sleep, I'd do something like an "8 Minute Abs" video + ten minutes of running hard on the treadmill.

Or, sometimes I'd work out at night. I could get myself to eat sensibly at dinner, go light on the wine while drinking lots of water, and leave the evening event a es soon as socially appropriate if I knew I could head to the gym and work out to a music playlist I really liked. (Endorphins are a hell of a drug.)

Also, when I didn't need to be thinking about work, I'd listen to audiobooks, e.g., while navigating the airport or ironing my outfit for the next day. They made tedious things a pleasure and took me out of that caffeinated work-work-work headspace that work travel would get me in. These weren't ambitious non-fiction or self improvement books, just something I found funny, or a mystery I could get wrapped up in. A workout with good music, a shower, and then listening to an audiobook while ironing and getting my suitcase re-packed was a good evening for me.
posted by salvia at 11:48 PM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm a road warrior too but my trips are mostly international.

A few tips:
1) Don't take Benadryl for sleep. That's a terrible idea. Ask your doc to prescribe Ambien or a similar sleep aid _just_ for travel. That's what I do. I almost never take it at home and use it exclusively to minimize jetlag to the point that I don't have any.

2) If your client locations are fixed, like say Toronto and Columbus, then try to make some things consistent and familiar. Same hotel if possible. Then you can leave stuff (like your yoga mat and such) and also find things in the neighborhood you like. You could even find a busy yoga studio to get a 10 pack to use whenever you're there. It would be much better than a hotel gym. You could also take an uber/lyft to a nice/busy part of town where such studios exist if they are not in the vicinity of your hotel.

I travel frequently to certain cities like London and Berlin and have a set of favorite hotels/airbnbs that I stay in. I know the neighborhoods really well to the point that I feel local. I don't have to look up coffee shops, parks to run in, bars, restaurants at all since I know the area so well. It makes life so much simpler.

3) Get something like an Ostrich pillow light (a much fluffier eye mask) and nice headphones for the way back. I never ever hear flight announcements ever since I have these on all the time. I sleep like a baby most flights.

4) If there are healthy snacks you like from places like whole foods/trader joe's etc, keep them on Instacart and have them delivered to your hotel. Hotel apples are probably gross and you have no idea how long they've been sitting there.

5) If you have lounge access at airports, go straight there and avoid the crowds. That alone removes so much of the exhaustion from being at airports.

6) A chromecast (costs $25) takes 5 seconds to plug into the back of a hotel tv. You can immediately cast anything from Netflix, HBO, Hulu (whichever you use) to that tv and watch the show that brings you joy rather than flip through shitty tv or have to watch something on your laptop.

>After a few of these trips, I'm feeling really scattered, tired, behind in work, out of touch at home, and ungrounded

I totally feel you.
posted by special-k at 12:28 AM on September 24, 2016 [13 favorites]

I pack my sonicare toothbrush and clarisonic exfoliating face brush. For the longest time I resisted bringing these things because they are so much heavier than the non-powered alternatives, but it's worth carrying them because I feel so much more human when I'm clean. Air travel always makes me feel oily-faced and cotton-mouthed.
posted by the marble index at 12:33 AM on September 24, 2016

Have an entire extra set of toiletries and such, so that you don't have to pack and unpack these things every trip. They just live in your suitcase, ready to go at a moment's notice.
posted by ktkt at 1:11 AM on September 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

Take luxury sample sizes of toiletries and perfumes to try out and treat yourself on the road.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 1:42 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Make sure you sleep enough. You get the double whammy of an intense workload and regular long haul travel so do not feel guilty about sleeping both when away and at home. Your family will be the better for you sleeping because sleep is so essential for good health and mental wellbeing.

And whilst socialising with clients may be part of the gig there really is no reason why it has to be every night. At least on evenings where it is just your colleagues it should be acceptable to do your own thing some of the time. So learn to set that boundary.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:35 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

For me, a vibrator, lots of high protein snacks, and Netflix are key. Also, when I'm doing lot of travel, having systems that make it so it doesn't require significant work to pack/ unpack makes me feel less harried. (Bag has a hook inside my closet so I'm not tripping over it; everything other than dirty clothes can stay in the bag; all I have to do when I leave is put in my tablet and the same clothes after they come out of the wash.)
posted by metasarah at 5:19 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I travel a lot, flights within the US about once a week.

1) get something other than benadryl. In addition to the problems cited above, it's a nasty diuretic and will dehydrate you more than flying already does. Melatonin is over the counter if you can do it with just that, or see your doctor for Ambien or Lunesta.

2) Switching from hotels to Airbnb has made a huge difference for me. I know there are a lot of reasons various people have not to use them, but there gets to be a further sense of unreality from staying in hotels and staying with people in the community lets me make connections and explore neighborhoods. If this isn't your speed, find a hotel you like and stay there consistently.

3) Keep a set of toiletries and meds in your suitcase so you don't have to hunt for that. You may also want to keep a set of whatever power cords you need, or other specific things that you want while traveling.

4) special-k's suggestion about snacks is solid. If there is other stuff you like that will easily go through airport security, get that.

5) TSA Precheck / Global Entry. Try to make your boss pay for it. If not, consider paying for it yourself. It will make going through the airport much faster.

6) Wear comfortable clothes for travel if you can. I know sometimes you have to be somewhere already in your business clothes (or at least I do) but when I don't, I wear something as close to pajamas as I can get.

7) Watch the weather and get a small umbrella. If it's small enough and you can keep it in your bag, just do that.

Some stuff I do personally that may or may not be your speed: I always carry a book or two, where an e-reader can also be a book. I bring a small amount of art supplies. I often knit on the plane. I bring a water bottle through security and fill it once inside the airport, and I also carry an insulated travel mug for tea so I can generate fewer paper cups while destroying the environment in other ways. The mug was a gift from a friend, and having it makes me feel more connected - kind of a caffeinated security blanket for adults.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:33 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great advice above, and OP, I feel you.

The thing I'd chip in that's been essential for me is ensuring downtime happens. Most of my work trips are all day with a client + coworkers, AND possibly coworkers for dinner/drinks. But I sometimes must call my nights early or simply have a night (even an hour or two) to myself. I am also a morning person, so my time before I go into the client or the office is sacred: I workout, I enjoy a good breakfast, have some good coffee, and keep things rather quiet and non-schedule-y. If I don't have the downtime, I can't support the “on” time very well.
posted by hijinx at 5:58 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I travel from Australia to the US for work every few months. A few sanity-preserving things I haven't seen above:

- Noise-cancelling headphones for the flight. I try not to zone out and spend the whole flight in front of a screen if I can help it (it makes it even harder to fight jet lag); I bring a (print) book or listen to podcasts and knit.

- A travel candle or incense for the room makes it feel a bit less generic and a bit more like home.

- I have a low tolerance for alcohol, so I don't drink on work trips. It's a tiny bit awkward at meals with clients, but it helps me feel so much better throughout the trip.

- I brought a throw blanket from home on my last trip. It was pretty great to have on the plane and really nice to have in the hotel.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:11 AM on September 24, 2016

Great advice above. I try to stay in hotels with a good gym/pool and get a workout in when I can or at least do a 7 minute fitness app on my phone. If you go often to the same city, try to find a local venue for food coffee etc that you can look forward to going to. If possible, try to walk places so you're not trapped indoors all day.
I use flying as my guilt free veg out time- magazines and movies.
posted by emd3737 at 6:13 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I travel in fits and starts. Nothing for 2 months then 3 trips in two weeks. A few things i find that helps:

- know the clothes you are going to wear when you are on-site with clients so packing isn't stressful and make sure they are as versatile as possible, so if you have to, you can get 4-days out of 3-days of clothes, if plans change
- to avoid worrying about the things that you may have forgotten, have a short list of things you can easily check for and tell yourself "if I forgot it, I can buy it when I get there" for anything else -- my essentials are computer phone and ID; I can either replace or go without for just about everything else
- get a suitcase you like and is easy for you to carry around; for some people that is a good wheely bag, I use a backpack and a shoulder bag; in either case, it is worth it to spend the money on something that makes you feel good about traveling
- exercise; I don't always make time for it when I travel, but I always feel much better when I do
- travel in comfortable clothes that make you feel relaxed as much as possible, especially if your flight is more than a couple hours

I love traveling for business, but it can get tough and disconnected when you are doing it a lot.
posted by chiefthe at 6:18 AM on September 24, 2016

I'm just going to repeat a lot of what has been said above. But still, my sanity list for frequent travel.

Try to get some time to tourist. Even just a few hours. I know that may not be possible in your situation, but for me it made me feel like I was *seeing* something, not just living in an airport.

Work out. I have run outside in strange cities all over the world. It isn't always going to be easy to do, but I have found that hotels can almost always tell you where you can safely run. It takes care of point 1 for me.

Noise cancelling headphones.

Luxury travel cosmetics and stinky shampoos and soaps. Whenever I see lux travel sizes, I buy them.

Healthy breakfast routine. I find just controlling my eating in a good way for one meal can make up for many client dinners.

Lounge. Frequent flier status is so worth it for lounge access.

For sleep aids, melatonin or magnesium supplements.

Try to make one evening for myself in any trip over 2 nights. I know it's difficult, but if you're firm and clear about it then it can probably be done. It may feel odd to excuse yourself at first, but your sanity will thank you.
posted by frumiousb at 6:26 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I traveled for work fairly frequently to client sites for a few years, in the same manner -- teams, 3-4 days on the ground, fly out each week. I never got comfortable with the frequent travel, but here are some ideas for making the best of it.
- Figure out how you can break away from the team in the evenings. Some teams tend to gravitate towards the extravagantly long evenings every single night. If it's just your internal team on most nights, excuse yourself on 1-2 of those evenings. If this feels too awkward, try to speak to other individuals on your team to see if they would like a team-free evening themselves, and then a fair # of you can break away at once. (An alternative reason is that you need to work on X, and really need to be able to focus by yourself in your hotel room vs. in the team room.) This isn't perfect, b/c at some point a senior leader will want to take the team out to dinner and it's probably best to go, but this will help establish a new norm on the team that every night does not have to be team night.
- Figure out how you can work with clients that don't require as much travel if you don't like it, or work with the same clients requiring travel for longer periods of time, or work with case teams that have a healthier view on travel. Depending on how you're staffed, you'll need to work the internal system at your job to swing this. At my previous company, there are certain teams and clients that are more OK with remote work or with a more balanced work/life balance whilst traveling, so I worked to establish myself on those teams / clients. If your company has a broader initiative on "work life balance" especially with regards to travel, that's a great place to also try to move the culture of the team that you're on to see if you can make it less grueling. And, others have mentioned this, but traveling to the same place over and over and over is better than traveling to different places each week. You'll get into a rhythm of which flights you like to book, your favorite hotel, your favorite food item at said hotel, and that makes things much much better.
- A lot of the suggestions above are good, but also think about your days while you are at work when your traveling. Sometimes you just need to break away from the "team room" (say you need to work in a quite space to focus), sometimes just take a 15 min break for a coffee run, sometimes it's getting up every few hours to stretch your legs. What I found more grueling when traveling is if you feel like you have 0 control over your day AND evening, so find ways to bring some agency into your life.
posted by ellerhodes at 6:33 AM on September 24, 2016

Seconding the following:
- regular hotel/Airbnb,if possible.
- melatonin instead of Benadryl
- pre- packed set of toiletries so packing is super quick
- water, water, water
-pre check/priority: not having to worry about whether I'm going to make the flight super reduces stress (and time!)
- a couple of sun salutations is a good mental reset and only takes a few minutes
- keeping as much of your at home bedtime ritual as possible: for me it's to read from a book of meditations.

And adding:
- An ergonomic travel set for your laptop. I have a goldtouch go! three piece set that I love. It has an stand for the laptop so it's at eye level and an external keyboard and mouse. Folks definitely ask questions when you first set it up, but it is so worth it to be the only one without a completely sore back and neck. It's a little pricey, but 110% worth it. Keep this in a drawer with all your power cords so it's all ready to pack on a moments notice.
-Pack clothes by laying out an outfit on the bed, jacket then bottom then top. Fold in the whole stack a little bit on each side (like clothing stores do with stacks of shirts) then roll from the bottom. This helps reduce wrinkles and outfits are already pre- thought out.
- Unpack everything as soon as you get to the hotel. When you take clothes off or finish with something, pack it away right away. This way, less wrinkles on the trip and you're already packed and ready to go at the end!

Good luck and hang in there!
posted by susiswimmer at 6:42 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

When packing, you can also layer a piece of tissue on top (so it ends up in the center of the roll). The tissue can then be used to line the dresser drawers at the hotel when you unpack, if hotel drawers creep you out. And less wrinkles.
posted by susiswimmer at 6:53 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would not unpack into hotel dressers unless you want to go home with bedbugs. I would also not ever eat anything in a hotel room unless it was in a sealed package.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:39 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Many excellent suggestions above.

More pre-trip than during-trip: I have a typed packing list on my computer. Before a trip I print it out, cross off anything not applicable to that particular trip (e.g., passport on a domestic trip), and check things off as I pack them. It saves a lot of mental overhead and worrying whether I've forgotten something.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:42 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

My MIL travels an absolute ton for work, and has for years. "Be a tourist" has been mentioned so ditto that--she's able to stretch out her trip a tad by taking an earlier flight out or a later flight back, so she often gets a little vacationing/sightseeing in. I'm sure that's at least partially personality so it may not help you as much, but although the work trips are exhausting, she still enjoys the travel.

She also loves cooking. As soon as she's home, she's cooking--it's the thing that grounds her and makes her feel connected to her family. Even if it's just dog biscuits! If there's anything you do that you love and screams, "I'm HOME!" to you, do that as soon as you can and as much as you can.

She streamlines the rest of her life wherever possible (regular housekeeping service, grocery delivery sometimes, for instance) to give her as much free-time as she can get. She also keeps regular salon and nail appointments & saves for high-quality clothes & makeup, so she always looks put-together regardless of how incredibly scattered and stressed she feels.

This info comes to you from several "jeez, how do you do it??" conversations. She's extroverted and enjoys travel, so personality is surely important to carry this off long-term, but the above is how she says she stays sane.
posted by Baethan at 7:45 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A few more that haven't been mentioned, based on nearly 30 years of as a road warrior...

  • Upon arrival in the hotel room, grab all the annoying paper flotsam--the little signs, the vinyl folio, the admonishments about hanging up towels to save water, etc.--and put it in a pile or shove it in a drawer to reduce the visual clutter.

  • Develop routines for where you keep stuff in your hotel room, e.g., your key goes on whatever piece of furniture is holding the TV, etc.

  • Aquire some nice versatile costume jewelry or simple pieces that can live in your suitcase along with your toiletries to simplify packing and minimize risk of loss.

  • Be sensitive to the challenges associated with the re-entry into your home environment. For example, you may want to nest, eat home cooked meals and reconnect with your toddler, but your partner may be stir crazy and want to go out. Similarly, praise (or at least don't second-guess) decisions made while you were away.

  • Come up with some good ways to deflect people who think your trips are glamorous and fun that isn't humblebragging.

  • Find a purse that can hold your essentials but fits in your briefcase to streamline getting on/off planes and enable you to leave the big bag behind when you go to social events with colleagues and clients.

  • Pack a small power strip to make it easier to charge your devices in the hotel and elsewhere, because having sufficient outlets remains a challenge in older properties. It will also make you a hero to your team, eventually; I guarantee it. Speaking of charging devices in hotels, make sure you choose an outlet that isn't dependent on the light by the door being on; it's still a pretty common problem.

  • Pack a few spare batteries for your noise-cancelling headphones to avoid the inevitable.

  • Tuck a power bar or two in your bag so you aren't stuck somewhere famished.

  • There's an app that allows you to enter in your city and the cable TV provider (front desk probably knows) and it will give you the channel line-up. It save many long, boring minutes scrolling through screen guides and running through the channels.


  • posted by carmicha at 4:57 PM on September 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

    Toronto to California trips here! So I feel you on the jet-lag, especially coming back to Toronto.

    Seconding some stuff above:
    1. Noise cancelling headphones = amazing sleep on planes, especially coupled with a meditative/quiet music you already like and know. I like the Bose ones which are rechargeable and are always highest reviewed.
    2. A copy of all my necessary cables and toiletries lives in the suitcase.
    3. TSA precheck and lounge access makes airports not stressful.
    4. Your favourite sealed coffee mug - empty it before going through security. Acts as extra water during the flight, and makes travelling in the morning better as you can sip the coffee as you get from hotel to the airport / meeting.
    5. I work out in the morning even if it means that I get 3 instead of 3.5 hours of sleep. The routine is same regardless of which time zone I am in, or even when I wake up, making it easier to do zone switching.
    6. This Downy travel size spray that I found in grocery store aisle has lasted me a long time and made travel easier as I don't have to depend on dry cleaning, or worry that I can't rewear a jacket -

    Some luxuries I've used on occasion to make life better:
    1. Tiny candles + small matchbook which take up no space and makes sleep better.
    2. Ask the people that you're working with for a local and very close by "interesting thing" to see. They always have some ideas and a new experience makes the trip less frazzled as you get to switch into tourist mode.
    3. On super early flights a few times I have flown in the more relaxed clothing and changed into the work outfit upon landing. Sometimes that alone is enough to make it feel like less of a "5am - 11pm" kind of day if you flew out early and are done late.
    4. Sephora has amazing things in sample sizes. Go in and explain you need small sizes for travel, and experiment with new things. I found my new favourite hair product that way (Alterna CC hair cream).
    posted by olya at 9:56 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I don't have a bath at home so I always requested a room with a bath so I could have a good soak with nice toiletries when I was away.

    It doesn't have to be your room key that goes into the slot by the door that controls the lights, any credit card sized card will do. So you can leave things charging and the heating/AC on when you're out of the room.

    If you have an HDMI cable, you can often plug your laptop into the TV, and watch films. And work on that important document together without having to crowd round a laptop screen.
    posted by Helga-woo at 12:51 AM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

    If you have an HDMI cable, you can often plug your laptop into the TV, and watch films. And work on that important document together without having to crowd round a laptop screen.

    Yes! I have a coworker that does this when he's on the road. It makes for a more productive trip for him.
    posted by jillithd at 8:33 AM on September 26, 2016

    "I'm with a team, and typically scheduled from 8am (not my time zone, so more like 5am) to 11pm (client/team dinner drinks)."

    That's a punishing schedule. Can you negotiate that at all? My #1 self-care trick on work trips is to quit early. That gives me downtime and a simpler diet. Can you skip dinner sometimes? Or go to dinner, but skip after-dinner drinks? Or get one drink and then shake hands with everyone and say good night?

    As you gradually become more senior, look for opportunities to delegate. On average newer colleagues probably need the educational and networking opportunities more, and enjoy the travel more.

    I find TV and the internet both mildly addicting and insomnia-inducing. With that schedule you only have a few minutes to get to sleep at the end of the day. I would hide the laptop, phone, and remote, and allow myself only a book or e-ink e-reader (*not* a tablet with access to metafilter). Pick comforting reading material that you will look forward to at the end of each day.
    posted by floppyroofing at 7:36 AM on September 29, 2016

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