How to be a Road Warrior, 201-level
April 26, 2022 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I am in a new job that is about 50% travel. This is the first time I've had this kind of arrangement, and while I know that it will take me a bit to come up with systems that work for me, I would like some best practice ideas from those who have been doing this for a while. Most online tips/tricks articles seem written for first-time business travelers, which I am not. I know to be consistent with hotel/airline to rack up points and get status. I know about packing cubes, keeping a separate set of toiletries that live in my luggage, and that checking a bag is something to be avoided at all costs. I am looking for advice that is a little meatier than that - I am looking for ideas on how to keep things organized,how to work efficiently, and how to take care of myself when I'm on the road half the time.

Some details:

I am traveling regionally (domestic USA) and am located smack-dab in the middle, which means that I'll be driving and flying in about equal amounts. The flights will be short - no more than 2 hours, and that's pushing it. Driving lengths are anywhere from 1.5 -- 5 hours each way.

I will be travelling about every other week, for about 2-3 days at a time. Each trip will be to a different location - I have about 125ish different facilities, and will only get to each one every year or every 2 years.

My work is in a fairly heavy industry, and my job involves walking around outdoors, sometimes in wet and muddy conditions, so re-wearing pants is not always an option. I need to bring steel-toe shoes with me for all visits.

This is not physically exhausting work, but it is very mentally draining (at least right now - this might ease as I get more experience).

Two things that I'm struggling with so far are sleep and eating. Sleep - I used to be able to sleep well in hotel rooms, but to my despair, I am struggling with that now. Eating -- while on the road, it's expected that you'll dine out with the host location management for lunch , and then dinner is on my own. Eating restaurant lunch and restaurant dinner multiple days in a row is a lot for me, but skipping dinner does not work either. Finding area restaurants is a slog. Normally I love researching places to eat, but there's a lot of data digging that needs to be done before visiting a site, and all of my research brain cells are basically used up. Plus, with going to a new location every other week, that ends up being a lot of time.

thanks in advance!
posted by Sparky Buttons to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: oh! Also, if it matters, I am a woman. One time this has come up -- I was traveling with a male coworker, and he advised me to always sit at the bar at a restaurant. There's generally always seats, you get better service, etc. I was like "yeeeah, my experience being a single woman sitting at a bar is generally not great, especially when I don't like talking to strangers".
posted by Sparky Buttons at 9:54 AM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you live alone or are the person in charge of grocery shopping in your house, set up a grocery delivery for right around when you get home from your trip. That way you don't have to worry about coming home and finding no toilet paper, or milk for your morning coffee.

Eating out on the road is hard when you're traveling frequently. For times when you have your car, sometimes it's nice to just go to a supermarket and get like a salad and some bread to have in your room. If you're getting overwhelmed with research, maybe just give yourself permission to eat wherever seems easiest, like the mediocre restaurant in the hotel, or the mediocre Italian place across the street.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 AM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

For dinner, can you come up with some go-tos that are maybe not the greatest but are widely available and *fine*, like maybe you know you can always get a six-inch sub from Subway, or a bowl from Chipotle or something like that? Then you don't need to do much research about restaurants (unless you feel like it) - it's just, "OK there's a Panera, a Sweetgreen, and an Olive Garden."

FWIW I am a single woman and like your male coworker I am a proponent of sitting at the bar alone, although obviously it depends on the restaurant and the bar. I am rarely approached by strangers, especially if I'm visibly on my phone or reading a book or something. (This is generally in the NE US - YMMV elsewhere.)

For sleeping in hotel rooms I love having my travel white noise machine - it makes everyplace feel more the same. But I find hotel rooms are usually too warm for me.
posted by mskyle at 10:16 AM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Not being able to re-wear pants shouldn't be a problem. I never re-wear pants for OCD reasons, and I've managed to fit an entire week's worth of clothes, plus a pillow, in my carry-on. That was pushing it, but 2-3 days of clothing should easily fit in a carry-on.

Speaking of which, as long as you're flying an airline that doesn't charge for it, checking a bag is awesome. It's so much easier to wander around the airport if you're just carrying a computer bag. Unless you're really in a hurry (I once took a morning flight where I was supposed to be at the client site later that morning), consider checking. If you're traveling with co-workers, tell them to be patient.

I'm an introvert, and yeah, being around people I'm expected to interact with all day is draining. I don't do much at night when I travel. Dinner, then watching HGTV, then bed. If there's a pool, sometimes I'll swim, or just sit in the hot tub. If you're traveling in the Upper Midwest at all, a lot of the hotels there have saunas due to the Nordic influence, and that's a nice way to wind down after a busy day.

For me, sleeping in hotel rooms isn't a problem, but I do pack a sleep mask just in case. I also bring comfy pajamas, slippers, and, as I mentioned, my own pillow.

Eating, to me, is the best part of work travel. If you're not up for Yelping, there's an easy way to find good dinner spots. Just ask the people you're there to visit what they recommend. The way I phrase it is "what's the place that people would be mad at me if they found out I went to [town] and didn't eat at?" Every town, no matter how small, has one or two spots that are local institutions, where, if you meet someone three years later and they're from the town you visited, you can say "oh, yeah, Springfield, that's where Mike and Rosy's Deli is, I've been there!" and they'll respect you for knowing about it.

I generally think it's a good idea to practice for TSA a couple of times. TSA is actually really easy to get through if you know what you're doing. Or you could just buy PreCheck, which it sounds like maybe you should. Either way, be friendly to the TSA agents, and they'll usually be friendly to you. I make small talk with them. "Busy day?" "What's the craziest thing you've seen come through here?" It doesn't really make anything go faster or easier, but it's nice.

For me, breakfast is pretty important. I don't eat a lot of traditional breakfast foods like bacon or eggs, and I don't drink coffee, so a lot of times I'm on my own for breakfast. I like knowing where a pharmacy or a good gas station like Qwik Trip is so that I can pop in and grab a pop and a Clif bar or something.

I generally try to eat light at lunch. This can be tricky, depending on where your hosts take you, but nobody thinks it's weird to eat a grilled chicken salad or something like that. Airport food is generally heavy, so use the days you're not traveling to eat light.

I don't know why, but it helps me relax in my hotel if I unpack everything and hang up all my clothes. I feel more organized.

I'll see if I can think of anything else...
posted by kevinbelt at 10:21 AM on April 26, 2022 [7 favorites]

I had a friend who traveled a lot for her job. She very much disliked hotels, so, instead, she would seek out Airbnb types of places that had some apartment-type features. This made the stay feel more homey, and allowed her the option to cook her own meals rather than go to restaurants. I don't know if this would be practical for the places to which you'll be traveling, but it worked great for her.
posted by SageTrail at 10:22 AM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just go to the supermarket and get one or more of
- pot noodle
- salad bar
- rotisserie chicken bits and some bread buns
- felafels and hummus (but need to locate a fork!)
- packaged sandwich
- cold cuts and cheese
- fruit

Sometimes I push the boat out and get the nice olives or a fancy dessert, my expenses are still well under compared to going to a restaurant every night.
- protein shakes if I really can't even
posted by quacks like a duck at 10:31 AM on April 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

At restaurants, I mostly just get a table for one. I don’t care if service is slow, because I’m not rushing off to anything anyway.

That said, I don’t enjoy eating every dinner in a restaurant, so I try to book myself into chains like Residence Inn, which helps in a few ways. First of all, there’s a kitchenette, so I can cook a few simple meals. Second, the kitchenette has real plates, glasses, and silverware, so I’m not stuck with paper and plastic utensils when I eat takeout. Third, they typically have more space in the room (e.g. dedicated sitting area, maybe with some little C tables), so eating in the room doesn’t feel as cramped as it can in a typical hotel room.

Edit: and fourth, they usually have a free breakfast where I can get a yogurt and a cup of coffee without needing to eat it in my car.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 10:32 AM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Or you could just buy PreCheck, which it sounds like maybe you should.

Oh yeah, if you don't have pre-check that is an absolute must. You may want to look into some of the enhanced programs as well.
posted by lunasol at 10:42 AM on April 26, 2022 [6 favorites]

In addition to the question about the local can't-miss restaurants, you should have 3-5 specific foods you can ask locals about, e.g. "where would you go for X," where X is a burger, a salad, pasta, or whatever. I guess in this case you should be prepared to accept or turn down an invitation to join those locals at their recommended place(s), because people may have regular places they go after work. If you need that time to unwind or if it's inappropriate for you to eat with the local rank and file you can say so, but it might beat sitting alone.

Also, figure out a workout routine you can maintain in a hotel gym or even something like the 7-minute workout you can do without leaving your room. Restaurant food tends to be fatty, and the road warrior lifestyle is easier to maintain if you try to stay fit. Regular workouts might also help your sleep schedule.
posted by fedward at 10:53 AM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, two other things, related to the long-term mental health aspects of traveling a lot:

- Try to keep some semblance of a rewarding life when you're home. That might mean seeing friends, or it might mean going for long bike rides, whatever it is that brings you joy. When you're traveling that much it can be very easy to get into a hibernation routine when you're home. And you definitely want to let yourself rest, but don't cut out all the fun.

- Similarly, when you're on the road, do fun things sometimes if you're able. Like the aforementioned rec to occasionally get dinner or drinks with locals, or seeing one or two local sights if that's feasible, or even going to see a movie or a play or a band or something. Again, whatever it is you find fun. Streamline the things that are a chore, like picking where to eat dinner, and use at least some of that time and energy to do something fun. Hell, I used to sometimes use my downtime in the evenings when traveling for work to go clothes shopping!
posted by lunasol at 11:21 AM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the road. I was on the road a great deal for about 10 years. Very good recommendations already shared.

Some travel tidbits, take 'em or leave 'em:

I got an airline club pass that helped me out when I was delayed or just had a long layover. Super nice if there is weather and the airport is packed with delayed passengers. Could be worth it based on your time in the airport.

When driving, keep your dry cleaning in the bag. When flying, put everything on hangers asap.

On the drive from the airport, grab a few healthy snacks and a few not so healthy snacks.

Check restaurants online, quickly, and just go. Subway was my emergency go to. Food poisoning on the road really sucks. The hotel restaurant list that they will provide you...meh.

Try to find the energy to go out and look around. I was able to see so much of the country. It really made me wish everyone could. I was able to see concerts, films, historical sites, geologic sites, etc. because I made the time. Honestly, I don't have the time now. Take some pics.

Bigger airports mean more planes and more access to supplies. This means that you have a better chance to fly. If you are at a small airport, well, you are just gonna have to wait for them to fly in a new crew because the old crew timed-out.

Buy a cheap 3:1 electric plug and throw it in your bag. It will make you and other people happy.

Use your per diem. Seriously, follow the company policy and use it to your advantage.

YMMV but I didn't use housekeeping. I just tipped them when I departed the property.

Any time you can get out of an airport, go. Get on the earlier flight. Sounds like you won't be in the sky long, regardless. Don't wait for your business class seat on a flight that leaves in 2 hours. Go. If there is weather, crew problem, whatever, you will be waiting.

Know when to draw the line. Flights that are cancelled and rescheduled for a couple days later...bite the bullet and drive home. Caveat: you have the time + you are in a place you don't mind being for the extra days + the hotel has rooms + the company is fine eating the hotel and per diem.

I hope you enjoy your time travelling.
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

One thing that really helped me over a long stretch of frequent driving trips was that I packed a bike with me. I had a flip down back seat and could lay the bike flat in back; I'd bring a helmet and a pump and some bike clothes and then before my workday started I'd find a nice park or trail and go for a ride.

Some people are really good at the fitness center but unless it's a great hotel they can be cramped an unreliable. Knowing that I could get a fun, outdoor workout in set me up for the day.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:55 AM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Familiar, strongly scented toiletries during my evening shower helped me a lot with sleeping in hotels. Also measuring my home sleeping temperature and being strict about setting the hotel air conditioning to the same value as soon as I walked in the door. Altogether try to keep to your home routine as much as possible, even if you're dealing with a timezone shift of an hour or two.

Think of things you don't get enough time to do at home because chores, and figure out if there's a way to use your travel evenings to do them. Cinema? Stream a series? Knit? Write?

And in a pinch, bread and unsweetened yoghurt plus an apple makes a decent dinner. You can pack a backup set of instant ramen, crackers and apples that'll save you on the days when the thought of interacting with more people to obtain dinner makes you want to scream. (I also always pack my own teabags. You might want your preferred coffee setup instead.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:28 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I used to carry a roll of black electrical tape, for putting over the intense blue LEDs hotel rooms love to have so many of.
Second or third the rec for a travel white noise machine. So much better than an app on your phone. If you're driving, bring your pillow.
Follow good sleep hygiene if at all possible, e.g. get some sun in the morning, avoid alcohol before bed, avoid screens, etc.

This will often suck unless you're one of those people that can just eat subway every day. Plus if you're going to industrial places I'm guessing they're not exactly bristling with good healthy dining choices. Depends a lot on what your problems are: calorie control, variety, boredom?
Get good at ordering off-menu or customizing things and not feeling weird about it. Low on vegetables and see there's some sauce covered broccoli dish on the menu? Ask if you can have it just steamed on the side.
I've also done the go to a supermarket thing, but I often don't want yet another thing to do on my list.
posted by Jobst at 12:49 PM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Having a Roku stick has really improved my experience in hotel rooms, as I can plug it into the TV and have all my services, shows, lists, Peloton app for a hotel-room workout, etc.
posted by reksb at 1:34 PM on April 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

The company I work at before the pandemic had something we called “the 3 4 5” (three nights away, four days away, home on the fifth day). It was helpful for many of our staff to help set expectations on travel with others. Maybe if you can (realizing it’s a new role and some flex may be required) try to group travel or set a similar reasonable schedule will help.

I also find staying at a small number of hotel chains (other than for the points obviously) brings a certain familiarity and takes the stress off (they often have similar room service menus or even knowing the typical amenities is useful).

More tactically - I brought a small gadget and cables bag that is only for travel - cos I hate a packing up the right chargers, mouse, etc every time I travel. Can just grab it and know I have what I need for electronics.

Finally - knowing all the programs your company provides for travel is helpful (not just like expense limitations etc - but like does your firm or your firm’s corporate card program offer free TSA Pre or Clear membership, etc).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

When I am traveling muchly for work, I like staying in hotels that routinely have a kitchen in the room - Residence Inn, Staybridge Suites - for the flexibility of having food storage and prep options. Even if I don't use those facilities every time, I like having the option. Residence Inns (and/or TownePlace Suites) are probably the most common and easiest to find around the US, in my experience.
posted by sockshaveholes at 2:49 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

- Buy some gaff tape, wrap about a half-dozen times around an object. I have a few wraps around my Macbook charger, that way when I'm on a flight with loose in-seat outlets I can rip off a few pieces to hold it in place. Also works great for putting on LED lights that blink in hotel rooms.

- Even if you're not traveling internationally, get Global Entry (some travel credit cards reimburse you). It includes TSA Pre and saves you a lot of time at airport security. I also travel to Mexico a lot and I registered my car and now can travel in the SENTRI lanes for a 10 min border crossing (vs 1+ hours!). TSA Pre is great, it's really like pre-9/11 security: keep your shoes on, metal detector only, and keep your laptop in your bag.

- If your company allows you, get an Airline Credit Card and buy all your flights and get reimbursed for more bonus points. Also, pick an airline and stick with it for maximized frequent flyer rewards.

- Ditto goes for hotels, pick a chain and stick with them. (IHG or Marriott)

- Quesadillas are usually the "safe" option for a hot meal at an airport.

- Mrs wcfields also travels with her egg cooker for a consistant breakfast always
posted by wcfields at 3:01 PM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

For your drives, have you considered audiobooks?

I used to burn CDs, but hooked up an old smartphone to the car's aux audio and USB power (from a 12V "cigarette lighter" socket in the same central elbow compartment as the aux in) and never looked back. If you have an old android, 'Smart AudioBook Player' is aces.
posted by porpoise at 9:11 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

RE food: having a basic go-to option is great, as others have said, but sometimes I get in the mood to research random stuff like restaurants. If you do too, you can spend a few hours doing that in advance for multiple locations.

(I'm paranoid about not being able to find food or not having the energy to go out and get it, so I always pack protein shake powder, nuts, and Clif bars.)
posted by metasarah at 7:35 AM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Since one aspect of your travel is repeat visits, one way to help with the food issue is to leverage some of Google Maps' annotation features. If you find a place that you like, you can drop a pin on it and mark it "Favorite", or "Want to Visit". You'll see them on the map next time you come back, and usually Google will alert you about them. Of course, you have to be into Google surveillance capitalism to do this :-) but most map systems will have a similar feature. This will help you build your repertoire of good places and local knowledge.
posted by scolbath at 7:44 AM on April 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Food delivery apps can be surprisingly helpful. If all you want to do is sit in your pajamas and eat dinner but your hotel has no/unappealing food on site, you can get something delivered. If you do want to go out, they can be pretty good lists of local restaurants searchable by dish (“salad”, “penne”, etc) in a way that’s easier than Yelp or Google Maps.
posted by A Blue Moon at 8:12 AM on April 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

A few more:

One thing I used to do, which you might not want to because it's a lot of research and planning on top of what you're already doing, is to study airport terminal maps for my layovers, so that I'd know exactly what's near both my arrival and departure gates, and what's in between. That way, if I needed to use the bathroom, I'd know ahead of time where to look. I'd know my options for a quick lunch. And if there were any interesting retail stores (the sock store in BWI! the used bookstore in MKE!), I could stop by there.

Airlines only use a handful of cities as hubs, so if you fly the same airline each time, you'll spend a lot of layovers in the same airports, and you'll get to know them. Flying Southwest, I know BWI and Midway like the back of my hand. After a while, these airports will start to feel pretty familiar, and you'll know you can go to certain spots for a reliable meal, a place to sit down and relax, etc. When you're first starting out, make a note when you find something.

Most airports at least try to show off their city's cuisine. Milwaukee has a frozen custard stand, a lot of places in the South have barbecue, and Boston has 750 Dunkin Donuts stores. This can be a shortcut to researching local food. If you see something uncommon, or something common in a prominent location, that's probably a sign that that that kind of food is a thing in that city.

I have a dad joke that I use at the rental car counter when they confirm what kind of car I reserved. I always say in total dad-joke voice "yes sir/ma'am, unless you'd like to upgrade me to a BMW". And somehow, shockingly, this occasionally works. I've had a couple of occasions where they've offered me an upgrade for like $10/day, or they offered a compromise like a not-quite-as-luxury-as-BMW for my economy reservation price. It works because renting cars isn't an exact science. They have a lot of leeway in terms of what actual vehicle they put you in.

Having somewhere to store your receipts is pretty essential. If you don't need to submit hard copies with your expense report, take photos of them with your phone immediately.

If you're traveling with co-workers, make it clear to them that you're not interested in working after you leave the work site. That doesn't mean you don't do any work; just that you're not going to join co-workers if they want to all sit around a conference room table for a second shift. If you're going to work after hours, do so in your bed alone. Much more relaxing.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:20 AM on April 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: +1 on receipt organization. In fact, since many corporate expense systems now want PDFs, ensure you've set all of your travel profiles to immediately dump your hotel, car, and airline bills at you in that format. For loose receipts, use one of the many phone scanning tools to capture an image and put it in Dropbox or Google Drive so you can avoid the paper.
posted by scolbath at 6:18 AM on April 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

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