Help me be a happy road warrior
February 26, 2007 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Any tips for a few months of near-constant business travel? Coping mechanisms? I need your tried and true road warrior advice.

I've always had to travel for business. I'm already at the point where I have two of a lot of things so I don't have to unpack them. But I'm looking at 3 months of heavy travel with several back-to-back trips. I'm home for a week a few times. But mostly I'm home for 1-2 days between trips. I've never had to do that before.

My husband can feed the cat, pay the bills and all that practical stuff. I know the most convenient same day dry cleaner.

My travel will take me out of the country and on a few cruises. I think I'm going to add a "soft phone" to my Vonage plan to help keep my phone charges under control, but that's the only thing I've come up with to do differently for this heavy travel.

Any other tips? Things I should do before I leave? Things I should be prepared for?
posted by Mozzie to Work & Money (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
On the tech side, please don't neglect your security & backup needs. The higher the % of travel in your life, the higher the risk of your laptop, PDA, phone, etc. getting stolen or lost.

If you haven't:
- google for how to protect each of your devices & the sensitive info on them, with encryption and passwords (at a bare minimum, your phone and all your other devices should require passwords on waking from sleep and on startup);
- bring external backup media (small drive or USB thumb drive) that you don't carry along with your devices, and religiously back up the data you care about;
- use strong passwords (at least mix letters and numbers -- no dictionary words or proper names in any language), with no written record of them that travels along with your device.
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:00 AM on February 27, 2007

I would suggest making sure you carry along extra toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste that kind of stuff) and medicines. Trying to find a shampoo you can use in a country where everything is in a language you cannot read is usually a recipe for trouble.

If you have payment / overdue notifications for any bills / borrowed items being emailed to an email acccount; you might want to consider redirecting those. You might not access those email accounts regularly when travelling and find yourself hit by late fees.

Coping with loneliness on the road - try and pick up a international calling card at each country you visit. That will let you make longer calls back home then if you were trying to make an international call while roaming.

Even if you aren't into photography, taking a camera along and taking photographs can help kill some time and keep you occupied.
posted by your mildly obsessive average geek at 2:03 AM on February 27, 2007

A little tube of handwash for your smalls! I used the clothes wash at the bottom of this page.
If the travel is hotels, you can send the bigger items of clothing to the laundry service but in my experience the treatment of delicate fabrics is awful. During one three week trip to Brazil most of my lovely delicates were in pieces by the time I came back.
You don't say if it will be safe to socialise where you're going so a project (that book you always meant to read, some knitting, etc.,) for the dreary hours.

otherwise most of it seems to be covered above!
posted by Wilder at 3:13 AM on February 27, 2007

Make a list of essential chores to do on every visit home (e.g. clean out the fridge if that isn't one of your husbancds strong points).

Load up on a variety of ebooks so that you have something to meet a variety of moods. Add solitaire/sudoku/crossword games to your laptop or PDA.

Plan your spending money so that you don't overspend, but also so that you don't underspend by rejecting good bargains because you don't have a good feel for what you can afford.

If you are likely to end up with odd free days in odd places, concentrating on one of your interests can make life feel more coherent and can build your expertise. So you could always visit museums to see art of a certain period, or always take your camera to the local wildlife reserve, or always investigate the local embroidery shops or ...
posted by Idcoytco at 4:13 AM on February 27, 2007

This is just off the top of my head:

First off - everything that you take, you have to carry in some way. So, anything you can do to reduce the weight of your bags, even by a pound, is worth it. So if you can get a charger for you phone, ipod, etc that can be USB, it reduces weight (and dependency on 'another' charger.) I have a USB connector for my phone, ipod, and bluetooth headset.

Toiletries: If you're going to take your own shampoo (or other liquids), buying travel sizes helps keep things small. I have a second toiletry kit (from the one in my bathroom) so there's nothing to pack there. It's already in a packed bag all the time.

Clothes: I try to never take more than one weeks worth of clothes (and use the hotel laundry - you're traveling; it's work's responsibility to take care of such.)

Everything is about comfort as you travel. I'd suggest a pair of foldable (or collapsable) noise canceling headphones. They make quite a difference when you fly to reduce the low bass/stress level of the ambient noise.

Sleeping/health. Hydrate yourself (bottled water if you feel uncomfortable.) I always have a bottle near my bed. I'm usually exhausted, but I also bring with me about a 1/2 dozen benadryl. In stores and pharmacies there are a ton of caffeine/stay awake drugs, but almost zero sleeping remedies. Benadryl will help, 'just in case.' Bonus, since it's an antihistamine, if you get sick or have an allergic reaction, you have these with you. Make sure you have a 1/2 dozen or so advil/asprin. If you have any medical complications (diabetes, etc.) make sure you have some basic records with you (on a single page) along with your medical information.

Along with comfort is good sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed at the same time/wake (even when changing time zones.) I have a book I read while I'm near bed. The act of lying down and starting to read gets me sleepy.

Safety: I don't know where you're traveling. It's worth checking any/every country in the CIA fact book and Wikipedia. If the country is even mildy sketchy (food wise), make sure to only drink bottled water, never get ice in your drinks, and make sure food is cooked well (vs. the rare burger you have at home.)

Frequent flyer miles. Join every club you can (someone else books my flights; literally I've been on a half dozen different airlines.) Some hotel chains have this too.

Communications: Yes, get a travel sim card for your cellphone. I don't have a simcard with my cellphone (sprint), but the next time I'm overseas (within the next 6 mo.) I'm going to buy a cheap cell and go to Fixed pricing + a us phone number. I went without a cell for three weeks, and felt totally naked.

Get skype too (and maybe a bluetooth or small earbud headset. For most of my phone calls, I used skype. I find that my macbook pro and it's built in isight camera lets me 'see' people at 'home'; helps me keep from feeling too isolated from friends and family. I didn't have a headset - I used the built in microphone, but found that I needed to wear headphones so I didn't get an echo. Skype is really cheap phone calling (to telephone numbers) and free to other computers (also running skype.) It also seems the smartest in getting around firewalls. I called home from the middle east, and spent easily two to three hours on the phone for less than $3. Keep in mind that you need 'decent' speed internet for this (more for video than voice.) has the ability to remotely check and playback your messages (on your cellphone) for free. For $5/Month you can have your messages emailed to you as an mp3.

$200 cash; cash has been taken everywhere in almost every country I've been in. Maybe $200 in travelers checks too. Sure, your ATM card will work...well, most likely it'll work; but if there's a problem, having some actual money is very smart.

Quickly learn the conversion rate to dollars. You can get money exchanged in any hotel, but you'll pay about 10% more for this convenience.

Every country you go to: What's the address+phone number of the consulate/embassy? Register when you're coming and going. Sounds paranoid? Good. Keep a copy of your passport+credit cards hidden on your person (not your purse, not your bags.) You want this 'just in case.'

Before I fly, I always have a single printed page/summary of my itineracy - makes it easy to find my flight/hotel/client site in each place.

Make sure you do something local at each place you go. See a sight or two. Have a cheap (~$150) digital camera. Set up a flickr stream (or whatever service you like), so friends/family can see where you are/what you are doing.

Books and music. On my cell phone (treo), I happen to have about a hundred books. If you don't know how to do this, get a couple of throwaway paperbacks. Read them and give them away (why carry the book?) Some airports sell books, that if you read, you can return for 50% off on your return.

I also play games like sudoku and text twist on my treo. I find that it helps me gauge how sharp I am at any given moment (if I'm slower, I can tell I'm tired etc.)

Yes, have video ipod. Sonnet makes an external battery that gives me 6-8 hours extra of video on my ipod. Which is great on long flights, etc.

Expenses: I'm lazy about these. One envelope, per day, and I deal with it later.
posted by filmgeek at 5:21 AM on February 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

You already travel regularly, so you know the basics. The one piece of advice I have about heavy travel is to be superdisciplined about not working during those short visits home. Do your expenses and confirm the next week's travel plans before arriving home. Spend the flight home clearing your mind of work issues. Once you get home, turn off the cell phone and don't check your e-mail -- if work has a true emergency, they'll track down your home number.

Otherwise, as others have posted, try to stay hydrated and well rested, since being ill on the road is just not fun.
posted by backupjesus at 5:37 AM on February 27, 2007

Some good advice in this thread.
posted by mediareport at 5:39 AM on February 27, 2007

Oh, and don't buy spiffy new expensive-looking luggage that will look attractive to a thief.

On the other hand you could check if a spiffy new lightweight notebook computer is justified. The cheap end of the Panasonic Toughbook range combine durability with light weight, both of which help if you have a lot to carry.
posted by Idcoytco at 6:41 AM on February 27, 2007

For the last 8-10 months I've been a heavy traveler. When I do back-to-backs I try really hard to see friends when I'm home. It's important to me to reground when I'm on home turf.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:55 AM on February 27, 2007

Find a project you could complete in that three months time that would really improve the quality of your life in some way. I suggest learning to play a concert-sized Ukulele. They travel well, have the cheering effect of a banjo, and are loads of fun. The triumph is much cheaper but will need a set of good strings to sound decent. It can also be used for self-defense.
posted by mecran01 at 7:57 AM on February 27, 2007

if possible, ask to be put in a room with a kitchenette, or at least a fridge and a microwave so you don't have to eat out at every meal.
posted by j at 8:04 AM on February 27, 2007

I've had high-travel jobs. They're tough on all parties.

If you're going to the same cities regularly, I suggest finding a hotel you like (or at least in an area you like), and always using that hotel.

It's not home, but I found it comforting that I knew what my room would look like, how it would be furnished, what the local restaurants served, etc.

Evenings were always the toughest for me. The day was easy, since I was so busy with work. As such, I made sure I had engrossing (if not necessarily intellectual) ways to fill my time. If you have any hobbies that you can do in a hotel room, and require relatively little equipment, I'd do that.

Get as nice of a hotel as your company will let you swing. I know it seems like a waste to spend $300 or $400/night on a hotel, but it makes a huge difference in mental state. Low-end hotels are fine if you know you'll be home in a few days, but they fall apart in other situations.

Make sure you have a way to keep in touch, that won't have you counting minutes. I preferred a cell phone with unlimited mobile to mobile, and a bluetooth earpiece, so I could just lie in my hotel bed, or sit on a balcony, and chat with the missus.

For seeing the missus, occasionally I'd meet her either in the city I was working in, over the weekend, or I'd have us both fly someplace and meet there instead. I actually preferred the latter because it gave me something extra to look forward to... a weekend vacation.

best luck. it's hard, but it can be done.
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:03 AM on February 27, 2007

Oh, and I totally agree with filmgeek's suggestion of noise-cancelling headphones. Personally, I used Etymotic earphones. They don't cancel, but they cut a *huge* (20-30db) amount of external noise.

I know a lot of other people who used the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones.

My airplane sleep felt far more restful with those than without.
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2007

Oh, just noticed international travel. buy an "unlocked" quad-band GSM phone. (something like a RAZR). With this, you'll be able to buy pre-paid cellular service in whatever country you happen to be in. has unlocked cell phones here, and their quad-band ones are here.

(unlocked just means that it can be used with any provider, and quad-band means that it can speak to as many different kinds of cell systems as is possible.)
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:23 AM on February 27, 2007

On par with what Peak Oil said about staying in the same hotel as much as possible: If you're not traveling to the same cities, try find a hotel chain you like stay in their hotels as much as possible. Some chains (like Mariott) have rewards points, and also you will get consistent service and familiarity.
posted by radioamy at 9:24 AM on February 27, 2007

Lots of good advice here.

Reducing stress during travel is really about taking care of yourself. Good sleep hygiene is the most important skill you can learn.

Distinctive luggage is nice: when I'm at the end of a red-eye and crossing a lot of time-zones, I don't want to be trying to figure out which black wheely bag is mine. Also, tag your luggage with a laminated business card, presuming you have an office that can work as a stable contact point. This helps too if (when) a bag gets misplaced by the airlines.

Have an outfit and bag that makes going through security easy: loose-fitting and layered (comfortable hot or cold), slip-on shoes, non-metallic (no hand searches), a bag that opens easily for your laptop (external, not internal sleeves), easily accessible pocket for boarding pass and passport (I use a shirt pocket, but a jacket or pocket on your bag works too). Can you combine your handbag with your briefcase for travel? One less thing to keep track of is one less thing you can leave in the airport bar.

Use waiting times to get some work done. It's pretty much distraction free time and perfect to get paperwork out of the way. If you have long layovers (2 hrs+), spend that $30+ to get into the airline lounge (though with your travel, you may already have access for free: check your points). For really long layovers (6 hrs+) consider renting a room at the airport hotel. Excellent work (or nap) spaces. Restaurants can work too, but are often too crowded or rushed. I take books and magazines too, but travel time is a golden opportunity to clear your backlog, if you're feeling up to it.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2007

Some good advice in this thread and it sounds like you're an experienced business traveler. For most of the past seven years I've spent 40-60% of the time on the road and for the past year I've been traveling at least three out of every four weeks.

Some things that keep me sane and happy:

> Exercise I refuse to stay in a hotel that doesn't have a gym. Exercise has become a huge joy on the road--helps me shake off the stiffness of being in an irradiated aluminum tube for hours and clears my head.

> Noise canceling headphones If you're not using them you'll be stunned at how much more relaxed/less stressed you'll feel. I've tried several and am partial to the old school Bose QC2--if you wear glasses as I do the newer QC3 over the ear headphones will drive you nuts.

> Airline loyalty/status Airlines suck but having status on an airline means that you get better seats, faster check-in, and an asterisk next to your name int eh database marking you for special handling. If you fly a lot it's worth it.

> Airport lounges These are nice if you are traveling internationally or have stops or delays domestically (like say traveling through Chicago or Denver).

> Camera phone + Flickr Agree on the "get an unlocked phone" advice. I also suggest having a camera phone and some way (bluetooth, cable) to get pix off your phone without getting hit by data roaming charges. I use text messaging, photo messaging, and Flickr posting of snapshots I take to stay connected to friends and family.

> ExOfficio underwear
There are probably other brands that do the same but I'm hooked on the Ex Officio t-shirts and underwear (I'm a guy but they make them for women as well). These garmets wick away sweat, are odor resistant and fast drying and this means I can greatly reduce how much I need to pack and can easily wash them and dry them overnight in my hotel. Especially good for gym clothes (see above).

> EVDO Card If you're traveling a lot in the US then a Verizon or Sprint broadband card for your laptop is a must. It'll set you back $60 a month but you won't be paying crazy rates for WiFi *and* it's a total timesaver. I can typically clear my email in the cab from SFO or JFK to the city and that means I've just bought myself extra time to workout, rest, eat, whatever. It's fantastic when you're delayed in an airport.

> Friends I try and see friends when I'm traveling even if it's just for dinner or a drink. I find this makes me feel more connected when I travel and makes cities I frequent much homier to me.

> Carpe diem Business travel ain't leisure travel and I'll often spend a few days in a fantastic city and see nothing but cabs, hotels, conference rooms and restaurants. But I always try and have something in my back pocket--an art exhibit I've read about, some local landmark--so that if I have a meeting canceled or otherwise have a brief open spot on my schedule I can just pull the trigger and do something fun.
posted by donovan at 10:16 AM on February 27, 2007

My 2 cents, all of which contradicts other posters' advice:

-Get a Blackberry international phone (or comparable device). It should have e-mail and phone access all over the world without you having to buy something special in every location or pay roaming fees. Mine connects to the local network the second I land in 95% of the places I've ever been. Ideally, your work should be paying the bill.

-Don't pack handwash for your clothes -- use the shampoo you get in each hotel room. It works just fine and you have one fewer thing to carry.

-Bring a real camera -- it can be a small point-n-shoot, but you'll want something that takes better pictures than a cameraphone.

-If you haven't already, tie a colorful ribbon onto your luggage. No need to get something new just so it stands out on the baggage carousel.

Other than that, there's lots of good advice here that I'll be using too!
posted by equipoise at 11:36 AM on February 27, 2007

Pick up a portable, mindless hobby so that you can really turn your downtime (sitting at airport gates, taxiing to hotels, etc.) into downtime rather than working on projects constantly. Yarncrafts (knitting, etc.) or sudoku or listening to podcasts or a even a Gameboy can be very helpful toward allowing you relax and alleviate some of the stress inherent in the mundane parts of travel.
posted by Dreama at 3:11 PM on February 27, 2007

If you like to read, get one of the Sony Ebook readers.
That's about all I pack (instead of 5-6 books...)
Bonus: it's small enough that I can cart it everywhere...
posted by Arthur Dent at 3:13 PM on February 27, 2007

I'm just coming off spending the last two years commutng to Australia and New Zealand from New York (3 or 6 weeks there, 2-3 weeks home).

I'll echo the digital camera and bose headphone advice and strongly echo the ability to cook in your hotel room (or at least store breakfast and lunch stuff, fruit, etc) Exercise regularly.

I always spend time walking around whichever strange city I'm in, but I recognize that's easier for 6'2" 200lb guy than for many women. Still, try and see something of wherever you go. It makes the trip a little more than just work in a faraway lonely place (and you can see where you might want to go back on a trip with your husband)

I send a postcard to my nieces and nephews from wherever I visit on my travels - been doing this for 6 years now and they have a big album of postcards from all over the world. It's fun for them and it keeps me connected to my family wherever I am.

I also just keep my travel clothes, wash kit, everything duplicated, rather than trying to resort and repack after each trip. Wash, resupply, back in the bag for the next trip.

Finally organization - particularly in your laptop / work bag - I keep everything sorted in eagle creek pouches and always in the same place - that way I can immediately tell if something is out of place and not worry about leaving power supplies, notebooks, USB drives, etc at clients or in hotel rooms.

Bonus tip - if you leave a power supply somewhere or it breaks ask the hotel concierge if they have any. I was in Auckland and the power supply for my phone stopped working. I asked the concierge and he produced a big cardboard box with every make and model of computer, cellphone, and MP3 player power supply you could imagine. I borrowed one for the rest of my stay and gave it back to him at the end of the week. I imagine most large hotels have a similar stash.
posted by raoulm at 6:58 PM on February 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I travel about 90% of the time, but it's almost exclusively domestic, which changes things slightly.

First, organize and converge. Everything I carry can be charged with a USB port, and I carry my BlackBerry USB wall wart with me, and most things have multiple functions (i.e. my phone has a decent camera and plays my MP3s). Everything has its pocket, and I don't even have to think about what goes where, because if it's missing, I see its hole.

Second, segregate. There are my work clothes, and I travel with those, and there are my home clothes, and I do not travel with those. I've got seperate toiletries, laptop charge cables, &c as well. Basically, when I get home, I do laundry and then repack my clothes, and I'm done.

Third, enlighten. I pack exactly as many clothes as I need for the week (I go home nearly every weekend), and I have the lightest versions of everything I require. I pack everything into the smallest suitcase I can, and my laptop bag is pretty spartan, too. I only check a bag when I absolutely, positively, certainly cannot avoid it (current count: once).

Fourth, routinize. I can stumble through ATL bleary-eyed on 4 hours' sleep at 7 AM and still make it through security with no fuss because I keep everything the same, all the time. I use two bins in the airport line, I always wear my brown shoes (Monday's outfit is laid out on Sunday night before bed), &c. If there's something that can be regularized between trips, do it the same way every time.

Fifth, echoing the advice of those above, carpe diem, but also caveat travellor. In every city, I hit and see what's recommended, and start tossing around a few ideas-for-fun. Things I can do in the evenings like coffeeshops or cool restaurants (my shtick is vege/hippie) after work, which I promptly end at 5 local time. I know, sometimes walking off-site at closing time isn't a luxury you can afford, but if you're always in fire-drill mode, and work 15 hour days because that's what you're used to, you're going to burn out fast, and it's an easy thing to do when you don't have hubby waiting for you in the evenings to pull you away from the desk. Keep things interesting, even if it's tiring, but allow yourself to relax, too. It's all about balance, and that requires self-awareness. Don't be afraid to put your foot down and tell the client that you're available via phone, but you're going to go explore the city while they build that goddamned server again and waste another whole day.

Sixth, reconnect. I send postcards to my dad and a friend of mine. I don't update my blog any more, but I really, really should. I set my facebook and myspace statuses/names every week, so that people know where I am. Basically, I announce my travel loudly, and encourage my friends to take an interest. That way, if I'm completely bushed at the end of the week, I can sleep all weekend and never see anyone, and my bonds won't have weakened any. And don't, don't forget hubby. You've got support at home, and that's invaluable. Without it, doing what I do would be a million times harder.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 12:15 AM on February 28, 2007

I really want to thank everyone for their time and thoughtful comments. Some of them I can't use because of the specifics of my industry/situation: I don't get my expenses covered to the same degree that other road warriors do so I have to be careful how I spend money, I rarely have evenings free, I don't have control over where I stay. But everyone had great suggestions and thoughts.

I sent out the "Ask" as an email to some people in my industry [meeting planning] and here were some of the good tips they came back with.

1) Hold up your end of the housework when you are home, it can be easy to plead exhaustion, but that isn't fair. And whenever possible, get the house to "company is coming over" condition before you leave.

2) Make labels with addresses of people you want to write a postcard to.

3)Get down to the fewest number of shoes possible that you travel with. And don't ever bring shoes on-site that aren't comfortable.

4) If you already have Tivo, buy the wireless thing to have it on your home network. When you are home for 1-2 days you can download the shows you missed while you were gone to your laptop and watch them on your next trip.

5) Put any bills that are your responsibility [like home business ones] on auto-pay.

6) Find some reason to send your husband flowers or a surprise gift once while you are gone.

And I'll share my favorite trick. I have a Vonage line for my business phone, which means I can forward it to my cell phone if I'm someplace where I can take calls. If I'm not, the voicemail gets sent as a sound file to my e-mail account. When I'm on a cruise or someplace where I won't be able to call back a lot- I make that clear in my outgoing message and ask people to please leave an e-mail address that I can reply to.

I'm off to clean the house, backup my data, download some computer games, pick up some paperbacks at the thrift store, print address labels, and plan my clothes for the coming trip
posted by Mozzie at 8:42 AM on February 28, 2007

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