Overcoming the Pitfalls of Business Travel
Work + Life Balance

Overcoming the Pitfalls of Business Travel

by Lulu Xiao
Photos Diana Zapata | June 08, 2015

TRAVELING FOR BUSINESS CAN BE EXHAUSTING AND LONELY. BUT THESE HELPFUL TIPS CAN MAKE LIFE ON THE ROAD EASIER.

When I first started traveling as a consultant two years ago, I was so pumped for all of the adventures to come. I imagined a glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle of hotel beds with fluffy pillows, rooms that I never had to clean, flight attendants and hotel receptionists who catered to my preferences, decadent dinners, chance encounters with interesting people, and incredible stories to tell. The constant traveling was why I was attracted to consulting in the first place. My only concern was that I wouldn’t get to travel internationally—or travel frequently enough. 

Related: How To Make the Most of a Work Trip

But then I started traveling every week (to Miami and other “cool” places, no less!), so that I could be on client sites Mondays through Thursdays.

And very quickly, the excitement wore off.

In many ways, traveling was fun. I met amazing people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise and had the chance to explore new cities. However, the truth was—waking up at 3am every Monday morning to catch a flight was exhausting. Scrambling to finish all of my errands on my already-precious weekends was stressful. Only being able to stock my fridge with condiments and foods with a long shelf life felt sort of pathetic. Moreover, not knowing where I’d be the next few weeks was tough. I couldn’t book flights until right before trips, because I didn’t know what city I’d be flying to or out of. And even though I am an introvert, returning to an empty hotel room during the week was lonely.

I didn’t truly appreciate the comfort of stability and familiarity in my life until I started traveling.

I didn’t truly appreciate the comfort of stability and familiarity in my life until I started traveling.

To say that I’ve been able to fully resolve my struggles with constant travel would be a lie. I have, however, found comfort in some helpful practices.

1. CREATE ROUTINES

One of the challenges of having to travel was that my plans changed frequently. Sometimes my flights were delayed or I unexpectedly had to stay an extra day on the client site. I also didn’t know where my next project would be based, so although I was flying to D.C. one week, I could find myself on a plane to Dallas the next. Even though I did my best to roll with the changes, my life often felt completely out of my control and it was tough.

In response, I created routines for myself. Regardless of what city I was in, I would head to the grocery store on the first evening in the new city to grab some snacks for the week. After heading back to the hotel each night, I would eat dinner and watch TV for a bit before heading to the gym for a workout. When I got to the airport on Thursdays, I would head to the travel marts and browse the magazines for a few minutes. The routines gave me something that I could expect and look forward to; it added some stability to my everyday life.

2. SCHEDULE REGULAR ACTIVITIES

Similarly, committing to regular activities or clubs in a new city can introduce some normalness to an unfamiliar place. {Click to tweet} A colleague on one of my projects was great about doing this. When we were in Miami, she signed up for a local gym’s spin class and on Mondays and Wednesdays, she would go to spin class after work. Although she was technically on “client site” Mondays through Thursdays, she made the new city feel like home by doing things she would have otherwise been doing back home.

Related: How I Traveled Alone (And How You Can, Too)

3. MAKE FRIENDS

People are what make a place feel like home. And I found that developing relationships with people in a new city—whether it’s with your team or people that you run into—can immediately make a new place feel comforting.

People are what make a place feel like home. And I found that developing relationships with people in a new city can immediately make a new place feel comforting.

Just like when you move to a city for the first time, it’s easy to feel isolated and lonely; you must make an effort to build your new friend group. And when you are on client sites Mondays through Thursdays, you are spending more time away from “home” than in it, so it makes sense to act as if you are establishing yourself in a new place.

At first, when I was changing projects every few weeks, it was hard for me to engage with others. I made connections only to have to say good-bye a few weeks later….over and over again. I often questioned, “Is it even worth it?” But whenever I did make the effort to make friends, however brief our in-person friendship lasted, it was so rewarding. It was nice to just be able to see a familiar face at Dunkin’ Donuts every morning or to try a new restaurant with new people I had met.

4. PERSONALIZE YOUR HOTEL ROOM

After a long day at work, it’s a relief to come back to the solace of your apartment or room. When you’re on the road, however, your only option is coming back to a standard hotel room. You don’t return to pictures of friends and family that remind you that you are supported or inspirational quotes that give you a motivational boost.

There are still things you can do to make your hotel room seem more familiar, though. For instance, I bring pictures to set up on my bedside table. I pack candles to light at night. And when I need an extra bit of positivity, I buy flowers to leave in my room.

Of course, I am never able to fully re-create my bedroom, but I am able to make my home base (wherever that may be) feel a little more like my own place.

5. CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE

Finally, if you realize that traveling every week and constantly being on the road is not for you, you can make a change. In some cases, this may mean a job change, but it doesn’t have to. Some of my colleagues have been able to negotiate traveling every other week for longer-term projects. I ultimately decided that traveling every week wasn’t for me and have only pitched myself for local projects. Taking a temporary or permanent break from traveling is not uncommon and it’s your prerogative to at least ask for one, if needed.

As young people, we hear a lot that this is the time to travel, but traveling for work—particularly every week—is different from traveling for fun. Admittedly, I still feel a pang of jealousy when I see colleagues of mine heading off to cool places like San Francisco or the Philippines. However, my break from constant travel has allowed me to regain balance in my life.

As young people, we hear a lot that this is the time to travel, but traveling for work—particularly every week—is different from traveling for fun

And, at least for now, I’m in a better place.

Related: Best Apps for Business Travel