When I first started my career as a Developer Evangelist, I was warned by multiple people about the dangers of business travel burnout. As someone who only recently started traveling for work, this seemed impossible to me. Traveling for work? Getting paid to visit other cities? Ummmm… bring on the burnout!
From the perspective of someone who usually spent her days in a stuffy office, the idea of working remotely from airport lounges, networking at conference happy hours, visiting several cities in one week, and staring longingly out an airplane window seemed like a glamorous lifestyle. And then… September 2017 happened.
In the span of two weeks I was speaking at three conferences in three separate cities, celebrating my birthday, and meeting with my partner for a mini “vacation” in NY before starting my new job.
In my mind, here’s what I thought that would look like:
In reality, this is what it looked like:
Traveling for work, I soon came to learn, was glamorous and pretty %#@*ing exhausting. The highs were very high (eat In-N-Out on the Paramount lot on my birthday at the Linux Foundation after party), and the lows were quite low (not having good wifi on a flight and reading the in-flight safety instructions multiple times).
Lesson learned: business travel burnout is very real… but there’s hope! Business travel burnout can also be avoided. Here are my top tips on how to stay sane while things get insane:
Limit Your Plans with Friends
When you know you’re visiting a major city, it can be very tempting to reach out to friends and family while you’re out there. For example, I hadn’t been back to Los Angeles or New York in quite some time, and preemptively reached out to family and friends to let them know I’d be in town. What I soon came to realize is that there simply is not enough time on most business trips to fit everyone in. As a result, I had to overbook myself, apologize a lot to those I promised to make time for, and feel like a really crappy human for all of the “Gah- maybe next trip??” texts I had to send. ?
My tip: Limit yourself to 1 friend/family visit per trip.
As much as we plan ahead, things inevitably come up while on the road. Meetings get pushed back, events run late, exclusive after party invitations get sent out, and sometimes you could really use a night introverting-it-up at your hotel. Help yourself stay sane by limiting the amount of social planning you have to organize. So, when you post that picture from that after party in New York on Facebook and your buddy comments “HEY! You’re in NY?? Why didn’t you reach out? ?”, you can say “Business trip- I’ll be back soon! ?”. Better to be a busy friend than a flakey friend.
Don’t Rely on Plane WiFi
I feel like Alanis Morrissette should update “Ironic” with a line that says ; “It’s like plane WiFiiiiiii when you don’t have any work to do”. It always works well when you don’t need it, and is broken/slow/terrible when you have some sort of deadline/talk to write/urgent email to send. In other words, plane WiFi is like a printer: it works most of the time, but when you’re in a hurry/have a deadline/desperately need it? It doesn’t work.
My tip: Always assume plane WiFi isn’t working.
This way, you’ll never be put in a situation like many of us have been in. You know… those ones where you thought you’d have 10+ hours to work on that talk you had put off, and actually end up having to stay up until 2am getting it done. Help yourself be prepared by downloading the things you need to be productive, be that research materials, developer tools, or that talk you need to memorize. You can even print it out (if your printer decides to work) like people did in olden times!
Additionally, don’t forget podcasts, Netflix shows, and movies- or you’ll end up like me on the way back from Copenhagen… being forced to watch some bizarre Jack & Ozzy Osbourne television show where they visit Stonehenge (true story).
It’s Totally Ok to Sleep-In & Nap
If you’re anything like me, when visiting another city you want to explore and experience all of the food, coffee, and picturesque spots you can while you’re there. It’s tempting to try to fit in as many fun extracurricular things you can between all of the meetings, events, talks, and conference happy hours you have scheduled. How on Earth could you travel to [insert cool location here] and not try [insert cool food/experience/etc. here]?!
My tip: Let yourself recharge and rest.
I’m here to tell you, it’s ok to sleep in. It’s also ok to just hang out in your hotel room after networking with a room full of chatty humans all day and watch that new episode of Broad City. You’re human, and when you’re home I’m sure you give yourself an ample amount of time to decompress post-work, right? Treat travel-you like you treat normal-you, and make sure to relax and recharge. even our friends at American Express Global Business Travel support rest as a way to combat Business Travel Burnout.
Don’t Lose Those Good Habits
When we’re home, we have a routine. Maybe you work out every morning, perhaps you avoid carbs, or maybe you’ve started meditating daily. When we’re in new time zones, with new surroundings, and forced into new environments, it’s easy to find excuses not to stick to our usual habits.
My tip: Don’t let your good habits slip.
Before your business travel (or perhaps on the plane ride there) make a list of the habits you want to make sure you stick to, and try your best to cross them off daily. For me, it’s working out, meditating, coding, and avoiding sugar/carbs (except for special occasions). It helps me to wear a ring I usually don’t wear while I travel, so I am reminded to check-in with myself when I fidget with it ?. I also plan ahead by packing healthy snacks (personally, I try to keep to the keto diet, so lots of pork rinds and jerky for me) and checking if my hotel/AirBnb has a gym (and plan accordingly by scheduling yoga/a run at a local park, etc.).
Give Yourself a Vacation from Your Vacation
My tip: Give yourself a vacation from your “vacation”.
The truth is, traveling for work can be exhausting and business travel burnout is real. I am always tempted to tack on an extra day or two in whatever city I’m visiting to have time to explore. The problem is, we inevitably get back late on a Sunday, never end up unpacking, and we feel exhausted/jet-lagged/unprepared for that Monday at work, and end up feeling stressed and overwhelmed the following week. Make sure you give yourself the time to decompress from your travels. Yes, spending an extra day in New Orleans after your conference sounds fun, but you can always come back for a real vacation. Being in a good headspace upon your return is the key.
TLDR: Be kind, patient, and realistic with yourself when traveling for work. You’re human; we’ve all stress-eaten a tube of Pringles during a layover while half-asleep in an airport lounge. Being mindful of your mental and physical health is important, and worth planning ahead for.
Have some tips of your own? Comment them below! How do you stay (relatively) sane while traveling for work? How do smart female business travelers combat business travel burnout?