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What I have learned while travelling extensively for work

Over the last few years I’ve had to travel extensively for work. This means hundreds of flights and probably a hundred nights at different hotels as well.

Most of my travels have been within Europe meaning flights are fairly short (less than 5h).

These are notes based on my experience and are not intended as general rules suitable for everyone.

During my travels I’ve been optimizing for work productivity, living moderately healthy and maintaining routines that are sustainable over an extended period of time.

If you travel infrequently, like once per month or less, you can get away with having a shitty travel routine.

But traveling every week for years on end, the bad habits will take a heavy toll on you.

My advice is structured into seven categories. Feel free to pick and choose as you please.

Without further ado, here are my learnings. I hope they give you some new tips and tricks for your travels.

General advice

  • Healthy living while travelling extensively is difficult, but possible through rules, planning and discipline.
  • Sleep. For God’s sake sleep. 7-8h is possible with some planning and small sacrifices in social interactions.
  • Try to plan for something enjoyable. Planning for 30 mins of “you time” for intense travel days pay off. I know it’s difficult, but it’s worth it.
  • Have routines to ground you. Evening routine, morning routine, coming to the hotel routine, leaving the hotel routine.
  • Read up on your company travel policy and tax rules on reimbursements etc. If you know the rules, you can optimize. This adds up.
  • Have backup cash with you. Many countries are still cash centric and getting stuck in a taxi for 20 mins while the driver tries to get his or her credit card terminal to work sucks and can get you properly late for a meeting.
  • Check and save addresses to all your locations in notes and/or screenshots before departure. If you get problems with roaming etc. you still make it to where you are going.

Packing

  • Packing light makes everything easier.
  • Get a light bag. You will be carrying it around a lot. You will definitely notice the difference between a 1kg and a 2kg bag.
  • Get a bag which fits under the seat in front of you on the plane. It will happen from time to time you can’t fit your stuff in the overhead compartment.
  • Bring only one power plug and changeable cables. Less stuff to pack, less mess in your bag and a lighter load to carry. Trust me, these small things keep adding up.

Work gear

  • Keep you gear plugged in whenever it’s possible. You’ll minimize the risk of running out of battery and eliminate the need for a power pack.
  • Switch to a light laptop. A 1kg difference is noticeable with hours and hours of carrying it around.
  • I’ve also done many trips with just an iPad and no laptop. Depending on what you do, you might or might not be able to pull this off. I’d like to be able to do so more often, but the restrictions are too many at this time.
  • Get a screen protector for your laptop for privacy.
  • If you do external presentations, have everything also stored in a cloud account and bring your own display adaptors for HDMI and VGA.
  • If you use a paper notebook, choose a small and light notebook. It will take up less space in your bag, weigh less and is more convenient in spaces with limited table space like the airplane, the airport and many conference rooms.
  • The more digital you make your work, the easier it is to work on the go. Get rid of everything that’s on paper.

Clothing

  • Merino wool rocks, you can wear it for days on end. Socks, t-shirts, underwear, sweaters and shirts are available in merino wool. Even suits come in merino, but having tried both pants and jackets in merino, I can’t recommend them.
  • Plan outfits based on the same basic pieces. This will lead to lighter packing and switchability between pieces. Everything you pack should go well with everything else you pack. Don’t bring pieces that only fit together with some other specific pieces.
  • Plan pieces of clothing to allow for easy switching between more and less formal styles. With a shirt, jacket, sweater and t-shirt, you can pull of almost any level of (un-)formality and wear a different outfit for many days with just a few pieces.
  • Wear comfortable shoes (which doesn’t mean they can’t be stylish). You’ll end up standing and walking a lot.

Eating and drinking

  • Severely limit alcohol intake. There’s usually drinks offered at way too many occasions and alcohol will be bad for sleep, energy and working out.
  • Alcohol free beer and club soda with lemon or lime will make you fit right in when others are drinking and you want to be sharp the next day.
  • At dinners, you can simply leave 2/3 of all servings of wine behind if you feel weird about refusing completely. Same goes for food. If you have big dinners, you will inevitably get fat if you indulge everything. Even with a solid workout routine.
  • Airport and airplane food is unhealthy. As is most restaurant food. Modify your orders. No fries, extra side salad, no dressing etc. Or you will get fat.
  • Don’t buy treats or snacks at the airport. You don’t need comfort food.

Working out

  • Change gym shoes to gym socks, it makes packing so much easier. I use Skinners.
  • A resistance band makes on-the-go workouts easier. It weighs almost nothing and packs into a very small space. Check out and try out resistance band exercises at home. You won’t have the stamina to research and learn on the go.
  • Google gyms and their opening hours in advance. Choose a hotel with a gym near by. Hotel gyms suck 99% of the time, so use a regular gym.
  • One-time fees to gyms are expensive, but that’s simply a cost you must take if you intend to stay fit with frequent travel.
  • If you’re in a position to do so, tell the hosting party that you’ll need an hour for yourself at a certain time, like between the meetings of the day and dinner. Usually people will assume you need to work or take some calls. This allows you to get a workout done.
  • The best time to secure a workout is early morning. Many gyms open at 6 or 6:30, which means you can work out, shower and have a good breakfast before an 8:30 start. 8:00 if you’re fast.
  • Find ways to walk. If I have time, I often ask taxies to drop me off 1-2 km from the office or hotel I’m going to. This is an enjoyable walk with light baggage, but not so fun with a trolly to drag along. I’ve tried walking for several kilometres with a trolly on cobble stone streets and I can assure you, it’s not enjoyable.

Flights and hotels

  • Having premium frequent flyer status makes life easier. Faster security, premium seats, priority boarding, free internet, lounge access etc. Otherwise all the minor annoyances add up over time.
  • Sign up to all the frequent flyer and hotel reward programs. Things add up over time.
  • Pre-plan work for flights, download everything, figure out how offline mode works in different apps and charge your batteries in advance.
  • Get back to the hotel 30-60 min before heading to bed. This allows to relax a bit and makes for better sleep than just falling straight into bed.
  • If you need to stop at security for unpacking or undressing, you’re doing something wrong. Optimize! You should be able to just walk through even if you need to get your laptop out and jacket off.
  • If you know you need something, like water or cough drops, buy them at the destination airport after landing. You will not have time to find a shop somewhere during the day or evening.
  • Use the same hotels in frequent destinations. It will make life easier. You’ll sleep better and need to worry less about how things work and where things are. You’ll also know what foods are available so you can plan for proper and healthy meals instead of chasing cravings when your exhausted after a long day.
  • Don’t put anything in drawers or cupboards at hotels. You will forget something for sure. Leave everything in sight so it’s easy to scan the surfaces for stuff before leaving.
  • In most hotels any card, even a business card, will work to keep the lights and outlets on. This is crucial if you want to charge devices while you’re out of the room.
  • Avoid shitty flight times whenever possible. The monetary savings will come from your attention and energy. (Yes, I’m talking about you, 6:00 Lufthansa flight from Helsinki to Frankfurt and/or Munich.)
  • I take the car to the airport. This effectively stops the urge to have a beer or some wine on the plane ride home. The temptation is there after long and exhausting days.
  • Flights are good for collecting thoughts, making and clarifying notes and doing emails in offline mode. Be aware that secure email might not work offline, even if the email client has a separate offline mode.
  • Stand up a few times during the flight. Once per hour is doable. Your body will thank you.
  • Prebook airport parking. It’s faster and cheaper.
  • In many cities it might be much faster and more reliable to take an airport train to the city compared to using taxis. Google this before departure.

By Pär Österlund

Pär is a generalist interested in marketing, innovation and personal growth.

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