Traveling for work can be a blessing and a curse. There’s the awesome part, where you get to see new and interesting places on the company’s dime. Plus, if I’m honest, sometimes sleeping alone in a dark quiet room, sprawled out on a king size bed is heaven (sorry, mi familia!).
But when you factor in the unpredictability and stress that inherently comes along with being on the road or up in the air, it’s no wonder many people avoid traveling for work.
Through the years, as my personal work travel has multiplied, I’ve come up with some tools and hacks that help me not just get through the work and travel experience, but help me thrive as well. If you are ready to live by the scout motto and “always be prepared,” read on as I take you through some of the tactics, apps and tools I rely on to stay sane when traveling for work.
List me once, list me twice
Whether you choose a Post-it note, paper journal, cloud-based web app, or a mobile device, lists are imperative. Think about a simple trip to the supermarket. You can either meander up and down every aisle tossing things into your cart on a whim – or show up with a structured list that serves as the ingredient list of your weekly meal plan. There’s no doubt that the tactic involving a list will get you closer to your nutrition goals.
Traveling for work is no different. From packing before you leave to listing the things you want to accomplish for both business and pleasure, a list keeps you targeted. A few of my favorite work and travel list tools:
Moleskin journal: Sorry, millennials. I’m still a paper and pen person. And I still get bizarrely satisfied when I cross out a task that has been accomplished with good old-fashioned ink. These streamlined pads travel light and look great. Side note: I favor Bic 4-Color Pens so I can color code what I’m working on. I find this makes it easier when I inevitably scan through my notes at a later date.
Wunderlist: Your to-do list is only as effective as your ability to access it anytime, anywhere. This collaborative list-making app works on virtually any connected device and allows you to share or co-list with friends, family and/or team members. No wonder Microsoft gobbled up the firm a couple of years ago.
My desk, my rules
Keeping your desk at work (and home!) clutter-free is a task. Actually, it’s a chore. When traveling for work, I have learned that reserving “office” space solely for work encourages me to utilize the desk for what it was made for, not as a makeshift dresser/coffee table/ironing board.
I like to pretend that the housekeeping staff will take photos of my hotel room desk and post them on social media and send them to my boss. The last thing I want is for them to catch a stray sock or room service tray in their photo!
Another thing I do which might sound a bit strange (if most of this hasn’t already) is that I schedule a daily desk cleanup. You might not make your bed when you are away on business, but you should make it a point to tidy up your work area every morning. Waiting for housekeeping can cost you valuable (and productive) hours.
Oh, and typing away on the bed is a no-no, too. Put that laptop/phone away well before it’s time to catch some much-needed Zzzzs. Sleeping well when traveling for work should be a primary goal. More on that in a bit.
Know thy nutrition
Most of us know what we should eat, and that’s hard enough to stick with at home. So when work and travel intersect, a perfect storm is often created, one that leads to last-minute, calorically crazed meals. However, with the proper planning, you will find that you don’t need the amount of discipline you might expect. My two big tips regarding eating when traveling for work:
Keep snacks on hand. Control what you can control by traveling with several snacks, ensuring that you will have a suitable snack during travel delays or when that meeting goes into overtime. This is also a godsend for people who need to regulate their blood sugar for medical or mood reasons. And if food doesn’t impact your mood, you might not be human.
Research dining options in advance. Have a plan of where you will eat and when. Call me an exploratory buzzkill, but knowing where your next meal is coming from will save you time, stress and fend off any “hangry” episodes. Not to mention, it will allow you to make better choices more often.
I’m app’y and I know it
Those of us traveling for work may not have a solution for long airport lines or miles of vehicular traffic, but true road (and sky!) warriors can download several apps to alleviate some of travel’s pain points.
Before you head out for your next conference or business trip, download these travel-friendly apps.
Plugs of the World
This ad-free app is a must for international business travelers. It features a straightforward guide that contains information about AC power plugs and voltages in over 200 regions around the globe.
Nothing moves the needle on the stress-o-meter like travel. Do yourself a favor and download this app that encourages meditation, a practice proven to reduce negative energy. After giving the free 10-day trial a whirl, you’ll understand why there have been over 6 million downloads.
Generally safe and reliable, Uber gives business travelers more control over how they get from point A to point B. They also don’t have to worry about having cash at the ready. Set up a business profile and automatically receive an email that includes a map – this makes reimbursement with your employer a cinch. (See Expensify too!)
Probably the most important app in my arsenal, Evernote ensures that everything I’ve written, annotated and collected is accessible anywhere. This is incredibly useful when putting together presentations from the road. Paid versions offer up to 10 GB of space to store everything you could ever possibly need.
White Noise – Sleep Well
You can pick your hotel, but you can’t pick your hotel neighbors. That’s why both light and heavy sleepers alike should download a noisemaking app. Choose from a variety of audio to drown out unwanted sounds.
Save time and money by loading a digital membership card on your phone. Plus, save on travel, find cheap gas, view maps and find discounts. The app was recently overhauled, so if you haven’t given it a go recently, try it again!
iOS Android (coming soon)
Tell the app where you are going, on which dates, and it will look at the climate and the weather to offer up suggestions on what to pack. Checklists can be shared with friends and coworkers.
Timely Alarm Clock
Simple interface to set an alarm and even design the appearance and interface of your personalized clock. Snooze the phone with a simple turn. Or, if you’re worried about missing that 9 a.m. seminar, set a challenge to dismiss the alarm.
Additional traveling for work tips
There are plenty of other ways to stay organized when traveling for work. I’m a huge fan of the Grid-It organization system. This “rubberized woven elastic object retention system for gadget organization” is killer, allowing you travel with all sorts of devices and cords, giving them a concealed home base.
It’s also worth Googling “packing cubes” or “travel bag insert.” These soft-shell organizers help compliment your carry-on or luggage by giving you a place to stash bits and pieces by category.
Etsy, a marketplace for homemade goods, is a great place for unique travel accessories that can help keep you organized. From curated traveling kits to homemade utility belts, there’s something for everyone.
Even more traveling for work tips
Have extra room in your luggage or carry-on? Consider these work and travel items as well.
Mobile hotspot. Many smartphones handle this today, but if your device is not compliant or you are light on data, consider a standalone hotspot.
Backup battery charger. Your boss is not going to want to hear that your laptop died while taking notes.
Door jammer. Many business travelers sight security as an issue when on the road. Take “locking” matters into your own hands with a portable safety device.
Chromecast/Roku/Amazon Fire Stick. Let’s face it; many hotels are still light in the in-room entertainment department. These light devices are a breeze to travel with and can keep you entertained during quiet periods.
Hot/cold packs. Another common complaint of flyers is the unpredictable (and often fluctuating) cabin temperature. Throw a disposable ice pack and/or heater in your carry-on bag to ensure optimal comfort.
And my final personal work and travel tips
When traveling for work I have started to bring my Marpac Dohm dual-speed sound conditioner wherever I go. It’s a bit heavy, but it’s a small price to pay for comfort (and silence!) that reminds me of home.
Also, I keep my travel-size toiletries in a separate case – and I do not use them when I am not traveling – even if I run out of something I need. Keep your travel kit well stocked and take inventory every few weeks. This will save you pre-trip planning in the future.
Last but not least is my favorite piece of advice for staying calm and on task when traveling for work. It’s a practice that can apply to many areas of life: thought stopping. This technique has you stop dead in your tracks when you feel your mind wandering. Simply think “Stop!” and return your focus to the where you originally wanted it to be. You’ll be amazed at how effective this simple practice can be.
There are plenty of pros and cons when traveling for work. And it’s impossible to bring everything with you when you travel for business. However, with a little planning, you can be confident that all of your bases are covered the next time you’re away from home.
Traveling for work? Share your work and travel tips in the comments section.