7 self-care tips for frequent travelers

How do you take care of yourself on the road? It’s important to find what works for you
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I travel quite a lot for my job. This is fine – it’s what I signed up for, and it’s mitigated significantly by the fact that I work from home the rest of the time. That means that (video calls permitting), I can pop down to see the kids when they get back from school or share a dog walk with my wife.

But travel isn’t as easy as it was a couple of decades ago. I’d like to believe that this is because my trips are more frequent, and often longer, but I suspect that it’s more to do with the passage of time on my body. There’s more than just the wear and tear, however, and I think it’s worth talking about it because I’m sure it’s not just me.

I sometimes feel down. I sometimes get peeved, and cross, and angry for little or no reason. I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental illness, but if you have feelings or thoughts that disturb you or that are having a negative impact on you or those around you, seek help. There should be no stigma associated with mental illness or with those seeking help to battle it.

I do need to own this feeling. It’s not me at my best: I’m not going to be able to perform my job to the best of my ability, and it’s not healthy. To get an even keel again, what works and what doesn’t for those of us who travel frequently?

Factors that do and don’t work for me

1. No: Alcohol and over-eating

One article I read pointed out that having a few drinks or eating a tub of ice cream when you’re traveling and feeling down “because you deserve it” isn’t self-care; it’s self-medication. I like this dictum. Alcohol, though a dis-inhibitor, is also a depressant, and even if it makes you feel better for a while, you’re not going to be thanking last-night-you for the hangover you have in the morning, particularly if you’ve got a meeting or a presentation.

There’s also the fact that you’re unlikely to sleep well after significant alcohol intake, and sleep isn’t something you want to stint on.

[ Read our related story: 8 ways to reclaim sanity at work and home. ]

2. Yes: Exercise

I never used to bother much with exercise, particularly when I was traveling. But now I try to hit the gym when I’m staying in a hotel, maybe every other day. I also find opportunities to walk to meetings or meals instead of taking a taxi. I track the steps I take and aim for 10,000 every day. This can be difficult when you’re in meetings all day, but little things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can get you closer to your goal.

If you have a free day in a city, particularly on a weekend, take a walking tour.

If you have a free day in a city, particularly on a weekend, take a walking tour. I’ve done a few of these, particularly food-themed ones in which you get to stretch your legs while seeing the sites and trying some local cuisine. You also get to meet new people, which can make your trip more memorable.

3. Yes and no: People

Sometimes what I need to pull myself out of a gloomy mood is to spend some time with people. Even if it’s just on the edges of a conversation, not engaging too much, being around people I know and value can be a positive thing.

On other occasions, I crave solitude. Sometimes I won’t know until I turn up for dinner, say, that I’m really not in the right head space for company. I’ve found that if you plead jet lag, colleagues are generally very understanding, and if a loud-mouthed colleague insists that you stay and join in, find a quieter colleague and explain that you need to get back to the hotel early.

4. Yes: Reading

Books are a great escape. Whether you carry a paperback in your bag, have an e-reader, or just read on your phone, you can go “somewhere else” for a bit. I find that having a physical book or e-reader is helpful, as you’re more protected from the temptation to check the email that’s just come in.

5. Yes: Headphones

What did we do before headphones? I can insulate myself from the world and take a breath before rejoining it.

What did we do before headphones?

I try to keep a set in my pocket wherever I’m going, and I connect my phone whenever I get a chance. I may wander the floor of an Expo with music on, sit down with a cup of tea for a five-minute break during a meeting, or wait for a session to start with something soothing playing.

Of course, it doesn’t need to be soothing; I might be in the mood for classical, upbeat, loud, quiet, downbeat, indie, New Orleans jazz, bluegrass, or folk. That’s one of the joys of having music available pretty much anytime. Insulating myself from the world and taking a metaphorical breath before rejoining it can make a big difference.

6. Yes, with care: Caffeine

I don’t drink coffee – I don’t like the taste – but I do drink tea. It can be difficult to find a good cup of tea in North America, but I’ve discovered that when I can source one, the very act of sitting down and drinking it grounds me. Smell and taste are important senses for us, and I associate the smell and taste of tea so strongly with home and safety that a good cup of tea can do wonders. That said, if I drink too much tea, I can get cranky (not to mention the fact that it’s a diuretic), and then I miss it if I can’t get it. So there’s a balance there.

7. Yes: Breathing

Breathing is helpful, obviously. There’s a real power to stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deep, purposeful breaths. I’m sure there’s lots of science (and probably pseudo-science) around this, but try it – it can be really fantastic. If you wear a smart watch, it will remind you to do so every so often.

Look out for yourself – and your colleagues

Please look after yourself and find whatever actions help you. My intention with this article isn’t to provide fixes for other people, but to share a few things that help me, and most important, to acknowledge the strains of travel. If we do this, we can recognize the need to support our family members, friends, and colleagues who are experiencing them too.

If you become ill – physically, emotionally, or mentally – you will not be functioning at your best. It is in your and your organization’s best interests for you to be well and healthy.

Do you have other self-care suggestions? Share them in the comments field below.

[ Is frequent travel causing turbulence in your life? Read How to be more productive while traveling and Finding balance: CIOs share how they prioritize work and family.]

Mike Bursell joined Red Hat in August 2016, following previous roles at Intel and Citrix working on security, virtualisation, and networking. After training in software engineering, he specialised in distributed systems and security, and has worked in architecture and technical strategy for the past few years.

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