Everyone knows a business trip can leave you feeling grumpy and groggy, and now science has confirmed the adverse physical and mental effects of excessive time as a road warrior.
Recent research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine demonstrates a direct correlation between higher rates of business travel and negative health outcomes. Frequent business travelers are more likely to smoke, drink excessively, and/or exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has spent endless hours squeezed into airplane seats and sleeping in lumpy hotel beds. The question is whether we can do better. Business travel is a reality in the modern workplace — in fact, many young professionals seek out business reasons to travel — but with some planning and a dash of optimism, it won’t leave travelers feeling down. The key is to adopt the right mindset and eliminate as much stress as possible. A little attitude shift can transform a business trip from an endless work week into a vacation with a few meetings to attend.
Like any other travel, this approach involves some planning and carries a few obligations, but it also creates unique opportunities for growth and enjoyment. Business travelers who adopt this attitude give themselves the chance to return home feeling accomplished, not diminished. Don’t just survive your next business trip; thrive while you’re there. Here are some tips to ease the pressure:
1. Add a dose of leisure.
To fight that never-left-the-airport feeling, some convention-goers and meeting attendees schedule time for sightseeing or rest and relaxation. The popularity of this practice (known as “bleisure travel”) is increasing: The number of blended business-leisure trips grew to 17 percent in 2016 from 11 percent in 2012. This trend is driven by lower travel costs and a desire on the part of younger professionals to maximize professional productivity even while on vacation. Injecting some leisure into a work trip could mean extending your time out of the office for a few days or simply taking a couple of hours after a meeting to enjoy a new city and soak up the atmosphere. This approach encourages travelers to look forward to their business trips and see them as something other than unwanted time away from home.
2. Do your homework before you go.
The most stressful part of a business trip is usually the logistics. Having to find hotel rooms, transportation, suitable restaurants, or late-night dry cleaning are all unwelcome distractions to travelers who would rather focus on work or leisure. Worse, the stress caused by an unfamiliar city often bleeds into business meetings and follows the traveler home. Planning in advance is the solution, but it’s never easy to learn a city before arriving. Luckily, modern technology can simplify the booking and planning processes. Tools like RoomIt show business travelers their company’s agreed-upon room rates and all the area hotels that fit the budget. To really feel like a local, though, go beyond booking tools. Read a few local food blogs, save some restaurant options to Google Maps, and suggest a unique post-convention dinner spot. Your colleagues will thank you.
3. Act more upbeat than you feel.
You know how no one likes a whiner at work? Well, no one likes a crabby convention buddy, either. The goal is not to be manically happy but rather consciously upbeat. Try to find the upside during conversations, make a point to invite others for coffee, or have some gum or mints on hand to share. Small, helpful steps will improve your own mood and the mood of others around you. And don’t discount the power of positive thinking. Research has shown that people who feel happy tend to walk standing upright and strutting briskly. In fact, when people consciously adopt this style of walking, they can make themselves feel happier. This is just one example of how a little effort can go a long way toward reframing your mindset.
4. Make the most of networking opportunities.
Networking is where business obligations morph into human relationships. That doesn’t necessarily mean that networking is about making friends for life, but it is about making meaningful connections with clients and colleagues. Getting rare face time on a business trip and expanding your professional network will remind you why you traveled in the first place. Networking is often a challenge, but there are some effective strategies. Start by studying the list of attendees and deciding whom you want to meet and why. Be sure to bring a lot of business cards, and keep notes about everyone you met and what you talked about.
Finally, don’t limit networking time to conferences or trade shows: Follow up with a quick note or a new introduction once you’re back home. Each person you meet is a potentially valuable connection. If there is a formula to stress-free business travel, it goes something like this: Control the things you can and put the best face on the things you can’t. Business travel is always going to cause some stress and strain. The travelers who make it home with their health intact are the ones who set themselves up for success well before the journey begins.