‘My bags are packed and I’m ready to go’, so goes the song by John Denver. Is this part of your life as well? For some of us, leaving on a jet plane, seems to be a recurring theme. I have worked in jobs where traveling three to four days a week was a routine. Some people on IT pre-sales jobs travel for up to twenty-five days a month. My friends at the glamorous strategy consulting firms travel from Monday to Friday every week, year after year, decade after decade. Many senior bankers visiting India start their tour from faraway Australia and cover Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Bangalore, Mumbai and Dubai before heading back via Hong Kong. It may be a passion for some and necessity for others, but business travel is a reality of life.
And it takes a toll on our mind and body. Adjusting to new time-zones, eating the most delicious food (read heavy) of each region, few glasses of wine, beer or liquor every night, haphazard sleep, eating on the go, uncomfortable hotel beds and so on are part and parcel of the life of a business traveler. I have seen many people crumble under this strain and call it quits.
But I have also seen a few ultra-disciplined professionals, who sleep instantaneously on a flight as if the pilot turned on the sleep button before starting the engines. These guys watch their diet and drink while they travel. Some even hit the gym everyday. I realize that this extreme control is difficult for most of us to follow whether we travel short domestic sectors or long transcontinental ones.
Here I list a few tips for you to emerge fresh and healthy from your business travel. After all you don’t want to quit due to not taking care of yourself during travel or sleep for two full days upon your return.
Plan the schedule of each day
In your mind, run each day’s schedule tentatively. Using this exercise figure out various time slots when you can carry out some health or well-being activity. This activity could be focused on either physical, mental or spiritual well-being. The planning should cover the entire time period, right from leaving your home to airport, waiting time, flying time and so on. For a list of many such well-being activities in each sphere, you may refer to my book – Happiness is All We Want!
Before working on physical flexibility, mental flexibility is more important. You may be an astute planner but things take their own sweet course. Flights get delayed, traffic is unpredictable, clients push meetings around and bosses call at their whim. If you have a rigid frame of mind and want things to move like clockwork, you are in for an irritating time. Rather, keep adjusting your schedule in your mind in response to changing external conditions. While you juggle your schedule, keep tack of the well-being activities that you have planned. For example, you may be able to reach the hotel at 10PM, instead of 8PM. In that case, you can do a quick meditation or Yog-nidra before sleeping and get up early to hit the gym for forty-five minutes. The meditation or yog-nidra will calm your mind and help you sleep well. If you sleep well, you wake up as planned!
Make space for fitness gear.
Your battle to behave healthy starts long before hitting the airport. As a routine, whether your travel is for a day or a month, pack your running shoes and gym wear. These are far important than an extra pair of jeans. If you don’t pack the fitness gear, there is no question of going for a jog or to the gym. So, don’t pre-empt your exercise.
Watch your drink.
Agree that we need a stiff one at the end of a hard day. But make a few drinking rules. The first one is what someone told me in college but I learnt the hard way. These are Dilution (Dilute well, preferably with water or sugar free plain soda), Duration (make each small drink last at least thirty minutes with a cap of two) and Diet (Eat well, as in well not heavy). Never mix up different liquor types and avoid shots completely. If you hit the room drunk, then drink lots of water and just flatten out fast so that you can wake up earlier to do some activity.
Flying and drinking don’t go well together. Severe tiredness on long haul flights is caused mostly due to drinking. Even if you are traveling business, you will spoil your experience by drinking. Ok, maybe small peg or two. But remember, the environment inside a plane is anyway dry and alcohol dehydrates the body from inside as well. You may not get restful sleep and wake up tired. Follow the above drinking principles in any case to minimize damage to your health.
Learn to beat the jet-lag.
At your origin always set the watch with destination time. Force yourself to sleep during the night time of destination. So, if you are traveling to the worst jet-lag zone, like the one with a time difference of ten hours, try to adjust your sleeping schedule one day prior to departure. This can be done by either over-sleeping the day before or depriving yourself of sleep depending on whether you want to sleep at start of the flight or not. The inflight entertainment system can be tempting but on a business flight, it should a strict no.
Eat light while traveling
When we travel, either our hosts or our taste buds want to serve the most popular local cuisine. Do try out these but limit the quantity so that you feel comfortable and not stuffed. Limit carbohydrate intake during dinner. It help in getting good sleep and waking up early and fresh. You can carry small pouches of healthy snacks in your handbag. Again, many innovative tips on eating healthy can be found in my book – Happiness is All We Want!
Make use of small free time-intervals.
We get these twenty to thirty minutes of free time-intervals during our travel. It could be at the airport waiting area, in the lounge, in the hotel room, at your office, in the car or at the client’s office. Learn to use these for your own well-being. Again, my book Happiness is All We Want! gives you a range of such activities.
Moderate the consumption of Black Tea and Coffee.
I am good at this while at home base. But as soon as I travel, the tea and coffee consumption shoots. Keeping a conscious watch helps. If you need to take something in a client meeting for courtesy, have green tea. Coffee may be avoided in the flight as well, since it is dehydrating and a diuretic.
Physical exercise in any form can be refreshing and help you shake off that tiredness. It causes your sleep quality to improve besides burning calories and keeping metabolism high. We need to get out of the mindset that we will get back to our exercise routine after coming back home. Do we stop breating or eating while traveling? Then why stop exercise. Hit the gym, go for a run or go some yoga in the room or the poolside and see the amazing benefits for yourself. The fitness gear that you are carrying will come in handy now.
Meditation practice, once started can be continued anywhere during a twenty minute time period. Learn various methods of meditation and continue the practice while traveling. Use yog-nidra for falling asleep and sleep like a baby. These practices are good for mental peace and spiritual growth.
Feel free to leave your comments, experiences or any more tips here in the comments box. You can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.