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Road Warrior – Staying Well with Business Travel

Professional travel can be stressful and tiring. The combination of exposure to viruses, bad food, uncomfortable beds, disrupted sleep, and low opportunity for exercise are all stressors that can increase your vulnerability to illness. One of my fellow travelers to a spring higher education conference asked how I manage to stay well while I travel. While I am not immune to an occasional virus, I have some practices that help me stay healthy. I have gathered my own practices and those of fellow road warriors to stay healthy while on the road.

Get Ready to Go

The paradox of business travel is that there are extra tasks related to being on the road and at the same time there are the usual tasks at home that still need to be done. Attendance at professional conferences may seem like a break from your campus duties but in fact life on campus still goes on while you travel piling up grading, emails, and committee work for your return. One way to handle this problem is to use your time effectively before your trip. Here are some guidelines for good time management before you go.

  • What essential tasks have to be completed before I go?

  • What tasks are due just after I come back that I might move along or complete before leaving so they are not staring at me when I renter my environment?

  • What home or personal tasks such as bill paying must be completed?

Get Ready to Be There

What has to be done so that your time away has all of the elements of support that you need while on the road?

Now here is the secret to a peaceful exit: do these things first before you finish up the projects listed above. I know, it doesn’t make common sense but it does make good travel sense. You will never get all of those above projects done anyway but at some point you have to get in the car to go to the airport or to drive to the conference and you will be much more relaxed as you exit if the items below are already completed. Once the tasks for the road are done you can spend every available minute working on the tasks that stay at home so they don’t haunt you while you travel.

  1. What travel documents (tickets, passports, visas, etc.) need to be in your carry on?

  2. What medicines and supplements do you take? Count them out and pack them.

  3. What are all of the professional materials do you need on the road? If you are presenting or consulting, there may be handouts, Powerpoint presentations, work sheets, exercises for your clients/participants, pencils and markers, laser pointers/clickers, and business cards. If you travel frequently, have a generic check list for these items. Run a hard copy and check off as you gather materials. Reserve a corner of your bedroom or guestroom to gather and check off without having to run around frantically just before leaving.

  4. Make up a generic packing list on your computer with the usual items – one list for cold weather, one for mild and one for hot weather. Develop a formula that works for you for the different types of conferences you attend taking into account weather, length of time you will be there, and the wardrobe culture of each conference (sport coat/tie or business casual). When I used to do weekend women’s leadership retreats around the country, I used a formula organized around a color combination such as red/navy or black/while: one dressy sweater, one blazer, one pair of slacks, one skirt and five blouses, two pairs of shoes. On the plane I wore the slacks, sweater or blazer, blouse, and one pair of shoes. A small suitcase held a whole wardrobe with a couple extra blouses in case of spills.

  5. Run a hard copy of your packing list so you can check things off as you gather and pack. Check local weather forecasts for the weight of clothes needed. Over-prepare without over-packing by having items do double duty. One woman I traveled with brought a lightweight raincoat in mild weather that also doubled as her robe if she wanted to work in her room at night. A man I interviewed used his sleepwear from the first night (sweat pants and t-shirt) as workout clothes for the 2nd day.

  6. What creature comforts do you need? Cosmetics and medicines? Itty bitty book light for reading at night? Cozy packable slippers? Packable exercise/work-out/swim gear? Healthy snacks that travel well?

  7. If you live with other people, make it likely they will welcome you back by making a graceful exit. Don’t grump around the house about the difficulties of travel. Instead, ask them for help, offering to reciprocate in their hour of need. Make any arrangements for your responsibilities for children and pets early in the process. Make sure the people at home have your itinerary and know how to reach you in case you can’t get a cell phone signal. Brief them on any essential household tasks that need to be done in your absence. Promise to return the favor by taking on extra duties when you are not traveling.

On the Road

  1. Have a work and self-care agenda on the plane: eat, nap, work. If you meet a fascinating seatmate who is going to the same meeting, use some of the time to network at bit. Then get back to your agenda. If somebody wants to show you pictures of all their grandchildren, politely tell them you have work to do. Leave the beach novels for your beach vacation. You are working on this trip. You will play some other time. Get water before you get on a place since plane travel requires extra hydration. Bring food from home instead of eating airport or airplane food.

  2. After checking in at your hotel, unpack and put your stuff in places that can be replicated in every hotel room. For example, sleep on the same side of the bed as you do at home. Put your toothbrush to the right or left of the faucet. For a 2-day trip, probably keep your folded items in the suitcase. For a longer time, unpack into the dresser drawers.

  3. Leave the TV remote on the desk unless you need to check weather and time. Skip late night TV. Save those special movie rentals for your next vacation. You are here to work and to take good care of yourself. Decide in advance if you will be in touch with your email or not during the conference time. Let your students know your policy. Let your family know the best way to reach you. The email will pile up but you need focus for the conference. Multitasking lowers effectiveness on both tasks.

  4. After you register with the conference, survey the hotel with the conference or hotel map so you know where you are going for meals and meetings. If you are presenting, try to check out the meeting room so you don’t have surprises. At one of the spring conferences I was glad I checked the presentation venue the night before so I wasn’t shocked to find out it was a wedding tent outside of the hotel when it was time to get into the room and set my equipment.

  5. Consider room service for meals unless you are meeting colleagues for networking meals or attending conference group meals. Drink extra water to combat the forced air heat of the hotel. Avoid alcohol especially the night before your presentation. Watch your caffeine intake; it’s easy to drink a caffeinated beverage on each break and then be too wired to fall asleep when you are ready for bed. When possible, eat small, lighter meals especially before you present. Don’t worry about the large portions served and world hunger. You don’t have to make up for the starving people of (fill in with favorite 3rd world country). Pass up the gooey desserts.

  6. Get to bed early to make up for sleep disruption related to strange noises and surroundings. Turn the heat down, get extra blankets ready. Read only light, boring reading materials before falling asleep. No murder mysteries. Set two alarms if you need to be somewhere early, the one from home that you are used to setting on the road and either another one from home or the room alarm. Test out the room alarm to make sure it works the way you want with buzzing or music. I don’t like to wake up to a strange man yelling at me about his political views unless my husband is traveling with me.

  7. Some people use extra rituals for good health such as sniffing and gargling saline solutions to wash out the travel germs. The jury is out whether it helps or irritates your mucus membranes. Some people take extra Vitamin C or Echinacea to boost immune systems. One thing everyone agrees on: frequent, thorough hand washing will help keep down the transmission of germs.

  8. If you do get sick, stay in your room and manage your symptoms by yourself. The rest of the conference attendees don’t want your germs. If you are presenting, use your judgment which is worse, canceling or not being at your best as you present.

  9. If you are new to the conference circuit, a couple of suggestions:

    • Attend only workshops that relate to things you are working on. You do not need to fill each “class period” with a class. Take time to process the information overload and refresh yourself with a walk, swim or nap.

    • Approach networking events with an agenda. Whom do you want to meet? What information do you want to exchange, learn, or teach? What career opportunities do you want out of this conference? For example, having tea with potential collaborators might be of higher value to you than attending the ice cream social of the alums from your undergraduate institution.

  10. On the last day, get up ½ hour early to repack and do the hotel check out procedure even if you are not leaving until later in the day. You will feel less frantic.

  11. Be sure to check your ground transportation with local travel conditions and the average security clearance times. You don’t want to get to the airport 2 hours early in Savannah but you will need every minute of that time in Chicago, Atlanta, or Dallas.

  12. On the way home review your notes and pick out three key “keepers,” things that you learned that you want to implement. In spite of big dreams to do everything, make three small changes in your teaching or scholarly work that will make your attendance worthwhile. Less is more.


  1. Be sure about ground transportation for your return. If your spouse or friend is picking you up, be clear about how you will communicate about your a rrival and where you want to be met (baggage, curb, etc.). Once you connect with your driver, be open to listening as well as talking. Yes, you are the Big Cheese because you have done important things on the road, but the people at home may have had important life events as well.

  2. Plan to be tired even if you got adequate rest on site. Human cells were not meant to hurtle through space at 600 mph or even 60mph. Travel takes a lot out of you.

  3. Drink extra water. Prevent dehydration by going lightly the caffeine and alcohol. Eat lightly on the trip back and on your return.

  4. Get to bed at your usual time adjusted for time zones. Don’t be tempted to clean everything you didn’t clean before you left or answer all of those emails.

  5. Allow a ½ day for re-entry if at all possible. Unpack, check mail, pay essential bills, do some highly urgent work tasks. Start a database of people you want to contact from the conference and file your conference notes now. Begin to clear out email, most essential (according to your values and priorities) first. Then get on to one of those higher level tasks such as class preparation or scholarly work.


Business travel can be a great time to teach, learn, and meet great people if you have a system to do so with professional focus and good self-care.

© Copyright 2010 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.

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