As with many things in life, frequent travel, whether it be for business or pleasure, has its pros and cons. Learn what the most frequent travel challenges are, and how to best solve these common challenges.
The Pros of Frequent Travel
Frequent travel means you get to travel to new places and see the world. The freedom of being away from home can offer many opportunities to combine business with pleasure. If you have the time, discover new sights, visit friends, or meet new people. You can get away from the daily grind and switch up your schedule for a bit. You can meet new business associates and expand your horizons career-wise.
The Cons of Frequent Travel
However, there are also frequent challenges, and some days it seems the bad outweighs the good. For the uninitiated frequent traveler, a life in a suitcase may seem like a dream. But remember, “the grass is always greener on the other side”. We tend to imagine the opportunity to travel frequently as being a fantastic dream. Get paid to travel (i.e. as an airline pilot or business person), and you’ve got it made, right? Not so fast…
For some, it is a dream, especially for single and unattached travelers, or for new travelers. But for the majority, it is sometimes a recipe for potential burnout and fatigue in the long run. Reality sets in eventually for most.
Practical Solutions to Common Travel Challenges
Here are five common challenges for any frequent travel, and five practical solutions on how to deal with them. To give you a deeper insight as to the challenge of and solutions to jet lag (number 5) I have opted for a longer presentation of that subject.
Challenge 1: Problems crop up at home and too much time away from home
During your trip, your spouse may experience something such as plumbing problems and not know the best way to handle it. Or if a family member is sick, you are not there to help take care of them, which only adds to your stress during an already stressful business trip.
The number one challenge for frequent travelers with people close to them at home is just that: you miss them so much! Sometimes that causes constant stress and worries in your life, out of concern for your loved ones.
Skype and FaceTime have done wonders for people on the road. Simply having your smartphone or laptop with the Skype or FaceTime app installed means you will always stay connected with those back home. Video enables face to face interaction!
Then you can do your best to work out unexpected emergencies with the house or check in with those that are feeling unwell. Also, enlist a responsible friend, neighbor, or family member to help take care of the serious stuff should it arise.
Challenge 2: Hotel living
You miss sleeping in your own bed. You are housed in unfamiliar surroundings. You are tired of hotel and airline food (which can be unhealthy) and the confinement of a small hotel room. You can only experience so many hotel rooms before the thrill is gone.
Sometimes the nights are short because you can’t sleep well, or your schedule only allows a short layover. Other times you get a noisy room or a room with the total opposite of the bed type you prefer.
Other hotel nuisances that come into play include different things. Potential for bed bugs and not-so-perfect cleanliness is always a concern. Room heating or air conditioning not working properly happens. Inoperative TV’s, outlets or lights not working is not uncommon. Not getting hot water for showers or toilets, not flushing trying got ready for departure are other things that irritate us.
So many things can affect your comfort level while staying in hotels. Staying in several hotels over several days can get quite tedious.
To give a hotel living a variety: venture out of the hotel. Walk around the area (if safe) or make short excursions to local attractions. Explore the sights, the people or the food. Try to shop at nearby grocery stores for meals whenever possible. Most will have ready-made deli items that are a bit healthier and easier on the budget.
Take advantage of the exercise rooms found at most hotels. Go work out to add fuel to the saying “a healthy body is a healthy mind”.
To relax in your room at night, do the activities you enjoy the most at home for relaxation. Watch TV, play with your computer, or listen to your favorite music.
If you are a particularly social person, invite a colleague to dinner, or hang out at the hotel bar, or spend time on your computer in the hotel lobby. Be a people watcher. If you can’t find other out-of-towners to chat with, the bartender is always ready with an open ear!
Challenge 3: Traveling between extreme climates
For those traveling to multiple destinations in far-away places, adjusting to changing climates can be tough. One day its freezing New York in January, then the next day in the Dominican Republic you are sweating your socks off.
Pack wisely: before your trip, pack according to the climate you can expect to be exposed to at your destinations. Keep a change of appropriate clothing and other essentials in your carry-on bag for easy access.
Dress appropriately on the plane. Carry the correct clothing for the climate at your destination to be prepared to quickly change before landing or shortly after arrival.
Acclimatization: This is of course very difficult to achieve in a short time. But the best way to handle acclimatization is to always dress correct according to the temperature at your destination.
Challenge 4: The stresses of traveling
Travel stress encompasses many aspects. It starts at home, packing and organizing for your trip. Last minute home chores often add to the hectic schedule. Then it’s traveling to the airport. Traffic jam en route, airport road traffic, and finding airport parking add to the stress. Am I going to make the flight on time?
You arrive at the terminal and the crowds can be tremendous. The check-in process only marks the beginning of the usual ritual at the terminal. From here on you have to deal with sometimes grouchy and stressed employees, and “playing the game” at the TSA/security lines.
Being at the airport is far from a walk in the park.
A case study in Travel Stress
I remember one time in Oslo, Norway, going through security as a passenger, departing the country…
At the Gardermoen Airport (OSL) the security officer took a great interest in my U.S. brought Crest toothpaste. The tube was well under the 3 ounces allowed, in total compliance with the regulations. Crest toothpaste is an unknown brand in Norway. However, the security officer simply could not understand what this was.
She called a supervisor, who had to physically inspect my toothpaste, smelling it and squeezing it. Overhearing their conversation (Norwegian is one of the many languages I speak), the female officer told her supervisor there is no such thing as Crest toothpaste. Reason: she had visited the U.S.A. and she never heard of that toothpaste! Then, with no further action, stonefaced like a blast to the 1940’s Nazi Gestapo era, they just waved me through. No thank you, no smile from them.
I had to laugh to myself, thinking of the famous line in Tom Hank’s movie Forrest Gump: “stupid is as stupid does”.
This caused me a 15-minute unnecessary delay (and patience) going through security. But I simply stayed calm and collected, not getting irritated.
Be friendly to all airport employees you encounter, and you will usually have the favor returned. Put a smile on your face and play the game! Always comply with the official’s instructions or directions.
The shortest TSA line is usually at each end of the security entrances.
If you are in the U.S. enroll in one or more of the trusted traveler programs that are offered. As an enrollee, you can expedite your travel greatly. One program is called TSA PreCheck. Another program is the Global Entry. Three additional programs are called SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST.
Confused? Go to the U.S. Homeland Security Government website for details on each program by clicking HERE.
Take flight delays and cancellations in stride and don’t stress out – you WILL get there.
Many airlines will compensate you for the inconvenience of cancellations with vouchers or free hotel stays. Always be friendly to ticket and gate agents and flight attendants. Strike up a short conversation if they seem open to it. They will treat you in kind.
The bottom line is to keep a positive attitude! When you allow the little stresses of everyday life roll off your back, life, in general, become happier.
Challenge 5: Jetlag
What is jetlag?
Flying through several time zones can create havoc with our bodies and internal clocks. Our bodies function on a 24-hour cycle called circadian rhythms. There are 24 time-zones around the world.
The result is sleep disturbance and fatigue, making a potentially stressful business or frequent flyer trip that much worse. The effect feels awful. You can’t fall asleep when you’re tired, and you can’t stay awake when you feel wide awake.
Biological conditions affecting our circadian rhythms include body temperature, light, and certain hormonal plasma levels. Humans just weren’t naturally designed to compensate for the imbalances in our “internal body clocks” caused by jetlag.
How does jetlag affect me?
After traveling between too many time zones and too many different places during consecutive days you may even get momentarily confused as to WHERE you are, waking up next morning! This is especially true if your body is extremely fatigued from jetlag.
For example, you are waking up in your 5th hotel room in 7 days of traveling. You are now 11 time-zones away from home. The jetlag has raised havoc with your internal body clock, and the constant travel has caused stress on your body.
Everyone has a different way of dealing with jetlag. Many sleep studies have been done on the subject. But what works for some is not the solution for others.
As a frequent time-zone traveler, you are at an advantage to be able to try different remedies to see what works best for you. And believe me, you will be surprised how quickly you learn how your own body best responds to the different methods you try.
Before your flight
For the determined-minded: before your trip, start to change your internal body clock by gradually going to bed earlier or later depending on the destination time zone. That will help prepare your body for the trip.
During your flight
- Drink plenty of water on the plane.
- Alcohol amplifies the adverse effects of jetlag. Avoid.
- Try to sleep if you can. Most people have a hard time falling asleep on airplanes. The seat configuration on your flight and class of service (coach, business, or first) affect the comfort needed before a person can fall asleep too.
- Light therapy or exposure to sunlight are two proven remedies to help reset your internal body clock:
- The light therapy is now being incorporated into the design of modern jets. Cabin lighting is being built for maximum light optimization, to help passenger counter jetlag.
After your flight
- If you reach your destination during daylight hours some flight surgeons (aviation medicine doctors) recommend spending 20 minutes in the sun upon arrival.
- Some doctors also recommend taking a low dose of over-the-counter melatonin before bedtime. As always, check with your own doctor to find out if melatonin is right for you.
- If caffeine normally keeps you awake, then stay clear of that tempting coffee upon arrival. Caffeine peaks in your system 4 to 6 hours after consummation, further complicating your jetlag.
- Try to stay awake until normal bedtime at your destination. After that getting into a routine of full nights sleep works wonders. It takes about 2-3 days to recover from jetlag. How long exactly depends on how many time zones you crossed, and whether you traveled at night or during the light of daytime.
- If you get a noisy room at hotel arrival: Don’t hesitate to change rooms, if possible.
Sleep aids after you hit your bed
Falling asleep when jet-lagged can be a challenge. While some people have no problem falling asleep others are struggling. The number one rule to help you fall asleep is: relax! Don’t worry about WHEN you’ll finally get to sleep, because you will eventually slip into dreamland.
To help you sleep put on an eye mask if your room is not completely dark, and ear plugs for quiet. Many people find that having white noise in their room helps them sleep (there are apps for that!)
Recovering from jetlag after getting home
Give yourself a few days to fully recover after coming from a time zone more than 4 time zones from your home time. It’s normal to feel sluggish, but it gets better with time. Resume your normal routine as soon as possible. Sleep does wonders when it comes to recovering.
When you first plan your trip avoid coming home from the other side of the world the day before you have to be back at work. You may regret it when you realize what jetlag did to you. Going back to work while being exhausted is no fun.
Here are the jet lag solutions and steps which work best for me:
- I pre-set the local time of the destination in flight. But only if I travel more than 4 time- zones away from my home time. Otherwise, I stay at my home time while at the destination. My watch has two time- settings. Time setting #1 is always set to my home time. I use setting #2 to the destination time zone.
- Right after hotel arrival I always spend 20 minutes in the sun (or daylight).
- Staying awake until normal bedtime at the local destination time zone is a must, regardless of how fatigued I may be.
- I take 3 mg of over-the-counter melatonin before normal bedtime.
- In a warm destination, I turn on the air conditioning in my room. Otherwise, I just turn on the air conditioning fan with no cooling. Doing that accomplishes two things: 1) it dampens any noise around the room and 2) my preference is always sleeping in a cold room for best sleep.
A real-life case study of my own poor jetlag recovery planning on a layover
I hope you can learn from my mistake. Here is a case study on how NOT to handle jetlag:
I had just arrived in Paris for the 4th time after already flying 3 roundtrips between New York and Paris that month. Each Paris layover was 24 hours.
Going against my own rule of not going to sleep until normal bedtime at the destination I decided to take a two-hour nap at 3 pm this time. I simply could not keep my eyes open any longer.
An hour later the alarm clock sounded but I decided to reset the alarm clock for another hour of sleep.
The alarm clock sounded again, but now I was in a REM-induced sleep, magnified by the courtesy of jet lag.
Next, waking up again, ready for dinner, I grab my alarm clock. But, yikes, it’s now 2 am!
Now what? Being wide awake I was not able to continue sleeping. Getting up and staying up now would destroy the upcoming day. Jet lag would hit me again in a few hours, and my body would “fall apart” again during the daytime.
The moral to the case study? Be disciplined in the way you decide to handle your recovery from jetlag.
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. George A. Moore
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