I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but traveling out of town for more than a night really takes it out of me. I flew to Atlanta Tuesday afternoon and returned home yesterday morning, and today I’m still not back to my normal energy level. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make it to the gym; I have a couple of errands to run, all I want to do is nap.
There are a couple of things I think I can do better, things everyone should probably do when on the road.
I have a hell of a time sleeping the first night I’m in a hotel room. I don’t know what it is; I’m normally in bed asleep by 10:30 and I get up at 5. (Most nights I’m sleeping before 10:30). On Tuesday, I got up at the normal 5am, worked for half a day, and left for the airport at 12:45. I had a 2:45 flight that got in around 4:30, then I picked up a car and went back to the airport to pick up a coworker coming in on a later flight. After getting to the hotel, checking in, and going out for a beer, I was in the room at 10pm. Couldn’t sleep.
One bad night of sleep isn’t a problem, though. It happens, even at home. The problem is that when away from home, for some reason I have trouble getting to bed at a reasonable hour. On Wednesday, we left the hotel at 7, got to the office at 7:20, and our meeting started at 8. Meeting finished at about 5, and we were meeting a group for dinner (right next to our hotel) at 7. That’s a long day for someone running on 5 hours sleep, but one day is no big deal as long as you get a solid 8 that night. We were back from dinner by 9:30, and I could sleep until 6 the next morning. So, as I’m getting into bed, I turn on the TV, and get sucked in to something on HBO and stay up until midnight again.
So Thursday, I’m up at 6, at the office at 7:30, and in a training session until 4. We visited a bit with folks working in the office complex, then back to the hotel. Met to go get dinner at 6:30, back in the room at 9:30. Again, asleep at midnight. Friday, I had to get up at 5 to make sure we left by 6 to catch our flights home.
When I got home Friday at about 1, I had to catch up on work email, which took me until about 5. I crashed at 9:30. Today, Saturday, I got up at 9. It is nearly noon, I’m still groggy, I haven’t showered, and I’m sure I’m not going to make it to train.
The lesson here: stay on a normal sleep schedule. For me, it’s about keeping the stupid TV off, although sometimes these trips are with folks I don’t see often, and there are late nights out catching up. Avoid them, and instead get to bed and get up at normal times. You can still have a couple of drinks at happy hour and do your networking, and have the added benefit of making sure you’re not involved in the occasional embarrassing situation in a bar with a bunch of coworkers, some of whom might be people you need to impress.
It’s hard to eat right when on the road. I know that as well as anyone, and I’m terrible about making an effort to get it right. Normally I don’t worry about it, as I’m pretty good when I’m not on the road, so my 2 or 3 long drives during most weeks aren’t a big deal, and the occasional couple of days away also don’t matter that much. What does matter is how I feel when I’m away. All the junk, constantly eating out, overcaffinating, and extra alcohol intake put together with long days and no sleep can really do a number on you. So while you may not have a choice for the catered ‘working’ lunch of sandwiches and chips, you do have a choice when you go out to eat dinner. Eat some vegetables. Have a salad. Maybe reconsider the fried captain’s chef’s seafood bonanza plate, and instead have the seared tuna. Or, if like us, you end up in a more casual eatery, stick with salads or lighter meals. And back off the beers.
When I travel for work, I typically don’t even take clothing to get on a treadmill or go for a walk. I like to travel light, so I only take one pair of shoes (the ones I’m wearing) and I don’t take any clothes other than the one shirt/pants I need to wear each day. If it’s going to be a long trip, I will occasionally throw a pair of jeans in my bag if I think we’re going to go out one night. So I don’t do anything other than work, eat, sleep, drink, and watch TV. Not so bright, really.
Take a pair of shoes, shorts, and t-shirt, and get down to the hotel fitness room and do something. Stay active. Sure, you could draw some attention to yourself pushing your rental around in the hotel parking lot, but 30 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical in the morning, and a quick light dumbell circuit every day sure will make you feel better, keep you moving, and not set you back while you’re gone.
Also, keep up with stretching and mobility. The main reason I’m not training today is that my lower back stiffened up after the flights and sitting for so long on one day and standing a lot on another. I didn’t do any stretching or mobility work until today, and I won’t be right until tomorrow at the earliest.
Fundamentally, recovering from business travel starts with keeping your schedule as close to what it is at home as you can. Stay on your sleep schedule, eat right, and get some exercise, and unlike me, you’ll be on track with your normal schedule when you get back, and you’ll be at the gym doing SSB box squats while I’m at home blogging about what I should be doing, then debating between taking a nap and taking a shower.