My first real “work trip” was two years ago. My job flew me to San Francisco to produce live fundraising hours and I nearly starved myself to death shortly before nearly eating myself to death
See, I went 11 hours without eating anything. When my vision started to blur, I wolfed down a very large sandwich and drank a very large glass of wine in about 11 seconds. Then I felt so terrible I barely slept and it took me days to feel like a normal human again.
Why?! Why?! Oh Why. Why do I, a grown woman in her mid-30s, sometimes forget how to do the most basic adulting? Is it because my childhood taught me to value what others need from me more than what I need myself, or … no, that’s pretty much it.
Now I go on a work trip every three or four months and each time I’ve gotten a little better at looking after myself.
Here are the tips I’ve come up with to keep myself alive and functioning on the road:
See something? Eat something. When I go straight to work from the airport, I grab myself an overpriced sandwich or salad at the airport before I leave. When I stay at a hotel with a continental breakfast, I grab a yogurt. Could I find something better later? Maybe. But I’ve learned the hard way that a yogurt in the hand is better than a “something better later” in the bush.
Also, snacks. In my backpack right now, I have three little baggies of dark chocolate-covered almonds and dried apricots, and three little baggies of roasted almonds and yogurt-covered pretzels. 20-year old me would think those snacks are bullshit, but 35-year old me knows they will taste like a treat and help me feel ok until my next actual meal.
Drink water. I have a water bottle with a filter so I can drink out of sinks, although what I really love is those filtered water stations that a lot of airports have just for people who are smart enough to have a bottle with them. I’m generally terrible at realizing I’m thirsty, but when I see my water bottle, it reminds me humans need hydration and I am a human.
Magnesium. I read that taking 400 mg of magnesium a day during the first several days of travel can help with “sluggish bowels.” I tried it. I’m a fan.
Know thy hotel self. I LOVE staying at fancy hotels. Sadly, my job does not like to pay for me to stay at fancy hotels, so I’ve learned what I need from reasonably priced places. No. 1 is feeling safe. I like upper floors and to be off main streets. I also like free wi-fi, a mini-fridge and a coffee maker. I have yet to stay at a hotel that has all three. All three is my Holy Grail. I will find you yet, all three.
Slippers. My wife travel-hacked us a night at a beautiful hotel in Paris before I dumb-hacked us a terrible AirBnB in London. Luckily, we packed the complimentary hotel slippers from Paris before we left for London, and not having to touch that Limey floor with actual skin made a weird situation slightly more comfortable. When I got home, I bought us travel slippers. They’re cheap, but fine for occasional use and we have matching ones which is pretty cute. We don’t always use them, but the one time we didn’t pack them, we regretted it.
Shower every night. That might sound strange, but how many times have you come back to your hotel after a long day of working or exploring or whatnot and thought, “I’m more tired than dirty, I’ll just shower tomorrow”? The first trip I observed the “shower every night” rule, it was just because I’d only packed two sets of PJs and I figured they would stay clean longer if I was clean when I wore them. And then I realized I just felt better after a shower. So now it’s my rule. A good part of being a functioning adult is just learning how to help yourself feel comfortable in different situations.
Travel clock. I often have to wake up early when I’m traveling for work, and I used to use my phone as an alarm. But then I’d wake up in the night, anxious about the time, so I’d check it on my phone, and then find myself checking Twitter. And Instagram. And my email. And then Twitter again. And then it was time to get up, and I was bleery-eyed and cranky before my day had even started. So I got myself a travel alarm clock and the first time I used it, I was amazed at what a huge difference it made. If I wake up in the night, I can see what time it is, without being pulled into an app-lined black hole. I still set my phone alarm, but only as a back-up.
Give yourself a quest. When you’re working on the road, it can feel more like a huge disruption to your weekly routine than actual travel. That’s why I like to give myself a quest. It helps me maintain some life/work balance and makes a little space in my schedule for fun. I should say that these are not epic quests. This trip, I told my wife I’d get her a nice mechanical pencil at this stationary store I found during my last trip. Today, I bought the hell out of that pencil AND I got her some boot wax too. Oh boy. I also promised myself I would watch the Talking Heads doc Stop Making Sense this trip. I went to Boston for work this summer and my quest was to try local ciders (accomplished). I almost always buy coffee when I travel because I like to make the other-city coffee for my wife when I get home. It feels like a button on the end of my trip, bridging where I was and where I am.
I guess my biggest tip is just to keep in mind that you are a human person with needs. Remember this and make meeting your needs a priority. If you need to justify prioritizing yourself, then consider that you’ll do better work if you’re fed and hydrated and well-rested and feeling comfortable in your own skin.