Tips for Handling Non-Stop Travel

Tips for Handling Non-Stop Travel
Image credit: Illustration © Phil Marden
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the January 2014 issue of . Subscribe »

For many entrepreneurs, business travel means attending a few annual trade shows or sales meetings. Maybe visiting the plant in Toledo. But some of us rely on travel. We can't make money without getting on a plane.

Every so often, that leads to a stretch like the one I'm in the midst of now. I'm just back from Boston, Oregon and Australia. Next I head to Mexico City, then Florida, Tuscany, Alabama, San Francisco and Panama. Soon after: New York, Chicago, Argentina. These days, I don't bother to remove my passport from my carry-on.

I think of it as extreme travel. If most business travel is skiing, this is heli-skiing. Occasionally, like when I manage to hit three cities in one day, it feels like the latter stage of a presidential campaign.

I couldn't handle extreme travel for more than a few months at a time. It takes a toll. It frays connections with friends and family and shoves all other projects--that porch swing, the book proposal--so far out of mind that I don't even remember to feel guilty about avoiding them.

I'll be missed at my twice-weekly basketball game--for a month. Then they'll stop noticing that I'm gone. As my wife fields party invitations and dinner proposals, she'll tell friends to check back in the spring. I'll miss back-to-school night one week, a soccer game the next. But it has to be done. And I'm finding there are a few measures I can take to mitigate--at least slightly--the fact that I'll be skipping around the globe like a Formula 1 racer.

The first is to keep up with the chores of daily life. When the road is home for a few months, I treat it that way. I still need a haircut every four weeks, so I'll get one … somewhere. The barber may not be as good as my regular stylist, but getting this done on the road will free up an extra hour with my family between trips.

Next, I invest in my own comfort. I'll have the hotel clean my shirt for $9 and shell out $6.50 for a bottle of water. Preposterous prices, but it makes life a bit easier. In the Sydney airport, I spent $22 on a neck pillow, fully aware that I have three perfectly good ones at home. Why deny myself comfort on a 12-hour flight?

I often book reduced-amenity hotels when I travel because I rarely use the pool or business center. But when life means one hotel after another, each property needs to take the place of home. I'll want a sundries store, not just a newspaper rack. I'll need a restaurant that serves breakfast, not just a coffee machine and a free croissant.

Finally, I've learned not to pretend I'm not traveling. Though it's tempting to weigh in with your colleagues or family as though you know what has been going on, you can't. You've been away. Events have transpired. You need to shift into listen-and-learn mode. Hear about your daughter failing a math test without immediately passing judgment. Think twice before overriding the new e-mail policy your second-in-command implemented--she probably did it for a reason.

A few months from now, this will be over. I'll have new stamps in my passport, souvenirs for my kids, a funny story about a sketchy barbershop in Buenos Aires. For now, I just nod whenever someone tells me how envious they are that I get to travel to so many interesting places, realizing they don't understand the costs and challenges involved.

Then I get on the plane.

Tips for Life on the Road

How, without lugging an extra bag, do you pack for a trip that takes you to Australia, where it's almost summer, and then to Oregon, where winter is in the air?

That was the dilemma I faced last month. My first inclination was to pack medium-weight clothes that would split the difference--jackets and pants that weren't really meant for either climate but could serve passably well in a pinch. But why be uncomfortable in two places?

One solution would have been to FedEx heavier clothes to my Portland hotel. But I chose something simpler: I'd buy a sweater and, if necessary, a coat when I arrived in Oregon. We often forget that unless we're headed to the Namibian desert, most everything we need is easily available commercially. As if to reward me for embracing simplicity, the weather in Portland turned out to be unseasonably warm. I rolled up my shirtsleeves there just as I had in Australia.

Other extreme travel tips? I like to try to make being on the road special. Rather than bringing a piece of home with me, I've learned to accentuate the differences. For instance, I like to fall asleep with the radio on--sports, news or talk--but at home my wife objects. On the road, I can listen all night if I want to.

I've also embraced what I like to call ambient Skyping. When I'm on longer trips, my family uses Skype's audio and video service as a way to simulate having me in the room. Overhearing casual conversation, rather than the stilted "time to talk to Dad," seems to bring home a lot closer. --B.S.

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