From the outside it’s a glamorous lifestyle but endless business travel can be really miserable. For some, the stress of getting to the airport or waiting for delayed flights is a nightmare. Others arrive at meetings feeling chaotic. And for some, just missing their partners and/or children makes the lifestyle a lot less glitzy than it may appear.
Fashion buyer Caro Yee jets up to some of the world’s most glamorous cities such as Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Copenhagen, London, and various locations in China. The reality isn’t as exciting as it looks.
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Flying to New York or further afield is tiring. Typically Yee takes a 13-hour flight to San Francisco, transits for three hours and then takes another five-hour flight to New York. “You get to the hotel and it is 1am then you have a meeting for breakfast with colleagues at 8am. It’s pretty full on. There is no time to do other stuff you would want to do.”
Yee has been travelling for 25 years for work and is usually away for two to three weeks at a time on buying trips and then may have to return for a shorter trip if she hasn’t completed the buying.
Unlike colleagues she rarely goes out at night when she’s overseas for work. The constant travel is hard enough without getting some good shut-eye. Instead she uses the evenings to review the work she has done during the day and sort her samples to clear her mind.
Not every employer pays for business class, so the flying may be in an economy-class seat, which can make the travel harder. “It’s really hard to hop off a plane and go to work if you haven’t slept.”
Yee loves her job but says it would be very hard to do if she had young children. She sees colleagues struggle when they come back from maternity leave.
Her top trick to cope with jetlag is to take melatonin, which works by controlling the circadian rhythm and is used to improve sleep quality.
To make business travel work for you it’s essential to have systems in place. That’s exactly what Professional Services Consultant Jonathan Michael does. His most recent stint of business travel involved working in Melbourne during the week and returning to Auckland’s North Shore at the weekends.
It’s essential in his business to arrive at meetings prepared and not feeling chaotic, which could easily happen if he was not organised. “The travel is a necessity to get something done and you want to make your travel as predictable as possible.” To do so, Michael has set up a number of routines.
“I try to pipeline the different things I need for travel.” That includes working out travel times to and from airports and the best travel method in each case. He could catch taxis in Auckland, for example, but has found the Air New Zealand parking to be value for money and very efficient. In Melbourne he uses a mixture of tram and bus, but has to leave sufficient time for the constant road works and traffic jams in that city.
Michael has worked out that if he pays for access to Air New Zealand and other lounges he eats safe healthy food and has somewhere calm to relax and work if the plane is delayed. “This is not a luxury. It is a convenience to keep you going,” he says.
He always uses Hertz hire cars because he is on their system and doesn’t waste time with paperwork or refuelling.
When Michael travelled to the US regularly he would always stay at Marriott hotels, where possible, because he knew exactly what to expect and would always get a good night’s sleep.
It’s also a good idea to think through every aspect of travelling . Michael once missed an important meeting in the United States in the early 2000s because lost his way driving. Ever since he has hired a car that has a GPS system on board.
Massey University PhD candidate Jo Mutter has researched the effect on the families left behind during these work trips. It’s not just the travellers themselves — like her husband, sailor and two-time winner of the Volvo Ocean race Tony Mutter — who suffer the ill effects of business travel. The other partner is effectively a solo parent, she says.
Among other things Mutter found in her research was that the partner that stayed in New Zealand often had their own careers affected because they did not have support at home.
Among the many tips that can make business travel less stressful and more successful, are:
●Stay overnight. If you can, stay overnight either at or very near to the venue of your work meeting you reduce stress. That allows you to have a relaxed morning rather than being stuck in a traffic jam without sufficient time to freshen up before you have to do business.
●Have a regular packing list. Also consider having a permanent travel kit of things like razors, hair-care products and so on so you can just pick up your bag and go. A lighter suitcase is always less of a hassle to roll. If you can pack in carry-on bags alone you can save a lot of time in the airport.
●Choose no-iron and dark coloured clothes. Having to do your ironing on a business trip takes time and effort. Dark clothes don’t show marks. It can be a good idea to pack ironed shirts in purpose-made bags.
●Set up roaming or having dedicated phones/SIM cards for countries you visit regularly. Ensure you’ve paid for internet access before you go.
●Have an on-board routine. Know exactly where to pack the items you’ll need on the plane and have a routine for sleeping, such as doing a meditation or brushing your teeth.
●Charge before you travel. Charge all your devices the night before you travel and take good-quality universal plugs with you and the correct cables. Have a dedicated set in your suitcase.
●Have a plan for getting work done during your trip. Make sure you’re psyched up to work during stopovers or delays.
●Stay hydrated by drinking more water.
●Keep in contact with loved ones at home. If you’re missing your children, set up a time to make daily video calls. Be careful not to disrupt the routine at home when you return. This can be unsettling for children.