Back in my consulting days, I spent an awful lot of time on the road. The standard was around 40 weeks a year, but would vary based on the nature of the projects you were on.
Some, like me, were lucky enough to score a few extra weeks at home by picking up shorter projects, though in the grand scheme, it was little more than a rounding error.
To endure this sort of severe schedule, in which weekly flights bookend crushing workloads, you need to develop a few tricks to keep from losing your mind. Anything you can do to steady your head will make the road warrior lifestyle much easier. Over the half-decade, on and off, that I called club-level lounges, extended stay suites and cramped urban hotel rooms home, I found a number of ways to stay as sane as I possibly can. Here are the five I relied on most:
1. Stop counting minutes: During a seven month run of weekly flights to Omaha, I usually got 54 hours and 30 minutes at home in Boston … and I was always looking for ways to tighten up the parts of the trips I thought I could control just to reclaim a few minutes. Seat assignments, routes through Logan Airport’s E Terminal and getting to the taxi stand faster became obsessions. And I was going nuts as a result.
When I gave up trying to cut seconds from my weekly jaunts, I found that I enjoyed my time at home more — and that my travel experience as a whole wasn’t nearly as stressful. Accept that you won’t always get as much time at home as you’d like, and your quality of life will increase.
2. Hide your bags when you get to the hotel: Early on in my first travel-intensive job, as a hospitality software consultant, a seasoned pro in my department offered some advice to the class of newbies that included me: unpack your bags and hide them in the closet or under the bed. At first, I skipped it, finding the notion absurd. I lived out of my rucksack (stylish luggage for a business traveller, right?) for months — and occasionally from the piles of clothing on the floor that spilled from it. Living like an animal slowly caused me to become one. When it became too much for me, I recalled the suggestion and tried it.
Doing the little things that will help you replicate life at home will help make your hotel room feel that way. A few cosmetic moves, such as using the furniture for your shirts and pants, won’t fill the gap in your life completely, but they will give you some relief.
3. Get a portable hobby: And drinking doesn’t count! Try to minimize the time you spend in the bar (and returning to your hotel room dizzy) by finding alternatives to 12-ounce curls. I started reading more and taught myself a few web programming languages during one extended run — which gave me a leg up in getting my next job. Good things happen when you broaden your horizons.
Portable hobbies that don’t clash with airline carry-on policies are best. Knitting, for example, isn’t a good idea. Jogging, however, is, since you only need to pack sneakers and appropriate attire, which don’t take up much space. The Kindle wasn’t around in my day, but now it makes reading on the road even easier — get one.
4. Leave your room (and not just for the office): Your business schedule probably won’t have enough wiggle room for you to dash out and hang with the locals, but you can at least choose four less familiar walls than the office or your hotel room. Find an outdoor space, or even squat in the hotel lobby to get a little work done. If you have access, relax in the club-level lounge for a bit in the evenings. Do anything you can for even the slightest change of scenery.
Spend all your time in the office or your room, and you run the risk of creating your own prison. This will determine how you feel, taking a toll on your morale, your relationships and your career. Fresh surroundings make a difference.
5. Remember that you made the choice: Like any professional, you opted into the road warrior lifestyle. Economic conditions may make it impossible to leave it right now, but you nonetheless signed the offer letter. Anyway, sympathy won’t get you home more.
Focus on the benefits of your career, even if it is only the paycheck. In my Boy Scout wilderness survival course, I was taught the importance of maintaining a “positive mental attitude” — a lesson that’s stayed with me for 20 years. It applies here, too.
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