Work-related travel is a fact of life for military personnel on temporary duty as well as for many working military spouses. Traveling for your job can involve challenges that you don't face at home. Whether you'll be away for just a day or two or for much longer, it's important to know how to manage stress while you’re on the road to help you stay healthy and productive.
Preparing for your trip
Careful planning can help you avoid many stresses that can arise when you travel.
- Make several copies of your itinerary and contact numbers. Make one to take with you, one to leave with your manager or assistant, and one to give your family or a close friend. Enter an additional copy of your itinerary and contact list into any computer or hand-held electronic organizer that you'll take on the trip.
- Gather the files you want to take and arrange them efficiently. It can be useful to put your documents in vinyl or other folders with secure clasps so that they won't fall out or get damaged in transit. Attach your business card or other identification to each.
- Keep a well-organized record of your travel documents, credit cards, and other vital information. Include photocopies of your passport and driver's license, the numbers of credit cards and traveler's checks, and a list of emergency contacts. Leave this with a trusted family member or friend whom you could reach quickly in an emergency, and carry one with you for quick reference.
- Work out your route before you leave town. If you’re traveling by car, get a map and familiarize yourself with it, or call someone at your destination for directions. You can also use a website like Mapquest to map your route. You can find advice on planning road trips at Rand McNally and Trip Advisor. Well before you leave, make sure your car is serviced and ready for the trip. If you’re picking up a rental car, print your directions in advance, have them sent to a handheld device, or reserve a GPS from the rental car agency.
- Finish the preparations for your trip before you leave. Don't assume that you'll be able to finish writing a speech or preparing for a meeting on planes or in hotel rooms where you may not do your best work.
- Create a master list of items to take with you on every trip. If you travel frequently, this can be really helpful. Include items such your cell phone and charger, your calendar or organizer, and a device for steaming the wrinkles out of clothes. Consider keeping duplicate toiletries packed and ready to go in your carry-on bag along with a traveler's medical kit.
- Use online or automatic billing. You can easily take care of your bills this way while you're on extended travel.
Adjusting to time zone changes
Crossing time zones can lead to physical or mental changes such as fatigue, irritability, disorientation, and poor concentration. People who have one or more of these symptoms are sometimes said to have "jet lag." One of the most common signs of jet lag is feeling sleepy or wide awake at the wrong times of day. Jet lag typically occurs because you "lose" time when traveling east and "gain" it when traveling west. Dealing with time zone changes will be easier if you follow these suggestions:
- Get a good night's sleep before you travel. This will make it easier to calmly handle inconveniences such as delays and crowds at the airport. It will also help you maintain your energy level if you lose sleep because of time zone changes.
- Consider changing your sleep cycle gradually. If you'll be crossing several time zones, it may help to start adjusting your sleep schedule to that of your destination a week in advance. Consider changing the hour you usually go to bed and wake up, so your transition will be gradual rather than abrupt.
- Choose a hotel room that will help you adjust to a new place. If you anticipate needing a nap after you arrive, find out if you can check in early. See if you can get a room with blackout curtains and away from the pool, elevator, and ice machine.
- Hold meetings when you'll have the most energy. If possible, arrange meetings when you’re most energetic, particularly during the first day or two of your trip. This usually means scheduling them for the late afternoon or evening after flying east and in the mornings after flying west.
- Reestablish your usual sleeping schedule on "local" time as soon possible. If you normally go to bed at 11pm and get up at 7am, try to start going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 7am on the "local" time as soon as you can. This will help to ensure that you have the amount of sleep you need to function at your best. Limiting lengthy naps may make this easier to do.
- Try to spend some time outdoors each day. Walk to an appointment or have breakfast or lunch on a park bench instead of in a coffee shop. Keep the curtains in your hotel room open during the day. Natural light helps to bring your body's internal rhythms into harmony with those of your new environment.
- Give yourself time to adjust after you return. Don't push yourself too hard during your first day or two back at work. If you're exhausted, see if you can take a half day off, or arrive at the office later or work at home on your first day back.
Reducing the stress of air travel
- Wear comfortable clothes and practical shoes. Dress in layers so that you can stay comfortable at various temperatures. Shoes that can slip off make it easier to get through the security checkpoint at the airport.
- Take healthy meals or snacks to eat. Airline meals tend to be high in fat, calories, and preservatives. If you are going to order from the airline, consider an alternative to the standard fare, such as a vegetarian or low-sodium meal.
- Get up and walk around the plane at least once an hour. Get up and walk around or do a few stretching exercises. At other times, sit with your legs uncrossed and flex your legs and ankles often. Taking these measures can help to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially fatal circulatory problem that can develop in passengers who can't move about for long periods of time.
- Plan ahead for long flights. If you hope to sleep on the plane, pack a few items that may help, such as an eye mask, earplugs or sterile cotton balls, and an inflatable neck pillow. Request a window seat so you can close the shade. Don't consume alcohol or caffeine before or during the trip. Check to see if your in-flight headphones have a setting for nature sounds or "white noise" that may lull you to sleep (or download some onto a music player you plan to take).
Reducing the stress of extended travel
Staying on the road for more than a week or so can increase the stresses that you face, so you may want to take some extra preventive measures on long trips.
- Develop a routine. Find a place where you can buy your favorite kind of coffee in the morning or where you can enjoy a pleasant jog after work. Maintaining a few familiar rituals can ease the transition to a new setting.
- Ask co-workers, customers, or the hotel concierge for suggestions on dining out, entertainment, and how to enjoy your time in the area. Ask customers or co-workers to join you for lunch or dinner to help reduce the feeling of loneliness that is common on extended travel. If you let co-workers or customers know you can't go home for a holiday or another special occasion, they may invite you to share in their celebrations.
- Leave time for fun. On a short trip, you may need to devote almost all your time to work, but you'll burn out if you don't build time for fun into an extended stay. Check the calendar of events in the local newspaper or on a community website and explore a few activities you couldn't or wouldn't enjoy at home. See if your family or a special friend can join you occasionally on weekends.
- Stay connected to family and friends. Many business travelers say that much of their stress comes from missing important family or social occasions. You may be able to ease strains by looking for new ways to stay connected. Can you watch part of a school play or soccer game in "real time" on your cell phone? Join a family dinner occasionally via a webcam? A quiet hotel room is also a great place to call an old friend to catch up.