We’re on a road to nowhere- Travel anxiety

Will my bags make it?
Will my bags make it?

Oh no, another trip abroad. Some people relish the thought of flying away to a foreign, exotic land. Obviously, they have not travelled frequently on business. Business travel is different than leisure travel- since you want to maximize your time on the road, your schedule is more condensed, with back to back flights/ meetings and limited time to rest. There’s also more at stake- every mistake or delay can ruin the trip altogether. On a vacation if you miss a flight is usually means losing 1 day of your vacation, or some other nuisance. On a business trip this could be disastrous to your carefully planned itinerary. If you lose your suitcase (or more likely, the airline does) on a vacation you simply stroll to the nearest mall, buy the necessities and wait for your luggage to arrive the following day. On a business trip you don’t enjoy such luxury- on the next day you might be in another town (or country for that matter), so you do your best to check in any luggage and stuff everything to your carry on. You also have the burden of packing/unpacking on a daily basis, which increases your chances of losing something small yet significant (damn toothbrush). And all these things add up to build what I call “travel anxiety”.

For me this starts on the day of my departure flight and only diminishes when I drop my suitcase at my hotel room. The whole ordeal of packing, traveling to the airport, check-in, security, boarding, flight, immigration, collecting my luggage, exchanging money and riding to my hotel is a long, stressful process.

What I’ve found is that this feeling only gets worse as I grow older. When I was single I used to pack several hours before the flight, paying little attention to what I was taking, leaving for the airport at the last minute, walking quickly from the check-in counter straight to the gate and boarding last. Now as a father I need to pack days in advance (since I don’t know which emergency I’ll have prior to departing), leave ample time for duty free shopping for the family, check a big, clunky suitcase (need to bring stuff back from abroad, which my wife has bought online and shipped to my hotel) and must never ever miss my flight back home (else the wife will have to face another challenging day with the kids alone). Time abroad is also more stressful, as I now must accommodate skype calls and “good night” sessions ( could be very difficult to coordinate on different time-zones), gift shopping for two girls of varying ages and still try to save as much money out of my per- diem to add to my salary.

So business trips are no great fun, and tend to be stressful. With time, I’ve found several tricks to minimize the pressure and relieve the anxiety. Try these:

  1. Try not to travel alone– having a companion can relieve much of the pressure. It the simple things really- someone to look after your bags when you go to the toilets, another pair of ears listening to last minute public service announcements about gate changes, and someone to dine with.
  2. Plan in advance- as experience as you might be, do try to be prepared, have all your vouchers printer, double check your flight times and scheduled meeting times.
  3. Build a healthy buffer into everything you do. Travelling to the airport from your home usually takes 30 minutes? Give yourself an hour to get there. Check in and security are usually a 15 minutes deal? Plan on spending an hour there. At worse you’ve made some spare time for you to have a cup of coffee or catch up on some emails. Other time it could save you from near misses.
  4. Take lots of extras- cloths, ties, laptop cables. I’ve forgotten / stained/ forgot to charge them all. Bring an extra pair (within reason ).
  5. Take double of what is crucial to your business purpose. If you intend on presenting a demo, bring another machine. If you need to deliver 10 handouts of your PPT bring 20 (there might be many more people attending the meeting- you never know). The extra weight and hassle are nothing compared to traveling all the way just to find that one DVI- HDMI connector failing your presentation to the customer.
  6. Take the ugliest, most colorful suitcase you can find. This increases the chances of you locating it on the conveyor belt while simultaneously reduce the risk of someone taking your precious suitcase by accident.
  7. Unpack as soon as you get home. Especially true is you have kids/ live in a small apartment. The sight of daddy’s suitcase in the middle of the living room will just remind them of your time away (or will create new worries of you living soon).
  8. Replenish your toiletry kit and make sure it’s ready for your next trip. This is by far the highest size-to-packing time ratio item in you luggage. Have it ready to reduce future packing time ( and avoid the “damn, forgot my toothbrush scenario” on your first night away).

Overall, done correctly you can even enjoy business travel (traveling in business class and posh hotels help). But sometimes you actually need to take a real vacation, just to remind yourself that getting on a plane could even be, well, fun and enjoyable.

Bon voyage!

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