Travel for work: the positive stuff

So a while back I wrote this post on travel. This is another post on travel for work but more from the perspective of how good it is for your career. Over the years I have interviewed many people for roles that require some form of travel or another. Many people don’t want these kind of roles. Some do, but many don’t. My hardest sell was for roles requiring lots of travel to India.

Last week I was in Houston (Texas), for work, and I was reflecting on how lucky I have been in a couple of my roles to travel internationally. My first real business trip in my career was to London, travelling business class. That was awesome. I love the perspective you gain from these kind of trips. Experiencing a different part of the business and a different culture. I think it makes you a better leader.

Without doubt some of my best work and career development opportunities have been because I got to travel. The things I most remember were the interactions with people and the things I got to experience. 

Some examples…..

Longest most amazing day ever
While in India where I was doing some HR Audit work (kill me) I got to travel to a little known and remote place called Mundra, located in the upper north-west corner of India.  The landscape resembled roadrunner country and to get there the plane landed at an airforce base. The company I was working for at the time had developed the operation there as well as the housing and amenities for the employees they had to attract to the area to work. The HR Manager’s role went well beyond what you would expect. She was responsible for ensuring employees had adequate housing, providing education for their children, and more.

The longest most amazing day ever started with completing the HR audit at the work location and then going on a tour of the employee housing and the school. Lunch was followed by a long drive, on a road shared with buses, trucks, motorbikes, cows and elephants. Yep. The purpose of the trip was to visit a palace which provided the set for many Bollywood movies and then we had a drink on the beach while camels meandered past. We were invited to meet the Maharaja of Kutch and share a meal. When I finally returned to my hotel room that evening I couldn’t believe the day I had just experienced. I felt that time had been stretched (as I often would feel in India) and I could not have fitted in anything more varied and different to what I did that day. It seems surreal when I now think of it.

What did I learn?
The day was about learning how time is viewed in India (everything will happen in it’s own time) and gave me great insight into companies who provided more than just a job for employees. The leaders of this business were not just managing a workforce, they were managing a community.

As a tourist I would never had such an amazing experience.

Working with team members on the other side of the world!
Probably one of the hardest things in global organisations is developing relationships when you don’t get to see people! Geographical separation coupled with cultural differences mean that misunderstandings can be blown out of proportion and the ability to get things done can be hampered. One company I worked for would have me travel to their overseas head office a couple of times a year for 2 weeks at a time and that made a massive difference to our team getting to know each other and being effective. It also gave me visibility to other leaders in the business.

Last week I was at a global meeting (which happened at about the same time last year) and our team were able to continue to build the relationships we had already established. I got to connect with some other corporate people who I had met previously and met some people who I have only had contact via email. I also went to my first Rodeo and saw REO Speedwagon perform. They still got it! I learnt a lot this week and am leaving with a very clear focus and a very tired head. All good.

What did I learn?
Despite advances in technology for communication and collaboration, I just don't think they can beat meeting in person on regular occasions. 

You can always communicate!
By far the biggest learning experience I have had working and travelling overseas was in China. One particular trip I was being picked up by my local contact who didn't speak English. He bought with him a young Chinese woman who speaks about 6 words of English. I speak 2 words in Mandarin and had Charlie with me who was 4months old and still being breastfed! I flew into Guangzhou not knowing what Hotel I was staying in but also knowing that I was having dinner with a group of Chinese people who also didn't speak English. Who would do this?
It helps that the Chinese love babies and children!

It turned out to be a great dinner and trip. We all seemed to be able to communicate over a meal and Chinese wine and these people left the young Chinese women to stay with me in the hotel so I would be safe. I'm really not sure how much use she would have been (seeing as she was half my size and we couldn't really communicate) but it was a kind gesture.

The next morning my interpreter joined me, which meant the standard of communication improved, particularly on a business level. In the end it was a successful trip.

What did I learn?
Speaking the language is really just one way to communicate. There are many other ways and strangely on this trip I think relationships were built during the times we couldn't use language to communicate. These were often over meals, which seems to be a universal way to build and strengthen relationships, no matter what country you are in.

So what's the point?
Travelling for work can be hard. It messes with any sort of routine, it's very tiring and can be difficult if you have children that need care. If you can work with all these challenges then the difference it can make to your career can be massive. Don't rule it out!

Travelling for work: 5 tips for surviving and thriving

I was chatting to my hairdresser Steve Corthine this week. He has just arrived home from 10 days at New York Fashion Week, styling hair working with the hair product company OriginalMineral. So jealous! Imagine being behind the scenes during the craziness of fashion shows? He even got to see Fashion royalty Anna Wintour. Sigh. I must have worked in fashion in another life. Anyway. Getting distracted. You can read about his adventures here.

While we were chatting he mentioned that he doesn't know how I do it! Referring, to travelling for work. Well sometimes I'm not sure either, but I have been doing it for a while both before and after kids and have compiled my best tips for you here.

1. Gotta love it!
To travel regularly for work you gotta love your job, and you gotta love travelling because it's very tiring. As an example, you need lots of energy to if you are expected to do this:

Get up at 4.30am, catch taxi to airport at 5am, to board a flight at 6am. Then land in Melbourne around 7.30am and hop in a car or taxi to drive about 45 minutes to the office. Work all day, mainly in meetings. Leave around 5pm to get to the hotel in the city. This trip could take an hour or more. Check in at the hotel and in 15 mins meet work colleagues in the bar for drinks before heading to diner at 7. Dinner may go to 10.30pm and then a drink in one of Melbourne's trendy alley wine bars. Well it would be rude not to, wouldn't it? Go to bed around midnight and be ready to leave the hotel again the next morning at 7.30am having already had breakfast. Repeat. 

This is just domestic travel. I don't do this every week but on average have been doing it every 2-3 weeks for a few days at a time. It's not that glamorous so you gotta love it.

2. Sleep it off!
For this kind of pace it helps if you are good at sleeping on planes, particularly on long haul flights and sleeping in hotels, or both. I am really bad at sleeping on planes but sleep like a log in hotels. On long haul flights, say to the US or to London, I usually don't sleep on the flight and arrive feeling like death warmed up, but a night's sleep in a hotel and I'm good to go. My husband Arran can sleep on planes. He falls asleep before the plane even takes off. If I am travelling with him I have to fight the urge to hit him. Hard.

Rest and sleep is essential when travelling and it helps you manage your energy and your emotions. Travelling for work puts your body through more stress than it does if you are going on holidays, so sleep is really important if you are going to perform well.

My favourite jobs have been the ones where I get to travel overseas. My very first business trip was to London. So. Lucky. Pinched myself the whole time I was there, but the jet lag!! Seriously. That trip I flew business class (so lucky) and arrived into what must be the biggest airport in the world, Heathrow, and had to navigate my way to my hotel, WITH NO SLEEP for more than 36 hours. I had hay-fever the whole trip. Thought I might die from lack of sleep, sneezing and rubbing my nose. 

After checking into the hotel I went for a wander for a few hours and then slept for about 20!

I also love travelling. I love getting to the airport and looking around the shops. I love the business lounge if I'm lucky enough to have access to one. I love getting on the plane and getting set up in my seat and I even love the airline food. I LOVE taking off! So sad. I know. But it helps. If you hate all that stuff and you have to travel on planes all the time, give it up. Seriously. Find a 9-5 job where you go to the same office everyday.

2. Manage your calendar
Sometimes you don't have a choice when you have to travel for work. There are times when you are attending a national or global meeting and in these instances you generally have to comply with the timing set by someone else. In my experience though, there are times when you either have a lot of choice or the ability to influence the timing of your trips. Recently I was able to influence the timing of a global HR meeting I am attending in the US because I have to travel the greatest distance (most everyone else is in North America). It was great because I could work with my husband Arran to work out the best timing for him, who would be left with the sole caring responsibility for our 2 small boys for the week. That makes a massive difference to our relationship.

Arran and I manage our lives through our online calendars, both work and home. That might sound a little sad but it seems to work. When I travel domestically I have my flight and hotel details in my calendar and make sure Arran is included in this appointments so he knows where and when I am travelling. We have a fair bit of give and take in our relationship. I travel for work but he travels for his passion, mountain biking. It works most of the time but it's a negotiation and we try not to take each other for granted.

3. Get out and about

This rule applies for domestic and international travel. It's important to exercise when you travel but I firmly believe you need to get outside. Forget the hotel gym or pool. You need to get outside and pound the streets. Breathe in some air. Get some sunshine on your skin. Work out your bearings. Give your mind a break. There are some countries and cities I don't recommend this (India comes to mind) but generally, get out there!

There's lots of research to suggest that sunlight helps reset your body clock to get you into your new destination's time zone. And it feels great. When I travel I spend lots of time in airports, aeroplanes, hire cars/taxis/, the office, hotels and restaurants. All inside. 30 minutes getting out in my sneakers is great. I admit there are times when I pack my sneakers and they don't get out of their shoe bag, but when they do I love it!

This rule also applies to the airport and the plane. Try to move about in the airport. Why sit down when you are about to board a plane when you are going to be sitting for hours? If you are on a long haul flight go for a walk during the stop over. Don't sit or sleep on stopovers less than 4 hours. Walk around, look at the shops. Keep moving. 

On the plane, get up regularly. I drink lots of water on planes which means I have to go to the toilet a lot (I always request an aisle seat). So often I have been sitting next to someone for 8 hours who never got out of their seat, even to go to the toilet. How is that possible?

A great tip I learnt from my friend Jacqui is to have a shower on the stopover on long flights. This makes you feel great. Pack some clean undies, some deodorant and utilise the business lounge facilities. Getting naked and having hot water on your body is so nice when you have been cooped up for hours and hours. You get back on the plane feeing fresh and clean for the next leg.

4.  Listen to your body
I'm not a big proponent of "getting into the time zone", by staying up till your normal bed time in your new location, particularly if your new location is the opposite side of the world. I have been to London a few times for work, which is pretty close to the opposite time zone to Sydney. The flight typically arrives at around 7am London time, arrive at the hotel around 9am. I generally have a shower and go for a walk about have some lunch. By about 2pm I enter into a woozy muddled head-space where I don't know which way is up. I go to bed and generally wake around 9pm and then go back to sleep until morning. that's the way I handle it. I'm much more about listening to your body (if you can). Of course having a little nap in a meeting at 2pm in the afternoon is probably not going to work.

5. Back at home

Get back into your home routine quickly. Unpack your bags and get everything put away. Get some exercise and a coffee from your favourite cafe. It you are tired at 8pm go to bed. If you are too tired to work at night, if you normally would, don't. Get out in the sunshine and air and leave work early for a few days. Connect with friends and family, face to face.

Inspire me

Quick tips you might found helpful but I'm hopeless at!
  • Got to bed early: I'm seriously bad at this. If there is a social situation to be a part of I'm there. Stuff the sleep! I also have lots of energy in the evening. Most nights I could easily stay up to midnight without much effort. The evening is when I get everything done. I exercise, sometimes I work and I blog at night. Even if for some reason I'm back in my hotel room early, I still manage to while away the time and end up going to bed late.
  • Don't drink alcohol: I like wine. I really like wine. Arran and I have been known to organise holidays around wine. If I'm in a new city to country it's a pretty safe bet I want to try the wine. I also have built a reputation in my current role of picking good wine at restaurants. I would have to partake then, wouldn't I?
  • Travel light: actually I'm pretty good at this now. I can travel for a week with a small carry on bag. Plan well and work out a flexible range of clothes that won't need ironing. I find that the bit easy as I don't iron full stop. The hardest part for me is shoes. If I'm being really restrained I can manage with a pair of sneakers, a pair of flats (which I wear on the plane) and a pair of heels. I think there is nothing worse then struggling around an aiport with heavy luggage.
  • Don't eat on planes: I have a good friend who sticks to this rule. It seems like a good idea, I guess. I mean you aren't moving very much to burn up what you are eating. Trouble is I like food. I like airline food. I even "booked the cook" for my next flight to Singapore. And it gives you something to do. Eating fills up some time....
  • Take vitamin supplements: To keep up the pace when your diet may not be the best it's good to get a little help. I pack vitamins but always forget to take them. Hopeless

Develop me

Need more help? Check out Road Warriorette, a blog about travelling for work.

Just for me

One way to make travel for work more enjoyable is to keep doing something you like doing. For example, when I'm away I like to blog and take photos. I generally don't take by digital SLR when travelling for work because I try to travel light, but I take lots of shots with my iphone and post them using instagram. I love taking shots of interiors.

Hard Rock Hotel, Singapore

Hard Rock Hotel, Singapore