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

Career musings. Who wears the pants?

I have noticed something in my current job. The shock on my male colleagues face when I say I have a nearly 4yr old and a 14 month old. This is often followed by questions and statements:

How do you do it?
How do you cope with everything?
How do you travel? 
How does your husband cope?
Wow! or Whoa!!

It's generally a disbelief and shock and and sometimes a little judgement. Judgement that I could possibly leave the house with such a small child there. I guess. I'm finding the double standard quite surprising but I'm not always offended. It comes from a curious place. Usually. And when it comes from a curious place I am always happy to explain how my husband Arran and I work it. I myself am curious about the double standard I perceive to be there.

It seems to be ok that men work when they have a little baby, but not women. Has anyone else experienced this? That women somehow have that magic ingredient that only they have, which means they are the ones who need to be the primary caregiver. Of course if the baby is being breastfed then it's a little tricky but on all other matters it's not. I think a lot of women promote this too. I have seen men in the relationship with a small child treated as though they are stupid or unworthy to look after their own child because they do things differently with the kids. 

From the very start when Aiden was a new-born, Arran used to defer to me on lots of issues, because he perceived that I somehow knew how to do something for him, because I was the one who gave birth. Complete crap. I didn't automatically get an instruction manual as my milk came in. Nor was I an expert just because I carried him for 9 months. In the end I said to Arran that I only knew about as much as him and that he could make decisions too. Arran took it all on board and probably became a bit of a baby hog. He had as much or as little confidence as me. That's ok. Made both our lives easier.

I don't believe men get the same questions in the workplace. They don't ask each other these questions, and if they do it's about sharing and comparing and showing how proud they are of their beautiful children. There is no judgement. I don't think men consider judging other men about their children because there is an assumption, in my view, that there is a woman somewhere who is carrying the child care and domestic burden. 

The questions I get the most is "how do you work and travel with small children?" I don't think a man in the same circumstance would get this question. I'm not sure Arran ever gets this question when he is away for the weekend, riding his bike in the middle of nowhere. Will any of his mate's acknowledge or even wonder who is looking after his two boys when he does Tour Divide in June this year? Men seem to acknowledge that it's hard at home with small kids and they will have to "pay" when they get home from a work trip. There seems to be a belief that the man will be in a "points" deficit when he gets back but there is no issue with him working long hours or having to travel away from home. It's ok because there is a woman around and she is expected to look after the kids and tend to the home, whether she works outside the home or not.

I get questions like "how does your husband cope?" Firstly, no one asks me that question when Arran goes away! I am just expected to cope. Secondly, I think it's also offensive to Arran and to men, who are completely capable of looking after kids if only women would just let them. 

When I have to travel for work of course I miss Aiden and Charlie, and they miss me. There are lots of "mum, mum, mums..." from Charlie when I'm not there and lots of "Where's Mummy" from Aiden. I try to do a few things to make the days I'm away a little easier for Arran, who has to take the burden of getting them to and from childcare, caring for them if they are sick and feeding them, dressing them, bathing them and generally making sure they are ok. 

But I enjoy the time away too. How shocking! What kind of mother am I? I enjoy hopping on a plane in my freshly dry-cleaned work clothes free of drool and jam. I like having a little time to myself to read a magazine. I enjoy having a hotel bed all to myself without the chance of being woken by a screaming child and having to fling myself out of bed in the small hours of the morning, to replace a dummy before the crying escalates so much that it will take 30 minutes to settle him down. I like just having to do my own hair and get myself dressed. I like eating breakfast alone in the hotel restaurant or a nearby cafe. I like not having to get up and down a hundred times to tend to some small child's need during said breakfast and then rush them to daycare. I'm sure my male colleagues who travel also enjoy such things. And I like coming home again. Actually the time I came home to a vomiting bug wasn't great....anyway you get the point.

I love my work and the company I work for. I also enjoy working with men. I have always worked in more industrial businesses which have tended to be more male dominated. I often find myself as the only woman in the meeting. I like these businesses because they are practical and down to earth, and I feel like what I do can make a difference. That's all very well but driving innovation and creativity in businesses requires diversity of thought and that I believe requires diversity in the employee group. Different ages, different experiences, different cultural and religious backgrounds, different ways of working, and men and women in different roles across the organisation. 

Inspire me

I wanted this post to be an observation of what I experience at work, as a woman and as a woman with children. I wanted it to be thought provoking and a conversation starter. I asked Arran to read the post before I put it live on the blog, mainly because I didn't want the post to be too critical. I love my job and our workplaces are what they are, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be challenged and continue to evolve to be places where every person can contribute and be valued, not matter their personal circumstances.

After reading this post Arran and I had a really good conversation about his experience at work and how his responsibilities looking after our beautiful boys are perceived. It's not just women who are struggling. Men who want to contribute equally to looking after their children find it hard in the workplace as well. He suggested I write a follow up post about this but I had a better idea. Arran is an accomplished writer. He writes his own blog called Musings of a Wannabe Racer and has written articles on mountain bike riding for many print and online magazines.

Arran is going to be a guest writer on this blog next week, giving his view of how people in his organisation view his want and need to care for our children equally. Stay posted!

Develop me

Great TED talk from Hanna Rosin on the crisis for men and the rise of women.

Just for me

If you happen to me a mum, like me, you might like this blog called Fox in Flats. It's a fun and inspiring blog to help you to be stylish. Not everything needs to be serious! Enjoy!