For some nonprofit leaders and even mid-level staff, frequent travel is required. Over the years I learned strategies, tricks, and mindsets that made travel less taxing and more enjoyable – some of which can be applied to leisure travel as well. When you log as much as 200,000 miles flown per year, as I did for many years, you learn some things through trial and error, or simply in an effort to survive. (These are especially relevant if you need to be cost-conscious while travelling, as most nonprofit leaders must be.) Only a few of these lessons made it into the final book. But I share them on this blog since I think current and future “road warriors” may find them useful.
I think it is poor manners to complain about how much you travel for work, especially since many of us who have this opportunity now longed for it earlier in our careers. That is not to say that travelling 10-15 days per month is easy, especially when you don’t fly business class or stay in fancy hotels (and even when you do). In my 20s, I would get tense as my departure date neared, making my wife crazy, and once underway I would get progressively more tired and cranky. Upon return, I would feel depleted while urgently trying to catch up on everything I missed. I made myself and those around me miserable. Over time, I experimented with new approaches and gradually learned quite a few techniques and strategies for making travel more enjoyable, less stressful, and more productive. Today, I often return from most trips with more energy than I had when I left, and usually am quite productive while on the road.
Below are 10 of my 26 travel-related lessons. If you send me evidence that you have bought my book (which should be possible by May 1, if not before), I will send you this complete list (or any other list you ask for). If you send me evidence that you have bought at least three copies of my book, I will send you all 403 lessons across 14 categories (this being one of them).
1. Figure out ways to build in daily physical exercise while travelling. Except for the most important tasks, sacrifice a bit of quality or preparation for your meetings and projects on the road in favor of letting your body work out its stresses in a physical way through exercise. Be wary of sacrificing sleep for exercise, though sometimes it makes sense to do so. Light exercise is better than nothing if going to the gym or for a run is impractical (and it is often more practical than you think if you get creative and ask people for help). Simply walking up a flight of stairs rather than taking an escalator makes a difference if you do it frequently enough.
2. When travelling alone, don’t feel obligated to visit sights or buy gifts for your spouse or life partner unless you or they truly desire it. Get home faster, rest more, and save your money instead.
3. Periodically look at your calendar and think about friends and family who live in places you will visit in a few weeks. Then consider contacting them to set up a time to meet in person with as much advance notice as possible, since people with complicated lives like yours don’t appreciate last minute requests to get together and often can’t accommodate them.
4. Figure out what you want from airlines, trains, cabs, and hotels and without a trace of entitlement, ask for those things courteously. You will be surprised how often you will get what you ask for.
5. Don’t stress yourself out by needing to get everything done perfectly before you leave on a trip. Realize that oftentimes, good is good enough. By engaging in unnecessary perfectionism, you may drive your friends, family and colleagues crazy and undermine your ability to perform at a high level.
6. As a conversation starter while waiting for others involved in a business meeting to show up, talk to people about their hobbies and yours. This can lead to them making suggestions about how you can indulge your own hobbies in their city, and if you happen to share a hobby with them (e.g., listening to live jazz or biking), they may invite you to join them for something fun and this can make a trip more enjoyable and deepen a business relationship at the same time.
7. If you are nervous you may leave something (like a cell phone charger) at home before you leave on a trip, or in your hotel room before you leave for a day of meetings or while checking out, leave it very close to or inside something you cannot leave without, like your car keys or shoes.
8. Pack one more set of underwear than you think you need, a bathing suit, and exercise clothing (even if you think that your trip won’t lend itself to working out). If you are going to check luggage, bring a Swiss Army knife. If you discover that you like certain seasonings or garnishes with your food, pack some.
9. If a service establishment like a hotel or restaurant seems to care about its reputation, firmly but gently insist on good service when you are getting something below some reasonable standard. Don’t raise your voice or become abusive, but ask for supervisors until you find someone who can address the situation. Usually someone will if you stay patient, insistent, and respectful.
10. When you leave your hotel for a few hours with an intention to return (i.e., you are not checking out), bring any credit cards, cash or identification you might need before you return, but leave everything else locked up in your suitcase. They will probably be safer there.