- Business travel is essential for many employees, but a poorly planned trip can be a significant source of stress.
- Travel-related stress can negatively impact work performance and distract workers from effective job performance.
- Business travelers can take proactive measures to reduce stress and ensure their work doesn’t suffer.
- This article is for professionals looking for ways to lessen business-travel stress.
Traveling for any reason can be stressful, but business travel can be particularly demanding and hectic. Work travel often involves a high-pressure atmosphere and a taxing schedule that leads to unhealthy diets, a lack of regular exercise, poor sleeping habits, and even unhealthy vices like drinking too much alcohol or smoking.
Fortunately, organizations and professionals can take steps to mitigate travel stress and foster a calmer, healthier experience. We’ll examine 12 tips for avoiding business travel stress and examine unique elements of business travel in the age of COVID-19.
Travel is one element of workplace stress. Other stress triggers include deadlines, co-worker competitiveness and physical demands.
Avoiding stress during business travel
Business travelers can take proactive steps to help their trips run smoothly and prioritize their health and well-being. Here are some tips for business travelers to manage their time away with less anxiety.
1. Plan ahead to save time during business travel.
Plan as many details for your business trip in advance as possible. Create a travel checklist that includes obvious packing items and more complex details of your itinerary. If you’re traveling by plane, ensure your seat is secured, your flight is on time, you know precisely when to check in, and you understand the airline’s baggage allowance.
Additionally, investigate programs for expediting the airport security process, such as Global Entry for international travel and Clear for domestic and international travel.
Check the weather for your destination in advance and pack accordingly. Book lodging close to your meeting destination.
2. Use travel apps for your business travel.
Use business travel apps to smooth your journey and stay organized:
- Yelp and Tripadvisor. Yelp and Tripadvisor can help you find hotels and places to eat.
- CamCard. CamCard and other business card scanners allow you to scan and save all the business cards you collect.
- Expense-tracking apps. Expense-tracking apps like Expensify can help you track business expenses by capturing and itemizing receipts. They also help ensure accurate mileage reimbursement.
- TripIt. TripIt is an all-in-one business-travel app that captures expenses, confirmation emails, shared schedules and more.
- Shared calendar apps. Shared calendar apps can organize your team’s meeting presence and attendance and streamline task management.
Expense-tracking apps often integrate with the best accounting software to ensure that you’re reimbursed promptly and that the business understands its expenditures and deductions.
3. Clarify business travel expectations with your supervisor.
In the days leading up to your trip, meet with your manager to set clear expectations, goals and objectives. Take notes during this meeting, even if it seems short on detail; feeling and being prepared for the business you conduct when you arrive can go a long way toward easing stress.
While you’re away, try to connect as often as possible. Communication and collaboration tools like Google Meet, Slack and Microsoft Teams make checking in with your managers and team seamless.
4. Take advantage of downtime while traveling for business.
Spending every spare moment of your trip working adds to your travel stress. Use short lulls in your trip to unplug, recharge and explore when possible.
Consider scheduling downtime in your calendar, and include multiple options for how to spend it, depending on where you are and how much free time you end up having. Downtime options may include sightseeing, visiting the gym, going for walks and connecting with friends.
5. Work while you travel for business.
If you have some downtime on a long flight or train ride, consider using the focused quiet time to get ahead on work. You may not have all the resources you need, but if you can take care of backlogged work before you arrive, it may reduce your stress level.
You can also use travel time to examine the notes you took during your expectations meeting with your manager. Consider a plan for executing your achievable business goals when you arrive. Even if you’re just making a courtesy call, preparing options for your conversations will smooth your way and ease your stress.
Pay attention to cybersecurity while traveling for business. Ensure your devices are locked and password-protected when not in use, and consider setting up a virtual private network (VPN) service on your computer.
6. Get enough sleep during business travel.
Getting sufficient sleep is always a good idea, but it’s especially relevant when traveling. Lack of sleep can raise stress levels and reduce cognitive function. Maintaining healthy sleep patterns while traveling can be a challenge, especially if there’s a time difference. However, do what you can to ensure a good night’s sleep. Remember to factor in the winding-down period you need before bedtime.
7. Make detailed arrangements for your time away.
The more you plan, the less stress your trip will bring. Leaving things up to chance dramatically increases the likelihood of problems arising.
Here are some tips for thinking ahead and making arrangements:
- Book a hotel and transportation as soon as you’ve committed to the trip.
- Schedule appointments ahead of time.
- Investigate restaurants that can accommodate your needs if you’re planning lunch or dinner meetings.
- Understand your hotel’s check-in policies, business services, amenities and room service schedule.
- Stay in contact with your hotel if you’ll arrive outside its regular check-in hours.
8. Don’t get lost while in an unfamiliar location.
If you’re traveling to a place you’ve never visited or have little familiarity with, stay on the beaten path unless you have a guide. Although exploring in your free time is acceptable, business travel is not a vacation. If you get lost driving to a restaurant on the other side of town or searching for some other attraction, you will only add stress to your trip.
It’s never a bad idea to leave earlier for meetings than you typically would at home, since you’ll be unfamiliar with local traffic patterns. If you have a car service, it might help you schedule the correct departure times for on-time arrival. Uber, Lyft, Apple Maps and Google Maps are all valuable tools for staying on time and getting where you need to go.
9. Stay focused during business travel.
Business travel can be a welcome break from the norm, but remember that you’re still working. If you treat the trip like a vacation, your work will suffer, you may not accomplish what you’ve been sent to do, and you could cost your company time and money in ways that will cause problems when you return to work. Prep time is more essential than ever when you’re traveling on business.
10. Take time to yourself during business travel.
If travel normally causes you stress, take time to relax and create a stress-free work environment on the road. Don’t get too chill and forget what you came to do, but take an hour or two to unwind and sit by the pool or have a leisurely dinner once your work is done.
Relaxing a bit will help you reset your mind and focus on the tasks ahead. Again, if at all possible, schedule this downtime into your calendar.
11. Call friends or family for support during business travel.
Sometimes the stress of travel comes from what you’re leaving behind more than the activity itself. If you’re worried about your spouse and children, elderly parents, or other people close to you, give them a call when your work is done. With the technology available today, physical distance doesn’t have to keep you from communicating with loved ones.
12. Ace the business trip’s mission.
The best way to relieve stress is to accomplish the task you’re stressed about. If you have a big meeting or interview coming up that’s giving you anxiety, take a breath and prepare as much as possible. Once you’ve done enough prep to feel confident, the nerves will start to disappear, and you’ll be better equipped to take on whatever challenge is causing you stress.
How can companies ease employees’ business travel stress?
Organizations must balance employees’ and clients’ needs during business travel. In-person meetings improve the customer experience, but traveling to provide this level of service can cause employees stress.
To help ease employee business travel stress, consider the following tips:
- Host pre-travel workshops that reinforce healthy travel behaviors and encourage travelers to identify and manage their most frequent causes of stress.
- Arrange for TSA pre-check to make the airport experience less daunting.
- Ensure employees stay at quality hotels with helpful amenities.
- Pay for layover meals or an airport lounge membership.
- Ensure a company contact is available 24/7 to help with emergencies.
Business travel in the (latest) age of COVID-19
Traveling while COVID-19 is still a concern presents unique challenges, and everyone must make their own risk-benefit assessment.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises travelers to continue and even ramp up self-protection measures. Business and leisure travelers alike must consider the broad variety of other virulent, contagious illnesses out there, including RSV, the flu, colds and other viruses.
International business travelers have unique concerns. For example, some countries outside the U.S. — and some locations within it — maintain specific health and safety protocols related to vaccinations, masking, distancing and COVID-19 testing. Business travelers must understand COVID-19 rules and international business etiquette before departing and encountering surprises that derail a trip.
Additionally, with travel reopening in China, there are concerns about new COVID-19 variants spreading globally.
In the age of COVID and other contagious illnesses, essential travel safety advice from the CDC holds true:
- Keep up to date on COVID-19 and all vaccines.
- Check local masking and other regulations at your destination.
- Test for COVID-19 within a day of your departure.
- Stay home if you test positive.
- Increase your protection measures in crowded spaces like airports and events.
- Travel with hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently.
How preparation reduces stress and smoothes business travel
Business travel is inherently stressful because it combines the demands of client and business responsibilities with typical travel stressors. It’s crucial to prepare for all eventualities to set yourself up for success and give yourself the confidence to face the unexpected.
Make lists, attend to details ahead of time, and prioritize downtime for your health and wellness. Your preparation will help you stay confident and calm and able to enjoy your time and career success.
Adam Uzialko contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.