Those of us who travel for a living commonly fall into the “travel trap cycle” – a pattern of sleeping, eating, meeting clients, and hitting the road again without much regard to healthy habits. No matter the frequency of your work travel, you may find value in incorporating healthy practices and habits into your routine – doing so can help improve your performance on the road, and preserve your mind and body for an enjoyable time back at home.
A year ago, I was suffering the effects of the travel trap cycle; I was far from healthy and quite overweight. I wasn’t working out or getting any type of movement or exercise. I would wake up at the crack of dawn to catch the first flight out, hop into my rental car, and then set off to see customers before crashing in the hotel. I was at the mercy of rich restaurant food each day and would visit with my customers after work for the social drink. This quickly took a toll on my body, and I knew something had to give. I give you a modest compilation of practices I’ve integrated, gained from qualified health professionals.
Stress – Often the overarching contributor to an unhealthy lifestyle, stress is the state in which we experience fear of the unknown. We can take all sorts of stress with us on the road: family life, medical issues, finances, work, etc. It’s easy to suppress or mask these concerns on the road since there is an endless supply of comfort food, bartenders, and those perfectly comfy hotel beds to swallow you up.
The fix: Acknowledging the pitfalls that perpetuate stress is key to mental and physical health. Substituting these for healthy outlets will minimize the amount of stress you carry around. In my case, I made healthier food choices, and a determination to sleep well and get plenty of exercise.
Food – Who doesn’t like to eat? When the hunger pangs hit during the stress of work travel - running from gate to gate to catch your flight, driving long hours to your next call – oftentimes the initial reaction is to grab the first thing you see. I have been to most airports, and noticed there aren’t many healthy options when time is tight; it’s easy to slide through one of those fast food chains for a burger and fries. I fell for this trap many times.
The fix: To counter cravings, I now prepare myself with healthy options. I bring a variety of snacks in my carry-on like almonds, protein powder, jerky and fruit. This will sustain me until I am able to find more nutritious options outside the airport.
When I wake up at 3:30 a.m., the protein and fruit keep me energized and focused in flight; in my previous experience, I might have reached for something fast, which would drain my energy and leave me looking for the next food fix to help me feel better. I find that eating well for each meal can provide a great advantage to your overall wellbeing for the day. Find foods that sustain you. Proteins and vegetables do that best for me. Carbohydrates leave me bloated and usually feeling hungry sooner.
Exercise – Running to catch a flight does not count! When my stress and weight were at their peak, I heard a podcast in which the presenter spoke of pushups being the best overall quick workout.
The fix: When I heard the podcast, I could barely do five pushups. I pushed myself to do them, though, as a reaction to stress. Pushups are not the answer for everyone, but it’s so important to find an activity that is easy to do on the road. Everyone is unique, and we all need different levels of activity. What works for me is sticking to a regimen and not wavering on it too much. Yes, life is busy but I have to make that conscious decision every day to work out for at least 30 minutes. If I can, I will usually check into the hotel, put on my workout clothes, and either hit the gym or find a chain gym in the city. I find that doing this, helps me clear my mind and focus on the day’s work.
Sleep – Too many times, I’ve been so tired that I crash on my hotel bed, only to wake up at 2:00 a.m., clothed, with every light on and the television operating. If you are familiar with this situation, you are not alone.
Insufficient sleep quality can also be an unhealthy pitfall. Research shows that 7-8 hours of nightly sleep is needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprived, we are not equipped to make healthy decisions about food and exercise, which leads to more stress buildup.
The fix: Turn off the television, change into your night-clothes, turn off the light, and go to sleep. In turn, I find that when I exercise regularly on the road, I fall asleep quicker and the quality of sleep is much better.
These practices have helped me live a healthier and more productive life. The threat is always there, but once you address your stress and pitfalls, you will be strong enough to dominate the travel trap cycle. A buddy once shared this simple piece of advice that has really stuck with me: “Just try to do better than you did yesterday.”