Travel Tips for Road Warriors
I feel very blessed that, as a public speaker, I’m invited to speak all over the world. In a busy month, I will find myself boarding as many as four flights in a week. Mostly these are short-haul journeys to the U.S., but I also make several long-haul international flights every year to places like the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe for work and fun. It’s incredibly fulfilling and exhilarating to share my message of empowerment and inclusion with audiences on stages across the world—but I’d be the first to tell you that there are parts of travelling that can be difficult, tedious, and even unhealthy when it becomes your lifestyle.
I started to notice the downside of too much travel a few years into becoming a professional public speaker. A number of things were going awry with my health, and when I took a closer look, I realized a lot of my issues were related to my frequent travel. My road warrior lifestyle was impacting my diet and causing digestive issues, causing me to become dehydrated both inside and out, messing with my sleep schedule, and contributing to heightened stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, I’ve since learned some tips, tricks, and systems that help me stay both healthy and comfortable during periods of frequent travel. Here’s what I do to make my frequent-travel lifestyle a lot more livable!
Airplane food is notorious for being terrible—and most airports aren’t much better. To help me avoid the unsavory (and expensive!) items on offer, I carry a ton of snacks in my purse to sustain me until I’m at my hotel or back at home. My favorites are nuts, natural fruit and nut bars, hard-boiled eggs, cut-up veggies, and homemade sandwiches.
When I must buy airport food, I’ll seek out healthier items like plain Greek yoghurt (to avoid the evils of added sugar), nut butters, soup, or, if I’m in a desperate pinch, a tuna wrap.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m generally vigilant with the food I put in my body, and with traveling this requires a little extra planning. In a nutshell (no pun intended), my purse functions like a snack cupboard—and these snacks are my savior!
It can be hard to stay well-hydrated during travel, which is also one of the times when we need it most. Flying on a plane is known for being dehydrating due to the low-humidity, climate controlled environment, and many hotel rooms are bone dry as well. When it comes to dehydration, I’m all about prevention.
It took me a while to figure out that I needed to kick up my moisturizing game to prevent the scaly alligator skin I was sporting. After experimenting with a few options (for example, I tried facial mists, which I don’t think are that great), I now focus on applying my regular facial moisturizer liberally when I get on the plane and then again when I’m going to bed after a flight.
Not only does dehydration show up in our skin, but it also impacts our internal systems (for example, parts of your digestive system may essentially shut down). To prevent this, I usually carry an empty tea thermos in my purse, along with herbal tea bags. (If you’re starting to wonder whether my purse is the size of a cargo box—it basically is!) Once I’m through security, I try to drink about a liter of water between waiting at the airport and being on the flight.
I also travel with electrolyte packets to add to a water bottle for longer flights. Electrolytes fight symptoms of dehydration by making sure water is delivered to the systems in the body that need it most, so these are an essential in my travel bag. I also try my best not to drink alcohol in the sky—boring at times, but alas, it makes a difference.
Hotel surfing, frequenting high-traffic airports, and being up in the air where it’s super dry can make it tough to fight off germs. To combat illnesses, I’m obsessive about using hand sanitizer and wet-naps on planes, and I also take a few drops of oil of oregano when I'm on a longer flight. My stomach tends to take the biggest hit when I travel, so I make sure I have probiotics and digestive enzyme pills on hand. I’ll also take a few drops of oil of oregano before a meal that my intuition tells me might mess me up.
Handling Sleep Issues
Sleep can be tough when your schedule is disrupted, especially when jet-lag is involved. As a rule of thumb, I keep to my own time zone (Eastern) if I’m within 3 hours of it. This can mean going to bed or getting up very early in the city I’m visiting—but as long as it works with my speaking schedule, it’s well worth doing! If I’m travelling to Asia or Europe, I try to push myself into the new time zone as soon as I get on the plane—which means forcing myself to sleep or to stay awake, depending on my destination.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
Travel disrupts the familiarity of our routines, and imposes activities on our lives that are time-sensitive, rushed, and largely out of our control. This can contribute to heightened stress and anxiety (i.e. make us wildly cranky and unpleasant), so I do a few things to make myself feel more comfortable and routinized when I fly.
Firstly, I try to fly Star Alliance whenever possible, to maintain a flying status with them that allows me to skip lines, board first, and check more luggage. These are small perks but they make a huge difference when you just want to get home to your own bed. I also try to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible so I can exit faster.
Another thing that helps me to avoid stressful lines as a frequent flyer is having Nexus and Global Entry. I don’t love the idea of being in global government databases (especially as a brown-skinned person), but when I bypass the bazillion people waiting in the regular line-up, my disdain for state surveillance magically disappears.
Last year, after nearly a year of writing my book while maintaining my intense speaking schedule, I started to experience anxiety in moments when I felt trapped in a small space (a lot of this writing was done on planes). Unfortunately, this “trapped feeling” sometimes shows up during a flight, which is hard since traveling is a key part of my work. To help combat this feeling when it kicks in, I use lavender oil for some in-flight aromatherapy and to trigger deep breathing, which is a foolproof way to calm the mind and body. I will say, “This feeling is fake. You’re fine,” several times to myself while breathing deeply to bring myself more into the present. As bizarre as it sounds, I also find that eating strong mints on a flight helps me to feel calm, so I always carry a tin of them in my purse.
It can be tough to maintain your workout routine when you travel, but I’ve put a few measures in place that help me stay consistent with exercise when I’m away from home. Firstly, my suitcase is always ready to go with workout wear, so I’m always equipped. I also try to book a hotel with a gym—but when I can’t, I do a form of training in my hotel room that I developed with my trainer (which involves burpees, ab exercises, push-ups, and squats). As a trained yoga teacher, I’ll also practice asanas if I don't feel like working out. I’ve found that there’s no need to travel with a bulky yoga mat for this—a large bath towel will do the trick, and many hotels now provide yoga mats in their rooms.
For “exercise in the sky,” there’s only so much you can do. I stretch as much as possible while in my seat, and on international flights I always get up a few times to walk and stretch. Sometimes on longer flights (over four hours) I'll wear compression pants or socks to help with circulation—and I always wear them for super long international flights.
I’m religious about travelling with carry-on luggage only whenever possible, so I have to pack smart. I have a dedicated suitcase (high-quality, lightweight, and extendable, just in case I shop!) that stays packed with everything I need for a business trip. I buy doubles of everything I use daily—one for home, and one for my suitcase—including running shoes, toiletries, makeup, an electric toothbrush, and belts, jewelry, and a pair of heels that go with everything. This way, the only things that ever need to come in or out of my suitcase are fresh gym clothes, pajamas, and the outfit I’ll wear to speak.
When I’m transit, one of the things that drives me crazy is running out of “juice” for my iPhone or laptop. So my suitcase is stocked with extra battery packs for charging my phone, and even a special battery pack for feeding my laptop when I don’t have access to an outlet.
Lastly, my two “must-have” items for running around while flying are my wireless Bluetooth headset (which is a godsend, because I hate having cords hanging off me, or having to hold my phone while I’m taking a call or listening to music!), and my easy-to-pack travel flats that I slip into right after I speak, so that I can walk fast or run to catch a cab and make it to my flight.
My friends tease me all the time about being super disciplined and regimented, and I admit that (like my strategies for healthy living) these tips may make me sound intense. But these small things add up, ultimately helping me to achieve work-life balance while living life on the road. And believe me, these strategies make a difference!
Are you a frequent traveler? What do you find most challenging about life on the road? What tips and tricks have you learned to make travel more comfortable?