8 Ways to Get a Handle on Travel Stress

October 21, 2021

If work takes you from state to state or jetting across multiple time zones, travel can get really familiar. But that doesn’t always relieve the stress that can accompany late flights, unruly fellow passengers, missing family and friends, and unsatisfying (or missed) meals.

Try these simple but highly effective strategies to manage the stress that too often accompanies traveling for work. 

1. Embrace planning before your trip begins 

Travel can often upend plans. Something as commonplace as a snowstorm can lead to flight delays or unsafe roads. But it’s still smart to start with a plan: Know where you need to go at every step of your trip, and when.

To help with that, pack in advance (and use a packing list) so you don’t forget anything. Check the weather at your destination so you know what outerwear and shoes to bring. 

It’s also important to arrange transportation from the airport to your hotel, or from your hotel to your destination, in advance. Be smart about your schedule, too: Avoid tight connections and opt for nonstop flights when possible.

Since your travel is work-related, make sure you have absolutely everything you need to accomplish your work while on the road. For example, pack your laptop and your charger. Confirm you have any files you’ll need, the necessary tech for presentations, and leave-behinds and other print-out materials. 

Prepping before you travel will help you feel in control. It will also keep you from having to sprint through the airport or make a last-minute trip to a pharmacy in an unfamiliar area.

2. Pack the essentials

With your most-used items at the ready, you’ll be able to handle travel hiccups with ease. These include: 

  • Electronics: Bring charger cords and backup batteries for when you can’t find an open outlet. It can also help to have your own Wi-Fi hotspot. And don’t forget your headphones. 
  • Entertainment: Have an e-reader or magazine in your carry-on and download bingeable TV shows. A little distraction (no, work emails don’t count) can help you zone out during tense moments. 
  • Comforts: An eye mask, earplugs, a travel pillow, and a blanket can all make a big difference, especially if you’re on a long flight and want to catch some z’s.   
  • Snacks: Stash some snack options so you can avoid overpriced in-flight or convenience store purchases. 

Think about what situations tend to cause you the most stress during travel and develop a strategy to handle them. For instance, if you can’t abide a chatty seat mate, make sure you have noise-canceling headphones and a polite line that will get you off the hook for conversation. If unexpected delays spike your blood pressure, download a meditation app to provide some calm. 

3. Choose your luggage wisely

Most travel pros recommend that you avoid checking a bag. That way, you won’t have to wait at the luggage carousel after deplaning. Having a carry-on can also be helpful if you’re running late for a flight. 

But keep in mind that if you’re carrying your bag, you’re responsible for lugging it with you everywhere you go. Make that task easy on yourself: Choose a bag that’s effortless to maneuver. Pack light, too, to ease lifting and toting your bag.

4. Manage work expectations

Some of the stress involved in business travel arises from the endless ping of Slack alerts and the pile-up of emails after a long day of travel and meetings.

Instead of waking up at 5 a.m. or skipping dinner in favor of an inbox cleanup, set standards for what’s reasonable and stick to them. That might mean putting up an out-of-office email when you’re traveling for work, being entirely unavailable on chat programs, or sticking to a single hour of email responses each day. Talk to your supervisor about what makes sense given your role. After all, you should be able to have some work-free downtime in your day, even when you’re on the road. 

5. Avoid getting ‘hangry’ 

Being hungry can make you stressed — or exacerbate the emotion. Prevent missing meals and a growling stomach by thinking ahead. Have snacks on hand. 

It’s also a good idea to scope out food options near your hotel and make note of those that are open late, in case you experience delays. Take advantage of Yelp, Foursquare, and other apps and websites to find good options.

To dodge digestion woes, follow your usual eating habits while on the road. If you typically have yogurt, fruit and coffee for your morning meal, don’t swap it out for a farmers’ breakfast. 

6. Prioritize rest

Like hunger, lack of shut-eye can transform small setbacks into major issues. It’s not always easy to sleep well on the road: The bed is unfamiliar, you might get stuck in the room next to the elevator, and the black-out curtains don’t live up to their name.

To help you sleep, try downloading a white noise app, pack an eye mask, and do your best to establish and stick with a bedtime wind-down routine.  

7. Get moving

Exercise is a known stress-buster. It’s also a good way to dispel the mental and physical strain that can accompany a long day in a cramped seat.

You’ll find plenty of equipment-free bodyweight workouts you can do online or through apps. Or, you can bring your sneakers and take advantage of the hotel gym or nearby running paths. You’ll feel better if you fit in a workout, even if it’s only a 15-minute stretching session before you hop in the shower. 

8. Have a plan to transition back to the office 

If you did well managing your boundaries while you were away, you may return to a pileup of emails, plus the follow-up with everyone you met during work meetings or events while on the road. And don’t forget the clutter of receipts for your expense report.

Have time blocked on your calendar to tackle these tasks the workday after you return so they don’t mushroom into a stresser.

If your company uses the award-winning Etta business travel platform, make sure you've got Etta for iOS or Android on your phone.


Deem Editorial

The Deem editorial team brings important, informative commentary and data to travel managers and everyone interested in technology and the corporate travel industry.

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