2 ideas to suffer less on business travel

Business travel can be crushing.

Just like all of you road warriors, I’ve honed my approach for what to always have in my bag, how to best deal with planes, trains, and automobiles, ways of maneuvering various hotel annoyances, etc., but I’m not going to focus on those things today.

Instead I’d like to share two bigger picture, business travel ideas that have truly made my life better.

1. Don’t try to get home as soon as possible.

What? !!

I know this sounds counter-intuitive…

Common wisdom says that you should minimize the amount of time spent away from home on business travel.

When you leave for a business trip there is an implied, if not overt, expectation from your family and your work that you will get back as soon as humanly possible, because we’re all waiting for you…

But I learned this from a dear friend and colleague many years ago, and it has proved truly life-enhancing. Simply, don’t try to get home as soon as possible.

The cost is too high.

Of course there are benefits in showing the effort to get back quickly, and waking up in your own bed, but in my opinion the payoff of scoring those points is too low, and the cost is too high.

Here’s what I mean.

The hazards of getting home ASAP

You leave for a business trip for some number of days, and say you finish up in the afternoon on a Wednesday. If you then race to the airport to be on the first possible flight home, you have the following stresses build up.

1. Rushing to the airport, through traffic at a frantic pace to make your flight, while you are tired and spent from your business
2. Missing dinner to make your plane, or having a crappy airplane, or airport dinner
3. Too tired to be productive on the plane
4. Home at midnight or later, beyond tired and crabby
5. Your kids are already asleep, and you don’t have any quality time with your spouse, let’s face it — you’ve missed Wednesday
6. You go to bed late, still wound up from the travel, so you don’t sleep well
7. You wake up Thursday drained, after not enough, and poor-quality sleep
8. You’re back at work in the morning, with a full schedule of Thursday
9. You are stressed because you don’t even have energy for Thursday, and you don’t have any time to catch up on what you missed while you were traveling
10. So you finish Thursday even more exhausted
11. You get home on Thursday. You are physically present, but still not much use to your family because you are so spent
12. Even if you make a heroic effort to be engaged with your family, it is still really tiring, and you then start Friday depleted as well
13. You don’t fully enjoy your weekend because you still need to recover

The benefits of getting home later

How about this instead?

You finish up work on Wednesday and…

1. Go back to your hotel at a leisurely pace
2. You relax, have a lie down, maybe a workout or a drink or both
3. You video chat with your family and have some energy, warmth and smiles for them
4. You have a real dinner, maybe a networking dinner, or relaxing room service, and recover your energy
5. You are calm enough to catch up on some work
6. You go to bed at a reasonable time, and get a good night’s sleep
7. You get an early flight back on Thursday without being sleep deprived
8. You start your workday Thursday on the plane. You have plenty of energy and mental bandwidth, so you can catch up on what you missed during your trip
9. You get back to the office mid-day Thursday, fully caught up
10. You do the rest of Thursday at the office, successfully, and with energy
11. You get home for dinner, in a decent mood, and have a nice night with your family
12. You start Friday with a normal energy level
13. Your weekend is yours to enjoy

While the theory of getting the first flight back seems to be the most caring thing to do for your family on the surface, in reality, I think you are much better off coming home human, without the need so much stressful catch up and recovery time.

Net positive time with your family increases.

2. Experience something

This is another angle on “don’t try to get home as soon as possible.

I know that when you are working and traveling for business, weekends at home are precious. But this is another lesson I learned when I was traveling the world.

For years, I would finish international business on Friday and hope to get on a Friday night flight, and if not, then first thing Saturday morning.

You invest a lot of time, reap some rewards

These international journeys were an average of 20 hours each way. They took a huge toll on my energy and my personal time. You couldn’t do it without screwing up a weekend anyway, if not two.

After some number of years of doing this, I had this small epiphany:

I have spent countless hours on airplanes going all over the world and I have seen only hotels and offices, and have had only business conversations. I have invested a huge amount of my life in international travel and have not grown at all as a person because of it. What a shame!

So I started to come home on Sunday or Monday instead of Friday or Saturday, and I started seeing the places I was visiting.

The business benefit

This was not just a lark for me. I found tremendous business benefit to doing this as well.

As a business leader traveling to visit my non-US based teams and customers, all I needed to say was, “I’d like to do some sight-seeing on the weekend, is there anyone in the organization who would be interested in showing me around?” Sometimes it was even a customer who would want to do this.

Making a human connection

What would happen is that I would get to spend a day with a local person as a tour guide so I would get to really experience the place I was visiting. Also, I would get to meet spouses and children, and see people’s homes. This was very enlightening and enriching.

Understanding your business better

The person who hosted me got to spend a day with an executive which they valued, and as an executive I would get incredible insights about what people on my team in that part of the world were really experiencing.

I got to learn about the culture (albeit a tiny bit — but infinitely more then hopping back on a plane asap) so I had much better context to make business decisions about how to market and sell our products in that region, and how to engage the motivate the team.

Changing my strategy to take a day to really experience the areas I was visiting in Europe and Asia, made me a much better business leader.

I had a colleague that would always marvel that it seemed no matter where I went in the world, that I had a friend there. It was true!

Make a deal with your family

I realize that a weekend day away from home to do something that your spouse might view as fun, might be seen as a bad deal for the spouse left at home. But I think it’s a deal worth both of you considering.

You get to bring interesting, real life, broadening experiences back to your children. You get to grow as a human, which has a real benefit to your children too. And there is nothing stopping you from offering your spouse a weekend away in exchange for your extra time away, on a weekend that you can stay home and hold down the fort. Gifts also don’t hurt!

Some of my international excursions and the friendships I have made around the world are some of my life’s best experiences. If you are going to invest that much personal time in getting there and back, grab just a little more time an experience something!

If you’ve got ideas on making business travel easier, please share your ideas on my facebook page.

PS. I chose this photo of Shinjuku station in Tokyo at rush hour, which I have always found to be an interesting experience — both visually, and the fact that in these thick crowds there is very little feel of stress and chaos!

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About Patty
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.


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You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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