For many, being able to travel for work is a dream come true. You get to experience new countries and cultures, meet new people and step out of your comfort zone, as well as a break from the monotony of commuting to the office.
Travel is also a creativity boost too, as research has shown people are more likely to open their minds to new ways of thinking when spending time in a new setting.
That being said, there are downsides to business trips abroad. Short-term travel like a three-day jaunt to a new city can be exhausting, particularly if long-haul flights are involved.
A whirlwind visit can be extremely fatiguing - and it may feel disappointing if you’ve travelled a long way for a conference, but don’t have time to experience the local sights. It can also be isolating to travel alone, particularly if family and friends are far away back home.
“Even if you’re someone that loves to travel, having to race round and make connections or deal with late-running trains or flights can be physically and mentally exhausting,” says Mark Pinches, head of coaching at the workplace health and wellbeing organisation Westfield Health.
“From being in a different bed to eating different food, many factors can throw off our usual routine when we’re on the road,” he adds. “On top of that, work travel is usually on our own or with colleagues, meaning we’re far away from our usual support network who we can turn to in times of stress or just to switch off from the day.”
So what can you do to look after yourself - and your mental wellbeing - while travelling for work? And how can you make the most of a short trip abroad?
Try to stick to your routine
It might be easier said than done, especially if you are battling jet lag in a foreign land, but trying to stay as close to your normal routine as possible can help keep you happy and healthy.
This might mean going to the hotel gym in the morning to burn off stress and anxiety, or escaping the conference at lunchtime to get a decent lunch. It’s tempting to delve into any free alcohol on hand, but it’s important not to overdo it and to look after yourself too.
“Knowing that aspects of your usual routine will get knocked off course, paying extra attention to the fundamentals of wellbeing, such as staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, becomes even more important when you’re travelling,” Pinches says.
“Try going to bed half an hour earlier when you’re away to give your mind and body extra time to recover from the strain.”
Making sure you have all your travel arrangements organised in advance can help reduce stress. Book your flights, transfers and accommodation beforehand and keep all your documents together in a safe place.
If you’re going somewhere new, have directions to your hotel or conference venue on hand so you aren’t wandering around lost. Google Maps may be a lifesaver, but if your internet connection isn’t great, it won’t be much help.
Allow time to adjust to time zones
For some people, a business trip means getting to work as soon as you’ve stepped off the plane. But it can be beneficial to give yourself time to adjust to a new setting or time zone.
If possible, give yourself some time when you arrive to settle in - check into your accommodation, have dinner and a shower and have some downtime. You’re far more likely to feel refreshed for work afterwards and be able to make the most of your trip. The same goes for when you arrive home, too.
Think about the benefits of travel
If you’re not comfortable with travelling solo for work, try to think about the benefits of being able to do so. A business trip might sound glamorous, but more often than not, they aren’t - but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a meaningful experience.
Travel can build confidence as you navigate new places, people and foreign languages - and successfully conquering any challenges or problems can be a huge boost for your self-esteem. Even something as small as eating alone in a restaurant can be an accomplishment. You can also develop new skills to bring back home with you, as well as a wealth of enriching cultural knowledge.
“The best self-care, however, comes from having a positive mindset about travel,” Pinches adds. “If we think negatively about travel and see it as ‘being away’, we’re more likely to view the experience as negative and stressful, increasing the impact it has on our body and mind.”