A guest post by Art Decker
"I love traveling." That's my mantra. I keep repeating it to myself... the truth is that I do love traveling, I really do, but I have come to realize that even travel can be overdone. I am starting to long to spend a month at home. I am tired of living out of hotel rooms. I think I've reached the point where travel, instead of invigorating me the way it used to, is starting to sap the life out of me.
Still, sometimes it must be done. And like the speaker in that old Robert Frost poem, I still have miles to go before I sleep...or at least, I have miles to go before I can sleep in my own bed again. In desperation (necessity being the mother of invention), over the last month I've implemented several new strategies to help myself cope with the stress of travel. At first I tried repeating my "I love traveling" mantra, but it stopped working when I started to sound sarcastic even to myself. So I branched out. Below are the ideas I came up with.
Take yourself offline. On a recent trip, I checked into a hotel that claimed to offer free high-speed Internet, but which, quite frankly, did not. Or at least I couldn't get the hotel's Internet to work with my laptop. I wound up making periodic visits to a nearby coffee shop that did have functioning Wifi, but I found it difficult to work there. So I came up with a work-around - I normally answer my email online, but on that trip I started downloading my email in order to answer it later, offline. Additionally, I downloaded news podcasts and my RSS feeds.
Although I was forced by circumstance to work offline, I was amazed to find that my productivity went up when I worked this way. I wasn't being continually distracted by emails popping up. In addition, I found that I started to relax when I was offline. I felt that there was no point in worrying about my email, since I wasn't going to be able to check it until later anyway. Somehow, being offline with my computer made it possible for me to take my brain offline as well, and actually disconnect from work for a few hours. I don't know when I last did that...I think it might have been sometime in the 1980s! I don't know if I can bring myself to keep up the habit of working offline when it's no longer a matter of being forced to do so. But if I can discipline myself to let go and disconnect for even a few hours in the evening, I can see that it will improve my health and reduce my work-related anxiety immeasurably.
Bring an MP3 player. Or at least a laptop or an iPad loaded with soothing music or with a guided meditation or relaxation exercise. I find this makes a world of difference to me. It is very hard for me to concentrate on work while I am traveling. For a while, I was practically mainlining coffee and Red Bull, but the extra caffeine, though it did wake me up, did not seem to improve my concentration. Then I discovered that if I listen to certain tracks of music while I work, it helps me to concentrate. I'm not referring simply to classical music (the Mozart effect that so many people have written about) but to music that is designed to affect the brainwaves. For me, Tibetan Singing Bowl music is most helpful, but everyone is different. I looked into the science of this and found that it is a bit spotty, but there are a few studies out there indicating that certain kinds of music can affect the brain in various ways.
One way in which music has been documented to affect the brain is in reducing insomnia. I tried using music to help me relax while on the road, and it did not seem to affect me until I started trying music that has been designed as a guided relaxation or meditation. Some relaxation CDs will put me into a very deep sleep, causing me to wake up feeling as though I had somehow slept harder than usual. Others (like Pzizz, for example) can be used to take a "power nap" that lasts for 20 minutes and is very refreshing. While you don't have to be traveling to appreciate rest and relaxation, I find that travel can be very tiring at times. It tends to destroy my routine and results in me having less time to rest, so finding this method has been a wonderful discovery for me.
Try aromatherapy. I was never interested in aromatherapy until my wife started using it as a method for reducing anxiety and stress. I started teasing her about being addicted to the scent of orange oil. However, one day she presented me with an aromatherapy roll-on. The one she gave me was labeled "anxiety release," and it contained (of course) her favorite orange oil, along with lavender, clary sage, geranium, vetiver, and Roman chamomile. I was very skeptical to say the least, but she insisted that I shouldn't dismiss the idea until I had tried it. I had to admit that was fair, but I told her that there was no way that I was going to wear what to me, as a guy, looks like perfume. So we compromised...she found me an essential oil warmer that plugs into a USB port. A USB port? Hey, that makes it an electronic gadget that I can play with without feeling that my masculinity is in danger. To go with it, she found me an oil blend with fir and spruce in it, which personally I prefer to her orange oil. So, to make a long story short, I tried it and I was amazed to find that it, like the relaxation and productivity music, does help me to relax and to be productive on the road.
Don't regard exercise as optional. Exercising is one of the best activities you can do to reduce stress. It also tends to be the first thing I drop from my schedule when I am harried and busy while I am traveling. Yet I know from experience that if I exercise first thing in the morning, my mind will be clearer and my body will be relatively free of aches and pains all day. On my last trip, I made a resolution that I would exercise first thing every day, even on days when I have to get up earlier than usual to catch a plane. It wasn't easy to make time to do it, but the difference it made to me was phenomenal. I wasn't aggravated by security at the airport. I wasn't bleary-eyed and desperate for a cup of coffee. I felt calm and centered, even when my flight was delayed and I had to wait an extra couple of hours.
Find "moments of vacation" even on business trips. Lately, I have begun to try uncompartmentalizing the different parts of my life in my mind. It started with work invading my vacation. Before leaving, I mentioned to my facility managers that I would be reachable while I was away. I wound up receiving several phone calls and emails, and taking several hours out of my vacation to deal with one issue or another. I told myself that there was no harm in doing an hour or two of work every day while I was on vacation. Only recently, however, did the reverse option occur to me - that vacation moments could also invade my business trips. I have started trying to take time to find some special activity during my trips to other cities, even if it is simply a matter of taking time to walk across a bridge and enjoy the sunset. I don't bother much with trips to museums or other tourist meccas (a side trip like that would take up more "vacationable moments" than I have time for). Instead, I try to find time to enjoy a city's green space (or white space in the winter). I usually take several long walks in every community that I visit. Spending time outside revives me and gives me back that feeling of being on vacation. In fact, the first time I walked into a meeting in another city after taking a walk outside, people commented that I looked "so relaxed," as if I was on vacation. Well the secret is, I was on vacation - on vacation at work. Did I mention that I love to travel?
Looking back at my tips, what I realize is that any of these could be implemented into daily life even when one is not traveling. I suppose the key to stress-free travel in a nutshell, is to bring your normal routines and comfort mechanisms with you wherever you go. Humans are not bags of potatoes that can be tossed around and transported anywhere with no ill effects. We are, in fact, emotional, sensitive beings and I believe we have to respect our emotional needs, even when we travel.
Art Decker is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including a New York self-storage locator. Though busy, Art enjoys meeting new people and clients when traveling to sites from Texas to the New Jersey self-storage center.
image credit: L-ines
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