A meeting in New York, back home for a few days and then off to Shanghai followed by Tokyo to meet more clients. It’s the sort of schedule that sounds glamorous and important, right?
But there’s a ‘dark side’ to business travel. A study by the University of Surrey and Lund University in Sweden say factors such as stress, loneliness and distance from community and family networks are often ignored and they can cause big issues.
It’s easy to see how frequent business flyers could become lonely, travelling to countries where they may not speak the language and spending long periods of time on planes, hopping to meetings and sleeping in many different hotel rooms. So, we spoke to frequent flyers, and those who help with their travel arrangements for some simple tips on how to avoid the curse of business travel loneliness:
Try to schedule in some time to yourself
Start-up expert and author Carl Reader says: “I’ve done years of travelling to tight deadlines, which were all self-inflicted. In fact, I was probably the only person in the world who had been to SFO, JFK and LAX but not visited the cities themselves (amongst many others). Now, I try to allow at least a couple of hours to get to see the city that I’m visiting and understand the area in which I’m meeting people. Funnily enough, this has improved my ability to connect with people who I might have little else in common with, as I can understand a little more about their culture and experiences.”
Heading to Paris on business? Here’s our guide on cramming in the most you can on a tight schedule.
Head to a bar
While you’ll want to go easy on the alcohol, Jeff Melnyk, who frequently travels overseas in his role as founding partner of Within People, says: “A bar is a great place to meet new people or can be just a casual place to read or relax. Or even to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps and be inspired and write.”
“Hotel bars are often the best places to drink in the world — and there’s nothing like a rooftop bar at sunset. So, having a drink can give you a unique experience of the city and culture.”
Speak to people!
Carl says: “Travelling on your own is not fun, and we are inherently social animals. By striking up conversations on our travels, we can also find that the world is much smaller than we believe. For example, I met another Southend United fan in Texas, who just happened to learn about the team through the FIFA video game; and I flew back from Silicon Valley sat next to a German lady who grew up in the same village that I lived in at the time!”
Andrea Harrison, key account manager at Good Travel Management, says: “Let’s face it, we all do it, and done in the correct manner there is no harm in this at all. People watching in a public space can be quite the highlight when waiting for a connecting flight/train or bus especially in a foreign country or at transit points when you will see diverse cultures and families on the move. Seeing how others communicate/dress and act can help you gain a real feel for the place you are visiting, plus you’ll probably find others doing this too!”
Don’t work in your room
Amy Gallo, writing in the Harvard Business Review, suggests: “It’s tempting to stay squirreled up in your hotel room in your pyjamas, but it’s better to get out if you can. If your hotel doesn’t offer co-working space, park yourself in the hotel lobby or find a nearby coffee shop.”
“If you need a quiet place to work and a public space won’t do, invite a colleague who’s on the trip to work in your room with you. At least you’ll have someone to chat with when you take a break.”
How companies can help
Instead of having strict policies or booking accommodation for business travellers, it might be an idea to allow some flexibility, suggests Emma del Torto, managing director of EffectiveHRM and PitStopHR. For example, she says: “People who travel frequently for business will often tell you that they find corporate style hotels rather unwelcoming and clinical. Some business travellers might prefer the diversity that AirBnB offers and the opportunity to soak in some local flavour by staying with people in different types of accommodation.”
The key is to have a clear travel policy for all staff. Emma says: “By allowing a budget for travel accommodation in your travel expenses policy, rather than a strict rule on which hotel chains to stay at, this can put money directly into the local community and give your employee some flexibility to choose.”