“I love traveling for business,” said very few people ever. Traveling, sure: Who doesn’t like a change of scenery and the insights gained from seeing the world with new eyes? But frequent business travel is strongly correlated to a wide range of physical and behavioral health risks.
International travel can be particularly problematic for business professionals, exposing travelers to a greater risk of illness, injury, stress and other challenges to their well-being. Writing in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Catherine Richards and Andrew Rundle demonstrated that business travelers tend to have higher illness rates than casual travelers and that business travel is associated with “higher alcohol consumption and lower confidence in keeping up with the pace of work.”
With those warnings in mind, what can you do to stay healthy while you’re on the road? While the solution isn’t as simple as a dietary supplement, here’s a short list of what you can take — and it all fits in your carry-on.
1. Take precautions.
Talk to your doctor before you go, especially if you’re traveling overseas. Discuss whether you need any vaccinations or have any other medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, pregnancy) that could be aggravated by the stress of travel. The Mayo Clinic’s Travel and Tropical Medicine Clinic recommends travelers consider the risk of everything from altitude sickness to tuberculosis exposure before hitting the road.
If you’re traveling during peak cold and flu season — typically October through May in the Northern Hemisphere — make sure to pack alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use when hot water and soap aren’t available.
2. Take a later flight.
While you might be tempted to hop on that red-eye because it gives you a full day of work, you’re more likely to wind up exhausted. “Wherever possible, try to avoid early-morning or late-night flights,” recommends time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders. “You won’t be gaining much in the way of productivity by navigating an airport while you should be sleeping.”
So what’s the ideal time to aim for flying the friendly skies? Experts recommendshooting for a departure before 8 a.m., when delays start and then get worse until they’ve reached a peak around 6 p.m.
3. Take a drink (of water).
You’ve heard how important it is to stay hydrated when flying. Keeping your fluid intake moderately high throughout your trip will save you the inconvenience of guzzling water on the plane. Skip the $5 bottled water at the kiosk, and opt for a reusable water bottle instead.
Need extra help remembering when to hydrate? Try a smart water bottle like the Ozmo Active or the Hidrate Spark; these send pop-up notifications to your phone, reminding you to drink. They even light up if you ignore the prompt, which will nudge you to opt for water instead of a glass of wine.
4. Take a sensible approach to eating.
That means having healthy snacks for the journey and making smart choices on what you eat and drink while you’re away. If you’re heading out for dinner, check out the menu online ahead of time. Knowing the healthy options available and planning what you’ll order in advance can help you stick to your healthy eating goals.
Remember, it’s a business trip, not your birthday. Skip the doughnuts and daiquiris, and lean toward balanced meals that will help keep your energy up.
5. Make time to exercise.
After a long flight or a day of meetings, a workout can do wonders: help you relax, sleep better and restore your energy. Even 15 minutes of exercise comes with a bevy of benefits, including lowering stress levels and your risk of certain diseases.
No hotel gym? No problem. Use a fitness app like Gixo, which makes it easy to work out wherever you are, with a variety of trainer-led live and on-demand classes containing everything from yoga to cardio circuits.
6. Take your sleep seriously.
Business trips demand high mental performance, so it’s especially unfortunate that most travelers tend to sleep poorly in hotels. To set yourself up for the best sleep possible, look closely for red flags in user reviews. Do guests complain about noise or uncomfortable beds?
If you don’t want to spend valuable time combing the comments section for red flags, work with travel experts who are trained to identify hotel properties and itineraries that will cause the least disruption to your sleep. They can handle the details, from booking a room on the quietest floor to requesting chemical-free linens — whatever it takes for you to have a restful night’s sleep.
7. Take care of yourself.
Business travel can lead anyone to burnout. Self-care is especially important if you have a history of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues — or even if you’re just under a lot of pressure at the moment. The stress of a launch, a funding round or a big hire doesn’t stay home — it comes with you when you travel. Make time to practice breathing exercises or meditation, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
According to Jason Geall, vice president and regional general manager for Northern Europe at American Express Global Business Travel, five minutes of breathing exercises can relieve anxious nerves before taking off for a flight, relax your mind in preparation for sleep and help you recenter before important meetings.
8. Take time off.
No offense, Type As, but the “always on, always productive” lifestyle is bad for your health. According to the Framingham Heart Study, men who don’t take vacations are 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks; for women, the risk increases to 50 percent.
Taking time off also has positive effects on your mental health and well-being, as well as your productivity and creativity. Don’t let those vacation days go to waste. Start treating vacation time as a nonnegotiable that’s a vital part of your preventive healthcare.
While you might not be able to control the frequency or duration of your business trips, you can minimize the negative impact these trips have on your health. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your next business trip, and you’ll come back less stressed — and better prepared to make the most of what you achieved while you were gone.