Airline magazines contain lots of self-care tips for the regular work traveller. Most are about managing your body, your general health and jet lag. Sharing a narrow, pressurised metal tube with recirculated air with hundreds of strangers dramatically increases your exposure to all kinds of germs. The longer the flight, the greater the exposure and the more confused your body becomes about time zones and when to sleep.

Some useful tips include:

  • Drink water (at least one litre) on a flight to stop dehydration
  • Carry and use alcohol hand gel to minimise the transfer of germs through touch
  • Use a saline spray to keep your nasal passages moist during flight and reduce the risk of airborne disease transmission
  • Regularly stretch and move your legs to minimise the risk of deep vein thrombosis on longer flights

The hidden costs of regular work travel

For the regular work traveller there are all kinds of hidden costs to health and wellbeing. After doing it often enough most people learn coping strategies. Some thrive. But for most, constant travel is a huge challenge.

A busy business trip to another city or country involves a big drain on energy. Meeting new people, facing new situations, bringing your best game across cultural and language differences, is tiring.

Add to this the fact that aircraft cabins are pressurised to 75% of normal atmospheric pressure (the same altitude as Mexico city). Lower oxygen in your blood can cause hypoxia, a condition leaving you feeling dizzy, fatigued and headachy.

Everyone struggles to be at their best after travel

Interstate travel

usually involves one or two days. We expect to take it in our stride, more like a commute than a major trip. We fill our schedule around the flight with calls and meetings, and usually plan to get work done on the plane.

Not many people I know sleep well in and around travel days. There is usually an early alarm and a drive through morning traffic to get to the airport on time. Then there is a long day and the trip home. Or, overnight in a strange bed in a hotel, which is not always good for restful sleep.

Overseas travel

usually involves 3 or more days. With business-class travel we are expected to arrive at our destination ready to work; and back in Australia ready to face the day, after an overnight flight.

We tend to rise to the pressure of the situation, which leads to our adrenaline kicking in, helping us function well even if sleep deprived. However, there is an inevitable let down which must be factored in.

Managing your energy is the key

If your work role involves regular interstate or overseas travel, here are a few tips to help you manage your energy.

  1. After interstate travel, do not schedule meetings that require high energy or sharpness of mind the next morning. Your energy levels will be lower, and your mind will not be as focused.
  2. After international travel, schedule some downtime to look after yourself on the second day after travel. We tend to gear up for the first 24 hours to see family and reconnect with our local office. The second day can be the problem with having great energy.
  3. If you worry about alarms and wake up during the night before an early morning flight, it can be better to travel to your destination the day before and wake in the new city.
  4. If you are a poor sleeper in hotels, then plan to stay in a regular hotel that your mind and body can get used to, like a second home in each city to which you travel regularly.

Regular work travel is a big part of business life. Understanding the hidden costs of travel on your body and mind and factoring in some self-care strategies is important. It will help you to perform your role well, be healthier and happier, and have more energy for those you care about most when you arrive home.