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How to maintain a high energy level when traveling for business

NOTE from Phil: What follows is a post from my good friend and fellow Milwaukee small business owner Jim Raffel. Jim travels a LOT for business, so his insights are super helpful for me, and I expect will be for you too!

Not all aspects of traveling for business are nearly as glamorous as some folks imagine. A client dinner at a five-star restaurant can be great, but that comes at the end of a long day filled with meetings and other work. Add to that the need to make time for a routine of healthy eating and exercise to maintain a high energy level and you quickly realize that work on the road is not a vacation.

Work comes first

Black Cherry Almond Clif BarBecause it’s a business trip, the first and foremost priorities are the business purposes of your trip. That could be attending a trade show, conference or client meeting. It’s for this work that you want to maintain a high energy level. Clients expect you to be at your best and that can be hard to maintain when you are on the road.

However, there is more to the “work comes first” story. When you travel, the rest of your work does not go away. Tasks such as checking email, followup phone calls and writing blog posts or email campaigns don’t go away just because you are traveling. Worse yet, if you ignore these tasks you’ll pay the price later. If you ignore your normal work, you’re more likely to let down or disappoint some clients and you’ll just end up with more work when you get back to your home base.

Here are some guidelines you can use to build your own maintenance program to maintain a high energy level when you are on the road.

The niceties you can’t afford to skip

After 25 years of business travel, I can tell you there are certain things I would advise a new business traveler to never do without. While on the surface this list of amenities may come off as snobby, the reality is that they make you more efficient and less exhausted when you travel.

  • Preferred status with an airline – I suggest you set the minimum goal of maintaining a preferred status level with at least one airline. You do this by showing one airline the loyalty necessary to accumulate enough frequent flyer miles to obtain a preferred status level. Your loyalty will be rewarded with perks such as first-class upgrades and no-fee checked baggage.
  • Airline club membership – When you hit the road for business, your needs are different than the person in the seat next to you headed off on a vacation. You still need to return phone calls and be connected to the internet. Those 90 minutes in an airport waiting for a flight oftentimes need to be productive or you’ll end up working into the wee hours of the morning when you reach your destination. A quiet, comfortable environment with beverages, snacks and business amenities is essential to staying productive on the road.
  • Preferred status with a hotel chain – Pick a hotel family and stick with them for most of your hotel stays. In a relatively short period of time, you can achieve preferred status. Once you have preferred status, you can log in to your account online and set preferences for room types and upgrades that you prefer.
  • Preferred status with a rental car company – By giving 80 percent of my rental business to one rental car company, I’ve managed to be included in their preferred program at no cost. The preferred program allows me to bypass the rental counter and proceed directly to a car of the size (or larger) that I have rented. This can be a great time saver during peak travel times, and I’m convinced they reserve their new and better cars for preferred renters. If the car they have pre-selected for me turns out out be a dud, I simply walk over to the customer service kiosk and ask very nicely if they have any other options for me.
  • High quality bags – Buying travel bags for business is different than buying travel bags for the occasional vacation. A business traveler needs bags to stand up to the rigors of airline travel several times a month. Even if you’re not checking your bags, this is a lot of wear and tear. Add to that the abuse a checked bag endures and you’ll understand why spending three hundred dollars or more on a bag makes sense. Dealing with a damaged or destroyed bag and its contents is not a distraction you need while traveling.

Routines and rituals

Acquiring the items in the list above will make it far easier to find time to maintain the routines of healthy eating and exercise while you travel. Without the right fuel in your body and some kind of exercise each day it’s almost impossible to maintain a high level of energy.

When it comes to exercise, I recommend developing a body weight only exercise routine. This will be a short workout you can do each day in your hotel room (or at home) without the need for special equipment. This type of exercise routine also saves you the time and trouble of heading off to the exercise room every day on the road. For days when you have more time, it still makes sense to pick a hotel family known to have quality workout facilities. Also, don’t miss opportunities for light exercise throughout the day. Take the stairs and not the escalator or elevator. Light physical exercise like this increases your energy level.

Yes, eating healthy when you travel can be tricky, but not impossible. First, bring some healthy snacks such as trail mix along with you. Sometimes you just need to take the edge off your hunger to make it to the next meal. It’s always better to do that with a healthy snack rather than the last donut still by the coffee pot at 3 p.m. Also, skip the coffee and drink more water than you drink at home. Travel is a dehydrating activity. When you can’t find something healthy on the menu just remember to eat smaller portions. You don’t need to finish the entire hamburger or order of fries. Try eating just half.

Another ritual I have is packing light. I want my bag to be light and easy to move around on my own. The quicker you can get that bag to your room on your own and unpacked, the more time you have for work and energy boosting activities. When you are on a multi-city tour, plan ahead and pack your bag in “outfits.” This allows you to pull out just what you need in each city. Having to unpack and re-pack for quick overnight stops takes time away that you need for other activities.

Save time for some fun – but not too much fun

Yes, the five-star dinners and drinks with colleagues will happen but don’t forget that the next day you have meetings, trade shows, etc. Email has to be answered and blog posts need to be written. Social media does not go away. Enjoy that nice dinner and have a drink or two but if maintaining a high energy level is your goal, try to eat healthy, save time for exercise and, above all, get plenty of rest.

image of Jim RaffelJim Raffel is a businessman and content creator who after a couple decades of business travel co-founded Business Travel Exclusive (BTE) to help business travelers by sharing his tips and tricks for life on the road. Be sure to visit the site and signup for the free email newsletter to receive more content like this blog post.

3 Responses to How to maintain a high energy level when traveling for business

  • Pretty solid advice from someone who has obviously paid his dues and been there. Before I traveled for work, I used to think the elite status and special treatment given to business travelers was an obnoxious exercise in ego-stroking. Now, I understand it. I travel a lot for work now; unfortunately, my clients dictate what carrier I fly with and where I stay. I have just enough miles to ALMOST get preferred status with 3 airlines and I’m hugely envious of the comforts lavished upon preferred fliers. A little bit of pampering can make travel days so much more productive and even enjoyable.

    I’d love to add or echo a couple points from Jim’s list:

    1) Routine is key. I wear the same outfit every time I fly. My shirt has a zippered pocket that always holds my passport and boarding passes, so I’m never concerned about losing them. I utilize a routine for going through security as well: bag gets packed and emptied the same way every time so I’m never concerned about losing anything.

    2) If you fly internationally a lot and deal with long flights and time changes: the best advice I ever heard about getting over jetlag was to “act as if you’re already at your destination” once you board the plane. If it’s morning where I’m going to land, I need to be awake. If it’s nighttime where I’m going to land, I need to sleep. Sunglasses and melatonin can be helpful if you can’t sleep.

    • Hey Chris – I remember when I thought the preferred perks were an exercise in ego-stroking as well. I also have been through periods of time when I lost status and realized how nice the perks are. And thanks for the intentional advice as I seldom travel across the ponds.

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