Traveling for business requires different strategies than traveling for pleasure, because you can’t always modify your schedule and you don’t have a built-in support network of family to help lug your bags around. The days are usually long. The rooms are usually cold. The food options aren’t the best. And sleeping in a strange bed without your pillow is never very fun.
For many of my work trips I am traveling with some of my employees or co-workers and have vendors to meet. Not showing up to a session doesn’t always work for me, unless I am calling in dead. So I have crafted a few strategies that help me survive business travel while dealing with the chronic pain and fatigue I experience.
“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” ~ Albert Einstein
Here are my 7 Tips for business travel with a chronic condition:
- Plan Ahead – I use Microsoft OneNote for note taking for everything. I have a OneNote folder just for travel. I start with a screen shot of the weather for those days, and then start planning my outfits for each day. I make notes, take pictures, so that way I pack what I need and don’t have the dreaded “What am I going to wear?” decisions while I am there. Is it business casual? Will there be evening events that require different dress options? I always keep a sweater handy for cold rooms at the conference center. I also keep a checklist of my must-haves for travel in this folder, so I don’t forget anything. And it’s best to keep a list of your medications and dosages here or on your phone, in case you forget something.
- Itinerary/Agenda – Traveling can sometimes be a frustrating or harrowing experience. Couple that with a bout of fibro fog, pain, or a panic attack, and you may not remember where you’re supposed to be or what gate your plane leaves from. I keep copies of my itinerary: 1) A hardcopy in my carry-on AND 2) I use the Trip Case app on my iPhone to keep all reservation information in one place for me to find. One place to look! And Trip Case will notify you of changes. (As a backup I also have the airline send text alerts to my niPhone/Apple Watch with gate and time changes, so I don’t miss any of those. This became very useful, as my recent flight was delayed for over three hours due to mechanical issues, and we ended up having to switch terminals.)
- Stocked Carry-on Bag – Although I love a cute bag and have been pining for a Lo & Sons O.G. or O.M.G. bag FOREVER (Note: They are having a sale for Mother’s Day!!), I have switched to a backpack as my carry-on because I found that could better distribute the weight for my neck and shoulders problems. Sometimes it’s a mile walk just to find your gate, so if you don’t have a backpack or rolling bag, that one side may be sore by the time you get there. (I always check my suitcase for business because I cannot lift it overhead.) With our flight delay, I was glad I had my healthy snacks, blanket, and pillow handy. Here is the list of items I take on board with me:
- Hand cream travel size
- Hand sanitizer
- Lip balm – Burt’s Bees or C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve, which doubles for your cuticles
- Spray Bottle with moisturizing facial spray
- Eye drops for contacts, case
- Glasses and Sunglasses
- Empty water bottle to fill once passed security – Keep hydrated!!
- My own snacks: Lara bars, Rise bars, or Kind bars; almonds; tea bags; gum
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- iPad (loaded with music, movies, magazines, and books); iPhone; Beats
- MiFi hot spot to work at the airport/hotel
- Chargers and cables
- Advil/Alleve/Cough drops or throat lozenges/Nose spray/Emergen-C
- All medications and vitamins
- Lightweight blanket/pashmina
- Neck pillow in case I want to sleep or just to support my neck in-flight
- Spare change of clothes + pj’s – just in case!
- TENS unit if my back or hip have recently had trouble
- Small cross-body purse with ID, money,and some of the items listed above
- Exercise clothes and tools – While there is usually a lot of walking involved at tech conferences, I always try to start my day with a workout. I watch Yoga or Pilates videos on YouTube or I visit the hotel gym and use the treadmill. The tools I take typically will include a yoga mat, stretchy bands or light hand-weights, and a lacrosse ball to use for physical therapy exercises. #noexcuse to miss a workout when YouTube has so many great ones, like Yoga with Adrien, Blogilates, or The Balanced Life.
- Food & Snacks – Proper nutrition will help keep your energy up during your long days. I bring (or buy when I get there) a carton of almond or coconut milk, my protein powder, and a Blender Bottle to make a protein shake for breakfast. And then I typically just add some fresh fruit. I also keep extra protein bars and almonds to snack on during breaks, so I am not tempted by the cookies or goodies they offer. I don’t need a sugar crash or a fibro flare from eating wrong.
- Sleep Aids – Getting proper sleep is essential when you’re out of your element. I do not drink caffeine after 2PM anymore, even if the rooms are cold or the sessions are dragging on. There’s usually some good herbal tea options at conferences, and I usually carry my own. And then at bedtime I drink some tea (Yogi Bedtime to help me sleep + Essential Medicinals Smooth Move for that constipation we all can get when traveling). I take Valerian Root to relax and keep Advil PM on hand in case I toss and turn. I use lavender essential oil and lavender pillow spray for aromatherapy. Sometimes I even bring bath salt, such as these from Aura Cacia, to take a bath before bed. It helps to soothe my achy body and relaxes me for bed. And I always travel with my heating pad for pain relief and to keep me warm.
- Double-duty products – I try to keep the skin care and makeup to a minimum when traveling, with travel size items and things that will do double duty – like a lip balm that doubles as a cuticle cream, an all-in-one primer/moisturizer/foundation (It Cosmetics’ Your Skin But Better CC+ cream with SPF50). Dry shampoo is great for in-between days, to add volume so you don’t have to bring mousse too, or that emergency when you sleep in a little too long.
Once I am ready for bed, I do like to look ahead to my schedule for the next day, so I know where I need to be when. And I try my best not to get sucked in to watching any late night TV or catching up on social media. I will need all of my energy to survive the week away from home, eating food I didn’t prepare, and sleeping in a room that is usually too hot or too cold, and never just right.
Setbacks Can Happen
If you encounter a set-back, try to take it in stride and have a backup plan. You may have to sit out a session or skip that dinner with the sales guy you probably didn’t want to talk to anyway. Relax, take a deep breath, call it an early night. Find a great meal you can take back to the room (or order room service if you are allowed to). And if the meeting is important – get a rain check – maybe coffee in the morning when you’re refreshed.
And maybe, just maybe, you will have enough energy to do a little sightseeing, find a great restaurant, or close a big deal.
“Maybe the best moment of your life will be on your next big adventure.” ~ Siya Zarrabi
What are your tips for traveling with chronic pain or illness?
P.S. I am spending this week in Salt Lake City for some training and a software conference, so wish me luck! After my first full day, my energy is zapped, perhaps from the altitude change.
And although I mentioned some of them in this post, look for my upcoming post on my favorite Technology Tools for Life with a Chronic Illness.