I just finished listening to the latest podcast (TTTT Episode 33) from the crew at Trainers Talking Tech on Tuesday (Full disclosure: I am part of that crew but didn’t really feature in that episode. Check out trainertechtalk.net!), and it got me to thinking about what it is I do, and what it is I should do, to look after myself when I’m on the road. IT conference season is in full swing, and there are quite a few major ones just around the corner at the time of writing, so I thought it might be an opportune time to get some of those thoughts out.
I’m not the road warrior I once was. There was a period when I would get home on a Friday night, put the contents of my luggage straight into the washing machine, wash/dry them, straight back into the luggage for my departure on Sunday night. That might sound exciting, but it gets old pretty quickly. I still have to train away from my home base once every couple of months, so that feels pretty manageable.
Stay in Control
I think that’s probably the first key to health on the road–keep your travel workload manageable. I think of this in two ways. First, make sure you’re not spending too many weeks on the road. I know some of you are going “But how many is too many?”. That’s the tricky part. Everyone is different, and it changes as you change. What is fine when you’re 25 and single is not so fine at 40 with kids. As I mentioned before, I’m spending around 1 week out of every 10 or 12 on the road. That works for me at the moment. As my kids get older (they are all teens or higher), they are more independent, more capable than they were when they were little. It makes it easier to take the odd training event at short notice. But I still make it a point to be home when the big stuff is on for them. I try not to miss any performance/concert/recital if I can possibly help it.
Second, try to make sure the trips themselves are fairly straightforward, and allow for maximum time at home. I’m lucky, and the vast majority of my travel is w/in New Zealand, so flights are no longer than an hour. It means I can fly out at 7 or 8 pm on a Sunday night, and be home by 8pm on Friday night. Occasionally I go overseas, but I try not to do it too often, as that takes out most/all of my free and family time, as I usually have to fly out on a Saturday afternoon, and often don’t get back until Monday morning and head straight to the office. So a single overseas trip wipes out two of my weekends. I can manage this once or twice a year, but I wouldn’t want to do this once or twice a month.
So finding that balance between needing to work, and wanting to manage road/home is really important.
Balance your need for “me-time”
This can be the real challenge for trainers, especially when on the road. At the end of a day of training, even when it has gone well, I’m drained. Exhausted. Shattered. Doubly so if it hasn’t gone well.
I need time that isn’t about the training, I need some “me-time”. When I’m at home, I may not get time for “me” right away, but I do have stuff to take me away from my training day–family, pets, fixing dinner etc. Plus I have my regular stuff that helps me recharge throughout the week–band practice, exercise, family.
But all that goes out the window when you are on the road. It’s far too easy to get back to the hotel, drop your bag and flop onto the bed. “I’ll just rest for a bit,” you tell yourself. “A bit” becomes calling up room-service at 9pm because you just woke up or just couldn’t be bothered to get up again. You end up sitting on your bed, eating lukewarm, overpriced crappy food that doesn’t really hit the spot at all.
Which sets you up for not feeling great the next day.
Which leads to a repeat of the night before.
I know I do better when I find a way to get my “me-time”, but still also force myself to get out of my hotel room.
For me, the real challenge is making good decisions the night before so I feel like I can get up at my normal time to get that endorphine hit. Which goes back to where we started. It takes a little discipline to NOT flop on the bed after a long day. I’m learning to have another shower when I get back. I need something to re-energize me, and that tends to do the trick. I can kind of “wash away the day”, and hopefully head out for some dinner in a good frame of mind.
I find it’s important to get out and about, even if I am dining alone. There’s something I find restorative about being in the world. Some nights I’m talkative, some nights I’m not. Either way, being around people tends to give me some juice.
Speaking of juice–I try to avoid the temptation to load up “on the juice” when I’m on the road. Sure, a nice beer or glass of wine with dinner is fine for me. But again, I try to have the discipline to keep it at that. For me, it’s all about keeping me feeling good the whole time. Hangovers are never fun, but less so when you’re not sleeping in your own bed, and your’e in an unfamiliar place.
Exercise & Diet
I also make it a point to not skip my exercise. I feel better when I get some kind of workout in. Normally, I go for a run in the mornings when I am at home. This is relatively easily done on the road, as long as I have my running gear with me. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much space to throw in my running shoes and a couple of running singlets, so I’ve never felt the need to leave these out to save space.
Obviously, running isn’t everyone’s thing. But try to find some kind of regular activity that you can do anywhere. Having your “one thing” be something that requires lots of specialist equipment or full teams to participate can make it hard to keep it up when you’re on the road. Having said that, if you can find a local league that welcomes casual players for whatever sport/activity you like, then that can be a great way to get out and meet new people and feel like you’re part of the place.
If nothing else, set a step goal every day and pursue it. Walk to/from the hotel instead of a taxi/uber/lyft. Use a walk in the hotel neighbourhood to get to your target if necessary. I find that that can also be a good way to get rid of the stresses of the day.
I find that getting some exercise in impacts how and what I want to eat. When I exercise regularly I stop craving junk foods. My body knows what it needs/wants and adjusts. When I exercise less and eat worse, junk food tastes better. When my body needs fuel I get hungry for better things. Use this to your advantage when on the road. Making sure I get my run in tends to make me eat better throughout the day. Which makes it easier to get up and exercise. Make a positive feedback loop!
Become a Local
OK, that may be a bit of a stretch–but try to get out amongst it wherever you are. Ask your students what they would recommend to go/see/do/eat. Find the hidden gems that most tourists/business travellers wouldn’t know about. Ask around at the hotel (but I never ask the concierge because they almost always steer you to the places they have a reason to promote). I often find myself going to open-mic nights at local bars/pubs. I don’t get up and sing, but I love the sense of community that is in these places. I find it inspiring to watch people following the dreams, doing something creative and passionate.
Avoid national chain-restaurants. I get it, sometimes you just want a freaking Big Mac. But try to make that the occasional, last ditch dining effort, not your first choice. Look for restaurants that are full w/ locals. They probably know something you don’t!
Take the time, make the effort–take control of your travel life. You’ll be glad you did. I know I was.