The Truth About Work Travel (and How to Deal With It)
“So, when are you traveling next?”
After a busy season of eating at hotel bars and in airports, applying makeup in an Uber on the way to the airport and missing a few birthday parties, I started to dread answering that question. After each busy season, though, it became easier and easier to adjust to life on the road.
When I accepted a job at ESPN X Games, travel was by far the biggest highlight. Two guaranteed trips to Aspen and a summer city each year, along with the possibility of more (including international travel), was enough to send me into some epic brainstorm and daydreaming sessions. I asked myself how many ways I could post boarding passes with my slick X Games gear; how many destinations I would FaceTime my boyfriend from; what I would do with the few extra days I tacked on at each location.
While plenty of those questions have been answered with amazing experiences and fabulous selfies, they were also answered with some challenging logistics and sacrifices over my first two years of work. I missed weddings, birthday parties, reunions with college friends and opportunities to see my parents. I gained weight and then lost it. I spent more than 75 days away from my apartment (that I pay plenty of Los Angeles rent for) last year.
It’s hard to focus on work when you’re missing events like that, but it might not look like I’m too upset if you check my Instagram feed. Filled with shots of me playing in the snow, holding koalas and trying delicious food and drinks from all over the place, I have to admit it looks like I’m really living it up. But there are definitely some things you don’t get to experience when you see my Instagram stories:
Work travel and traveling for pleasure are extremely different
There have been multiple times when I’ve stayed in a hotel for more than 12 nights. That might sound reminiscent of a trip to Europe during college, but when you’re traveling for work and a hotel room is home base, it’s not exactly the same as a backpacking trip through the Alps. When you’re on-location, you are always on. It’s part of the gig, but sacrificing “free” or “me” time for 12-plus days is not the easiest, especially when trying to balance self-care.
When you go to dinner after work with colleagues, you likely continue to talk work. Alone time? Really only available when you’re going to sleep. Even the work-related tasks you get to manage in your everyday go to the backburner, because of the on-call nature of being on-site.
Routine is important, even when you’re in your twenties
I love my job, and a lot of the time I do love the travel! But there are times when it gets tough. I’ve learned some ways to keep my mind and my body healthy:
I don’t have time (or space in my suitcase) for makeup. Most days I’m on the road consist of tinted moisturizer and, if we go out for dinner, a nice lipstick.
That said, I have thrown myself at skincare like no one’s business. All the different climates and airports I experience are enough to make my skin crazy. I have no shame in bringing seven different skin products with me.
I signed up for a vitamin subscription service. Whether it’s all placebo or actually helping me, taking my vitamins does make me feel better, physically and mentally.
At home, I typically start my day with a cold brew and collagen protein mix. If I’m staying somewhere for work for more than three nights, I bring that with me and pick up cold brew concentrate when I land.
At first, I used to give up on the idea of workouts while on the road. Instead, when I’m in a busy “travel season,” I switch gears to a home workout series (the SWEAT app is a favorite), and often seek out a local yoga class on ClassPass when I can. One of my teammates and I try to keep each other accountable while we’re traveling. Even if we don’t do the same workout, we try to hit the gym at the same time.
Traveling does make you a better employee (and person)
It’s opened doors I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had awesome face time with execs and peers I wouldn’t see normally, resulting in professional development and, in some exceptional cases, genuine friendship.
I’m pretty excellent at working anytime, anywhere. That might be a negative, but it’s also proven to my boss that I can be trusted to work from home now and then if I want a break from the office.
It increases your cultural competency. Whether it be domestic or a completely random part of the globe, experiencing different cultures gives me ideas for different events.
Adaptability is off the charts. Being able to adapt and roll with the punches is something I value immensely. Canceled flight? Gotta go to a last-minute dinner or meeting? No sweat.
Ultimately, it’s built strong relationships with my coworkers that wouldn’t be there if we weren’t traveling the globe together.
The other perks of spending several nights on the road are relatively minor: I’m amazing at packing (try packing for three climates in less than a week, in a carry-on); I’ve racked up a ton of frequent flier miles and can use those for personal travel; I’ve been able to meet up with my parents and other friends I wouldn’t have traveled to normally.
If you’re unsure about taking a job where you’ll travel frequently, I get it. Although it can be taxing if you don't get enough recovery in-between trips, you could benefit immensely from the travel if you do it right. You may find that spending a lot of time on the road is a great way to grow professionally and personally—just don’t forget to value the downtime and “real life” in-between.
Olivia is a Senior Publicist based in Los Angeles, focusing on ESPN’s action sports property, X Games. She joined ESPN full time in October 2016, and it’s been a wild ride filled with business trips to Aspen and Minneapolis, along with additional work on esports, Special Olympics Jalen & Jacoby and more. Olivia is a proud Seminole and graduated from Florida State University in December 2014.