Business travel is much, much harder to do with pain than leisure travel. Heck, it’s harder without pain too. But with pain or a hidden disability, a business trip can be a nightmarish experience filled with agony and devoid of relief.
Frankly, many of my best tricks just flat don’t work on business trips. Midday naps are impossible, as is sleeping in. Even changing position regularly to keep joints loose and body mobile often doesn’t work because business trips so often mean “all-day meetings for a solid week.” And of course the chairs in those meetings seem to be designed by sadists. (Does it count as a bonus point that after a few days in those chairs, every single person in the meeting will have a starter pain condition, so I’m not alone anymore?)
Add to that the fact that many of us with chronic pain don’t really want to let our bosses and coworkers in on the secrets of our private lives and health troubles, and we have a situation that’s challenging from all sides.
Here are a few ideas about how to I deal with business trips:
If I can, I arrive in town at least 24 hours before I must start working and 48 hours if the trip is overseas. That gives me time to rest and recuperate from the strain of transit before I have to get down to business.
As an independent who pays her own way, I’ve got the freedom to schedule my travel whenever I want. You may not have that same freedom, what with corporations getting ever-cheaper with little things like employee health. But there are still ways to finesse some time to rest and sleep. If you’re allowed to book your own travel, you can usually manage at least a few extra hours on the front end of your trip.
Get pampered before the trip.
The week before your trip, get a massage. Take a dip in a hot tub. Heck, I go for the whole spa-day thing (at the local inexpensive Korean day spa) with a do-it-myself facial, body scrub, and steam room. The more relaxed and comfortable I am before my trip, the more physical reserves I’ve got to draw on.
I keep a bottle or cup of water with me always and sip from it frequently.
A business trip isn’t the time to skimp on medication. That doesn’t mean I pop pills in the middle of a meeting so everyone can see. More like, I set my phone alarm to vibrate so I know when it’s time to take my meds, then I head for the ladies room or water cooler to actually swallow the pills in relative privacy.
I eat a bigger breakfast when I’m on a business trip than I do at home. Eggs, bacon, fruit, toast…the whole works. The more energy I’ve got at the start of each day, the more likely it is that I’ll make it through to the end of that day still able to function professionally.
It’s also important to get enough fruits and vegetables, which can be tough on business trips that tend towards catered lunches and steakhouse dinners.
If you’re given any choice, or if you get any chance to talk to the person in charge of lunch, request a salad or a veggie-heavy sandwich. And at dinner, exercise the will power and keep the heavy red meat meals to a minimum. I’m not against red meat (in fact I love it) but it tends to make me tired.
Get up, move, and use the bathroom frequently.
When I’m ready for a bio-break, I have no problem with asking for a quick break in the meeting/presentation/whatever. Usually at least half of my coworkers respond with vocal gratitude, which means that I don’t get dinged for asking. If asking for a break isn’t going to work (big lecture or presentation-type activity) I make sure I’ve got a seat on an aisle near to a non-emergency exit. That way I can get up and go when I need to without disrupting the room.
Fidgeting keeps the blood circulating to the extremities and diminishes the stiffening up of joints when I’m stuck sitting for long periods. I fidget as efficiently as possible, circling and stretching toes, feet, and ankles; fingers, hands, and wrists. I stretch my neck in different directions, roll my shoulders, flex my hips…anything to keep from going rigid in my chair. Or airplane seat, for that matter.
Don’t drink much liquor.
It’s not always wise to skip happy hour on business trips, because so much of the actual business gets done over evening cocktails. But I quietly keep my alcohol consumption to an absolute minimum. This gives my whole body a break, and as a bonus keeps me clearheaded while hanging out with potentially important professional contacts. To keep a drink in front of me, I order club soda with lime, or fruit juice mixed with soda water.
Sleep as much as possible.
Sleep’s often hard to come by on business trips. Early meetings bleed into late-night dinner-and-drinks networking ops, and the next thing I know I’m trying to stay upright on four hours of sleep. The answer: keep those nights on the early side of late. On a longer trip, I’ll cut out of any non-mandatory “dinner thing” after the first night so I can go to bed early.