8 Reasons Work Travel Isn't A 'Vacation'

For those people who know about my life through the lens of social media - they probably think I've been on a vacation in Toronto for the past month. 

Eating out, drinking, going to workout classes, concerts, and hockey games. Those are the things highlighted on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. But if traveling for work has taught me one thing, it's the absolute truth behind the idea that social media is the highlight reel of someone's life. 

I recognize how incredibly lucky I am that my job allows me to not only travel, but experience amazing things that many people can only dream of. There are certainly a number of perks to life on the road - someone to make my bed every morning and give me clean towels and fresh water bottles. But in some moments the not-so-great parts outweigh the positive parts. 

Here's the truth about the roller-coaster of emotions I experience on work trips - behind the smiling Instagrams and non-stop-party Snaps. 

The Hard Parts of Traveling for Work

YOU'RE ALWAYS WORKING - ALWAYS 'ON'

When you're away on a work trip, there's no "off" button. Even when you shut down your laptop for the day and stop checking your emails, you're surrounded by co-workers. You walk into the hotel lobby and there they are. You walk to the nearest restaurant and there are tables full of coworkers. And you think when you grab a drink or dinner with them work-talk is off limits? No shot. It's the one commonality and so therefore, it's usually the main topic. 

When you're around coworkers, you need to be "on." You need to be acting professional, you need to be watching what you say, you need to be making small talk because they aren't people you're comfortable with in silence. 

As an introvert, it gets old really fast. 

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The best way to deal with this is having one co-worker who is an IRL friend too – someone who knows about your life outside of work and who you can have a non-work related conversation with.

It’s also great if you happen to know someone in the city you’re visiting who isn’t a coworker. A night out with them can make a huge difference!

This co-worker turned real-life friend turned not-coworker was free to grab drinks on a work trip to Chicago. It felt like a mini break!

This co-worker turned real-life friend turned not-coworker was free to grab drinks on a work trip to Chicago. It felt like a mini break!

HOTEL ROOMS ARE LONELY

That being said, there's nothing worse than going back to an empty hotel room. It's not your space, and so therefore it's not the same relaxing feeling you get when you open the door to your apartment at the end of a long day. 

At the end of the day I typically return home to an apartment with two roommates, or I got for a group run or have dinner with a friend. While hanging out with co-workers isn't always appealing, it's also not appealing to have zero human interaction for the remainder of your day. 

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Skype or Facetime with people from home if you’re in early one night.

If you want a low-key night but aren’t ready to lock yourself away in your room quite yet – order some delivery to the hotel lobby and eat with a co-worker.

EATING OUT - ALL. THE. TIME.

It's no secret that I absolutely LOVE eating out and trying new restaurants. It's up there on my list of all time favorite things to do. 

That being said, I'm also a fan of eating healthily for the most part - and I typically cook my own food throughout the week. I pack breakfast and lunch and bring it to work with me, and most nights I cook my dinner too. 

When I'm on the road, I lose the ability to prep my meals for the week - breakfast, lunch and dinner need to be bought out. It's delicious, don't get me wrong. But it takes a toll on my body when I'm eating so many meals from restaurants that don't prepare their food very "cleanly." 

The Hard Parts of Traveling for Work

The biggest thing I notice is that amount of salt - I always feel so bloated when I'm constantly eating out. 

The other problem? I'm a meal prepper. I'm used to getting home and popping something into the microwave and sitting down to eat it. My breakfast and lunch is pre-packed and ready to go. Zero thought, zero effort, zero wait. 

When I'm on the road and working long days, the last thing I want to do is figure out where I'm eating. Sure, I could stop at the first place I see - but that's so not me. I've got a million Yelp tabs open and I'm trying to figure out the best place for a delicious, somewhat healthy meal that isn't going to make me feel like crap afterwards. Then I'm trying to figure out how close it is to my office or hotel. Then comes the fact that instead of sitting on my couch and eating within 5 minutes, I'm sitting down at a restaurant dealing with the whole service. 

I know, it sounds like a crazy thing to complain about. But from deciding what you want to eat, to when you want to eat, to who you want to eat with - 3 times a day - it's a lot of extra thought and planning that gets really old. 

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I’ll have a whole post on this soon -  but it’s important to let yourself enjoy, but also not get swept up in the “YOLO IT’S FREE” attitude.

FOMO

When on a work trip, your life is in a weird kind of freeze-frame. Your real life is on hold while your work-trip-life becomes your new reality. What's hard is the fact that back home, life is still moving on without you there. Friends birthday party's, family events, group runs and potluck dinners happen whether you're around to take part in them or not. 

I'm usually fine with waking up on a Sunday morning and going to work when I'm on the road - what else am I going to do? But the second I open up Snapchat or Instagram, I realize, "Right, it's the weekend - friends and family are living their lives and I'm...here." Seeing all the things happening at home without me never gets easier to brush aside. 

I've missed my dad's birthday, my sister's birthday, New Year's Eve, my mom's birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and many other things while on work trips. 

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For me, one of the ways I unconsciously combat this is by being pretty disconnected from home while I’m away. I always tell myself I’m going to do a great job at staying in touch but usually, I’m pretty distant. I don’t follow up with messages and texts, I don’t Facetime or call often, I try to stay off of Facebook – it’s a defense mechanism that sometimes makes me feel bad but also stops me from fixating on the things that I’m missing. It’s hard to explain how I’m feeling when I’m away – so I’ve stopped trying to explain it to friends and family and instead just live in my own little “road bubble” while I’m gone.

SLEEP NO MORE

I am someone who is very good at sleeping. I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere. But when you aren't sleeping in your own bed for weeks at a time, it's hard to get the same quality of sleep. And long hours + not great sleep can = some serious bad moods. 

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Melatonin. And for a long-haul trip, my pillow-pet from home. Sad, but true.

ANTI-GLAM

When I'm on the road, sure I'm staying at a hotel which is nice but my long hours are typically spent in either a locker room, batting cages, a trailer, or some other converted office space. It's not exactly glamorous to work at a folding table and stare at a wall constantly. 

Have you ever used porta-pottys and trailer toilets for 18 days? It smells like you're being locked inside a room with 50 litter boxes. I actually get queasy thinking about it. 

This trip, security was sent to the bathrooms because, "I smells like someone might have died in there." 

Also not glamorous? Traveling during the winter months - delayed flights, slushy commutes, lots of colds on the road when you can't be in the comfort of your own place. Traveling and flying can take quite the toll on your body. 

This is an example of not-ideal travel conditions. A boot, a snowstorm - and we had just taken a bus 8 hours from Ohio because all flights were cancelled. 

This is an example of not-ideal travel conditions. A boot, a snowstorm - and we had just taken a bus 8 hours from Ohio because all flights were cancelled. 

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For my longest work trip, I brought some pictures from home and taped them up on my trailer wall to give me a daily smile. You could also buy yourself some flowers for your desk!

As far as the health side-effects of traveling and long hours - EMERGEN-C! Lots and lots of it. 

THE INTERNAL DIALOGUE

Here's a look inside my head when I'm on a work trip and I get out of the "office."

FREEDOM! What should I go and do? 
I really don't feel like doing ANYTHING but sleeping. 
You have some time to yourself, enjoy it! Explore! Find a nice restaurant! 
This is my first down time in a week, maybe I should just relax in the hotel room and order room service. 
How depressing is it to just go lock yourself in your hotel room and be alone the rest of the night? 
I just want to hang out with my friends. 
Maybe I'll call one of them. 
That's just going to make you sad to hear about all the things they've been doing at home. 
Alright just grab dinner with a coworker and be social. 
I'm so over small talk - take some time for yourself. 
It's a night off in [insert city here] - go out! Have fun! You're 26 years old! Live it up! 
You have a long day of work tomorrow you can't be going out and drinking too much. 

It's like that, on an endless loop. 

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Realizing that it’s OK if you don’t feel like doing anything. You don’t need to “take advantage” of every night by having grandiose plans exploring and eating and partying. Calling it a night at 9 p.m. and ordering room service while watching Netflix is actually an IDEAL SITUATION that you should totally go for.

ROUTINE RE-ROUTED

You’re daily routine is completely squashed while you’re on the road. Your eating habits are forced to change, your workout habits are forced to change, your social life is forced to change, your sleep habits are forced to change.

If you’re someone who likes consistency and routine in their life, it can take some serious adjusting to accept that you no longer have your gym, your bike, your running routes, your workout groups, your kitchen, your microwave – even a refrigerator.

What might not be expected is the major adjustment it is on those first few days back home in your apartment and at the office. You’ve just seen your coworkers in a much different setting for an extended period of time and it’s always weird to go from running into them in the hotel lobby to running into them at the copy machine.

And getting home and facing laundry, dishes and other household chores you haven’t had to worry about is always a bit of a bummer.

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Again, I’ll have a post about keeping some normalcy to your workout routine in a future post. The rest of it, I’ve found, it just something you need to live with. It’s a bit of a roller coaster – you finally adjust to life on the road and then you’re thrown back into “real life.”

Coming up next, I’ll highlight some of the best parts of traveling for work along with ways to adjust your routine to maintain a somewhat healthy lifestyle on the road, while granting yourself some flexibility and forgiveness to enjoy new cities and experiences. 

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