International travel is an integral part of doing business in a global economy. And while there are those who think it is glamorous, the reality of long-haul travel is intermittent sleep; long stretches sitting in confined spaces; and waiting bleary-eyed in a business class lounge for the final leg of your journey. It’s a test of physical endurance. And every seasoned business traveler has developed strategies to cope.
We polled our clients and drew from our own experience to compile this guide to long-haul travel:
What to pack: Your passport, visa (if required) and as little else as possible. “I never check luggage when traveling for work,” says one Chief Marketing Officer. “I always need to be somewhere upon arrival and cannot risk losing luggage or long waits to retrieve it. Mix and match clothes to help with packing.”
“The next time you return from a trip,” recommends Entrepreneur magazine, “run a critical eye over everything as you unpack. What didn’t you use or need? Learn from this and leave it at home next time.”
I never check luggage when traveling for work.
What to wear. Everyone has their personal preference. Most prefer a neat and professional look, while also wearing the closest thing to PJs as possible: slip-on shoes or boots with socks, dark-colored pants or jeans with some stretch, and layers. Men or women: Start with a soft T and work your way up.
Some travelers wear compression socks to minimize swelling in your legs. Travel and Leisure recently reviewed the least cringe-worthy styles. They’re not your grandmother’s compression hose anymore.
What to carry on. Clean out your laptop case and pack only essentials. Scan paperwork and download files you may need to your desktop in case of spotty Wi-Fi service. Most planes have a USB outlet, so carry on a charging cord or invest in a power bank. Not a movie lover? Download a book or your favorite shows or podcasts to keep you entertained until sleep kicks in.
Silence the chatterers, the snorers—and the kid who doesn’t seem to realize his handheld gaming device has a mute button—with noise-cancelling headphones. I like these from Bose. They’re comfortable, they work, and they offer an adapter for airline sound systems. Just keep an eye on them; they also get stolen.
What to eat. If you are a picky eater, pack your own snacks—almonds, nutrition bars, pretzels (I’m a sucker for gummy bears). Always consider the vegetarian option at mealtimes; it is better to eat light when confined at 35,000 feet.
“If I eat dinner on the plane,” says one traveler, “I always ask them to bring the meal to me at once instead of in courses so I can go to sleep earlier.”
Sleep. Ah, the holy grail of international travel. Sleep is the best use of your time, hands down. Here are a few strategies we collected:
- “Travel business class.” (obviously)
- “Take your own sleeping mask and ear plugs.”
- “A sleeping pill or melatonin at bedtime...bourbon tea is also a great way to wind down.”
- “Is it bad that my first thought was, make sure you have sleeping pills?”
- “When possible, I take the later flight to help me sleep. It’s easier to fall asleep on an 8:30 p.m. flight than the 4:30 p.m.”
- “Drink lots of water if drinking alcohol (I use a 1:1 ratio).”
- “Headphones, melatonin, water. Flight attendants can make or break a flight, so smile and be nice.”
I always ask them to bring the meal to me at once instead of in courses so I can go to sleep earlier.
Stay hydrated. That includes your face. I am not shy about slathering on a moisture mask (like this one from Dermalogica) as we taxi down the runway. Lip balm, hand lotion, moisturizing facial spray, eye drops and saline nose spray are all hydrating essentials. Business class fliers can get most of this from the amenity kit waiting at your seat, but I prefer my own brands.
Drink water and lots of it. One plastic cup of water every few hours is not going to combat 10 hours of dehydration in the rarefied cabin air. If you want to read more about airplane humidity—or lack of it (especially in the less crowded business class)—check out this article from Lonely Planet.
Stay healthy. Another reason to stay hydrated? Low cabin humidity dries out the “natural defense system” of the mucus in our noses and throats. That and fatigue mean our immune system is compromised. Throw in bacteria-laden tray tables, headrests, arm rests and (shudder) seatback pockets, and you have a recipe for infection.
Don’t forget dental hygiene. Pack a small bottle of germ-killing mouthwash to add an extra layer of protection and to help keep your throat moist, recommends SmarterTravel.com. If you feel the need to brush your teeth mid-air, wet your brush and rinse your mouth with bottled water. Trust me.
Hit the ground running. Upon arriving (usually in the a.m.), find your hotel, check in and shower if you can; if you can’t, drop your luggage and change clothes. Then get outside and start moving. Don’t go to sleep. Let the sunshine and sights and sounds of your destination city keep you alert. Our own road warrior and Managing Director John Lamar hits the gym: “It is like hitting the reset button and a great way to get rid of the stress to the body after a long flight. It also gets the endorphins going.”
Depending on your arrival time and the length of your journey, avoid business meetings if possible: You didn’t come all this way to make a bad first impression. Instead, have an early dinner and get to bed on time. If you do schedule meetings, stay within walking distance of the office or meeting place. “It saves time and stress to be able to easily and quickly get to and from the office without depending on transportation,” says one traveler. “And the walk gives me energy.”
Is there a secret jetlag cure? I’ve yet to find one, although one traveler we polled tried homeopathic “jetlag prevention tablets” and was pleasantly surprised. Lamar recommends setting your watch to the time of your destination city: “It helps you mentally make the jump to a new time zone.” Another experienced traveler echoes that advice: “Eat and sleep in the time zone to which you’re travelling.”
Pack the right attitude. One of the best travel tips we can offer is this: Assume that something, at some point, will go wrong. We are not being pessimistic but it does put one in the right frame of mind to handle the challenges and unpredictability of international travel. No one can “make you mad”; you are in control of how you react to an issue. Be patient, be polite to the airline and airport staff, and be considerate of your fellow travelers.
Above all else, enjoy the adventure. We are all on a journey.