Travelling for work can be relentless: early wake-ups, rushing from airport to meeting and back again, shovelling food in your mouth on the run, coming back to your hotel after a long and exhausting day and working late into the night answering emails, taking calls, writing reports… And repeat.
You can spend an entire business trip barely looking up from your smartphone to relax for a moment in your cosy hotel – let alone taking in the sights and sounds of the city you’re in.
“I often ask people, ‘How do you spend your downtime? Do you do something that recharges you, or do you just go on standby, waiting to go back to work again?’ This is particularly important when travelling for work,” says productivity coach and author, Grace Marshall.
“Travelling for work often means early starts, long days and a packed schedule. The chances are we won’t have any capacity left at the end of the day to think about how we spend our downtime - and as a result we default to eating junk and vegging in front of the TV, or worse - getting sucked into late-night emails.”
Now, we can all agree that’s not how travelling on business should look: downtime is precious, and we know that focusing on ourselves and our well-being is a key counterpoint to our work lives. Also, downtime is about giving us what we need and enjoy, whether that’s a night in with a book we can’t put down or an evening swim in the hotel pool.
If your mind is racing, figuring out how to spend your downtime isn’t necessarily straightforward, especially with the constant ping of new emails alerting you to more work on the horizon. Here’s our guide to making the best choice for the night ahead, depending on what your body and mind need most…
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Frequent travel can lead to bad habits: unhealthy eating and snacking, late nights, too much caffeine and not enough self-care, especially when you're tired at the end of a long day. The most important thing is to know when to switch off.
"While it’s tempting to spend the evening catching up on email and phone calls, don’t spend all your downtime catching up," explains time management and productivity coach
, Clare Evans.
"By all means take a few minutes to check if you’ve missed anything important, but just because you’re out of the office doesn’t mean you need to spend all evening working. If you travel regularly, having a routine is just as important when you’re away from home. Find time to fit in exercise, healthy eating and time for yourself."
When you're feeling tired, try ditching digital temptations like your smartphone and tablet and read a book instead. "Relax in the evening with your favourite author while you’re travelling," says Evans. "You may be too busy to read at home when there are other things that take up your time." Being away from your usual distractions can give you a chance - and an hour, finally! - to focus on yourself.
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Take five or 10 minutes to meditate before bed – something which can easily be done in your hotel room with the help of an app like Headspace
. Studies have found that mindfulness can help with insomnia, as well as improving sleep quality and reducing stress.
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You’ve had an amazing day: your client loved your latest pitch, all of your meetings went well, and your boss even sent you an email remarking how impressed she's been with your performance. You're on fire. But now it's the end of the day and you know you need to unwind to make sure tomorrow goes just as well... but how?
Channel that positive energy towards a workout - hit the hotel gym or just download a fitness app and practice some routines in your hotel room.
"Many exercises can be done without the need for equipment, just using your body weight. All you need is a quick 10-15 minutes before you hit the restaurant in the evening or go for breakfast," says Evans.
If you’re looking to take your good mood out on the town, why not explore your surroundings and treat your senses to something exciting?
"Airports, trains, offices and taxis can all be quite sterile places," says Grace Marshall. "Does your hotel have a spa, or a piano bar? Or is there a concert hall nearby? Listening to music can be a great way to relax and unwind. I even have a friend who brings her own violin with her on work trips!"
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If you've been on the road for days, jetting from one destination to another and feeling overstretched and overworked, you need to make sure you can relax when you finally get the chance.
"Enjoy some me-time,” advises Marshall. "Indulge in a long, uninterrupted bubble bath, your favourite book or that Netflix series that you want to watch but your partner doesn’t. Make the most of having the bathroom, remote and evening to yourself!"
If you need to go out, let other people call the shots so you can have a rest - especially important if you've been in charge all day long.
"If you’ve been leading meetings, events, training or giving presentations, letting someone else be in charge can be a real treat," Marshall explains. "Attend an event where you’re in the audience for a change - or if you’re meeting someone for dinner, let them decide where to eat."
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Then take advantage of your alone time in the hotel. In fact, why not order room service?
"If you’ve spent all day in a room with other people, you might be craving some solitude - especially if you’re an introvert," says Marshall. "Don’t feel obliged to be sociable at the bar. As a friend of mine does: enjoy an M&S picnic in your pyjamas."
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On the other hand, travelling on business for days at a time can feel like an isolating experience – especially if you're away from family or flatmates while you're working. You can always check out the hotel restaurant or bar for a snack and a drink to unwind after a busy day, or you can try going further afield thanks to EatWith
, an 'AirBnB of food' app which brings the sharing table experience – and a gorgeous local meal – to you, whatever country or city you’re in. It's a relaxed way to meet locals and other travellers, and to indulge in some regional specialities you might not otherwise have the chance to taste.
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Maybe it's the last day of your business trip and you want to do something a little special. Or perhaps the last three meetings of the day got cancelled and you suddenly find yourself in Paris with a free afternoon. Whatever the reason for your celebratory mood, use it to make the most of your surroundings.
"Go sightseeing - indulge in a bit of culture, broaden your mind and your taste buds," recommends Evans. "It's a good way to relax, switch off from work and recharge your batteries."
Also, nothing says celebratory like seeing an old friend - especially one you can enjoy your good mood with.
"If you’re an extrovert, you might be craving some social time after being in work mode all day. Do you have any friends in the local area you could catch up with over dinner? Or a friend you’ve been meaning to Skype for a while?" suggests Marshall.