Business travel might conjure up images of glamorous trips to Paris, Rome, Madrid or Berlin, but the reality for frequent travellers can often be rather different. While there are certainly luxuries and conveniences to staying at hotels, spending so much time away from home inevitably increases the desire to bring a little bit of home with you, especially when it comes to enjoying downtime between meetings.
So what kind of things do frequent travellers always make sure they’ve got packed in their luggage? We caught up with some of them to find out.
The home stretch
When you’re at home, you have your routines, a particular work-life balance. But if you’re a frequent traveller, maintaining such routines can become trickier, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing your entire experience away from home as work.
Kathy Walsh, a financial auditor, is familiar with the problem. “When I first started to travel for work, I would go to offices in Frankfurt or Lyon or where ever I was posted, then I’d come back to the hotel and still feel like I was on the clock,” she says. “One area that suffered was fitness. The hotel might have a excellent gym, but back home I only went to classes, and I find most cardio machines boring.
“My classes often used resistance bands, so on one trip I decided to pack one – they take up very little space in luggage. It meant I could do exercise either on a mat in the gym or even in my room if I brought a mat with me. These days when travelling, I always use it at least twenty minutes before and after work. It helps remind me that this is my time, and keeps me in the same routine I have at home.”
Frank De Caires works for an NGO, and he mostly travels long haul to places in India and South-east Asia. The item he always packs first is a pair of slippers. “I used to associate slippers with my dad, and I vowed never to own any, but my wife bought me a pair of posh Danish slippers with leather soles and they felt incredibly comfortable. Even though I work in countries where flip-flops might be more appropriate, I still wear these in whatever hotel I’m staying at. It’s like wearing a little piece of home.”
Specific items of clothing are very popular among frequent travellers. “I’ve spoken to people who travel like I do and lots of them have something like this,” says Frank, “whether it’s a favourite t-shirt or sweatshirt, a pair of comfy socks, or even a hat they wear whenever they’re travelling. It helps people relax and feel a bit less homesick.”
Suits you, sir
Stephen Meirs’s must-carry is also an item of clothing, in his case a crease-resistant travel suit. “I work as a freelance reporter, and although I don’t tend to travel with a cameraman, I need to be relatively smart for video conferencing or simply as a matter of presentation. Given there’s often a degree of physicality to what I do, whether it’s travelling to a remote village or spending hours on transport, a normal suit simply isn’t practical – it’s not as if there’s anywhere to get it pressed or dry-cleaned. So I wear a Paul Smith suit specifically tailored for frequent travel. I don’t know what I’d do without it, frankly.”
For Ruth Adebowale, a sales representative, it’s the little things that make the difference. “I always carry a fold-out picture frame with photos of my family. I’ve got loads of images of them on my phone, and I Skype with them when I’m away, but there’s just something about putting out a physical photo in a hotel room that makes it feel more like home.” She has a couple more tips for the homesick, too. “I take a scented diffuser that’s the same one as I use at home, and also some bath salts. It makes where ever I am smell like home!”
Home if you’re from the UK tends to mean the generous consumption of tea, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that so many people pack half a dozen teabags, often with a packet of biscuits, especially chocolate Hobnobs. UK’s Marmite addicts also like to bring their own, knowing that most countries have little or no knowledge of this eccentrically British product. In fact, packing comfort food is common to travellers from all countries, and you’re likely to find the French bringing cheese, the Spanish jamón and the Italians coffee on their travels.
Pluses and minuses
“The most important thing,” says Barney Richardson, an accountant who spends much of his time living out of a suitcase, “is to have something totemic, something that seems to represent your home life.” For Barney, that metaphorical comfort blanket takes the shape of, er, a desktop calculator… “Typical accountant, right?” he says. “Obviously I could use the calculator on my phone or laptop, or even a desktop calculator from the office I’m working in, but I’ve had mine for years. It’s an old solar-powered Casio, and it’s a bit beaten up these days, but having it with me provides a sense of continuity. I understand this makes me seem like a total nerd but I don’t care!”
Ultimately, what comes across from talking with Barney and the other frequent travellers is that, so long as you keep a sense of the routine you have at home, and you bring something that reminds you of home life, business travel becomes even more comfortable.