Whether it’s jet-setting across the country for a client meeting or heading to a new city for a conference, millennials are hitting the road in record numbers. Under-30 professionals travel up to 7.4 times a year, making them the most frequent business travelers.
Ambitious to the core, younger workers see travel as an essential component of advancing their careers. It also seems glamorous: five-star accommodations on the company dime (cocktails anyone?), time away from the confines of a cubicle and high-powered networking connections add to the allure.
But the business trip boom comes with an under-discussed downside: the negative impact on traveler’s health.
Millennials who travel the most feel lonely and isolated. They experience homesickness and report that being away takes a toll on relationships with family and friends. Frequent delays, mission-critical meetings and unpredictability of life on the road only add to the stress.
Fortunately, there are ways that road warriors can adapt and find joy in traveling for work alone.
Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact
Traveling can take a physical and emotional toll. For many people that may include feeling homesick or alone.
Having an emotional response to stress is normal, so when this happens, acknowledge what’s present. Realize you have the power to choose how you respond, including what action you take next.
For example, you can choose to respond to feeling lonely in your hotel room at night by wallowing with a few pints of ice cream. Or you can embrace the rare downtime to catch up on sleep and kickback. The choice is yours.
Go on a social media diet
Comparing the not-so-glamorous realities of business travel with your friends’ awesome Instagram lives can be a recipe for a nasty case of FOMO (fear of missing out) that feeds lonely feelings.
When you’re on the road, get more intentional about your technology habits. If a happy photo of your partner and kids brings you joy, make a hard copy or save it as the background on your phone. This helps avoid the urge to check Facebook and potentially fall down the social media rabbit hole of compare-and-despair.
Welcome in serendipity.
Loneliness sucks, especially when you’re on the road and under stress. But resist the urge to isolate or hide.
Instead, focus on engaging in what psychologists call pro-social behavior. This doesn’t mean you have to be the raving extrovert at a conference (but good on you if you are!) and can extend far beyond the typical advice to phone home.
Connection comes in many forms, so consider what opportunities you may be overlooking right now:
- Suggest lunch with a client at a nearby café opposed to a stuffy conference room
- Strike up a conversation with your Uber driver by asking for recommendations of things to do while in town
- Instead of ordering take out to your hotel room; dine out. Even if you eat solo, you still get to interact with the waitstaff
- Don’t place your bag in the seat next to you. Leave it open so someone can sit down, upping the chances for serendipitous connection
- Challenge yourself to go headphone-less while walking around the city so you seem more approachable
While these may sound like small efforts, they all add up to ease loneliness. You may even build rapport or meet new colleagues in the process. You’ll never know unless you’re open to it.
Give Yourself a Break
Eating well, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep are givens to staying healthy on the road. Since business travel inherently involves uncertainty, be realistic about how much you can stick to your normal routine. Throw perfectionist tendencies to the curb. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make it to the gym for your usual one-hour sweat session. Remind yourself that you’re day isn’t actually ruined if you stray from a gluten-free diet.
This type of all-or-nothing thinking can contribute to sadness, which only amplifies loneliness. Set do-able goals and get into the practice of appreciating small wins.
Business travel can be tiring and emotionally draining. When you feel a low coming on, remind yourself of all career-boosting benefits travel presents–things that go far beyond loyalty program perks and fancy all-expenses-paid dinners. Reconnect to your “why” for doing the work you do. It’s the driving force bringing you face-to-face with interesting people and new locales.
With a few adjustments, you can start to feel less lonely and more fulfilled while on the road. Who knows, you may, in fact, find that the best travel companion is yourself.