My Six Travel Hacks

Between work and play, I end up travelling a lot.  This month, for example, I’m spending the equivalent of two-and-a-half weeks on the road, bumping between Singapore, Thailand, China, and Indonesia.  I’m jokingly calling it #aprilasia.

While San Francisco is the center of my life, good work and important relationships aren’t concentrated there alone.  Instead, life happens both in the Bay Area and also at a bunch of other complementary locations around the world.  For better or worse (and often, for both), travel has become a significant part of my life.

As I’ve hit the road more and more, here’s my list of realizations – from the pragmatic to the philosophical – of what has kept me sane:

Adjust my eating schedule first:  I’ve learned to focus on adjusting my eating schedule instead of worrying about my sleeping schedule.  If I start eating on my destination time zone before getting on the plane, I’m better able to avoid jet lag when I get there.  This means sacrificing the perceived value of plane food (which I tend to eat out of obligation and frugality rather than hunger), planning ahead to bring my own snacks on the road, and often forcing myself to eat when I don’t have any interest (i.e., it’s lunchtime here, but the middle of the night my time).  If I can fix my eating cycle, however, my sleep cycle follows.  I can’t make a watertight case for the science behind it (though I did do a bunch of jet lag research at some point), but it works.

Take advantage of gyms:  The challenge and time involving in getting up, getting dressed, relocating to the gym, battling for a machine, showering in a foreign place, and pre-packing the day’s outfit often provides a convenient and reasonable excuse why I don’t exercise on any given day at home.  When there’s a gym in the hotel, however, I lose that excuse.  I try (though the operative word is try) to work out more on the road because the facilities are far more accessible.

Set boundaries:  As travel has become more frequent I’ve realized that, at some point, I can’t just string obligations together.  After a few ‘mega-trips’ last year, I now aspire to schedule trips no longer than ten days.  Even if it means flying back-and-forth to break the trip up, it’s worth it for me.

Do just one local thing:  When I started travelling, the best piece of advice I got from a seasoned road warrior was this:  “Wherever you go, make sure you do one local thing.”  It could be anything:  going to drinks with a friend, taking two hours to wander around a museum, or walking through town on your way to work.  Sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that I have ‘permission’ to do this, especially if I’m travelling for work.  But the two hours that I spent at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center last week (a scale model of Shanghai!  a golden statue of the skyline!  ambition incarnate in display after lighted display!) made me better able to connect to understand Chinese development and also gave me some karmic comfort when I later found myself flying on Friday night. The trip became worthwhile in a bigger, more personal way.

Acknowledge all parts of the truth
:  Friends often ask the question:  “Do you like to travel so much, or not?”  While it’s easy to fall into their proposed binary framing and either assert that “I love it!” or “I hate it!”, there’s often a more subtle truth.  For me, it’s important to acknowledge that travel is exciting, challenging, and exotic and also overwhelming, exhausting, and annoying – all at the same time.  I love the opportunities that come with travel, and I hate being dislocated from friends and family.  Acknowledging the full range of emotions that comes with travel – instead of glamorizing or demonizing it – helps to keep everything real.

Hold tight to gratitude:  Finally, it’s easy to fall into a world-weary mindset when I’m always on the road.  Travel can lose it’s charm and challenge.  And even the loveliest of destinations can go from being shiny, new, and delightful to being curiously familiar and even bothersome.  Whenever I stop seeing the amazing side of these experiences, I ground myself in gratitude. It is incredible that I get to develop such a broad perspective on life. It is incredible that I am able to feel at home in the world and connect to so many diverse people. Whatever the sacrifice, I can’t believe I’m deserving of all the places I go; I’m humbled by it.

Written while gearing up for a beach walk in Phuket,


Go, go, go

San Francisco, CA

I spent the last two weeks following a frenetic travel schedule that took me to Europe, to Africa, and back to Europe before landing me home in San Francisco. Getting off the plane, I then ran the gauntlet of both a lot of voluntary fun (from Maker Faire to my first Bay to Breakers) as well as an intense schedule of professional commitments (three full days of working sessions and hosting a team dinner at my house).

As I ran about, attending to everything, the to-dos piled up higher-and-higher. I could only clear so many of them on the flights that took me here-and-there and in the wee hours of the morning. So at the end of all this, I had a feeling of relief: “So many commitments, but finally, I can get some work done!” I sat down to my computer with the relish of someone ready to rip through her inbox. But, instead of reaching my productive stride on Day Eighteen, my body gave in. I came down with a familiar, intense migraine that happens when I’ve simply pushed too hard and too long. And it’s lingered an unpleasant two days, sticking around to make sure it’s impact is fully felt.

It was probably some combination of the bodily resilience of youth and my own ignorance of my body’s signals that let me push so hard in my teens and twenties. I never stopped. I rarely slowed. I needed to be told to go home when sick. Four to six hours of sleep a night seemed to be easily enough. And bodily feelings of any type (tired, hungry, grumpy, whatever) seemed irrelevant to the task at hand.

But now it’s different. My body has learned the tricks (like migraines) to simply shut me down when I refuse to listen to the signals. My body has resorted to extreme measures to bring me back into balance. And I have no option but to respond: “All right. I hear you.”

I listen more now. I try to pre-empt the extreme measures, to co-operate with my body more, and to watch for the signs. I hydrate, I sleep, and, loath to my twenty-something self, sometimes I even pass on the glass of wine. I try to give up controlling my physical body with my rational mind and ignoring the feelings because “I’m stronger than that.”

It seems silly, obvious and a bit embarassing to write it all down (after all, what thirty-something hasn’t mastered basic homeostatis?), but it’s tough to reverse twenty-plus years of being rewarded for productivity at the expense of self.

How does your body shut you down?