to a World Bank study and Hyatt Hotel survey, insurance claims for
health problems tend to increase among employees who travel often. In
fact, employees who travel overseas are twice as likely to file health
claims for psychological problems (male travellers are 80% and female
travelling executives are 18% more likely to file such claims).
Corporate travellers are up to three times as likely to suffer
psychological disorders than their non-travelling colleagues, finds a
study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The more
business trips that are taken, the greater is the likelihood of a person
making a medical claim.
The dramatic and sudden changes in climate, daily routine and sleep
pattern, as well as unfamiliar cultures, high intensity workload and
separation from loved ones are likely to compound the physical and
mental stress of travel. Here are some areas that you can watch out for
to control your stress levels.
Don't deal with packing, rather, just stay packed. Instead of having to
deal with the stress of last minute or constant packing, try to keep a
travel case that is always ready. I used to wait until the last minute
to pack and I always forgot something important.
Then one day in Moldova, the thought hit me that I always repack the
same clothes. When I arrived home, I went to the Internet and did a
search under "travel clothes". I am now the proud owner of
five travel certified wrinkle resistance shirts (three dress, two
informal), three travel pants (with all kinds of hidden pockets) and a
really amazing sports coat that can double as a pillow without
Here's the clincher: I make my boss pay for my laundry! When I use the
hotel laundry, my clothes are packed so nicely with little pieces of
cardboard and in a plastic bag. So this is what I do: At the end of the
trip, I have one set of dirty clothes that I put in a plastic bag and
place back in the suitcase. On the next trip, this goes into the hotel
laundry. Voila! No more packing, I just set the suitcase aside for the
Take It Slow
I was the sort of flyer who would always try to get that last thing done
at the office and then rush to the airport worried that I might miss the
plane. The enlightening moment, in this case, was at the Jan Smuts
Airport in Johannesburg.
I clearly remembered saying to myself that I hate this (travelling). My
next thought was that I am going to have to somehow change my attitude
or I will be spending half my life stressed out and hating what I do. I
went to the Business Class lounge, cancelled my flight that was leaving
in 15 minutes and rebooked for the next flight leaving in three hours. I
then went to the bookstore and got a good read. Going back to the
lounge, I got a gin and tonic and life has never been the same since. I
now look forward to the airport.
Waiting for the plane is now a special time for me. This is my time to
relax and adjust to the transition from office to road trip. One
well-known way of dealing effectively with stress is to slow down, which
is the technique here. Try moving, talking and behaving in a more
relaxed, slower manner during your next trip to the airport and see if
it actually allows some of your stress to ebb away.
Take a break and reward yourself. Sure you're on a working trip but
often close by to your destination are some wonderfully exotic and
exciting things to see or do. I was recently on a trip to Pakistan where
I was dealing with the post traumatic stress of witnessing a beheading
(that sure was stressful!).
Close by were some of the most impressive ruins in the world from the
Indus River Culture. I got up at 5.30 am, hired a driver from the hotel,
had a wonderful time and made it back for the 10 am meeting. When I
think of that trip now, the memory is of the country's wonderful and
ancient culture. On a trip to Paris a few years ago, I went and saw the
Mona Lisa for 10 short minutes, which was all I had. I just sat and
Reward yourself by engaging in something pleasurable and you will
decrease stress and realise a boost in the disease-fighting quality of
your immune system for several days. By the way, I gave up planning
ahead of time what to see or do as I found this too stressful.
Stay In Touch
On a recent trip, my teenager's response to my call home was to scream
to another sibling, "It's just Dad again, calling from some place
in Antarctica I think. He said you have to talk to him." What a
warm wonderful feeling for Dad to know he has absolutely normal
teenagers even if they don't want to talk.
This brings me to the fourth strategy: stay in touch with home. Phone
calls or even e-mail can give you a fun break from the 24-hour demands
of business travel and it reassures both you and your loved ones that
you are still a family, no matter how many miles separate you. It can
also reduce the stress of readjusting to home life after the trip is
There is nothing more relaxing than asking the kids how they did in the
track meet or what they did over the weekend. By the way, never ask how
your kids performed in their exams. From my experience, this is not
It is now less expensive from many locations overseas to make
international calls but whatever the price, I just consider it as one of
the costs of having a job with a lot of travel involved.
What you eat can promote or relieve stress, and help or hinder the body
in how it handles the physical stress response. Stay healthy and
stress-resistant by taking time out for good meals. When I travel, I
find eating to be one of the most enjoyable parts of travel. I focus on
the four basic food groups: Tex-Mex, Asian, Continental and Middle
Eastern. If you are stressed out and need a break from anxiety, try
asking those around you to recommend a great place to eat.
Get Some Sleep
I have found that the frequent traveller's best friend is a set of soft
earplugs, neck pillow and eye covers. Lack of adequate sleep can make
you moody, angry and more vulnerable to illness and stress.
Work That Body
Everyone knows that physical activity is one of the most effective
stress-management techniques around. When things do not go exactly as
they should, you may be tempted to skip your workout because you're
If this happens, remind yourself that exercise will help relieve those
feelings of stress and improve your problem-solving ability so that you
can cope better with the inevitable challenges and opportunities of
To work away your tension and fortify yourself against the negative
physical effects of travel stress, try taking a walk. My most vivid
memory of Moscow is a cool crisp 40-minute walk early in the morning to
Red Square. A good swim in the hotel pool is also a very effective way
to get in some exercise.
Writing down your feelings in a diary may help relieve stress. I find
writing about what I have seen and experienced to be an effective way to
demonstrate to myself the wonderful aspects of travel. This is what I
recently wrote on one of my many "field trips". "I felt
as though I had been plumped upon another planet or into another
geologic horizon of which man had no knowledge or memory." -
Richard Evelyn Byrd. Flying down the Antarctica Peninsula, there are
towering mountains that rise abruptly out of the sea shrouded with thick
glaciers. The sea is alive with icebergs of fanciful shape and
impossible hue floating on glossy waters, like rough-cut diamonds
scattered by a giant unseen hand. Antarctica's ethereal landscape
shimmers with a savage beauty and raw power that exceeded the
expectations of even a jaded traveller like me.
A study done at John Hopkins eight years ago showed that people who
wrote down some of their adventures, be they positive or negative
experiences, showed improved mental health and were better able to cope
with travel stress.
The Best Medicine
Laughter is one of the healthiest antidotes to stress. When we laugh or
even smile, blood flow to the brain is increased, endorphins
(painkilling hormones that give us a sense of well being) are released,
and levels of stress hormones drop.
Establish Travel Rituals
People who have high stress in their lives tend to live in an
environment without ritual, surrounded by mental and physical chaos.
Travel removes one from a lot of the established rituals of life. The
nine examples given above are, by and large, rituals I have established
for myself in a travel environment.
Establishing rituals can help prevent and reduce stress by saving time.
It can be a comfort factor in times of stress, when predictability and
certainty reassure us that no matter how bad conditions get, some things
Dr Paul Grundy is a
senior medical coordinator with AEA International Pte Ltd, a company
with operations in 24 countries which helps people who get into trouble
anywhere in the world.
The above article was reproduced from Frequent Traveller magazine with