Home » Travelling for Work: The Dark Side of Work Travel [Updated for 2020]
The Dark Side of Traveling for Work - What they Don't tell you about Travelling for Work

Travelling for Work: The Dark Side of Work Travel [Updated for 2020]

by Jeremy B

There are many positives to regular work travel ranging from increased career opportunities, more visibility inside your company and of course you get a chance to see different parts of the world on the company’s dime. But the truth is travelling for work has a dark side.

In a 2019 study, NextTravel reported that 1 in 5 business travelers said traveling for work negatively affected their mental health. 25% of respondents noted difficulty in maintaining personal or family relationships and 23% noted having missed an important family event for work travel.

Bottom line: traveling for work has a dark side.

Travelling for Work – quick overview

This article examines the dark side of travelling for work on a regular basis. Specifically, readers will learn five downsides to regular work travel. Here’s a quick summary, before we dig in:

  1. You are alone a lot
  2. Sleep schedule / patterns off
  3. Hard to eat healthy
  4. Miss family events
  5. Tough on personal relationships

We deep dive into each of these elements of regular work travel so you know what to be on guard for if you take a job traveling for work. As a frequent business traveler myself I live the grind of recurring work travel every single week and use this insight to share some of the downsides of a life spent on the road.

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You are alone a lot when traveling for work

You are often alone when travelling for work

Regular work travel can take you all over the country (or world). You may get to see amazing sights, visit bucket-list destinations and eat at once-in-a-lifetime restaurants – all on the company dime. Except you are likely doing it alone.

When you travel for work there is one consistent element: lots of alone time. For example, on a work trip to Oregon I had some time to kill and took the long way back to the Portland (PDX) airport. It was incredible. While wandering around a pretty neat castle in Poland I was, surprise, alone.

In a sweet Mustang convertible (courtesy of National Rental Car) I drove up the Oregon Coast with the top down. Cute seaside towns, a great lighthouse, a cave full of seals and craggy windswept cliffs. Truly incredible stuff.

But I was alone.

I would have loved to share this experience with my wife (who loves lighthouses) but alas – I was travelling for work again – and thus, oh so alone.

Speaking of Oregon, you might want to check out my post on Things to Do (and eat) in Salem Oregon

Whether it’s night after night by yourself in hotel room, or a tour of the Empire State Building, you are often alone when travelling for work. It’s a huge downside.

In fact, if you’ve ever watched the now famous George Clooney movie, Up in the Air, you know that one thing was very apparent in the actor’s life: he was lonely. Now, in his case, he also had no family and intentionally detached himself from friends and family. But he was alone and his loneliness was a key part of the story.

If you take a job that has travel, try to avoid alienating yourself from friends and family. Invest in these non-travel relationships. If you have a family, make it count when you are home.

Sleep schedule / patterns off when you travel for work

Your Sleep Patterns are often off when on work travel

Regular work travel typically means numerous time zones which means it can be incredibly challenging to maintain regular sleep patterns. I live in on the West Coast and often, when travelling for work, I head east.

Waking up that first morning in Eastern or Central Time Zone is BRUTAL. And while many years spent travelling for work have allowed me to hone my body rhythms to not care so much about the time zone I am in, it’s still rough.

The copious amounts of coffee I drink probably help (but are likely not healthy!).

Jetlag, or as the Mayo Clinic defines it, “a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones” is a real thing and it can cause fatigue, sleeplessness, mood changes, and put your body in a position where you can be susceptible to sickness (never mind the prolific amounts of germs you come into contact with while travelling for work!).

Bottom line: with work travel, you will be tired. It will be hard to sleep, at times. But you soldier on!

PS…this we wrote about How to get over jet lag while you travel 11 Jet Lag Tips for every traveler, check it out!

It’s hard to eat healthy when you travel for work

It's Hard to Eat Healthy - when travelling for work

I’ve written an entire article on staying healthy while travelling for work because this is such an important subject. It is darned hard to eat healthy (and stay healthy overall) with regular work travel!

When travelling for work, you will eat out for every meal (unless you shop for food which is not always convenient). That means you have an opportunity to eat lots of unhealthy, calorie-laden food!

Don’t get me wrong, it will be GOOD food…good as in tasty in many cases (eating dinner with customers at nice restaurants is a nice perk). But, man, it’s tough to eat healthy. And hard to stay hydrated.

This is a big downside to regular work travel that can sneak right up on you if you are not careful!

By the way, here are some healthy travel snacks ideas

With work travel, you will miss family events

You will miss family events when on work travel

As I write this post I am preparing to head out on another business trip. And unfortunately, with this trip I will miss my children’s choir recital. It’s not the first “kid” event I’ve missed and it always hurts.

I hate being away from my family and I hate missing their events. I’ve missed piano recitals, school plays, soccer practice and more.

It sucks! It really does. But I’ve sat down with my kids and explained to them this is how daddy makes his living. And my wife and I have made a calculated trade off.

This job (which I am really good at) is how I provide for them. I explain I don’t want to miss their events, and I always work REALLY hard not to miss them. I also make sure to be PRESENT when I *am* home.

In fact, that’s Habit #7 of my 7 Habits of the Healthy Business Traveler: How to Stay Healthy While Traveling for Business: Staying Connected! Whether its regularly texting your loved ones, or using Google Hangouts, or Facetime and making sure you are HOME when you are home – staying connected is critical to maximizing your relationships with your kids.

And I strongly encourage you to have a sit down with your children and explain to them your travel job.

Traveling for Work can be Tough on personal relationships

It's tough on personal relationships when travelling for work

After years of travelling for work, I can personally attest that it is very difficult on personal relationships. While I’ve been married for over 23 years, we’ve had our rough patches.

One of my job had really heavy work travel and it had me on the road almost every week of the month. It took a brutal toll on my marriage. It came to a head and I had to tell my boss fire me if you want, but take me off the road for a bit.

He was a gracious boss, liked me, and didn’t bat an eye. I took a breather (for a year or so) and worked on my marriage. Then, in a better place (both of us), we agreed it was time to start focusing on my career again – and that meant travel.

Time apart is not on the only challenge on personal relationships for the person with regular work travel. Long periods of time with the opposite sex, including regular work dinners and drinks (all under a work context) can occasionally create situations that can be devastating to a marriage or committed relationship.

The regular work traveler has to be on guard against these things.

How to survive frequent work travel

To summarize, there’s a few key aspects to surviving the downsides of frequent travel:

  • Be home when you are home!
  • Maintain non-travel friends and family
  • Sleep when you can!
  • Enjoy the sights as best you can (don’t stay in your hotel room)
  • Eat as healthy, but don’t over rotate.
  • Take advantage of Bleisure whenever you can
  • Bring your family with you if you can
  • Travel smarter whenever possible

Employ these tips and you life as a business traveler may not be perfect, but it won’t be all bad.

Final Thoughts on Travelling for Work and Downsides of Regular Work Travel

At this point you might be seriously wondering if there are ANY good things about travelling for work. This is, obviously, quite the list of negatives to travelling for work. And no doubt – that’s true.

But, there are also many positives to a job that travels for work. For example, greater opportunities with your company, higher profile jobs, a chance to meet with clients important to the company, travel with the boss, and more are just some of the pluses to a job with regular work travel.

Additionally, you may get the opportunity to see the world (or parts of it) on the company’s dime. To visit locations you might never get to visit, and to eat at places you might not ordinarily get a chance to eat at. For example, I recently visited Krakow, Poland and it was incredible. Next up (for company work travel) is a trip to England, Copenhagen and Norway. Yep…can’t beat that.

Suffice to say that like any job, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons. A travel job can be incredibly rewarding, but it comes with some downsides. I urge you to consider both the pros and cons of such a job!

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And, of course, if you are interested in more travel tips and travel advice, you might like these great articles:

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1 comment

Tim - Take me to the Points December 1, 2018 - 5:52 am

But… you can earn points and miles, whilst someone else pays!! 😉 (and then use them for nicer travel time!)


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