Tell Me Tuesday: How to Travel Well

Towering over and smiling with this great group of friends in Atlanta. (Notice the "tall" one next to SBS is wearing heels.)

So SBS and I have been on the road quite a bit, and here's the thing: I love, love, love meeting mother runners; listening to stories about victories (and occasional injuries); cheering at races; and hearing, "I've never felt this short before," as somebody gets sandwiched between us for a picture. I am definitely not complaining about how fortunate I am to have this be my job.

But here's the other thing: I suck at traveling. The actual act of extracting myself from my everyday life--packing, making sure the fridge is filled, playdates are made, flute lessons are remembered--then folding myself into a seat made for somebody who 5'4" and hurtling through time zones with no snacks to be had unless I remembered them myself (not likely) is just extremely unpleasant. I try to make it better by remembering snacks, downloading podcasts (not our own), and trying to relax, but it doesn't come easy. Sarah always talks about how well she slept on the flight; I can't remember the last time I slept, unless you count about 10 neck-jerking minutes in a vague haze on the way home from Kansas City in March.

And coming home? Although the packing part is easier--if you brought it, bring it home--the actual re-entry is as bumpy as a typical plane landing in mountainous Denver. There is none of the unpacking time I used to enjoy, oh, 10 years ago, when I could kind of reset and realign with the routine. The kids often greet me as I drive down the street, and are with me, meltdowns and all, until my bedtime, which is often earlier than theirs when I return from a trip. Seriously, 8:15 isn't too early when I've been on the road all day.

This looks fairly accurate, although these seats look more comfortable than ones I've seen lately.

This jetting around takes a serious toll on my body and energy. Sarah is so much more resilient than I am; she got up Monday, this morning, after four whirlwind days in Minneapolis and sent out a boatload of shirt orders and then proceeded to have a crazy productive day. I could barely make my kids lunches, let alone conquer any work. I had one story due today, and thankfully, it was 90% done when I went to "work" on it. I had to print out at least four times to read it again and again make sure I didn't forget a word. (Spelling and grammar check can only get you so far.)

No matter how well I try to "pace myself" over a weekend, I always crash and feel like a zombie by the time I'm checking my bags to get home. Here's what I feel like I do right:
1. Hydrate. Sarah and I are never without our Camelbak bottles filled with nuun.
2. Eat fairly well. We try to stock up on fruits and other good snacks like nuts for expos. Sure, there's the occasional pound bag of pretzel M&M's, but they're consumed by both of us over the course of a couple of days. (Okay, I consume 80% of them, but it truly is a couple of days.) I try to eat a salad at least once a day and always opt for the veggie option (at a pizza place, at Subway) when possible.
3. Limit my alcohol. I definitely like a beer after being on my feet for the day, but it's one beer, and I'm done.
4. Take probiotics. This is fairly new--I started about two weeks ago--but it's working so far. Need to keep the intestines happy and things moving along instead of feeling clogged, so to speak.

Here's what I can use help on:
1. Sleep. I know I need at least 8 hours, and try to get that. But I like to sleep in fresh air and my own bed, not a air conditioner that hums on and off and a bed that just doesn't feel quite right.
2. Pacing myself. No matter how hard I try to pace my AMR weekends the way I know I should race, I get so excited that I think I use up all my energy on the first day/mile. Say I have 20 candles of energy to burn and we're doing stuff for 2.5 days; I should burn about 8, and 8, then 4. Instead, I go about 17, then 2, then 1. Same way I think I can run 8-minute splits for a half-marathon, even though I've been training at a 9:30 pace.
3. Being more engaged when I get home. I know my kids and husband have missed me, but all I can think about is taking care of myself.

Although this post is definitely self-centered--waah! help me travel!--what I'm asking for isn't very different than what any runner who travels for an important race needs. Namely, to minimize the disturbances on their diet, sleep, and mentality so they can bring out the best in themselves. So I'm turning to you, readers, for ideas you use or have heard about for making traveling easier. How do you minimize the turbulence, so to speak, when you travel?


31 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: How to Travel Well

  1. I travel a lot for work – and honestly I try to use my nights in the hotel as my own little retreat. Bring a book or a magazine and zone out without worrying about the kiddo. I’m sure that won’t help you much though – as I’m sure that you’re trips are much more of a whirlwind than mine are. But try to relax a bit and enjoy the adventure.

  2. For the last 15 years I’ve had jobs that involve travel and for me the travel wasn’t bad, it was the re-entry and reconnecting because I would be distracted by the condition of the house (MESSY), the giant pile of mail (really hubby you couldn’t toss the junk mail?), etc. My kids ages are 20,16,14 so it’s not that big of deal NOW but when they were little the condition of the house would exhaust me and ruin the ‘hi I’m home’ moment. My strategy would be that when I got near home I would remind myself that my husband and I chose this lifestyle, I’m lucky to have choices and that my husband has not complained about being left alone with his full time job and three small children (which is TRUE – he didn’t) and finally whatever is on the side of the door can either cleaned or tossed or replaced. Then when I got home I would turn a blind eye to condition of the house for as long as humanly possible. Good Luck!

  3. While I’m on the road, I put together an order of groceries to be delivered the day I get back (or the very next morning). That way, I have all of my favorite foods at home, I don’t have to go out grocery shopping, and my husband doesn’t to try to fit it in to his busy work schedule, either. So worth the delivery charge! (I use Peapod from Stop and Shop – they have an app.)

    P.S. What kind of probiotics do you use? I’m coming off a round of antibiotics and need to get my body back!

  4. As another member of the 6-footer club, I can’t fit into an airplane seat, nor can I sleep in one. So that’s out.

    I just got back home from eight days on the road and spent the first four hours today doing laundry and going to the supermarket (there were tumbleweeds blowing through the fridge; it was that barren).

    I know that I can’t go all-out all day, every day, so now when I go to conferences I skip the lunchtime sessions in favor of quiet time on my own. That could mean retreating to the room, going shopping, eating lunch at another location… just doing something that doesn’t require my brain or my personality to be engaged.

    I try to meet friends whenever possible, run if the weather permits and generally do as many non-work things as I can find time for. And when all other options fail to disengage my brain, there’s always hotel HBO.

  5. I am also a mother who travels frequently. I have a suitcase packed at all times. I have a second set of toiletries, earbuds, sunglasses, umbrella, undies, socks, pjs, etc. that always stay in my suitcase. When it’s time to go, I pack only the outfits I want to wear while gone. When I get home, Everything but dirty laundry stays in the suitcase. With four kids in the house, laundry gets done daily, so that’s easy to get into the cue and then the basics get thrown back into the suitcase for next time.

    I cook on the weekends and try to keep at least one or two casseroles/soups in the freezer for my boyfriend to feed the kids. And they usually like to do a night out when I’m gone.

    I’m also a huge proponate of lists. Everyone’s schedule is kept in our family notebook so we all know what’s happening when, regardless of whether I am in town.

    As for the return, I try to give everyone 10 or 20 minutes and then ask for about a half an hour to get caught up. We always plan a family meeting for that night or day after I get back.

    Hope that helps!

  6. I used to live on the road and was on an airplane every Monday headed to a new city. It is definitely a rough life but I learned quickly to live simply. I stripped down to the essentials and knew that if I ever didn’t have something…I could always buy it in the next city. And then re-entry was always difficult. No matter what I gave myself 2 days to not do anything. No unpacking, no working. Just spending that time with my loved ones that really did miss me after all! 🙂

    1. I think that’s a great idea, Carrie: I’m pretty much going to think of Mondays as a day off after a weekend. My kids are in school, but they’ll appreciate a more rested mom when they get home. 🙂

  7. I travel a lot for work, so I have to somehow make it tolerable. What works for me:
    1. I try to go into the trip well rested (what’s that??). I know my sleep isn’t the same when I’m traveling, so if I go into it with extra sleep in the bank, all the better. I know I’ll be pooped when I get home, so I just try to plan around that.
    2. I stay at the nicest, cleanest, safest hotel my work will pay for and have at times ponied up my own money for better digs – don’t put me in a room by the ice bucket, elevator or stairs, please.
    3. I read some trashy pop culture mag and take a hot bath before bed. Puts me to sleep every time. I’ve never used a sleep aid — they’re just not for me.
    4. I used to try to minimize overnight stays, but didn’t like the hectic, whirlwind feeling of flying in early, rushing to a meeting, having to be “on” right away and then flying home late, so now I try to arrive the day before my meetings – it gives me time to deflate and get some decent food. If I’m hungry or eating crappy food, I’m worthless. If there’s time, I do something for me – I’ve gotten a pedicure, If I have friends there, I meet up with them or I just poke around town. Something outside of my hotel room. And I try to go for a run in the morning.
    5. Coming home – I got nothin’ for you there. My kids are a little bit older and less needy when I walk in the door. If anything I want to be around them and they are off doing their thing….. 🙂

    1. I like the idea of getting into town early, chilling and relaxing, Jo. And yes, celebrity trash=always welcome diversion! I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when somebody leaves one in a seatback!

  8. The woman in the middle is my absolute TWIN! Besides looking exactly identical, I have my phone in my hand in almost every picture ever taken of me, and I do a weird leg thing when I’m posing for pictures. THIS IS TOO STRANGE!!! And I’ve a) never been the Atlanta or b) never met the mother runners!!

  9. I’m a very type-A person. I make lists. I make lists of lists. I even have a “freezer inventory” sheet on my big freezer and a shopping list in Excel that I fill out each month just before shopping. So my suggestion is to make a list. If you travel frequently, then make a “permanent” list. The things you take on a trip rarely vary that much. So make a list to ensure you remember your snacks, or anything else you always forget (cell phone charger???). You could even include all those things that you need to do around the house to get ready for a trip (make dinners for the family….). It might take you a few trips to get the list ‘just right’, but once you do, it will help you pack while you’re mind is focused on the kids.

    1. Chandra, the list-maker. Love this idea. Implementing for our trip to NC. (Wanna make my list for me? :))

  10. If you’re flying, take advantage of any extra time (getting to the airport early, layovers, etc.) and walk the terminal. I just haul my wheeled suitcase with me-unless my husband is traveling with me and he checking his email. It helps me get rid of some nervous energy and it is a bit easier to sit for a long time after getting some light exercise.

    I’m curious…. what podcasts do you listen to? I’m always looking for well done podcasts to distract me.

    1. I like that idea, Sharyn, but I am usually hauling so much stuff walking for fun isn’t really an option. Podcasts: anything NPR does. Wait, wait don’t tell me, Car Talk, This American Life. Nothing too crazy, but just not mother runners. 🙂

  11. For pacing…make yourself take breaks. Every two hours excuse yourself to the bathroom. Maybe you need to go and maybe you don’t, but you can go and sit down for a couple of minutes and no one will bother you. You can take advantage of the isolation and the relative quiet to clear your head a little and get re-centered.

    I’ve been enjoying the blog immensely…I hope to meet you both some day!

    1. Thanks, Katie. I like that idea. I am definitely the one who does our “errands” when we’re at the expo: I’ll get us lunch, change, drinks, whatever. But that’s not really quiet, down time. Thanks for reading!

  12. I’m not much for travel. I like being wherever I go, but all the stuff you mentioned is rough on me as well. Things that help me: 1) bring my own pillow; sometimes hard to fit in, but it really helps me sleep better 2) books on MP3; they drown out ambient noise and get me to sleep well (except on planes – I’m terrible at that) 3) having my toiletry bag packed and ready to go at all times; It’s the same one I carry in my gym bag so that’s easy and it’s hard for me to forget anything.
    I’m enjoying reading the other responses too.

    1. Getting a book asap. That’s a really great idea, Jesser. Anything in my ears distracts me, and I fall asleep listening to podcasts (the same ones over and over). Thank you.

  13. In order to sleep at hotels I have to take a Tylenol or Advil before bedtime which I NEVER do at home (unless I have a fever over 101.0). Others I know swear by Tylenol PM.

    Only other “trick” I know is to ease into the re-entry at home by having your family meet you somewhere other than home (like a restaurant or airport) before you actually walk in the door. That way you can get all the “stories” out of the way focusing just on them before you see the piles of dishes in the sink, the empty dog bowl, the dirty laundry, and all the other “undone” things they’ve left you at home.

    1. Another great idea: having them meet me at airport! not only does that cut down on parking fees, but yes, all the stories get told and it’s an easier reentry. Another trick I’m trying for NC. Thank you!

    2. Seconded to the aspirin trick. I almost always take two (for me, generic ibuprofen) before going to bed on the first night of travel. Also, this is basically common knowledge now, but finishing my night with nonscreen time is a must, no matter where I am. Doesn’t matter if I’m on the computer for an hour and then read a book/magazine/newspaper for five minutes, that five minutes prepares me for sleep.

  14. Ugh, traveling seems so glamorous and exciting but in reality a lot of it sucks. Traveling with the kids, although it’s getting easier as they get older, is still SO hard, so when I travel by myself (rare) I try to enjoy the peace. I listen to music, read, etc. And anytime I am traveling across time zones, I change my watch immediately after takeoff to the new time zone. It helps me to mentally get in the zone!

  15. I can’t sleep on a plane, either. I actually paid extra money last week for more leg room (& I am not as tall as you, more SBS height.) I always buy a trail mix when I’m through security so I have something to eat, especially in my hotel room. Maybe you could schedule your flights home when the kids are at school/preschool/play date? That way you have some time to decompress before getting flung into the deep end of mommy-ing.
    I always unpack my suitcase right in the door, toss dirty clothes in the laundry & add clean ones to my pile on the dining room table. That way I only have odds & ends to deal with after.
    It must be super hard to travel so much!

  16. The first night away from home in a hotel is always tough for me, not too much I can do, but I try to hold to my bedtime unwinding routine (stevia in hot water, half an hour of reading a book) no matter what time it is which helps. Definitely the shower upon returning home (even if I took one before traveling that day). I used to be the “leave the suitcase till whenever” but my DH has helped me improve so that I at least empty the suitcase of laundry (he’ll have already started his own load!) so if I leave it on the floor for weeks it doesn’t stink and I don’t run out of underwear! We also plan what we’re going to eat when we get home (usually takeout). Can you wear eye masks to sleep? I got a great one that has helped me tremendously in hotels. I carry my travel tempurpedic (but dang it’s heavy) and now my Sheex travel sheet which really helps. Not sure if it’s the familiarity of the fabric, the smell of home, or what. If it’s more than an overnight, I’ll generally stop by a grocery (or WF!) or Target to buy some smartwater, fat free half & half, fruit, veggies for snacks. To avoid buying or carrying coffee & filters (yes, I used to), I sometimes go by Starbucks in the evening and get coffee, stick it in the fridge (always get room w/ minifridge & micro), then rehead it in the micro or by running it through the coffeemaker. If I want to feel good and do stuff, I find sticking as close to my routine, habits, foods (I’m GF and have other digestive issues, so I’ll carry/buy safe food if I have to), etc. as possible really helps – though it does get a bit annoying and can deprive me of some new experiences, I’m sure. Love the tips I’m reading!

  17. Fairly frequent travel mom here! I can honestly say I’ve had many of your same thoughts. The needing probiotics to keep things moving is a big factor for me with travels. I have some variant of IBS so that makes travel a little tricky at times. I’ve starting taking Nature Made’s all natural sleep aid (melatonin, chamomile) and it helps a little, but hotel beds can be problematic for me. My main tips are 1) always book quality hotels to ensure the best chance for a good night’s sleep, 2) have permanent travel gear set up that doesn’t require as much unpacking (ie, toiletries, bags, purses, etc) 3) I take about a week to actually unpack and 4) always pack snacks. I always have a box of Luna bars in my luggage and I’m now using the new Brita water filter bottles (they are lighter weight than the heavy Camelbaks!). That way, I know I can use hotel tap water and not worry about finding bottled water and a Luna bar can always tide me over at strange hunger times. Travel is rarely smooth sailing for anymore especially moms who never get a chance to unwind, but I’ve just accepted that I will have a suitcase open upon return for a couple days and I quit stressing about unpacking, ha ha!

    1. Glad to hear I am not alone. I’ve been traveling a lot over the last year and I HATE unpacking. It usually takes me at least a week to get completely unpacked.

  18. I never feel like I am home again until I take a shower in my bathroom, with my water, my soap and shampoo, and my towels. I insist on 15 minutes when I get home to shower, even if I don’t really feel like I need it. It scrapes off the road dust and makes me feel lots better.

    Also, you sound like you might be an introvert and need to be alone sometimes to recharge your batteries. I am too, and I hate the disruptions of traveling. I am sure it will be difficult or impossible at this stage in your life, but try building in some alone time during your days.

  19. I just unpacked my suitcase from 12 days ago!? I agree with you completely on being wiped out after travel. One thing I do that makes a huge difference is that I wear my favorite clothes and shoes–comfy. And since I am short and have trouble getting luggage in the overhead compartment, I check my bags so I have a really light carry on.

  20. My son, athlete and world traveler, swears by Melatonin spray to help ease difficult sleep patterns. I have tried it with good results too.

  21. I HAVE to get everything put away immediately. There is no hauling stuff inside and making a pile by the door to be put away later. Pack and play (always travel with my kids), goes directly downstairs, luggage directly upstairs, opened, laundry directly into a basket and put in the washer, everything else put away. I can’t relax, and can’t settle in until it is done. Maybe your hubby could have the kids out when you expect to be home. I know, I know, he is probably ready for a break. But maybe if he could give you an hour to get sorted out and grounded, you could be more engaged when they get home???

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