I traveled with a colleague to New Orleans this past week. We had a great and productive trip, but our travels did get me thinking about work trips. Instead of simply being at your desk all day, a work trip provides a lot more room for error: meals, drinking, socializing, and that’s before we even get to the substantive work part. Here’s what’s worked for me in the past (and what hasn’t).
Be Low Maintenance
What works on vacation with friends also works with your colleagues—strive to be the easygoing travel companion. Everyone has been on a trip with a high maintenance person: the person who can’t carry their own luggage, the person who hates every restaurant, or the person with the industrial-strength hair-dryer that they can’t live without. This person benefits the trip only by giving the rest of the group someone to talk about behind closed doors. While a high maintenance person can provide fun gossip for everyone else, it’s unclear whether the fun outweighs the annoyance of traveling with this person.
While I am generally low maintenance, I do struggle in one area when traveling with a group—I am obsessive about arriving places early. I suffer horrible crushing anxiety when I think that we might miss a plane or a train or be late for a meeting. This means that while I am generally a people pleaser and ready to go with the flow, my people pleasing tendencies fall into tension with my scheduling anxieties if the group appears to be running late. If someone says something like, “oh, we only need ten minutes to get through airport security,” I feel like I might have a stroke. But, I’ve learned that I would personally prefer to have the stroke than be sitting at the airport for an hour with the relaxed person glaring at me and thinking about how he would have liked an extra hour of sleep. My coping mechanism? On work trips, I carry the schedule and let people know what time the plane leaves or the meeting starts, but force myself to let other (less obsessive) people determine what time we should leave for the airport. (With friends, I’m less generous. I’ve been known to suggest we just arrive separately.)
As a junior attorney on a traveling team, there might not be a lot of high-level strategy needed from you. That said, everyone appreciates the person with the details: the hotel check-in numbers, the phone number for a taxi, and an extra meeting agenda. Now I am not naturally a detail-oriented person in my own life, but I step up and play this role on work trips because I think of it as one way a junior person can add value (of course, I want to shine when the talk turns to substantive legal work as well). This tip works for small office field trips (the car trip for the client interview) as well as longer air-plane-required trips. I’d also say be the person with the map, but in the iphone era, the ability to quickly pull out google maps and get people going is even more helpful. Apps like Around Me are also useful—you need a drugstore? a coffee shop? I’ve got an app for that.
Take Care of Yourself
All this isn’t to say you shouldn’t put your health and needs first. Sometimes people forget to stop and eat when traveling—I like to carry a protein bar so that I won’t get grumpy when this happens. If I know others don’t care about breakfast (I do), I’ll get a jump on people and find a Starbucks (or better—a local bakery) where I can grab some grub before anyone else wakes up. On my trip to New Orleans, I knew there wouldn’t be a ton of time for sightseeing, so I woke up early and took a stroll around the French Quarter. I got to see the sights, but didn’t hold up the agenda (I also snuck in some exercise—I was walking briskly). It’s a lot easier to be low maintenance and helpful when your needs are met.
I truly enjoy work trips—it’s a time to get to know your colleagues on a personal level. And, while I was raised to see a television in the bedroom as sacrilege, it’s a guilty pleasure to lie in bed and watch a flickering television as you fall asleep after a long day’s work.
(image: kid traveling on a road concept)