Travel Smart

This is the fourth in the series of the CANADEM Notes on managing stress as an international worker.

And it is a copy.  I confess to it.

The goal of CANADEM Notes is to educate and empower.  One of the ways we do this is to guide you to good resources.  An agency that shares our objective is the Headington Institute.  And one of their key staffers is a CANADEM alumna.

The following piece talks about the challenge of frequent international travel..  I couldn’t have said it better – so I won’t try. Thanks to Headington for this.  The Institute’s web address is at the bottom.  If you are motivated to learn more about stress and strength in humanitarian and development work, you will enjoy what they offer.


Travel Smart

Many humanitarian workers spend a lot of time traveling. Whether it’s ducking across to Amsterdam to attend a conference, spending weeks in the Sudan evaluating refugee programs, or heading to Iran for several months to help coordinate relief efforts after an earthquake – humanitarian work tends to be a mobile profession. While there are definitely fringe benefits, traveling regularly is tough. You have to learn to cope with sudden and dramatic changes in climate, time zones, culture, daily routine and responsibilities. Travel also brings confrontation with suffering, needy people and tough choices, as well as separation from loved ones.

Frequent travelers risk sleeping and eating problems, upper respiratory infections, and other less obvious manifestations of wear and tear. For example, after reviewing more than 10,000 health care claims filed by their employees in 1997, the World Bank found that staff who traveled four or more times a year were three times more likely than their stationary colleagues to file health claims for psychological problems like anxiety and acute reactions to stress.

It’s clear that humanitarian workers who travel regularly for work are faced with the same three choices available regarding other stress points in life: (1) change the situation, (2) change your exposure to the situation, or (3) change your attitude towards the situation. As usual, a multifaceted approach to addressing the issue is probably going to be the most effective. So, take a minute and think about what you find stressful about traveling. What are the elements that contribute to the way that you feel? Now, brainstorm strategies aimed at easing the strain. You are the one who knows the limitations of your travel schedule (and how hard it is to exercise regularly while living in a tent in Iran) but perhaps some of the following suggestions will spark ideas…

·      Stay packed. Keep cosmetics and other essentials ready to go. Use a checklist to take the mental effort out of packing.

·      One effective way to deal with stress is to slow down. Leave plenty of time to make flights. Consciously move, talk and behave in a more relaxed manner while traveling.

·      Reward yourself. See something new and do something pleasurable when you get the chance. If you never get the chance while traveling…make a chance.

·      Stay in touch with home. Phone calls and emails can be a fun break that helps you relax, stay grounded and readjust faster when you return home.

·      Take time out to eat right.

·      Carry water and some food with you.

·      Travel with earplugs, a neck pillow and eye covers to help you sleep.

·      Exercise.

·      Write about what you have seen and experienced. It’s often an effective way to demonstrate to yourself the wonderful aspects of your work and travel.

·      Travel with an ipod and your favorite music to help you tune out the noise and chaos around you.

·      Don’t expect to get as much work done on the road as in the office. Read and relax as much as you can while traveling.

·      Draw a line around the job, even on the road. Try and ensure at least two hours a day of downtime away from work.

·      Establish travel rituals. People with high stress in their lives tend to live in an environment low on ritual, surrounded by mental and physical chaos. Travel tends to remove you from established rituals…so create some new ones, like the ones discussed above, that you find relaxing or comforting while traveling.

Today, why not…Write down answers to the questions above. What do you find stressful about traveling? What strategies might ease the strain?

This month… Deliberately try a new travel strategy. If you’re not on the road this month take some steps that will help you prepare to beat stress. Whether it’s buying a walkman or stocking a cosmetics kit, prepare for your next trip.



More resources:

The above article is from the Headington Institute’s “Peace by Piece: Monthly tips for self-care” series. Find the Institute at .

What do you think?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions and resources with kindred souls.  Send them to, and join the conversation.

Comments are closed.