Keeping sane while on the go

In the second half of last year, our start-up Statice really started to take off. That meant that we spent a lot of time on the road, which was a bit of a shock to the system after my 3 week summer workacation in Australia. Having been involved in early stage companies for 7 years now, I’ve been to my fair share of conferences, trade shows, and last minute client visits, but August onwards was a totally different level for me. I’m quite a homey person, and I like to have a bit of a routine. The first few months after the summer, that went out the window, big time. This had adverse effects on getting enough sleep, exercise, time with friends, and downtime, which resulted in stress and some pretty negative energy. It took me a while, but I found a couple of useful ways of maintaining balance (definitely not perfected yet though) and wanted to share them here:

  1. Keep up the exercise – try running or swimming: I normally climb, ride bikes, or play underwater sports, but all those things require specialised equipment or venues. Not keeping up with sports makes it harder to keep fit, and (for me at least) leads to lower energy,  worse moods, and poor quality sleep. I found that (at least while travelling in Europe, you can find pools or places to run nearly anywhere, and the gear is compact (and in the case of running shoes can often be repurposed for casual wear anyway). I only started running mid-year, but it was a great change, and it was super nice to see different parts of cities I normally only see for work, like Munich, Zurich and London.

  2. Use your downtime wisely: if you’re travelling anyway, use the time you’re in transit to polish off tasks, if you can. Ticking off those BAU (business as usual) tasks stops them from piling up, and gives you peace of mind that you’re not going to come back to a shitfight in your inbox.  For me, knowing that I’m keeping up on BAU means that I get less stressed, which in turn means I sleep better. You still need to manage your brain energy, and not overdo it, but sometimes taking care of business while on the go is great. Sub tips: 
    1. Find a good, comfortable place to work.  If you’re taking the train, take a seat reservation. Make your company pay for it – the €4 will make you more productive and knowing you have a seat will help you stress less. 
    2. Buy a decent set of noise cancelling headphones.  Best case, make your company pay for them. You’ll be way more productive. I use the Bose QC35 II, and although they’re not perfect, they do the job in most situations. 
    3. Figure out your hot-spotting. Expense data excess to the company if you can – it’s worth it for them, and saves you stressing about excess costs.

  3. Don’t eat junk food if you can avoid it, and don’t drink too much: seems intuitive, but eating crap food and drinking too much (for me at least) seriously impacts my mood, energy level, and ability to sleep. Alcohol-free beer is easy to get in most places, and finding something green and fresh to eat is also getting easier and easier.

  4. Plan in downtime: last year I was on the road 2-3x per month at least. Add in family and friends commitments, and there isn’t a lot of time left for relaxing. There’s nothing worse than knowing you have another trip coming up, and knowing you have zero time to recharge between arriving home and leaving again. Plan in an evening of doing nothing, and spend it consciously recharging. Eat well, stretch, do whatever (I find screens kill the recharging, while books help a lot – but you do you). 

  5. Make sure packing is easy: one of the things that stresses me the most is not feeling ready or having open question marks on my list in the days before leaving. Two things that really helped me get a handle on this were:  
    1. Buying second set of quality clothes that are always ready to go. For t-shirts, I go with Asket (sustainable, not ridiculously expensive, wide variety of fits), and for pants,  the ABC from Lululemon are a godsend. They never seem to crease, pack easily, and can go with everything from a running shirt to a shirt and jacket.  They’re pricy, but they last well, and once you start, you’ll never want to wear anything else. 
    2. Having a ready-to-go toilet bag with essentials ready to go. In DM (and I guess in equivalents in other EU countries..) one can buy travel sized stuff, which can be refilled easily. Saves a lot of waste, hunting for things in new cities, and last minute packing/forgetting stuff before running to airport in  the morning.  

These were the big actions that made travelling regularly easier for me. Some people manage travel better than others, but  if you’re like me and need your home base and your routine, developing things like this reduce stress, increase quality of life, and make you more productive. Travelling for me is still a WiP, so if you have tips of your own, please let me know!

Business by Train

I just got back from a successful two weeks away on the road for Statice, and although I’m exhausted, I’m kind of stoked. We closed two new deals, met great people and hit the stage 6 times across 3 cities – and all without taking a plane! Friends challenged me to fly less, so I thought I’d jump in the deep end, and try a whole trip cold turkey. The route was Berlin –> Bern –> Zürich –> Munich –> Nürnberg –> Zürich –>Bern –> Zürich –> Berlin, over about 12 days. All in all, it was a great experience, and didn’t cost any more than flying (though I did book a little more in advance than I probably would normally).

What went well:

  • It’s definitely nice to see a bit more of where one is going. The landscape in the south of Germany and in Switzerland is breathtaking, and especially the early morning train from Bern to Zurich, with the sunrise over the mountains, was great.
  • Not standing in line, ever, and no being not able to use one’s laptop during takeoff and landing. I estimate that one loses approximately 30 minutes at least at each end of a domestic flight, as well as about 30 minutes on the plane in laptop-ban mode. If I’d flown, I would probably have flown the legs Berlin–> Bern, Zurich–>Munich, Munich–> Zurich, –>Zurich–>Berlin. At least 6 hours of working time would have been lost – so not losing that was great.
  • Having an internet connection (via tethering) that works 90% of the time is pretty great. My iPhone XR might not be the fanciest one, but damn, do I love the battery life, even when tethering for hours on end.
  • Being able to get up and move. It’s awesome to be able to focus on a task, and then reward oneself with a quick walk without bothering climbing over 2 other people. Being able to walk around the connecting area in the carriages to take calls without annoying anyone is also great.

What didn’t go so well:

  • Of course, it wouldn’t be travel with the Deutsche Bahn if one didn’t experience at least one delay. I got extra “lucky” and had several. Unfortunately, one delay was en-route to Zurich, where I should have had a meeting about 45 minutes after arriving. Missed that one, which was a bummer.
  • The 9.5hr trip from Berlin to Bern is a long ass way. It’s even longer when you forget food and water, and don’t have € bills on you, and the DB doesn’t work with N26 cards. Needless to say, upon arriving in Bern at 5pm in the evening, I was famished.
  • Vodafone. One pays an arm and a leg, and doesn’t get free roaming in Switzerland. In comparison, a €20/month Aldi PAYG subscription does. I’ll be having words with them, paying €6/day for internet, and then still using data allowance is not a great experience.

Would I do it again?

Heck yes. The combination of more time spent more productively, and a lot more comfortably, is really nice. It’s a bit more planning, and it’s not always easy to sit in a train/bus combo for 9+hrs, but it feels better than being in a plane!

What I’d do differently next time / Tips for people who want to give it a go:

  • Take snacks! You never know what fun surprises you might run into with card payment, or whether the train bistro will be open, so BYO, and don’t be shy about it. Long trips + high productivity make one snacky!
  • Take a spare t-shirt for travelling, especially if you’re doing meetings before jumping into the train. On Friday, I had a meeting in the morning, and then had to dash to the train. Shirts are great, but they’re not awesome when you’re lugging your stuff at high speed through hordes of people while stressed about timing. Pack an extra t- shirt, for you (and for the comfort of your co-travellers).