Some of us love traveling for work, while others groan at the thought of yet another business trip. It’s perfectly normal that our feelings about work travel even vary from trip to trip. Regardless of how you feel, there’s no question that business travel offers great opportunities to learn and see new people, places and cultures. At the same time, it can be hard to travel when you have family obligations and a demanding career that already means you don’t have a lot of time to take care of yourself!
We checked in with two women at Accenture, one of the world’s leading consultancy companies (and an industry notorious for business travel) about how they manage work travel. Nellie Borrero is Managing Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Accenture. Her international responsibilities take her all over the world. Her colleague (and our advisor!) Laura Peterson is Managing Director of Consumer Goods and Services. Both women share some invaluable perspectives and helpful, practical tips for anyone considering a career or job where travel is a large part of the position.
What are some of the greatest opportunities that business travel has afforded you?
When I was young I only dreamed of going to Florida. Today, I can say that I have traveled all over the world. While there have been multiple benefits, it has been experiencing all of the different cultures and belief systems that has enabled me to truly understand and appreciate differences. What has been clear to me is that no matter how many differences we each may have, we all strive for the same thing…having meaningful lives and providing for our families. No matter how our paths may vary to reach those goals, the dream is the same!
Connecting with amazing people all over the world – both colleagues and the random seat-mate on the airplane. I always love seeing the beautiful places we are lucky enough to go. However for me, it’s the experience with the culture that’s even more amazing.
If you have school-age children at home, how do you manage business travel? In terms of schedule and household responsibilities? How do you communicate to your kids about your trip? How do you stay in touch while you’re away?
It’s been a fact of life in our house since my son was born. I’ve given in to imperfection and gotten help with as much as I can.. Delivery services are key for me – groceries, household goods – so I minimize the errand-running on the weekends and can really focus on quality time with him.
I tell him a week or so in advance that I’m going, how long I’ll be gone and exactly when I’ll see him again (i.e. I’ll pick you up from school on Friday). And Facetime (on my iPhone) has changed the way we interact when I’m on the road. He shows me the little things around the house and as long as I manage not to get nauseous from all the running around, it’s great!
I have a system that has enabled me to free myself of travel guilt:
1. Each year on January 1st I meet with my family and discuss our individual goals and objectives for the year. Each family member knows that, for me, this will include travel. I share why that is important, what I am seeking to accomplish, and I also ensure that as the year goes on, I share in advance my travel schedule so that we can all collectively prepare and adjust.
2. I am hands on with designing a schedule while I am away which includes tapping into our support network so that nothing falls through the cracks.
3. I have included my children in my experience. This does not mean that I take them with me, but rather, I make them part of my journey. Some examples: I share current events via email of the countries I am visiting, bring back local currency, share local flags, and buy gifts crafted by locals. For one specific country, I have had my daughter and son pack clothes they no longer use so that I can donate them locally (they have done this several times); which means I take extra luggage. However, it is worth it! I buy Christmas ornaments in each country and always tell stories associated with the country when we are decorating the tree. Both my children have learned a lot about the world and shared my international travel with me in this way.
4. While I am away, I leave reminders for my children that I am thinking of them. For my younger son, I would leave a bag for each day that I was gone with a personalized message and a small gift. He loved getting up each morning to read and see what was in the ‘today bag.’ For my daughter, who was a bit older, I would leave notes and small gifts like a nail salon gift card (which she loved)!
How do you make sure to find “me” time while away on business travel? Do you/how do you make it to the gym?
I wish I was a gym person!! Maybe I will give that a shot again. I actually leverage the limited down time I have while traveling to catching up on my reading. I always pack 2 books for each trip. In the evening, post all work-related events, I enjoy my un-interrupted reading time, along with a great cup of tea!
If it’s an international trip, I will try and leave some extra time before or after the meeting to rest/recoup (gym, spa, nice dinner) so it’s not so rushed. I focus on my sleep more than the gym because I need it. If I’m going to do the gym, I often will try and end my meetings a little earlier and then get a quick gym trip in before dinner.
What would you tell another woman who is feeling apprehensive about business travel?
It depends on what the driver of their apprehension is…if it’s being somewhere new, I’d say talk to colleagues and look at it as an adventure. If it’s guilt over leaving or being away from the family – look at it as an opportunity to show them that they can survive without you (and know that it all will be fine!).
I was very nervous when I went on my first 2-3 overseas visits, particularly, where English was not the main language. It is OK to be a bit apprehensive, that is part of the experience. But, I say: stretch yourself and enjoy the adventures. Be open to real-time learning. Learn as much as you can about the culture prior to each country visit. Be comfortable with sometimes feeling uncomfortable. Most of all, be present, document your visits by taking pictures, build on-going relationships with your local peers. I am amazed sometimes as to what a great network of friends I have throughout the world!
What is your #1 tip for making business travel work for you?
I typically do not tack on extra days to my travel because I really want to hurry home to be with my family. However, what works for me personally is ensuring that I set aside time within the agenda to have time together and meaningful conversations with my local colleges/friends. Looking forward to this time together while visiting each country makes each trip more enjoyable. I truly value this time. Our sessions can range from embedding time for an early breakfast, late dinner, sight-seeing or local craft shopping.
Always make time to stay an extra night and do something fun (e.g. if in London, do the theatre, if Hone Kong, shopping, if Prague, do a historical walking tour). We so rarely get the chance to travel. And also, bring flats or flip flops for the airport!!
Work travel can feel intimidating and overwhelming at times. It’s reassuring to hear how others have done it while managing to take care of both themselves, their work and their families!
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