Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Whirlwind Life of a Bi-Continental Commuter - December 2015

Breakfast in St. Petersburg. Lunch in Paris. Dinner in Atlanta. Sleep wherever there's a pillow.

For the past year I have been continent hopping on a regular basis. In January I packed my bags and moved from Memphis, Tennessee to Imatra, Finland. Due to my husband's assignment in Russia, our company graciously allowed me to continue work in my new locale. The only catch was that I needed to be back in the U.S. for monthly meetings and be available at any one of our 42 manufacturing sites around the world if duty called.

While I've traveled for business the majority of my career, this new travel expectation of being "on the road" about fifty percent of the time was considerably different. In order to maintain my health and lock down my sanity, I've had to operate under a new set of principles and practice a few habits religiously.

Relationships. When your schedule is erratic, it can be hard to cultivate and maintain important relationships. Whether it's scheduling lunch with a friend or arranging a simple phone call, everything is more difficult when you are juggling time zones, jet lag and other commitments. Having an international phone plan helps a lot as well as being organized with your daily agenda. I routinely block out periods of time when I travel to connect with family and friends. Also having clocks and apps set on multiple time zones helps keep my various appointments in order.

Sleep. Two weeks in one country and two weeks in another with a eight-hour time difference can lead to a life where you are in a constant blur and never really get with it. Jet lag is real and can be debilitating. My philosophy is to sleep as much as I can, whenever I can, wherever I can. The only way I've found to cope is to listen to my body. Melatonin and other over-the-counter sleep aids can be helpful but the key is training your body and your mind. Forget about what time it is at home and try to adapt to your new time zone as quickly as possible. Don't worry about how you look sleeping on the plane or if the airport floor is cold; slip on your eye mask, pop in some ear plugs and try to your best to catch a few z's.

Packing. For me, if I can't carry it on the plane, it can't come. These days checking bags is a gamble even with the best laid plans, and I just can't afford to be without my belongings upon arrival. This means typically packing for up to three weeks in a roller board suitcase and backpack. To make the monthly ordeal more efficient, both my toiletry (liquids) bag as well as my make-up bag include duplicates of all of my essentials. That way I never really unpack these items but instead refill or repurchase when necessary. Being smart with clothing packing means knowing if laundry options will be available and thinking through the various outfit requirements of the trip. As a rule, I tend pack mix and match neutrals that don't wrinkle easily and are lightweight. You can throw in a few accessories for a pop of color and a jacket to dress up. I've also found that rolling your clothes as opposed to folding them makes them easier to find and organize.

Brand Loyalty. One piece of wisdom my Dad imparted on me early was to sign up for all the travel loyalty programs offered. Whether it's airlines, hotels or rental cars, ensure you are enrolled in all of the plans available as you never know where your travels may take you. That being said, loyalty is paramount. Do your research to determine which programs have the best perks (that don't expire!) and are most convenient. Select a plane/hotel/car provider and plan your travel with them religiously. Before long you'll be reaping the benefits and swimming in upgrades.

Traveling as much as I have over the last year has definitely been exhausting, but at the same time it's been an incredible opportunity to see more of the world. I won't lie that occasionally I find myself having "wake up envy" ... that tinge of longing to be like those who get to enjoy the comfort of their own beds, know what's in their fridge and can navigate life in somewhat of a routine. Of course,
I know at some point life will slow down for me and my bi-continental commuting days will come to an end, but for now I'm looking out the window and enjoying the view.

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