✈️Intercontinental Travel Human Performance for Professionals: One professional’s human performance travel strategy 🧳
The skies have opened and business travel has resumed in full swing. Many professionals are back on planes, meeting in person with colleagues, clients and partners; as well as attending conferences and big events across continents and time zones. The pandemic has offered space for reflection about our health, work and lifestyle choices. For me it has given me the opportunity to reflect on how I can improve my personal human performance and I have applied that to the past year of intercontinental travel. For the many people across my international travels from Johannesburg, to Dubai, to Washington DC, to London, Kigali and Delhi, who asked me “How do you have so much energy?” and “How do you look so rested?” — this is for you, this how I do it.
Before getting to the practices I employ, I want to briefly go over the term human performance as it has a range of definitions which all center around a person’s capabilities and potential. Many industries are interested in human performance programs, in sports it is explored through the athlete’s capacity and capability to perform in their sport, in organizations it its referred to as human and organizational performance (HOP) which explores means to improve organizational and work-related efficiencies, in the field of medicine it is being explored from a healthy aging perspective, and in the military it examines human performance through the lens of combat capacity and capability. I have previously written on human performance from a creative perspective, making the case for imagination performance as the new edge in human performance and the need to include it in the broader human performance family. Regardless of the use case, human performance is about striving to reach one’s full potential while mitigating and managing challenges to reaching that potential. Dr. Vanessa Shannon (Director of Mental Performance at the Cincinnati Reds) unpacks the challenges in terms of four types of disruptions: Prevention, Resistance, Tolerance and Recovery.
As an international strategy and technology innovation advisor who travels frequently and is passionate about human performance, I have been bringing my human performance minded lifestyle, lessons learned and extensive reading to the way I conduct my intercontinental trips. My goal is to be able to realize as much of my potential, objectives, dreams and goals as possible while managing and mitigating disruptions that adversely affect my performance and potential. Professional trips for me tend to consist of somewhere between 10–16 hour days starting from breakfast huddles to dinners with clients and colleagues and I tend to have many activities in one day to maximize the trip across the world. This three-part article captures my perspective on human performance and intercontinental work travel as well as the practices I employ to maximize my time during trips and to also keep my human performance at its best.
Human Performance Travel Strategy
I think about my human performance travel strategy as comprising three main components: Before, During, and After. Each one requires its own plan. Before traveling I intentionally think about my strategy to prepare my body, mind and calendar. During the trip I plan, improvise and manage the inevitable strain on the body and mind. And after the trip I purposefully create and protect a space for recovery.
The degree of one’s self awareness and self-knowledge plays a big role in the effectiveness on human performance. In Spanish there is an expression “Cada Persona es un Mundo”, which literally translates to “Each person is a world” and is meant to express that each person is unique in their own way, and that this uniqueness has a world of layers, depth, intricacies, motivations, and perspectives. Our bodies are also their own world. Knowing the unique aspects of our own body, mind and emotional state only amplifies the ability to improve, maintain, and augment our individual human performance during moments when it is strained during intercontinental work trips. In the case of this article the focus is on professional work performance in combination with travel human performance.
Self-Knowledge & Self Awareness: Establishing a baseline
Our bodies are a marvelous result of millions of years of evolution. An understanding of how our body functions goes a long way in being able to take care of it. Learning more about the role of sleep and how it restores our body and mind, or how different foods affect our physical and mental alertness is an important part of establishing a baseline of our unique body. No two bodies are exactly alike which is why having an understanding of how one’s individual body works and responds to different foods, sleep, strain is critical. This contributes to our personal self-knowledge. And self-knowledge is a life long journey not a destination.
Wearables go a long way to help establish a quantitative baseline of the range of what normal looks like for our bodies. I have used sleep wearables to help me create an understanding of what my average resting heart rate is, duration of sleep, movement, and levels of restorative sleep (*I also have baselines for this throughout each stage of my menstrual cycle). Daytime wearable tracking has helped me better understand what my normal heart rates are for different forms of regular day to day activity and during exercise. Having a body data baseline for my range of ‘normal’ contributes to a more effective personalized human performance plan regardless of whether it is an intercontinental trip or a commuter flight work trip. During the pandemic I was able to establish a qualitative and quantitative baseline for myself using the Oura ring and have written about menstrual human performance related micro journaling. Since then, I have added another wearable to my personal body data collection and have been using the Garmin Fenix to compare and track additional data. Apart from wearables I use blood tests to make sure I am supplementing and eating as needed and use periodic gut microbiome tests to gain situational awareness of the bacteria in my gut so that I can optimize my food and supplement choices accordingly.
However, self-knowledge is not as useful without self-awareness. Self-awareness, for the purpose of human performance during intercontinental work trips, is to be aware of changes in our body and our mental and emotional state throughout the trip. It is the combination of knowledge and awareness that are the foundation of effective human performance. The longer the work trip and the further away it is, the more important self-knowledge and self-awareness will be. I have been exploring reflection related practices using the School of Life kindness and calm cards and read Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart in efforts to better label my emotions so that I can be more self-aware, as well as more self-compassionate, and navigate more efficiently and effectively through my thoughts and emotions.
Self-compassion includes three core elements: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
I have divided up my human performance work travel practices into three sections to reflect the three stages of the trip: before, during and after.
Before: Posture, prepare and plan to set yourself up for success
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
This expression couldn’t be more true for intercontinental work trips. For me, pre-travel planning for human performance includes intentionally preparing the body, mind, schedule, suitcase and the carry on. The intention with this preparation is to set the body and mind up for success during the trip. I am usually planning for a trip well in advance. Depending on the occasion and particularly if I want to leverage the trip to learn more about another culture or connect with new communities outside work meetings.
Preparing the body: one of my primary pre-travel goals is to boost the body’s resilience reserve ahead of the trip. Getting a trip off to a fatigued start means living life on ‘hard mode’. Because of this, I do my best to focus on (super) good sleep hygiene a week before the trip which helps with the inevitable loss of sleep due to jetlag. In the days leading up to the trip, I do my best to avoid inflammatory foods that would require recovery or slow me down and I make an intentional effort to reduce stress by avoiding any stressful or super exciting activities (that would require notable recovery) ahead of the trip whether they are physically or mentally stressful. In the days leading up to the trip, I leverage my wearables and pay attention to my readiness level — looking for it to be at the highest level possible or the higher end and paying attention to my Heart Rate Variability (HRV) numbers to make sure that I am seeing a good recovery each day. (HRV data gives a glimpse into the autonomic nervous system.)
Preparing the schedule: I have found that a well-planned schedule reduces the cognitive and physical load on the body and allows the mind to focus on being present to engage in the professional activities — which is what I strive for. There are many factors I consider when planning my work trip schedule: time zone differences, cultural differences, jet lag and whether the trip is business class or economy. I check in with myself in terms of what my personal body capabilities and needs are (my continued self-knowledge and self-awareness practices play an important role).
- Chunks of the day: Considering jet lag, and which chunks of the day are more favorable while coordinating meetings can help ease the body into the new time zone. For example, generally, if I am traveling from West to East morning meetings are not preferrable because my circadian rhythm will lag until the afternoon. I could of course set the alarm and be up and ready for it, but if it is not necessary, I will try and plan important meetings in the afternoon so I can be my relative best self. When it comes to dinner meetings, I leverage my self-knowledge to decide if 12–16 hour days are doable and if downtime is needed and can be factored into the schedule. As a rule of thumb, I personally prefer to be in bed at 10pm local time and where possible always try to leave dinner meetings before or around that time the latest. It helps give my mind and body a solid window of downtime even if I am not able to sleep well due to jetlag and I find that this window of downtime makes a difference the next day. Ahead of trips it is easy to be ambitious, but I’ve learned the hard way that it is important to be realistic about how much one’s individual body can handle. Using the flip side example, if the travel is from East to West, the first half of the day and lunch would be better for meetings compared to the late afternoon and evening and so I do my best to schedule accordingly for important meetings. Regardless of the direction of travel and the time of arrival, I aim to (where possible) allow for a relatively slower first day. If the trip is a quick in and out then it is hard to avoid the necessary tight schedule, but even then I do my best to make sure I am eating to maintain energy levels and planning for minimal commutes to maximize time. I’ve seen many people charge through work trip days without food until dinner and I know that it affects my personal human performance so I avoid it. Not all meetings will be able to be coordinated ahead of time, so to accommodate them I try to allow for flexible blocks of time in the schedule so that they can be coordinated during the trip. Where possible, I try to avoid having to coordinate during the trip because it adds to the cognitive load. I also decline most virtual meetings with those who are not in the location I am traveling to unless they are absolutely necessary because it detracts from being present with those who I am there to see and the matters of which I am there to focus on.
- Location, location, location: After figuring out the chunks of the day which are optimal for meetings, the next scheduling item is the location of the meetings and the hotel. Where possible I keep as much of the activity as possible within a small radius to avoid commuting as this takes away from the schedule and also adds to the fatigue load if I am crisscrossing town (particularly during rush hours). If commutes are necessary, I keep traffic and unexpected things in mind and allow enough buffer so that I can arrive with as little stress as possible and give my mind the space to focus on what I will discuss and the insightful perspectives I can bring to the meeting; instead of using my mental bandwidth to worry about making it to the meeting on time. While the disheveled look is a fashion style, it is not appropriate for meetings. When hosting or coordinating restaurant meetings I consider the commute time, dietary preferences of all attending, and make reservations ahead of time so that last minute scrambling for reservations is not necessary. Unfortunately, last minute scrambling for a reservation happens quite often as sometimes the decision to collectively do dinner is last minute. If I anticipate this will happen, I try to have some restaurants in mind that could accommodate a last minute reservation request and that are close to the hotel (or even in the hotel).
- Meeting content preparations: After the schedule has been arranged, the next item I prepare for is the meetings and presentations. Where relevant, I prepare the meeting agenda, desired outcomes, read ahead materials and presentations. I find that sending them to the meeting participants ahead of time helps everyone come to the meeting more prepared and facilitates a more effective meeting. Not planning for meetings and conversations will create a lot of work during the trip and will add to the cognitive load and can reduce the potential value of the trip. The optimal human performance situation is walking into the meeting prepared and not having to put everything together last minute. At a minimum, I always have a mental note of the most important outcomes I want to achieve. Lastly, I make a note in my pre trip shopping list if there are any items to bring to these meetings whether it is a corporate gift or a cultural gift. In some cultures it is an important professional practice, in others not so much. I personally like to bring something local from where I live.
- Safety: When the trips are to locations with a high crime rate I do some research, look at the US Embassy website for their travel recommendations, and ask locals ahead of time on what the best options are for hotels and commuting in order to safely plan my trip. Understanding one’s risk tolerance in the environment is equally important so that it can be communicated. I have a low risk tolerance in new cities and countries where there are safety concerns. For example, if I don’t feel safe going out of the hotel for dinner or coffee meetings I make it clear and manage expectations of those who I am meeting with. In these circumstances, I have found those in country to be very accommodating and understanding. Separately, in unsafe environments I pre arrange the airport transfer with the hotel as I have found it to be is a good choice from a safety perspective but also from a mental and emotional stress perspective.
Preparing the suitcase and carry on: Apart from the regular suitcase packing items such as toiletries, it helps to plan what will be worn in accordance with the schedule, comfort and culture. For example, will there be walking (indoors/outdoors), will there be a back-to-back day that starts at 8pm and finishes at 10pm? Clothes (and shoes) impact our human performance in more ways than people realize. Being too hot, too cold, or feeling squeezed by our clothes takes away from our mental presence. Particularly shoes. As much as we may love an elegant pair of shoes, a beautiful dress, or a suit that doesn’t fit anymore, it is important to be honest about what the choice of clothing will do for bodily levels of comfort. This is the moment for radical self-honesty — if clothes are constricting any part of the gastrointestinal track, it will be hard to be fully present in a work lunch. If the shoes are not comfortable it will be tremendously uncomfortable to traverse the great lengths of a conference expo to meet and network with others. However, there are also climate related considerations — if it is a very hot climate an extra change of clothes may need to be factored in, otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of the hotel laundry schedule.
- Gendered clothing considerations: Apart from schedule and climate considerations when it comes to packing clothes, there are also cultural considerations. Men (regardless of job title) benefit from having few variations across different meetings. A dark blue suit with a light-colored shirt can work from morning to night (excluding gala dinners). It is relevant to note that due to the wide-ranging options for women’s professional attire, and the many social expectations across each culture around the world, women have to plan their working clothing choices more intentionally. For women the range of clothing is quite large, particularly as women may (often) need to leverage clothing as a means to express the competence of their mind and the experience in their resumes. In relation to culture and social norms women need to be particularly sensitive as to what is deemed appropriate for a woman — which may not always be the same as for a man. I have found non skin tight pant suits, with loosely fitted shirts that come to the collar bone and closed toe shoes tend to be a safe option. For women there are also a wide range of fabric options — breathable fabrics are better than non-breathable fabrics. And regardless of whether one menstruates, is in the perimenopause years or has gone through menopause — layers are helpful to regulate temperature. (For some cultures certain colors carry certain meanings so it is important to be aware of those when choosing clothing.)
- Sleepwear: Circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster explains that the sleep and awake cycle is like the “ying and yang” and how sleep helps memory consolidation and to process information. Because sleep is such a big part of human performance, I pack a couple sleepwear options. Not all hotel thermostats are the same and it can be tricky getting the temperature right the first couple nights at a hotel. Even for those who prefer to sleep without clothes it is important to pack some in case they are needed when trying to get the temperature right. On an intercontinental work trip, not feeling comfortable in one’s clothes (day or night) is not a personal aesthetical concern but a human and professional performance concern.
- Packing food: Clothes are important but so is packing some ‘just-in-case-food’ for the circumstances where they are needed such as when one arrives hungry and late and there are no food options, or when the options available are not compatible to one’s dietary preferences. Packs of nuts, dried fruit, or baby food puree or easy open canned ready food could be very useful. Packing food is particularly helpful for those who have dietary preferences they’d like to (or need to) stick to during their trip. They can be left at the hotel for a quick breakfast snack or in the bag for food on the go as sometimes it can be a long while between meals.
- Flight considerations: During long intercontinental flights human performance is at the top of my mind. Packing electrolytes will help combat dehydration during the flight and compression socks have been a game changer in how my legs feel when I get out of the plane. Research has shown that compression socks for long haul flights make a difference for elite athletes and that they can contribute to preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). I also try to do plane exercises and move around to help keep the body from feeling stiff.
- A personal pharmacy: Apart from any medication one may be taking, it is also good to pack some just-in-case items like: pain killers, antihistamines, vitamins, motion sickness medicine (if you are prone to motion sickness), cough drops, face mask, digestive tablets, band-aids and a rapid covid test. I tend to have a mini pharmacy with me on the plane that includes the basics. One of the things I have relied on is an antibacterial throat spray that fights infections. And then of course some lip balm and dry skin cream to help mitigate and manage the dryness from the planes. Something I am trying to incorporate more into my travel human performance plan is Magnesium which is an essential nutrient for the body and can be very useful for travel human performance. Also, it turns out that Magnesium is not just good for traveling on Earth but also for space travel! Our immune system plays a big role in our human performance and immunity posturing and proactive protection is something that I see as part of human performance minded travel preparations. Depending on the location of the travel there may be certain vaccines that are necessary or medication to bring such as malaria or mosquito repellant spray for areas where dengue fever and malaria could be contracted. It’s hard to be mentally focused on work if you are worried you are about to get malaria or dengue fever!
- The mind: While I am in the plane for many many many hours I find myself being able to reflect and think of new ideas and that is why I always carry a notebook to write them down. It is helpful to unload thoughts but also by doing so it relaxes the mind.
And finally, one of the most important things I bring with me on my trips is a human performance mindset. I define the human performance mindset as the belief that we can be a better version of ourselves, being cognizant of our capacity and have the desire to optimize to reach our full potential.
During: Managing Human Performance over the course of the trip
Each day in our normal lives at home we are managing disruptions to our human performance, from managing a groggy head due to poor sleep the night before, or managing stress levels. During an intercontinental work trip there are many disruptions to manage as we are predominantly in an “always on” state.
Operating with Degraded Human Performance: Whether it’s the fatigue from the long trip or the subsequent jetlag, an intercontinental trip across time zones will result in the body operating at a reduced capacity. I bare this in mind as I dynamically posture myself during intercontinental trips where I see it mostly about managing an adverse circumstance for the body. So I aim to be on point with food, mental rest, hydration, self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-compassion and expectation management. With that in mind, these are the things I do during the trip to maintain and optimize my human performance:
- Plane: Long haul flights are long. Whether it is eight hours or fifteen, it is a significant duration of time in the air that should be planned for. There are several things I keep in mind about the impact of plane travel on the human body. Namely how the low humidity levels on the plane cause dehydration, dry throats, eyes, nose and skin. I do my night time skin care routine before boarding a long-haul flight as the heavy night creams provide a barrier against skin dehydration. If I’ve packed super well, I tend to have a small hand cream for very dry skin — it works wonders on very long flights. I avoid drinking alcohol and use electrolytes to help curb dehydration and I continue to experiment with all kinds of electrolytes from powdered sachets to chewable to liquid drops. As for managing the dry throat, I found warm tea to sooth my dry throat and I pack a small selection of non-caffeinated tea (preferably with chamomile as it is relaxing, anti-inflammatory and good for the gut microbiome). But sometimes I find that while warm drinks are good, more is needed to help keep the throat moist (particularly after 10 hours in the air) and I’ve found velvety dark chocolate to help a lot. When I’m feeling very dehydrated and want to sleep, I find wearing a mask creates a relatively more humid environment for the nose and throat — a definite plus for my work trips which involve a lot of public speaking and conversational engagement. Besides creating a relatively more humid environment for the throat and noise, masks can also be useful in reducing the possibility of contracting a virus on the plane — that is always a plus as travel increases the exposure to viruses. And finally for dry eyes, eye drops can help keep the eyes moist — I’m still working on finding my fit for that.
- Cognitive Load: When it comes to managing cognitive load and travel related stress during transit, I found that it helps to (where possible) avoid crowded areas in airports (or stay in a lounge if/where possible) until it is time to board the flight. I see it as taking my sensory load into consideration from an auditory and visual perspective and how it affects my subconscious stress levels. Airports can be very noisy environments and noise cancelling head phones have been my game changing sensory relief. As for vision, it is arguably our most dominant sense where 70% of the information our brain receives comes from our eyes. Having an eye mask (I use a soft contoured one which helps block light from all corners) reduces the cognitive load by reducing the information coming into the brain which can contribute to being less mentally tired upon arrival. My position is that everything I can do counts and it adds up. Eye masks also assist with sleeping on the plane as they visually shut out the rest of the plane; and I combine them noise cancelling headphones to create a little cocoon of sensory quiet time. Zen. I also bring a few hyaluronic acid masks to restore moisture back to my face and tend to use these as part of my morning skin care routine and they have worked wonders to mitigate the dehydration caused by the planes.
- Stiff Muscles: Something I recently tried in a multi continent extended month trip was bringing a vibrating massage ball for myofascial release which I found really helped with muscle tightness from the many continuous hours on long haul flights. I plan to continue bringing and also try bringing a travel massage gun on the next long trip.
Meetings and Presentations: With the meetings and presentation planning ahead of the trip, I want walking into a meeting to be all about suiting up, executing and being present. Because I have over two years of data tracking along with micro journaling, I evaluate how I’m feeling and what day of my cycle I am on when it comes to keeping myself nourished as needed for my personal human performance. I am of the opinion that it is important to make sure that you don’t go into a meeting hungry as that will impact your mental human performance and ability to be fully present in the meeting. If there is no time to eat, I have a little snack from the packed snacks which goes a long way to curb the appetite ahead of the meeting. The snacks I pack are nuts with no added sugars or flavors and baby puree pouches with no added sugars which provide a great alternative to the many dry, processed and sugar filled and high sodium alternatives I tend to come across in convention halls or on the go.
Wining and Dining: Some meetings take place with a meal and they are great opportunities to connect with others on a work trip. However, this is also one of the moments where I am personally vigilant about not slipping up and eating foods that will slow me down. Where possible, I always advocate for a restaurant with healthy food options. When dining out, I stay away from fried foods, dairy, overly spicy dishes, heavily processed foods and menu items with sugar. When it comes to drinks, I stick with water, natural smoothies or herbal tea and avoid alcohol or drinks with added sugar. I found cutting out sugar and alcohol to have had the biggest returns on my energy levels. By sticking to a primarily whole foods diet, I have found that it is a lot easier for me to maintain my human performance and I am also able to sleep better. There are occasions where it would be rude not to try a local dessert so I make every effort not to offend, but I am open about my healthy aging journey and passion for human performance.
Sleep: While we may be able to take our body physically to the other side of the world, our body’s circadian rhythm remained where we left it. I’ve tried using apps which are meant to help with jetlag and adjust to the new time zone, but I didn’t find them to be compatible to a work schedule. As a rule of thumb, it takes the body one day per hour difference to adjust — age, chronotype, direction of travel, sleep debt also play a role. Roughly speaking, if there are five hours difference it would take five days; and if there were ten hours it would take ten days. If a work trip is four days, and the time difference between where you came from and where you went is ten hours, then the trip really is on hard mode and there is no option but to experience a significant sleep deficit which will impact human performance. Luckily, we don’t need to be at 100% to accomplish most things in life. Because of this my aim is to manage the sub optimal human performance and avoid straining the body more than necessary. To do this, I think about choosing foods that don’t tax my body so that my body’s work load is just processing the fatigue that comes from lack of sleep and not the fatigue that comes from processing foods that take more of an effort to digest. While some time zone differences make it hard to sleep, the body can still gain from resting in bed in the dark even if I am wide awake at 3am local time. Having a couple pajama options just in case I have issues with the hotel thermostat has helped. I have been using a pair of performance pajamas that I am happy with and I will be testing other brands. Its hard to tell if it is the performance pajama that made a difference, or if it is everything else combined. But in the pursuit of optimizing human performance I like maximizing my potential wherever possible.
Sensory stimulation: Many people take our sensory stimulation for granted when it comes to managing human performance. Sensory overload “happens when you’re getting more input from your five senses than your brain can sort through and process.” And this can happen during work trips and it is important to manage it where possible. Some professional trips are just about having face to face time with colleagues, clients and partners and do not involve many other people. On these occasions there is not a lot of sensory stimulation as these meetings take place in predictable office, hotel or restaurant environments. However, when it comes to conferences and expos the sensory input varies dramatically. Many conferences and expos these days have elevated levels of noise and many times loud music with heavy bass and many moving lights. Exposure to continuous levels of noise, music and lights can exhaust the mind and drain the body battery a lot faster than usual. And even when there is no noise, loud music or disco lights, being exposed to many exciting ideas can be enough to wire the mind. In loud and noisy events I try to use lunch as an opportunity to give my eyes and ears a break somewhere quiet. In the evening I try to get to the hotel room as early as possible given work commitments. Quieting the mind and reducing sensory inputs has helped my mind rest and recover more efficiently. Just as the body needs rest after exercise so too does the mind. With back-to-back meetings and full days, I find this to be imperative for me to be able to give my full capacity the next day over and over. Particularly for the longer over two-week trips.
Wearables: While we can be more in tune with our body and listen to it, having wearables provide constant bio data is very helpful in recognizing patterns and confirming how we feel so we can more confidently take action. On one trip in particular, I didn’t realize that the city was at such a high altitude and it significantly affected my ability to be as extrovertedly present and engaged as I normally am. Being able to see the barometric pressure on my watch has been very helpful as I am personally quite affected by drops in pressure. In general, low barometric pressure can cause fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath and a worsening of arthritis among other issues. Separately being on the road for 3–5 weeks means that there will be some increase in fatigue and also potential susceptibility to catching a virus. Being able to see my basal body temperature every night and benchmark it against what is normal for each day in my cycle has been very helpful. Resting heart rate and HRV data have been valuable to help me pace myself and check in with myself each day. I dynamically adapt my schedule, food and supplements as needed. Being self-aware, self-knowledgeable and having continuous body data monitoring has been a valuable tool to help me optimize my human performance both when I am on the go and at home.
After: Work Hard, Play Hard, Recover Harder
Now that the trip is over it is time to begin recovery!
Each trip is different and so recovery needs vary. However, I try to be intentional and purposeful about creating and protecting a recovery space for both the mind and the body.
Mind: Over exertion of the mind creates fatigue, and the result of that can manifest itself with negative thoughts and self-talk. Its important to be alert to signs of mental exhaustion to be able to mitigate and manage some of the side effects.
To rest my mind, I try to block out my schedule to allow myself mental space to process the great things that have happened, but also to try to minimize social activities as there is a lot to catch up on after a trip both on the professional front with the inevitable email back log, but also on a personal front with grocery shopping, laundry and getting back in the groove at home. As the trip is fresh in my mind, I like to go over my notes with a leisurely afternoon and organize a post trip after action list for when I’m mentally back in the office. This action list helps off load it from my mind so I can focus my mind on other matters without feeling like I will forget something. Leisurely reading, writing snail mail and going for walks in the park help me slow down from a long trip. Every person will find that they have their own ways of calming the mind.
Body: Many times, people take their body’s for granted, like they are machines. However, even machines need rest. To rest my body’s machine I employ both active and passive rest to different degrees depending on how much I have exerted my body (and what time in my cycle I am at). When I asked a stewardess about how she managed with the constant jetlag, she said that she just did what her body asked for — if she felt hungry she ate, if she felt sleepy she slept. After an intense work trip on the other side of the world, this is a kind way to treat the body. For passive rest, I enjoy physically letting the body slow down and rest by lying in bed, relaxing on the couch or reclining in a reading chair. For active rest I find walks in the park to be my preferred go-to active rest after a long trip because as Susan Magsaman, the Executive Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, said “nature is the most neuroaesthetic place”.
The Body Shop: Machine’s don’t only need rest but they also need tune ups and maintenance and the body is no different. Extended sitting on long haul flights has a way of tightening the muscles and going for a physiotherapy massage has been a great way to reset the body and manage the muscle tightness. There are many other aspects of body maintenance which are unique to each person from an aesthetical maintenance perspective to a medical perspective and a human performance perspective.
Ultimately recovery will look different for each person and after each different trip and will vary a lot depending on how we feel and the many life and work commitments we have to manage. However, if we are cognizant of the need for recovery we will never attempt at creating a space for this much needed practice. But it is what we must do do if we are to maintain professional human performance levels for demanding international work schedules.
This approach as worked for me and I continue to tweak it with each trip and with new things I learn from the growing field of human performance as well as the field of healthy aging and longevity. I hope my experience helps others think about their travel human approach strategy and I look forward to hearing what others do.
I was happy to see that despite all the travels across the US, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, my human performance practices and dedication to sleep have worked. My Oura year recap of sleep labeled me as sleep royalty with an average of 8 hours. In this new year I’ll be looking to keep that up and also try and figure out how I can keep up a form of a work out routine despite the jetlag and back to back schedule.
Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos (@Lkcyber) is a systems thinker whose work lies in the intersection of emerging tech, society, security, culture and strategy. Her expertise has been sought by the United Nations, NATO, US Special Operations, US Secret Service, IEEE, management consultancies, industry, academia and foreign governments. In the realm of technology ethics she is an advisor for the Data Ethics Consortium for Security and for Ethical Intelligence Associates. In the realm of human performance she is a board member of the Valkyrie Project which supports military women’s human performance, and is an investor in the women’s athletic training app WildAI.
She loves to experiment and push the bounds of the possible and help others posture themselves to make the most of new technologies in the context of changing and emerging trends. In efforts to raise awareness on AI and ethics she makes reflectional art on the intersection between technology and society. Her art is represented by Miami based art gallery Artem + Scientia Gallery/
In efforts to create meaningful conversations on emerging technology and humanity she made a card game called Sapien2.0 . She also has a fashion label Empowering Workwear by Lydia that she uses to make art installations that you wear with story telling fashion. Her debut product is the #Fortune500Shirt — watch the trailer for it here.
You can find her on Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin, for more about her projects check out her site.