Business Travel Survival Tips for Introverts
Being an introvert in a world that worships all things loud, opinionated, and brash can be hard. One of the most difficult challenges for any introvert is the dreaded group business trip. It's the one where a bunch of employees from a company travel to the same location for a seminar or event. If you're an introvert you know exactly what I'm talking about and are probably cringing at the thought of your next trip right now. These road adventures can push introverts to their limits with the endless social interactions from early in the morning to often late at night. The work days are usually long, but to make matters worse there is usually social time and dinner afterwards which can often last to 9 or 10 at night. Then it starts all over again bright and early the next day with little or no time to recuperate and recharge your batteries. It often seems like there is no escape from it all. A business trip lasting several days can leave even the most socially skilled introvert begging for mercy in the mad rush of talking, social interactions, and pushing beyond normal comfort zone limits.
Symptoms of introvert business travel burnout include fatigue, moodiness, crankiness, mental numbness, quietness, and feeling like an empty shell. I find for me that my brain mind numb, I can barely think anymore, and it becomes difficult to take in and process any new information from the conversations and people around me. I feel like I start to sink into myself and withdraw. Before methods for coping with this are presented we will first look at what it means to be an introvert and how this compares to an extrovert.
"Introverts and Extroverts"
I won’t go into textbook definitions of these personality types; instead I will explain them based on my experience having lived as an extreme introvert my entire life. Most think that introverts tend to be shy or withdrawn. That may be the case with some introverts, but there are others that can actually be quite outgoing. For me the definition revolves around energy. You see, I’ve learned over the years that what makes someone an introvert is that they recharge their mental energy by spending time alone and mulling over ideas and thoughts. It’s really that simple. Introverts only have so much energy available each day for social interactions. I can get lost in my own thoughts for hours on end and feel invigorated at the end of the day, but when it comes to talking with and engaging other people I become exhausted very quickly. An extrovert on the other hand, is someone that recharges and re-energizes themselves by exchanging thoughts and ideas with other people. In short, one personality type recharges their batteries by being alone with their thoughts and the other does it by being around and engaging with other people. You can easily see from this explanation how conflicts can quickly arise between the two personality types and how misunderstandings can occur. You can check out this site for a more thorough discussion of the two personality types.
The Power of Introverts
I should also mention that there are degrees of introversion and extroversion. Some people are only mild introverts while others have this trait to the extreme. The Myers Briggs test is often used to evaluate your orientation with this personality trait. A score of 0 means you are neutral and the score goes up in either direction to 100 if you show a tendency toward either introversion or extroversion. I consider myself a fairly strong introvert. I scored 87 on the introversion scale on the Myers Briggs test. If you suspect you are an introvert, it might be a good idea to have yourself tested to verify your tendency. You can go to this site and test your personality type for free.
- Free Personality Test
Find out if you have a tendency toward introversion or extroversion.
For me, business trips all come down to conserving, monitoring, and rationing out my social interaction energy. Always remember that it’s all about energy conservation on these trips. You need a plan ahead of time so you don’t deplete your stores of energy and so you can effectively recharge your batteries. Here are several hard earned tips I have learned over the years for dealing with business trips as an introvert.
1) Don’t explain your introverted nature to your coworkers
This tip should really be called the golden rule for introverts because it applies to most situations. It's first because it obviously seems like the right thing to do. However, unless your coworkers are psychologists, don’t even go here. Just accept that most extroverts will not understand your introverted personality and needs, so don’t try to explain it to them. I’ve tried it several times and have learned my lesson the hard way. It never goes over the way you think it will. Your coworkers may even say “ah, okay” or “alright” to your face, but behind your back when they get with other extroverts at dinner they will question your oddness and weirdness. Sometimes they may even end up hurt and offended. It’s tempting to spill your guts, but don’t do it. Trust me on this one. I’m never going to do it again. One way to avoid this is to have good excuses ready, which leads to the next tip.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
2) Have your excuses ready
Develop a list of readymade excuses so when you really need a night away from the gang you can be prepared to take necessary action. Often times one night away from the swirl of activity and conversation is enough to recharge your batteries and get you through the rest of the trip and you sometimes need to fabricate reasons for this. I know, it sounds cold, but you need to take care of yourself on these trips or else you will quickly find yourself in the emotional gutter. One of the best reasons to bow out of an evening activity is work. You can say you have to respond to some important emails or you have an assignment that is due tomorrow. Another good source of excuses is family. If you are married with kids you have a gold-plated, get out of jail free card. You can always say something like my son needs help with his homework or my daughter needs help with her project and no one will protest. How can they? It’s your children’s well-being we’re talking about! If you are an introverted single person, however, my heart goes out to you as you have a tough hill to climb. People will expect you to want to go out all the time and be out all the time. If you are lucky, maybe you can use work as an excuse to get an evening to yourself. Another tried and true excuse is that you aren’t feeling well, that you ate something the night before that is upsetting your stomach. This often happens while eating out at different restaurants every night, so it’s not such a big stretch to use this one.
3) Be firm
If you are going take a night off from dinner my hard earned lesson learned is that you be firm with your excuse. Don’t waffle when declining to go out for an activity. If you show any signs of weakness extroverts will seize on your indecision and rope you into going out with them. This is another one that I have learned the hard way. Be strong.
4) Maintain a presence
Even though I suggest that you make some time for yourself, you still need to participate in some activities. You are part of a team so you will need to make your presence known at some evening activities. You can’t totally bail on all social engagements or meals. It’s not cool to completely bow out of everything away from work duties. You want to maintain the working relationships you have developed over the years and ditching every activity will only cause people to question you and talk about you behind your back. You will start to get backlash from your colleagues and could damage important relationships. My rule of thumb is never skip out on an evening for more than one day, or you risk permanently burning some bridges or destroying some work relationships. Also force yourself to act as outgoing as possible when with the group.
5) Make exercise and other activities your friend
Incorporate activities in your day that recharge your battery. Pursuits such as working out, meditating, going for a walk, or journaling can help clear your mind and recharge your batteries and I recommend trying to find as much time for them as possible. Spending even the slightest time outdoors like in a local park also can work wonders. On some of my more hectic trips I have found that I need to get up at 6am to work out because there is no room in the schedule the rest of the day for it. I don’t always do it, but on the days I can motivate myself to work out I feel better both emotionally and physically the rest of the day. Thirty minutes of elevated heart rate is a great way press the reset button on a cluttered mind. Also remember to bring along your iPod to take with you to the hotel gym so you don’t get stuck in a conversation with the person on the adjacent machine. It happens, so plan ahead.
6) Prepare jokes and stories
Introverts always get accused of being too quiet. One way to prevent this is to memorize several stories and jokes for the trip. Before your trip, create a list of five to ten stories that you can tell about yourself, such as a problem you had with your house, a recent vacation trip you took, a book you recently read, a movie you saw, or a football game you watched. The list of items to talk about is really endless if you think about it. You just have to think about them beforehand so you can be ready to bring them up when the moment is right. You can pull these out at dinner or during social time show you are not just a fly on the wall. Jokes are also good to help conversations. So, try to memorize a few to have ready to go as well. Oftentimes one good joke or story at dinner is enough to keep the extroverts satisfied that you aren’t weird and then you can sit back, relax, and let them do the talking for the rest of the evening.
7) Eat properly
Always remember that it’s all about energy conservation on these trips. An introvert needs to conserve energy as much as possible. Overeating, drinking too much alcohol, or eating junk foods can really sap your energy and leave you in bad shape by the end of the trip. You don’t have to eat well every meal, but try to incorporate at least one or two healthy meals a day into your trip. If every meal you eat is loaded with calories it will catch up with you. I often make snacks before the trip to have ready with me in case I get into a situation where I won’t be able to eat for a long period of time. I make small bags of healthy nuts and dried fruits ahead of time for the trip. I take these packs with me when I leave the hotel room for the day. If you don’t want to make your own, Trader Joe’s also offers convenient snack packs that are a great alternative. Protein or nutrition bars are also a great choice for handy snacks. My favorite are Double Chocolate Zone Bars, which have relatively low calories (190) compared to other types of nutrition bars and taste really good. Be careful to read the labels on the nutrition bars as many of them have high sugar and calorie contents.
8) Travel by yourself
If possible, try to fly or drive to your destination by yourself. Traveling alone is a great way for introverts to recharge their batteries. I have found that driving alone can be particularly meditative for introverts. Flying alone is not quite as fulfilling, but I have found I can get quite a bit of thinking done on the plane and waiting at gates. The downside of this is the hassle of travel, especially by air these days, which can also be draining.
9) Choose your travel partners
If you can’t travel by yourself then the next best thing is to be with people that you are easy to be around. I think we all know that some people are easier to travel with than others. If you have some of these people in your group then try to gravitate to them to help ease the burden of the trip. If there is flexibility in your trips, maybe you can deliberately choose to travel with the more friendly ones of the group. This may not always be possible, but if you can then by all means use this to your advantage.
10) Focus on the goal line
It is mentally easier to get through a long business trip if you know there is an end in site. Consequently, make the last day of the trip you goal line and focus on getting to it. Count down the days if it helps. Cross them off on the calendar one by one. I was on a ten day business trip once and I just kept focusing on the end point. The days flew by surprisingly fast. I still had to spend a few nights alone, but the trip wasn’t as bad as I had originally feared. However, beware that nothing can be more disheartening than to find that your trip has been extended when you were mentally ready to leave. So, keep this in mind as well, especially in fluid situations, and realize that this tip may not be appropriate.
11) Take short naps
Even if it is only for an hour, this is often enough to get you through the day. The technique of taking quick 5 to 10 minute naps is also a good practice to incorporate into your routine, if possible. They have to be quick naps because the long one to two hour variety only makes you feel more tired after waking. The trick is to try to wake just a minute or two after falling asleep. When I am able to do this it is remarkable how invigorated I feel. If you haven’t done this before I recommend giving it a try to see if it works for you.
12) Leverage your interest in sports
My interest in sports and electronic gadgets like cameras has always helped me to get by during long days as most guys can talk about these subjects for hours on end. If it is a sports intensive time of the year like during the NCAA basketball tournament, the NFL playoffs, or the World Series, make sure to stay on top of the latest news so you have information and opinions to share when the topic comes up.
13) Take the day off
When all is said and done and the trip is over you deserve a reward. If possible take a day off from work when you get back home, either with vacation or comp time and use it to fully recharge your batteries. Sleep inn, take a nap, read, stay in bed all day, eat comfort food, go to the gym, take a long walk, journal, basically do anything and everything you need to do to get you energy level back to where it needs to be so you can fully engage and be yourself when you get back to the office.
Hopefully, you will be able to find a tip on this list that works for you. Good luck on your next business trip and happy travels.