Wednesday 14 May 2014 7:42 pm

Four tips for a better business trip

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Follow Nasa and Ronald Reagan’s tip to beat jet lag, and break out of the business bubble

WE’VE all heard a business trip horror story. Whether it’s falling asleep in a crucial meeting due to jet lag, or realising you’ve forgotten to pack suit trousers minutes before a presentation, travelling abroad on business can be a nightmare at times. But while many of the annoyances are unavoidable (missing a connecting flight because of delays, for example), there are a number of things you can do to cut down on the inconveniences.

Surely the worst of all business trip irritations, jet lag affects between 60 and 70 per cent of long-haul flyers, according to one frequently-quoted statistic. But few are aware of exactly what’s going on in their bodies when they traverse the time zones, and even fewer know how to combat it effectively.

Our built-in body clock consists of a series of cells that mainly react to light. They help orchestrate the natural rhythms of our bodies, including sleep cycles and the metabolism. Moving across time zones can severely disrupt these cells, and the fallout of this disruption is what we call jet lag. Given that it takes roughly a day to adjust completely after moving across just one time zone (according to Nasa fatigue expert Smith Johnston), it’s easy to see why a flight from London to New Zealand is so disruptive.

Former US President Ronald Reagan reportedly used to alternate between feasting and fasting in the days before flying, and recent studies suggests that manipulating your diet can help. But Nasa’s preferred strategy involves carefully using light exposure to make the adjustment. Helen Burgess, a biological rhythms expert at Rush University, has written about how it might work in practice. Travelling from east to west, the strategy involves waking up an hour earlier each morning in the week before flying (going in the opposite direction requires the reverse of this), and seeking bright lights straight after getting out of bed. Combined with avoiding bright lights in the evening, this should help ease the transition.

Editor of the SmarterTravel website Anne Banas has found a way to beat the delay in getting food on a plane. If you’re happy to give meat a miss, she points out, vegetarian and other “special” meal options (like gluten free) always seem to be served as a matter of priority, meaning you can get straight back off to sleep after eating.

While it’s tempting to go straight from the meeting room to the hotel bar on a business trip, Scott Anthony of consultancy Innosight says this is a waste. The narrow corridor from airport to the central business district is not representative of the market that you’re doing business in, he argued in the Harvard Business Review last year. “If a particular geographic market or customer segment is important to you, make sure you’ve spent the time to understand the fabric of the market.”

It’s estimated that 26m pieces of luggage are lost on international flights each year. And even if your luggage doesn’t go missing, waiting for bags adds time at the end of your flight. There’s no longer an excuse not to take a travel bag. And travel writer Charlyn Keating argues that it’s much easier than most think to squeeze everything in. She recommends using dedicated travel-sized products. With some airlines, it’s even cheaper to buy toiletries after landing than to check in a bag.

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