White Collar Travel: Five step to healthier road warrior diets

Sometimes, it seems like the road warrior‘s diet is relegated to the extremes. When a company executive is in town for a meeting – you’re taking your clients out – it’s hefty steaks, heavy cabernets and always more appetizers than a third-world country could consume in a lifetime. When there’s no occasion to shape the meal, on the other hand, you’re looking at suburban Chinese food illuminated by the glow of your dashboard.

It’s tough to strike a balance while you’re traveling … a problem that’s multiplied when you do it all the time. Fast food factors into at least one meal a day, and often, it will be your only meal. Caffeine (and, in my case, nicotine) replaced countless breakfasts, lunches and dinners back in my consulting days. Weight fluctuations were obvious. I’d usually drop 20 pounds in a month and a half when switching from a travel-intensive project to a local one.

Though the pressures of the job and the claims on time can impede proper nutrition, it isn’t impossible to eat well when you live the life of a wandering white collar warrior. You just have to be smart, plan ahead and commit to keeping yourself healthy.

Here are five ways you can avoid the fast food pits and fattening side-effects of client dinners when living the life of a road warrior:1. Choose an extended-stay hotel when possible
Now, what does this have to do with nutrition? Everything! These hotels have small kitchens, and you can stock the fridge with fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks. When you get back to your room after 14 hours of meetings and deadlines, reach for an apple instead of a snickers bar (or a mini-bottle of bourbon).

2. Don’t always go for the steak
I know this sounds insane, but steakhouses carry other dead animals … not just cows. Would it kill you to opt for the salmon every now and then? While you’re at it, a salad can be savored; it isn’t something you have to endure.

3. Watch what you drink
Hey, I still enjoy a glass of wine or two with a nice dinner. But, you don’t have to kick off the evening with two martinis and close it with a cognac. At some point, switch to club soda or water. You can drink socially without going overboard.

4. Give up fast food
Or, at least cut back on it. When you have to dine and dash, your options do become limited, and not every city has an array of healthy quick-service dining options. When possible, find an alternative to fast food fare. It may take some work, but you should be able to come up with something.

5. Multitask for an extra meal
Breakfast is the first casualty of life on the road. Whether you’re up early to work or you’re trying to squeeze in a few extra minutes of sleep, the morning meal soon becomes a fantasy. Make time for breakfast. Bring some work down with you, and turn it into productive time. Hell, take your laptop to the table – it’s not like anyone’s eating with you.

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[photo by Steve Zak]

White Collar Travel: Five embarrassing confessions of a business traveler

Business travelers love to look poised, in control and too important for mere words, but there’s a dark side to the lifestyle that can be downright comical. Sure, some of it will come across as sad, depressing or simply stupid. When you step back from it, though, it’s hard not to let out a chuckle. The trivial becomes incredibly serious, and almost every situation seems like an opportunity to pull off some grand scam that truly isn’t worth the effort.

I’ll confess: I was guilty of much (well, all) of what you’re about to read. I can take some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone, but that also means I spent a lot of years associated with some pretty strange people.

1. Hoarding soap
Might as well start off with the lowest of the low: I’d always swipe the soap. It’ not because I was broke – if I were, stealing soap wouldn’t have done much for me. How much does the average guy spend on soap? Ten bucks a month? I’ve never broken down the expense, but it can’t be more than a rounding error in the average household’s budget. In pocketing the soap, felt like I was somehow winning an undefined competition. One day I realized I had more soap under the sink than I’d ever use and called it quits. Well, it wasn’t a lifetime’s worth – I’d only scrounged enough for around two years.

2. Dashboard Chinese

Expense management was always a priority – and not just for the company. I quickly realized that you could scrounge a few extra bucks if you got creative with your meals. Generally speaking, you could count on at least one team dinner a week, which meant no cash but you got to eat better than a normal human being.

The other meals on the road? Skip breakfast in favor of in-room coffee (or nab something free if complimentary continental breakfast). Lunch was best in a subsidized employee cafeteria, or absent that you go on the cheap with pizza or a burger. So far, the day cost around $5, against $5 for breakfast and $10 for lunch (back then, at least). Dinner’s the tough one, and you only get $20. On one project, I found I could get a quart (yes, that’s how it was measured) of chicken and broccoli at a frightening-looking Chinese restaurant on some back road in Whippany, New Jersey … for $5.

Per diem: $35
Total cost: $10
Difference: $25
X5 days on the road: $125

It may seem demented at first, but that strategy turned into an extra $500 a month.

3. Road warrior
Why fly when you can drive? While the prevailing view of business travelers is that we’re addicted to points, the reality is that we all cave in the face of something far more attractive: cash. Mileage is better than miles, especially since it accumulates more quickly and offers faster gratification. Driving distances that should be flown was a great way to stuff your bank account, especially if you were about to leave the road to look for a new job.

4. Overpaying for points
Well, it’s not always true that we’ll take cash over points. Perhaps the greatest flaw in economics is that human beings are rational – especially human beings who spend 15 hours a week on planes and in airports. There are circumstances in which points trump cash, even though this is irrational behavior. Now, I’m not talking about actually buying points (at least not directly). But, when you have a choice between airlines, it’s often tempting to take the more expensive ticket on the airline on which you’ve been accumulating miles, even if you have to pay the difference personally. It’s rationalized as the present cost of a future upgrade.

5. Accepting a layover
Like overpaying for miles, this isn’t entirely rational (okay, it’s not even close). When the time you spend at home every week is measured in hours rather than days, you’d think nothing matters more than taking the shortest route possible from Point A to Point B. When you’re living on a precarious balance of caffeine, nicotine, liquor, adrenaline and greed, however, there’s little room for that sort of thinking. To keep your miles on one airline, you accept a layover rather than switch airlines to spend less time in the sky. Trust me: it makes sense at the time … even though you’ll never use them.

White Collar Travel: Hotel Behavior Honed by Habit

Spend enough time on the road, and your instinct takes over. Soldiers would liken it to their training kicking in. unlike the warriors who protect our way of life, the business traveler’s reflex isn’t intentional. Rather, it evolves from experience and is honed by habit. After a while, you’re “always on” … which is what you want. When a networking opportunity arises – or you get the chance to pick up some competitive intelligence – you want to be ready to pounce.

A friend of mine was headed to Washington, D.C. a few years ago and invited me to tag along. I was involved with a small consulting company at that point and was between projects (which is code for: “I needed one”), so I dashed off with him for a few days. Taking advantage of the status I had with Hilton, I got us a suite on the club level, where we dropped our bags before heading to the lounge.

Again, I had no business plans for this jaunt. But, one of the other people in the lounge atop the Hilton Embassy Row turned to me and asked those four fecund words: “What do you do?” Forgetting my friend, I went from elevator pitch to the intricacies of my company’s style to a friendly game of “mine is bigger” (confession: his was) – standard fare among itinerant white collar folk. It ended with the swapping of cards, though we never spoke to each other again (and knew that we wouldn’t).It didn’t matter that the effort would lead to nothing – I’d suspected the outcome from the start, and I’m sure he did, too. I wound up in character because I couldn’t help it. This one-time trip offered little potential, but my response was driven by years of making connections. If I’d been on a long-term project, I might have seen the guy again in the lounge the next week. Maybe some business would have come from it.

And, my case is not unique. My mentor from an early consulting job once cut himself off mid-sentence when he heard someone at another table mention a competitor’s name. He listened intently for a few minutes before continuing with what he was saying. On planes, of course, we all talk, poke and prod to find a new client or get a sense of what the competition is up to.

The frequent business traveler, after a while, surrenders to the job – sometimes to a caricature of it. It’s only recognized as an occupational hazard years after you’ve given up the life, usually. Until then, it’s like a heartbeat – something the mind-body duality does for you.

White Collar Travel: Don’t judge a business traveler by his mileage account

There is something incredible about mileage balances that stretch to six digits. The travelers who have them, you suspect, must be the real deal, living entirely on the road. There’s another class of business traveler, however, who is both quite valuable to the airline and is frequently overlooked. They fly domestic, but usually less than 2,000 miles a week. They’ll get short breaks of a few weeks every now and then. As a result, they don’t rack up the miles and miss many of the perks. But, they spend a small fortune over to the airlines every year.

These travelers will never make platinum status – many won’t even see gold. They lose the bragging rights that come with abundant mileage counts but still carry their lives in the bags under their eyes. How do these business travelers get shafted? Let us count the ways …1. Upgrades are rare
They fly all the time but only occasionally find themselves at the front of the plane. To these guys, scoring an exit row seat on the aisle becomes a stroke of good fortune.

2. Vacation dreams vanish
Since they don’t accumulate many miles, these business travelers can’t console themselves with dreams of comp’ed spa treatments in unusual locations. If they pick up enough miles in a year to get an overseas flight, they’ll have to take the perk in coach.

3. They spend more for comfort
Out of pocket, these passengers make purchases to render travel more tolerable. Food, magazines and gadgets become necessary to survival in this weekly grind. Upgrades mean that passengers don’t have to invest as much in their own sanity.

4. They lose bragging rights at the office
It doesn’t sound like much to the uninitiated – and looking back, this activity seems downright idiotic. But, it’s easy to get caught up in the mileage game. The frequent short-haulers lose out, and they hear about it back at the office.

5. They know the airlines don’t care about them
The shorter domestic flights don’t always cost less than the longer ones, but unlike the hotels, airlines don’t reward spending. Instead, they recognize distance. A business traveler flying from New York to Austin every week for a year can spend as much as one running from Boston to San Francisco for the same length of time – maybe even more. But, the benefit will never be the same.

White Collar Travel: Monday morning mayhem: A business traveler starts the week

Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher, unknowingly described the life of the business traveler several centuries in advance: brutish, poor and short. Long hours, inconsistent diet and exercise and extended periods of emotional isolation virtually assure that many will burn out. This state of affairs is at its worst on Mondays, quite possibly the most miserable day of the week for the road-dwelling professional.

Depending on your proximity to the airport and destination, your day can start as early as 3:30 AM. The alarm clock assaults your eardrums (and your spouse’s, unfortunately), prompting you to slog over to the shower – you can’t clean up at your destination, since you may be heading straight to the office. After a quick goodbye to a half-awake, fully annoyed companion, you trudge down to the waiting town car (if the driver’s late … no mercy), while doing the mental calculations on whether 45 minutes of fitful sleep during the ride is preferable to trying to wake up. It doesn’t matter, as you’ll resign yourself to a general feeling of hard-to-describe discomfort.

At the airport, having checked in the night before and printed your boarding pass, you run the security gauntlet, easily spotting the passengers who are not members of your elite, informal fraternity. You kick off your shoes, whip out your laptop and empty your pockets, as if the seconds you’ll save are a matter of life and death, knowing deep down that this behavior is totally irrelevant.

Coffee comes next, of course, since you know you’ll need to spend the flight preparing for your weekly client meeting, which is invariably scheduled for as soon as you plug in at the office. While you loiter at the gate, nursing caffeine into your body, you snag a wi-fi connection and look around while you pull down your e-mail and look for any early morning or overnight crises. The seats are littered with people clad in business casual attire and up, depending on the nature of their companies, clients and engagements. You look for familiar faces, if only to size up the competition for upgrades. New faces are a plus, as it means the odds of a seat up front usually improve.

Thanks to your status as a wandering hired gun, you pre-board per the code on your boarding pass that indicates you’re among the airline’s chosen, perhaps into the coveted first class cabin. You score some extra legroom and a drink while the proletarians board – as long as the flight attendant isn’t jabbering mindlessly at a passenger who would rather have his coffee with cream, sugar and no commentary. This happens all too often, unfortunately. If you weren’t relying on an upgrade and actually paid for a first class ticket – fat chance of that ever happening unless you’re a top-shelf executive – you’d book 1C, so at least you’d get your coffee before the flight attendant gets distracted, starts talking and fails to serve the rest of the cabin.

In the sky, you try to make yourself “billable” (depending on the nature of your job), throwing yourself into client work with the hope that you’ll recapture an hour or two at the end of your day … though that really never happens. So, you spend a few hours on status reports, presentations and writing e-mails that you’ll send later, occasionally breaking to eat, drink or nap.

When you hit the ground at your final destination, sometimes eight hours after having been greeted by your alarm clock, you’re about to start a workday won’t end until you leave for the obligatory team or client dinner, usually at around 7 PM. If you’re deep into a project, it could be worse – desktop dining while slaving away until well past midnight. If dinner’s on the agenda, you shoot to get back to your hotel room by around 11:30 PM (hopefully, you got to check in before going to the office). The bed looks great, but you need to check up on e-mails that were kicked around while you were at the dinner table and couldn’t sneak a look at your Blackberry. Then, you take care of some client work and call it quits sometimes between 1 AM and 2 AM. You’ve been up for 22 hours or loner.

It’s a tough life – and by now, I’m sure, one that sounds hardly worth living. Fortunately, there are some perks. Personal expenses stay low, and you do get to eat at some fantastic restaurants. Occasionally, you can squeeze in some time to enjoy your destination (if it’s worth enjoying, that is). For many, the work itself is a big draw, especially if you’re with one of the prestigious law firms, investment banks, accounting companies or consulting outfits. You’ll get projects that you’d never see anywhere else, work with some of the smartest people in the business world and be compensated rather well (though you’d never admit it). But, life on the road can take its toll on you. After a while, you’ll answer the “How are you?” question as one of my former bosses once did: “any day you’re not on a plane is a good one.”