Writer-producer-director Ruth Adkins Robinson of de Passe Entertainment is on the road more than half the year. Like many business travelers, she has come up with a few tricks to stay sane and in touch. Today’s plethora of tech tools—from Blackberrys and videophones to instant messaging and e-mail—makes it easier to stay in tune with office and home these days. Still, road warriors find they miss the personal touch no matter how much tech touch they have.
“Twenty years ago, when I was traveling even more, it was nearly impossible. But thanks to cell phones and the Internet, it’s easier these days to feel close. When you [instant message], it’s almost like being [there],” says Robinson.
Keith Matthews is spending a year in Tunis, Tunisia, on assignment from his law firm, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, to the African Development Bank. His fiancée, Natalie, is in Philadelphia. “I primarily maintain my personal relationships via e-mail and an occasional call to friends,” he says.
Cancer screening and detection specialist Frank Higginbotham of Glendale Adventist Medical Center, never leaves home without his Blackberry. “Blackberry is the best. I also am a big Kodak O’photo user,” he says.
He carries his pictures on his laptop. “I have a lot, like 4,800,” he says.
Fitness. Keeping up with fitness regimes is also important for life-work balance while on the road. Many hotels have either a fitness center or an arrangement with a local gym. Some offer in-room exercise kits, while others offer fitness classes and even personal trainers. “I put on my Walk Away the Pounds DVD and stomp around the hotel room,” says Robinson.
Personal time. Carving out personal time is a must. “That’s one of the most difficult aspects of travel,” offers Robinson. “I try to find something in every city that I can’t find in my Los Angeles. Since I’ve been working on Showtime, I started to walk around Harlem during lunch breaks and discovered those amazing old brownstones that exist no other place.”
Music and art lover Higginbotham explores as well. “I try to hit the hot spots and places like museums and art galleries. I try to know as much about the city I’m visiting [as possible], because you can have conversations [with locals] about more than the weather,” he says.
Matthews, who finds himself in a different country with a different language and culture, relies on new friends to find things to do, and even a place to worship. “Through co-workers [and] friends, I have found a Christian church—Tunisia is a Muslim country but is tolerant of other faiths—that I regularly attend,” he says.
Family events. A major drawback of business travel is missing important family events. Robinson has found that a little creativity helps deal with these occasions. “I was in Miami when my granddaughter celebrated birthday number 10. I had a limo take her and her friends to Knott’s Berry Farm and had her call me while she was there to describe what they were doing,” says Robinson. “She felt like a princess, and I got to be a hero, even if I couldn’t be there.”
Higginbotham makes sure to let those at home know he hasn’t forgotten about them. “I always send a gift, or something to show [I’m] there in spirit,” he says.
Being far from home, Matthews rarely participates in family functions, so he celebrates with others in the same boat. “For national holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving), the American expatriate community gets together to celebrate. I spent [my birthday] with the church youth group, who surprised me with a cake,” he says.
Travel is stressful enough without trying to create the perfect life-work balance, road warriors say.
Be open. New opportunities and new ways to communicate often present themselves, Matthews says.