Traveling Alone to Gigs and Conferences? Lessons Learned from 150 Days on the Road

This year, if you can believe it, I spent 150 days traveling.

That’s 41% of the year!

Those 150 travel days included 20 trips, 14 of which were for work and the other 6 for personal reasons.

My work travel took me to 15 cities, 12 in the US and 3 in Europe. And seven of my work trips had more than one destination.

Aside from meeting up with colleagues and friends at my final destinations, most of the time I traveled alone.

That means I spent a lot of time by myself in airports, on planes, trains, and cars, in hotels and Airbnb rentals. (For a handful of trips I’ve stayed with clients and friends, which made for many of my best memories and experiences.)

And because at iCadenza we teach musicians how to book their own tours, I started to think about how for many musicians, frequent work travel is often the goal. It signifies a successful tour or a certain level of professional achievement.

Travel opens up many wonderful things, but it can also be challenging and overwhelming, especially when traveling alone.

So today I’m sharing all the lessons I’ve learned from my past 150 days on the road, including what I do to make my trips run smoother and how you can do the same.

Anxiety + Traveling Alone

If you feel anxious at the thought of traveling solo, you’re not alone.

I’m an introvert and a total homebody. I also work from home. So although I am constantly interacting with people virtually, I don’t go to an office and only periodically take meetings locally. I love being home.

My travel identity tends to be the complete opposite.

When I travel, I usually do so to attend a conference, to give a presentation or workshop, to network and meet new people, or to see clients.

It’s a much more engaged interaction with the world, with a lot of face-to-face time. I enjoy it; it’s exciting and stimulating, and in many ways it feels like I become a different person when I’m on the road.

Perhaps that’s why I always feel a bit anxious and unsettled the night before a trip. Only when I set foot in the airport do I start adjusting to my “new” traveler identity.

I haven’t figured out how to eliminate this pre-travel anxiety. But there are a few things I try to do that help:

First, I take a few moments to pause before I leave, and just be present in my home before I step into a day, week, or several weeks of travel.

Second, to ease the fear that I’ve forgotten something (which can happen), I repeat this mantra:

“I accept whatever it is that I’ve forgotten. Whatever was forgotten was not meant to be on this trip.”

Third, I remind myself of all the good things that come from traveling.

Travel: The Good

There’s so much about travel that I love, and so much good has come into my life because of my travel this year.

Having Uninterrupted Time to Myself

When traveling alone, I view my plane time as a treasured gift.

Although I don’t love being on planes, I appreciate the opportunity it gives me to be in my little cocoon with all the stuff I need, and to have either distraction-free work or relaxation time, both of which can be hard to come by when I’m working from home.

There are certain types of work that I enjoy doing on the plane, such as writing, strategizing, and thinking — big-picture activities.

The plane is also a good place to do more tedious activities that aren’t my favorite but that I do best without distraction, like video editing, music engraving, or drafting dozens of follow-up emails.

Because I work hard and a lot, plane time can also be a good opportunity to intentionally not work. Sometimes I’ll watch movies, read books, or listen to music or a podcast. If I’m miraculously able to fall asleep, well, that’s the best of all!

Deepening Relationships

The best “fruits” of my trips have been developing new friendships and professional relationships with people I wouldn’t have known if I’d stayed holed up in my apartment.

This year, I met many colleagues whom I’d only spoken to via phone and Skype before.

Truly, this has been so important for me. I can probably name at least 20 new relationships I have now that have enriched my life so deeply — friendships and professional relationships that are caring, stimulating, and collaborative.

Relationships that go beyond the surface level make both work and life meaningful and enriching. My new friendships made through travel this year have enriched my life in this way beyond what I could have imagined. For that I am so grateful.

Expanding My Vision for What’s Possible

Since most of my travel is for conference attendance or teaching/presenting, I am also in a constant state of learning when I travel.

My trips have exposed me to so many new ideas, questions, and perspectives, all of which help me think bigger about the work I do and more deeply about the contexts in which we operate.

Travel has also led to incredible opportunities. Obviously, this is a key driver of traveling: going out to develop more synergies for our company. And it certainly does that, in both intended and unexpected ways.

Pushing My Creativity

Travel requires me to expand my skills and creativity as I juggle my non-travel life at the same time.

For instance, since I am “reclaiming my musical identity” I’m currently participating in a musical theater writing course, with monthly collaborative writing projects.

Last month I had to write two songs while on the road without access to a piano. Depending on the trip, sometimes I’d write with my ukulele or by relying on the tiny piano app on my phone. Using a moleskine notebook that is half blank and half music manuscript paper also helps.

As a fledgling composer, it pushed my creativity and writing skills to develop faster than they would have otherwise.

Witnessing the Kindness of Strangers

Travel is a metaphor for life, doesn’t it?

It’s literally a journey with milestones and a destination, as well as frequent unexpected events along the way: delays, missed connections, running out of battery, accidentally leaving a water bottle in your carry-on…

We can find ourselves in the vulnerable and uncomfortable position of needing to ask for help or slowing down a whole line (when we’d rather hurry along).

We’re at the mercy of the TSA, airport staff, and other passengers. Sometimes embarking on a trip can feel like stepping into battle with the world and whatever unplanned circumstances emerge.

Julia told me that she has a mantra for travel, which I have since adopted — and it truly makes a difference:

“My intention is that the people I encounter will want to help me. I will go through my travels with gratitude for the kindness of strangers.”

Of course, this mantra is a two way street. I also strive to be as kind, polite, and patient as I possibly can when traveling, even if frustrating things happen.

In general, I’ve been fortunate to have very positive experiences while traveling, and I can appreciate the humor in the unavoidable snafus.

Speaking of snafus, traveling obviously has its challenges. And this year, I faced my fair share of stress, exhaustion, and tension.

Here are a few lessons I learned the hard way…

Travel: The Bad

Before you dive into this section, I want to clarify something.

Even though this probably looks like a long list of complaints, I’m not complaining!

The traveling I’ve done this year has been 100% my choice. I’m simply trying to evaluate what worked and what didn’t so that I can perhaps make different decisions next year.

Here are the things that were challenging for me this year:

Missing My Routine

One of the most challenging aspects of traveling so much has been the impact on my personal routine outside of work.

I haven’t succeeded in adapting the following routines to travel:

  • exercising
  • cooking/eating in a consistently healthy way
  • keeping a regular sleep schedule
  • honoring my morning routine
  • studying/practicing music
  • taking time for my husband, family, and friends

The impact of travel on my personal life and wellbeing is significant. It has added a layer of stress and exhaustion that has been difficult to fully recover from because there has always been another trip around the corner.

For instance, there have only been 4 periods in 2017 when I was home for 2 or more consecutive weeks. (And those periods were in the first half of the year.)

What this means is that, aside from those periods, I always had an open suitcase on the floor of my bedroom (why bother to put it away?) and was either thinking about what to pack, packing, or unpacking. I often felt unsettled as a result.

Being away from the day to day of my working routine is also challenging. I have to cram my regular work week into few days to accommodate travel, causing me to have many days of back-to-back calls and meetings.

Lack of “Recovery Time”

Since many of my trips are for conferences, they often extend through a weekend.

If I return home in the early or middle part of a week, not only do I not have the recovery time of a weekend, I also struggle to handle many of the life essentials that weekends are great or even necessary for after a trip.

For instance, in my at-home routine, I do most of the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry on weekends.

So if I’m traveling over the weekend, those chores get pushed to the following weekend because I just dive straight into the work week.

When I don’t build in recovery time, my stress and exhaustion is compounded by not having time to shop and cook or even unpack.

Obviously, I could (and should) make different choices when it comes to my travel in 2018, perhaps always building in a recovery day after each trip so I can take care of those things. But I’m simply reflecting on the fact that I did not do those things this year.

Feeling Distant from My Community

Traveling so much also makes it difficult to engage with my community at home in a regular way.

My husband is extremely supportive but it has been hard for both of us to have so much time apart, especially since we did not intend to be in what can sometimes feel like a long-distance relationship.

Of course, traveling impacts my other at-home relationships too. Since my time at home is so limited, I rarely get together with my local friends because I prioritize working, spending time with my husband, and relaxing.

I also miss my musical community when I travel. I have an amazing piano teacher, wonderful colleagues, and (when I’m home long enough) I sing with an awesome choir.

However, when I’m on the road or recovering from a trip, I can rarely participate regularly in those activities, which is disappointing because they are a key source of joy for me.

Physical Discomfort

Physically, my body feels the toll of travel. I have callouses on my right hand from dragging my suitcase. That doesn’t seem normal!

Plus, so many hours on planes and carrying or pulling heavy bags has worsened my posture and increased tension in my neck and back.

All of that said, I’m still generally happy on the road and am able to make the experiences as productive, comfortable, and fun for myself as I can.

Here are some of my strategies.

Making It Easier: My Travel Essentials

I pride myself on being a “good traveler,” especially after watching the movie Up in the Air. I decided I would never be Anna Kendrick going through security with her bags bursting.

At the same time, there are certain items I just can’t go without. Here are the things I always try to bring with me on my trips:

  • My Sleep Master eye mask
  • Yoga tuneup balls (perfect for neck and back massages)
  • Orange-tinted glasses (to wear on red-eye flights and in the evenings before bed to help with sleep regulation; they filter out the blue light which keeps us awake)
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses
  • My favorite Lucy travel pants
  • A warm and comfortable sweater or jacket (or both in winter)
  • For long flights, either a neck pillow or a thick scarf that I can roll up
  • Gifts for whomever I’m visiting
  • Business cards
  • A few copies of our book and any other promotional materials I need

I also bring something that brings me joy. Sometimes that’s a book. Lately it has been my ukulele.

The Art of Traveling Light

This is a good time to tell you that I never check a bag if I can avoid it — no matter how long the trip.

As you can imagine, not checking a bag requires careful wardrobe planning. I may bring one backup outfit, but in general, every outfit is carefully planned before I head to the airport.

By the way, this is completely the opposite of how I operate when I’m home. Most days I can’t even manage to plan out an outfit the night before I have a meeting. And since I work from home, I have a very casual definition of “office attire.”

For the traveling portion of the trip, I don’t try to look cute or stylish. But since most of my trips are for business, I do need to put thought into what I wear when I’m on the ground.

I’m an especially adept winter traveler. By this point, I’ve accumulated some solid outfits that are suited for cold weather, as well as boots that are both warm, professional, and comfortable. Basically all of my winter travel clothing is either black or grey which makes it quite easy to mix and match.

These days, when I travel during winter I feel a sense of comfort pulling out my favorite travel sweater, scarf, boots, gloves, and big jacket—things that I almost never need at home in California!

What Are Your Tips for Musicians Traveling Alone?

I’d love to hear from you.

What have you learned from traveling, whether it is for performances, academic presentations, conferences, or other professional activities? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Share your tips in the comments below.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest