Table for one

Business travelling isn’t as fun and glamorous as it seems. It has its downsides—from physiological to emotional

Those who travel frequently are prone to obesity. Photo: iStock.
Those who travel frequently are prone to obesity. Photo: iStock.

It gets lonely at times, says Cecilia Oldne, vice-president, marketing, and global brand ambassador of wine-maker Sula Vineyards. Mumbai-based Oldne, who is in her 30s, spends much of her time travelling across continents. “One week I’m at a sales office in Nashik, and the other week in Japan. It gets tiring sometimes,” says Oldne, who’s quick to add that she doesn’t mind the travel because she gets to experience different cultures .

We all have friends or relatives who travel the world on work while we sit in our cubicles, staring at the computer. Their last week’s Facebook check-ins in Mumbai are followed by Instagram snaps of the Louvre from their hotel room in Paris. But do these envy-inducing social media posts really mean these frequent business flyers, who travel three-four times a month, are living the high life? Not really.

There’s “a darker side of hypermobility”, says a study published last year in the Environment And Planning A journal. Based on 15 years of studies on frequent travel, the study divides the consequences of frequent travelling into three aspects: physiological, psychological and emotional.

Most travellers would be aware of jet lag, which is scientifically proven to affect memory and judgement, and UV radiation (experts say the exposure is a hundred times more at higher altitudes). “Besides these two, there are other potential effects that people know less about, like exposure to germs, quicker ageing, compromised immune system, and the danger of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) from sitting in cramped seats. If one travels for more than 5-6 hours, the risk of DVT (blood clots in deep veins) increases significantly,” says Kumud Rai, director of vascular surgery at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi, adding: “Ideally, a person should walk for some time after every 2 hours; even a loo break is beneficial in such cases.”

Packed with poor health 

A study published in the Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Medicine in 2011 found that frequent business flyers had higher body mass index and higher rates of obesity.

This is not surprising, given that frequent travellers have limited options when it comes to fresh, healthy food; they have to select from foods that are packed with salt and sugar—added to retain taste during long-haul flights. “That salt and sugar are extremely harmful for health. What further increases the risk of obesity is the lack of exercise during travel,” says Shikha Sharma, founder of Delhi-based health management centre NutriHealth Systems.

But there are ways to check the damage, says Oldne: “The frequent travelling affected my health so much that my energy levels dropped; I just couldn’t exercise. This was five years ago. Now I do yoga and meditation wherever I go. It doesn’t need any equipment except a mat.”

For Varun Sheth, founder of the crowd-funding platform Ketto, running does the trick. “No matter where I am, I never miss out on my morning run,” says Mumbai-based Sheth, who travels out of the city at least once a week. “I like to keep myself hydrated whenever I am travelling. I also ensure that at least one of my meals in a day is composed of fresh fruits and salads,” he adds.

Sharma admits that leading a healthy lifestyle when most of your time goes in travelling could be extremely tough, “but your health is in your hands. When mid-air, opt for comparatively healthy snacks like unsalted nuts and sandwiches, stay away from alcohol, walk after a few hours and keep yourself hydrated at all times. And do make it a point to go for morning walks in whichever city you are, if not a run; it’s a great way to see the place which you might not get time to see owing to the busy schedule”.

High on stress 

The psychological and emotional effects of frequent travelling are often less discussed. “The feeling of being in a new, unknown land, with unknown people, eating all by yourself can make the whole experience quite lonely. The glamour of the high-flying job sometimes blinds people who don’t know about the real cost they will have to pay for the work,” says Kamna Chhibber, head of mental health and behavioural sciences at the Fortis Healthcare hospitals in Delhi and the National Capital Region. “The problem increases when the person is married. In such cases, the partner who has to look after the family often feels the pressure because of too much responsibility. When you combine the stress with the isolation and guilt (of the traveller), it can lead to serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression,” adds Dr Chibber.

She suggests some ways to address these issues: “Differences in the time zone can be a big challenge, but this is where technology helps. Fix a time when you can call your family, leave unexpected texts and emails to show you care. When you are at home, be present completely, spend quality time with friends and family; it should feel like you never left.”

Or be like Sheth, who ensures that his business trips don’t affect his relationship with friends: “I have always loved travelling, and luckily all my friends share my interest. Every now and then, we organize our travel schedule in a way that we end up being in the same city,” he says.

As Oldne says, “Travelling to different places keeps me curious. It exposes me to diverse cultures, behaviours and perspectives. But in the end, I want to go home, eat home-cooked food with my dad. Travelling is a learning experience; how much you want to trade for it is your call.”

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