By Christine Song

How to Stay Productive When You’re Traveling for the Holidays


Traveling during the holidays is tough and stressful no matter where you’re going, how you’re getting there, or what you’re doing once you arrive.   Even if you are used to traveling frequently for work, travel during the holidays (with the hordes of extra people, many of whom are stressed, and the addition of unpredictable […]

Traveling during the holidays is tough and stressful no matter where you’re going, how you’re getting there, or what you’re doing once you arrive.  

Even if you are used to traveling frequently for work, travel during the holidays (with the hordes of extra people, many of whom are stressed, and the addition of unpredictable winter weather) creates a significant change in your routine and environment, which is really disorienting. Any time that happens, you’re less likely to be as productive and more likely to fall behind on the things that are important to you, both personal and professional.

To help you make the most of your travel time during the upcoming holiday season, we wanted to share our 7 best strategies for staying productive during your next holiday trip, without foregoing all of the fun activities that happen at this time of year.

1. Be selective about what you will work on while you’re away

Deciding what to work on while you’re away may seem easy. You’re busy enough during a normal week, so there should be plenty to do while you’re on the road, right?

But even though you may have a number of projects or to-dos going on at this time of year (sometimes even more than usual), many are not travel friendly. And it’s just not realistic to bring your normal list of tasks with you and expect it to work perfectly when you go away; decision-makers or team members aren’t available, you’re not actually at home or in your office, and you don’t have access to certain essential people or things.  

So, choose tasks to work on that only require yourself. You’ll want to think about this at least a few days before you’re scheduled to leave, so that you have time to prepapre what you need.

Some examples of this kind of work are:

  • Read a book, policy, recipe, professional article, etc that applies to your current tasks
  • Brainstorm new ideas or return to ones you’ve had trouble making progress on
  • Write a report/memo for work
  • Run a report for work and analyze the information
  • Type up meeting notes
  • Organize work or personal electronic files
  • Dive into learning an issue or topic you haven’t fully grasped
  • Audit your work on a recent project to reconcile discrepancies

The possibilities are endless, but you get the idea; all of the above tasks only require yourself.

Once you have your list of possible to-dos, rank the tasks in order of importance. As noted below in tip #7, if time doesn’t permit and you can’t accomplish everything during your trip, the game plan should be to at least take care of the most important items first.

Taking this approach will set you up for success, so you won’t have to decide in the moment what you should be doing when you have a free moment.

2. Establish what you need to successfully tackle your list

With your list of tasks from tip #1, start thinking about what you need to complete each task, including physical objects (computer, paper, etc.) and the nonphysical (internet, the cloud, etc.).  If you don’t have what you need, then you won’t get very much done.  

For example, using the tasks suggested in tip #1 above, these are the things I might need to prepare in advance of traveling and pack with me:

  • Read about new policy → Print document
  • Brainstorm ideas → Planner + pen
  • Write a report/memo → Computer + electronic/paper files for reference + internet access for researching
  • Run a report → Remote access to software, or run the report before leaving for the holidays and download and save electronic file
  • Type up notes → Computer + electronic/paper notes for reference
  • Organize electronic files → Computer
  • Deep dive into an unfamiliar topic → Computer + internet access + electronic files
  • Audit project → Computer + remote access to work’s software system

Whatever your list reveals, prepare the resources you need in advance of leaving your office or home on your trip.

3. Don’t assume you’ll have internet all the time

If you notice most or all of your tasks require internet access, have a plan B for when internet access is not available (e.g. are you traveling by car to your destination?) or if you don’t have the time to deal with figuring out how to get re-connected (e.g. it’ll take you longer to figure out what is wrong than it will to just work on something else):

  • Utilize your mobile hotspot, if you have one, allowing you more flexibility and the ability to stay connected more easily.
  • Download a backup of the documents and store a copy on your computer.
  • Take screenshots of things that are only accessible on an intranet or shared drive.

And if you’re bringing work devices with you and you’re not already set up with remote access or certain rights, check in with your IT staff well before you need to leave for your trip (they may be busy!).  

Little things like not having permissions to access systems remotely will bring you to a halt and make it difficult to utilize your time effectively.

4. Pack your bags with the must-haves

As you prepare for your holiday trip and start packing, don’t forget to pack the things you identified needing in tip #2.  This also includes chargers (personal/work phone, personal/work computer, tablet, etc.), hard drives, USB drives, etc.  

Going back to basics and having paper and pen/pencil at the ready is highly recommended! If at a minimum you carry these items around with you throughout your trip when you’re out and about, you can jot down quick ideas, brainstorm, or sketch out a design on the fly anytime.

This is also nice to do if you’re out with family, so that you don’t have to be glued to your phone or computer for the entire trip. Paper allows you to still be productive in a low-key way that doesn’t put a screen between you and your loved ones.

5. Map out the days of your upcoming trip

Once you’re at your destination, what will you be doing and when? Since this is not a normal week, days will be structured very differently and will require special planning.

But no matter what your trip looks like, schedule at least 30 minutes of quiet time for yourself to focus. Choosing when to do this means considering:

  • What is the itinerary while you’re with family/friends?
  • When do you work your best, e.g. morning, late at night?
  • Knowing the people you’ll be with, what do they do when you’re together during the holidays, e.g. family sleeps in, but stays up late visiting, or maybe everyone takes afternoon naps?
  • Is an internet connection readily/easily available where you’re staying and/or where you’re going to be during the day if the locale differs?
  • Are there quiet places to work?

Figure out when there will be down time in advance and where your quiet space is so you are prepared to work once you’re at your destination.

It is better to plan out when you will work, as opposed to just trying to find a quiet moment here and there. You want to know in advance what you can expect, so you can make smart plans about what you can realistically accomplish. Otherwise, you risk feeling stressed and rushed for your entire visit.

6. Utilize random chunks of time to maximize productivity

During a normal week, there are many moments when we have a few extra minutes waiting in line or during the commute.  When you’re traveling, there are even more of those little bits of time that should not go to waste.

If you’re not used to having a list of tasks that can be accomplished in 5-15 minutes, use the list you prepared in tip #1 as a starting point. Identify tasks you can complete in 5-15 minutes or that can be broken down into smaller sub-tasks and completed over multiple 5-15 minute chunks. This will allow you to stay productive and not waste valuable time throughout your trip, from beginning to end.

This list of small tasks could include things like making a phone call or reading one chunk of a report. Every time you knock a tiny task (or part of a task) off your list, you free up a little more time for later.

7. Manage expectations and be reasonable

You won’t be working the same number of hours as you’re used to, and the tools and resources you’re used to having at your fingertips are now many miles away and inaccessible. Given this context, remember to maintain realistic goals about what you can do when you’re away and recognize that some things may not get accomplished.  

  • Do be forgiving with yourself if you don’t accomplish all you set out to do.
    • Do be flexible. If you thought you could do something one day, but couldn’t or didn’t. It’s ok! Take advantage of the next available down time as it presents itself.
    • Do enjoy your time off. During the holidays, make sure to enjoy time with family and friends, doing the things that you like to do at this time of year. Be present and in the moment.
  • Don’t procrastinate. If you need to stay productive while you’re away for the holidays, don’t wait until the last day and expect to cram everything in.  Instead do a little bit each day like you’ve planned.

What are your strategies for staying productive while traveling for the holidays?

We love hearing from our travel savvy readers. If you have tried and true tips for being amazingly productive on the road, share them with us on Facebook!