Why we need to talk about loneliness in business travel

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When we think about the challenges of business travel, obvious issues like jet lag, disrupted schedules, and being away from home come to mind. But there’s an often overlooked aspect that can take a significant mental health toll: loneliness.

A recent survey by World Travel Protection revealed that feelings of anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and loneliness are widespread on work trips. One-third reported experiencing anxiety, stress, homesickness, and exhaustion while travelling for business. And loneliness was especially prevalent among male business travellers, with 30% reporting feelings of loneliness compared to 25% of women.

“For a long time, constant travel was considered an inherent sacrifice for the job. But companies are realising they need to make mental health just as vital a priority as protecting physical safety,” says Bonnie Smith, GM at Corporate Travel.

The roots of loneliness on the road

A few key factors contribute to the loneliness epidemic among business travellers. First, frequent travel disrupts routines and separates people from their primary support systems of family and friends back home. Losing these grounding forces can leave travellers feeling untethered and isolated, even surrounded by colleagues.

Intense work schedules only exacerbate the issue. Over half of those surveyed said they are taking more business trips this year, with more meetings crammed into each one. The relentless pace leaves little time to foster social connections in their temporary surroundings.

Why loneliness matters for companies

The mental health fallout of loneliness should be a major concern for employers who have a duty of care for their travelling staff. Prolonged loneliness is linked to increased risks of depression, anxiety, heart disease, and cognitive decline. It quite literally poses a threat to employee well-being and organisational productivity.

Yet the survey indicates many companies are failing to do their part. 61% of business travellers feel their employer could do more to keep them safe on the road, and 70% wish their company would check in more often during travel to ensure their comfort and security.

So, how can companies better address this isolating aspect of business travel? Experts recommend a multi-pronged approach:

The buddy system

Forward-thinking firms are actually pairing up solo travellers headed to the same destination so they have a familiar face to connect with. Having a travelling ‘work wife’ (or husband) to debrief the day’s events over a cocktail or meal can be huge.

The simple check-in

Other companies are mandating that managers or travel teams regularly check in—whether by email, text, or call—to ask how the traveller is feeling and if they need any support. This low-effort gesture signals that you’re seen and valued.

The personal allowance

Over 25% of frequent travellers said having the flexibility to add personal time to explore a destination or connect with friends nearby significantly reduced burnout and stress. Travel management platforms can build this breathing room right into the itinerary.

The loved ones video chat

The ability to video call spouses, kids, or even just the family dog helps sustain those crucial bonds back home. Ensuring your travellers have access to data to dial in is essential.

The experiential assist

Risk management strategies can also relieve stress with 24/7 medical guidance, security intelligence, emergency resources, and even mental health support tailored to the singular stresses of road life.

The emotional toll of business travel is real, concedes Smith. She says a good way to counter loneliness is to be ready for it from the beginning. Having a plan makes loneliness much easier to deal with when it comes knocking.

“Be proactive about maintaining your normal routines as much as possible,” Smith says. “Even squeezing in your usual workout can give you a glimpse of your home life which can be very grounding.”

She also stressed the importance of getting out of the hotel room. “Don’t retreat and succumb to isolation. Explore the local area, even if just for a walk. Taking in new surroundings can be incredibly reinvigorating when feeling cooped up.”

Smith recommends scheduling a midpoint break if possible for particularly long stretches away. “An afternoon or evening to yourself, without work obligations, can provide a reset. Use that time for pure leisure – read a book, treat yourself to a nice meal, or indulge in whatever hobby you enjoy.”

Perhaps most importantly, Smith says to advocate for your needs. “If you’re struggling with loneliness or burnout, speak up! Corporations are becoming much more attuned to the mental health challenges of frequent travel. The resources and flexibility may be available, but you must voice your needs.”

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