Work and travel are often seen as two spheres that don’t touch. Oftentimes, your career choice may not leave a lot of room for exploration. Or if your life path is all about working while travelling, it might start seeming like a chore.
All in all, balancing work and travel can be tricky. AiSPi founder, Aisha Saraf Kothari, knows that first hand. We spoke to her about how she manages to get the best of both worlds, asked for tips and got to know what her favourite place that she has visited is.
Fun-fact: Our call on work travel took place while Aisha was in the terminal waiting to get on a flight.
As an entrepreneur and founder of AiSPi whose main focus is to find fashion-forward designers, boutiques and brands across various European destinations, I wondered how often does Aisha have to travel for work nowadays.
After 5 years of successfully operating AiSPi already, the team of people involved has grown exponentially. This allows Aisha to travel less hectically than in the beginning–although she still makes monthly trips to various places. She emphasises however, that there are several times during the year when travelling for work is essential, such as during fashion weeks when opportunities like meeting new designers are not to be missed.
But, as the concept of AiSPi will suggest, Aisha also enjoys travelling for non-work, pleasure purposes. A trip for leisure to explore, recharge and connect with friends and family is incorporated into her busy itinerary. As she mentions, she takes 3 vacations during the year including summer and Easter. Living in Belgium, she admits one of the greatest perks is the driving distance from the city to villages, suburbs, small towns and countryside for long-weekends she does not cease to take advantage of.
Despite her residence and focus in the European continent, her favourite place she has visited so far is the other-worldly Colombia.
How do you manage the workload with having to travel often?
There was no sugarcoating when I put this question forward. Aisha admitted it is ”super stressful” to keep a holistic eye on work whilst being abroad and knows that she will have a lot of things to catch up on once she is back to her base.
Despite that, it does not seem like she would change the travel aspect of her job as she admits travelling is something she enjoys on a personal level and an activity she wants to have in her itinerary. Just have realistic expectations and know there will be no time for personal fun on a trip to work. On a leisure trip however, “I do manage to work”‘. For Aisha, the balance is leaning towards the work versus fun side on this one. She admits that as an entrepreneur a total switch off is much harder than a lowering of expectations.
Can you recall a stolen moment in a recent work trip?
For this particular question, Aisha recalled a ”liberating” experience, as she called it. After travelling to Paris in order to do some curations during fashion week Aisha had planned a ski holiday with friends–talk about aligning work with pleasure. Amidst the natural excitement of spending time with loved ones, Aisha found herself exhausted from work. The highlight of her trip should be a massage she booked for herself. She reflects upon it as not only highly needed and very relaxing, but also as a brief responsibility-free window. ”No child, no husband, no emails or texts asking when I’m coming to dinner”. This stolen moment made the difference.
Your tips for those trying to balance work with travel?
When in doubt, ask for tips. Each one of us adopts their personal tricks and patterns that work for them, but a bit of advice on ideas to try never hurt anyone!
A highly-organised individual herself and proponent of being grounded, Aisha did not shock me when she first suggested making a very realistic to-do list prior to the trip. For instance, on a trip with friends be realistic on how much work you can actually get done. ”It takes a great deal of discipline to actually have 3 or 4 hours laptop time on a trip with friends” so do not bet on doing that.
Schedule what can easily be done remotely
Instead of pushing yourself to stay in and work while everyone is having dinner, do what you can easily afford to get done in terms of time and location. Things that can be effectively completed remotely include phone calls which ”you can do on a taxi or even walking from one place to another”. This one seems to be particularly convincing as our entire interview was a call whilst Aisha was at the airport – looks like it really works for her!
On the same line, be regular with your email.
If you dread the moment you return from your trip and open an inbox of what seems like an endless amount of emails, check them regularly on your phone. Another work aspect that can be covered regardless of location. Checking off the list small things such as replying to a question or covering a bill will amount to a big difference when you return and have to deal with other projects and catch-ups. Aisha admits she is the person who wants to be on a computer screen replying to emails, but the phone will really do it anytime needed.
Be super organised and with clear expectations.
As we spoke, Aisha was heading to London for work but combined it with visiting her grandparents. As she explained, having clear expectations and a prior organisation plan is key. Her grandparents were well aware that she would be there to work so they would not see her until evening.
She also recommends figuring and listing a few places you may want to visit if you have the luxury of time. This type of preparatory thinking and planning saves a lot of time during the trip and allows for the creation of a fairly well-rounded plan.
Leave an instruction plan for your team.
The theme or being organised is recurrent when speaking to Aisha. She suggests leaving for your trip but not leaving your team clueless! Give them an instruction plan of what work needs to be done and be available to answer them when needed. This way the team does not have to suffer chaos and the operations can continue to be monitored normally.
The moments with your friends and family are not coming back.
Do you find yourself, at the end of a trip, neither having gotten a lot of work done nor having spent as much quality time with your loved ones as you wished? Well, as Aisha puts it ”this middle space is an uncomfortable place to be”.
Section your day and when you work, work guilt-free. When you are done, spend the time with the people around you and have fun without the weight of guilt. This is a key to achieving a fair balance.
You may also already know some tricks that work for you. For instance waking up earlier than everyone to work–something Aisha is not a fan of. Then, you can be fully invested in the day ahead with bonding activities.
Again, understanding the nature of the trip (is it work or leisure) will help you prioritise your occupations and make the most out of it.