Traveling can be an extremely taxing activity, and, especially now with the holidays in full swing, managing travel stress is a high priority for many people. Ironically, though, the source of much of this stress is not actually the travel itself – it’s often more about preparing to travel! Because in this day and age of abundant high-tech tools designed to make our lives easier and more efficient, it’s easy to instead become overwhelmed with all of the options available without knowing how to best select (and use!) the right set of tools to help us with our needs in the first place.
In our 22nd episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards talk about some easy ways to cope with travel by taking a look at how Michael keeps his own travel routines as simple as possible.
With the fall season of financial advisor conferences finally slowing down, Michael discusses some of the key habits he uses to manage his own hectic travel schedule. From how he keeps multiple “Kitces-blue” shirts on hand (so he doesn’t need to spend time planning out different wardrobe styles!), to having at least two of everything else he needs to make his pre-travel preparation as simple as possible. And instead of using multiple tech tools that need to coordinate information between different apps and devices, he relies simply on Google Calendar to keep track of all of his travel information including flight schedules, lodging details, and meeting times. Perhaps most importantly, though, is how Michael prioritizes getting enough sleep every night, so that he can physically keep up with the demands of his workload, which involves juggling his roles in multiple businesses.
Ultimately, the key point is that travel doesn’t have to be complicated, and by creating easy habits for yourself and consciously minimizing the cognitive load required to set up (and remember) a good travel routine, neither does planning or preparing for travel. Identifying essential needs and developing simple and easy-to-follow systems to meet those needs, will make it easier to implement an efficient travel strategy without getting bogged down with overly complicated tech tools or elaborate processes.
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Carl: Greetings, Michael, how are you?
Michael: I'm doing well Carl, how are you?
Carl: Things are great. Great. This is episode 147 or what episode is this?
Michael: No, I think we're just, I'm going to put that in air quotes, we're just on episode 22. So, 22 is still a pretty good milestone, it means we're coming up on the six-month mark since we basically do these every other week now.
How Michael Simplifies Travel During The Busy Financial Advisor Conference Season [01:10]
Carl: Very good.
I have been noticing, because I stalk you, that you've been travelling a lot, right? Is this what we call conference season?
Michael: Yes, it's conference season. So, our industry is, I know at least from the speaker’s end, disturbingly cyclical in its conferences. We cram all these events in after tax day, because you can't get anybody out during tax season. So as soon as April 15th passes, there's about an eight-week conference sprint until mid-to-late June.
And then school's out, whatever county you're in, everybody goes on summer vacation – all-conference activity stops for July and August. Then as soon as you get past Labor Day and everyone's back in school, conference season, game on again – 10 weeks of crazy until you get to essentially mid-November, and then no one runs a conference into Thanksgiving and then no one runs conferences through the end of the year because you're in holidays.
And so, something like 70% of my travel for the year comes in about three months, a month and a half right after tax day and a month and a half to two months right after Labor Day.
Michael: Yup. This is fall conference season.
Carl: Okay. So, travel is what we want to talk about then. I don't love the word hack, but I'm curious about travel hacks. How do you make that amount of travel tolerable?
Michael: Honestly, the first thing is just keeping it as simple as possible. I get no small amount of grief for the whole blue shirt thing, but in all seriousness, travel gets a lot easier out of the gate when you don't have to think about what you're packing. I just grab the suits and five more blue shirts because there's 12 in the closet. So, five for the week and then five to throw in the laundry while I grab the other five for the next week, whenever I'm traveling. The packing is always the same. The clothes are the same. It's a wonderful simplification, but it really does take some of the mental load off.
When you do a lot of travel, you just quickly get to the point where you own two of everything. So, there's no packing a travel bathroom bag, it just has the toothbrush and the toothpaste and the soap and all the stuff. It just lives in a bag that I just have to remember to refill when I run out of toothpaste. So I've essentially got the go travel bag that already has all this stuff it needs. The clothes rotate. It's always the same clothes.
And what it means in practice is, particularly since I live relatively close to the airport, I don't even start packing until an hour and a half before the flight. And then I just throw all this stuff in the bag and hop in the car and drive over the airport about 12 minutes and go through and I'm done. And so, that level of simplification actually helps a lot to just not make travel such a big ordeal. For me, it's just a slightly longer version of a commute that involves a car and an airplane instead of just a car or a train locally.
Habits Should Reduce (Not Increase!) Cognitive Load [04:55]
Carl: It's interesting, whether you travel a lot or not – this idea of having documented systems for things that you have to do. I'm so fascinated by the cognitive load of our business and any place where I can eliminate cognitive load. My wife, she doesn't understand why the closet looks very similar. There's a lot of the same stuff in the closet because I don't want to think about it. I mean I'm not as crazy as you. Are they literally the same shirt?
Michael: Yes, I literally buy them 12 at a time, and have been for the last year or few years, because I'm pretty hard on my clothes since I travel a lot. And then I'll go out and buy another set of a dozen and rotate the old threadbare ones out and restock with some new ones that are nice and crisp and fresh blue because they haven't been machine-wash faded yet.
Carl: Yeah. Okay. So, it's literally the same thing that reduces cognitive load: keeping things simple. I had a friend whose name was Bron and he was a PhD engineer. He didn't travel as much as you, but he had this policy that anytime he had to do something a second time he was going to write down what he did. So, instead of having the bag already packed, there was a flashcard that sat somewhere that would see, and he would go, "Oh yeah, that's right. When I leave for business trips, I just check these seven boxes."
Michael: So one distinction I'd actually make is that I don't try to just create a standard process and procedure that's written down. For me, it's actually one step beyond that. It's making it such a routine habit. You don't even have to think about it. You don't even have to think about whether you've checked all the things off on the list. It's just habit, because it's always the same.
If anything deviates from the habit, then you’ve got to think about it. If you make a thing that's so consistent that it becomes a habit that you don't even think about, it becomes much more manageable and much easier to deal with because you just literally don't have to think about it. I don't have to put any thought into gearing up for travel until it's an hour and a half before the flight. And it's, "Oh yeah, time to rotate the clothes in the bag and off we go."
Carl: Right. But you do travel more than most.
Michael: Yes. I do travel more than most, which means I've repeated these things such that they become a fairly ingrained habit. But, there is a distinction to it that I do see people creating a lot of context, and I pretty deliberately try to avoid a lot of context, like making checklists for repeatable things. I'm a fan of checklists to try to remember stuff, but the goal is to ingrain it into a habit to the point that you don't have to remember your checklist at all. And if you constantly change your routines and mix things up, you have to keep relearning them. You never develop habits, and then you have to think about whether you're on the new routine or the old routine, or the new habit or the old habit. And that's when your brain gets really tired, really fast.
Michael: And it becomes much more exhausting to deal with.
Carl: Yeah. And that's really interesting. You and I know some of these advisors that are sort of location-independent advisors who travel (like Sophia, right?), and they've figured out, even though they're going to be in different locations or different places, how to create habits that allow them to still be incredibly productive.
Carl: Because I've always thought, "If I could just get the garden completely weeded, then I could relax." And it's taken me 30 years to figure out that the garden is never completely weeded, right? You just need to relax now and deal with the fact there are going to be some weeds every once in a while.
I know people who have gotten so habitual that I look at their lives and think, "Oh my gosh, that would be amazing." But they look at my life and say, "Wow, that's so exciting. So much fun."
Anyway, what about technology you use to track travel? Where does all this stuff exist? What flight am I getting on? Have you had this experience? I know you have, I used to literally show up at the airport and go, "Okay, where am I going?" Right?
How Michael Uses Google Calendar To Manage His Hectic Travel Schedule [09:53]
Michael: Oh, yeah. When you travel a lot, that whole phenomenon of "Oh, it's Tuesday, I must be in Dallas" is very true and real. Again, it's simple for me. I go where my phone tells me to go. Google Calendar knows all and has all information. Google Calendar tells me when my flight is and that's where I go, and Google Calendar tells me where my hotel is at the other end. That's what I hit the button for and copy and hit the Google map button and queue right up to go there.
Michael: No, everything's in Google Calendar.
Michael: Just so I can keep it all completely and always unequivocally in one central place, right? Because that "What flights am I taking? What hotel am I going to? What phone calls am I doing on the road? And which time zone am I doing the call from to make sure that I actually get on the call at the right time? And when is that session and where do I need to be?"
So again, in the spirit of simplifying, or not even just simplifying, but to simplify and habituate – it all lives in one place. So, I don't have to think about where it is because I know where it is. It's all in one place.
Carl: So, you book a flight, the confirmation comes, how does it get into Google Calendar?
Michael: The moment I buy the flight and finish buying the flight, I just copy the confirmation information straight into Google Calendar, literally when I buy it.
Carl: And you create the appointment with the time zone starting in London and ending in the other place, that whole trick?
The Vital Role of Sleep In Keeping Up With A Hectic Lifestyle [11:48]
Carl: Okay, cool. Physically, what do you do to stay healthy? This is brutal for all of us, but do you have any sort of travel health tricks? Do you get on the plane and immediately put an eye mask on and try to sleep? What little tricks do you use?
Michael: No, sadly for me, the moment I'm on an airplane it’s just like, “Can we please get up in the air to 10,000 feet so my Wi-Fi will turn on, because I need to finish all those emails that I couldn't do while I was boarding the plane?”
Work for me is pretty hectic these days with all the different businesses and all the different stuff that I juggle. So, ultimately for me, the biggest issue is just actually getting my sleep. And notwithstanding all the good-natured humor jibes I get about whether I actually sleep or not – I really do sleep! I really do...I need my eight hours. If I don't get my eight hours, I feel it immediately and it goes downhill pretty quickly for me.
So, I just make sure that no matter where I'm going and what I'm doing that I get my sleep and that I try to honor my sleep cycle, which I'll admit as the years go by and I get older, I adjust less well to time zones than I used to. These days it's a lot of like, "Oh, I'm in California." So, I'm pretty much going to be going to bed by about 9:00 p.m. or 9:30 p.m., and I'm going to be waking up at 5:00 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. That's what I've got to do to get my sleep.
Carl: Yeah, so you do. You're not just joking with us, you get eight hours of sleep.
Carl: Because that was a question.
Michael: Yeah. For a while, I was actually posting my Fitbit logs online just to prove it.
Carl: Were you really?
Carl: That was the question. I think that's what Ron Lieber wanted somebody to ask you, was how do you keep up with that amount of content? It was something around that. So, sleep...
Michael: Yeah. I really do get the sleep. I just don't have much social life. I play with my children and I do a lot of work and I sleep. That's life these days.
Carl: So, you arrive at the hotel after a flight. Do you make any adjustments to the room, temperature-wise? Do you decide to unplug things? Do you do any of that Tim Ferriss stuff?
Michael: No, although now I really want to know what the Tim Ferriss routine is. Apparently, I'm underpreparing my room.
Carl: Yeah. Between Tim Ferris and then Ben Greenfield, there’s a whole sleep hygiene routine. So, do you avoid turning on the computer after a certain time?
Michael: No, not really. I actually tried to do that for a while and sometimes there's too much stuff to keep up with. Depending on whether the flight had Wi-Fi or not, I may or may not need to catch up on some emails when I land at the other end. So, flat bans or no computer after I get to the hotel just didn't always work in practice.
Obviously, at some point, I got to unplug just so I can actually get into bed and fall asleep. But short of that, no, I'm still device up until the end. I do at least have some of those apps for both the laptop and my phone that cuts off the amount of blue light that comes off from the screen, which helps a little bit for sleep cycles if you do end out looking at your computer devices a little bit later in the evening. So, I've got apps on both to hopefully have my electronics slightly less screw up my sleep schedule.
Carl: Okay. What else? What's your favorite little travel hack?
Michael’s Process to Minimize The Cognitive Load Of His Travel Routine [15:55]
Michael: Again for me, making the travel manageable all just comes down to getting systems in place that you just know you're going to be able to do what you need to do when you need to do it. So, standard packing, standard toiletries bag, the bag is always packed the same way with the stuff in the same location. The right things are always in the right pockets. Not because I'm like anal-retentive about it, but just because when the things are always in the right place, I never have to think about it. And I've got a lot of other things to think about that I don't need to think about things like, "Oh, did I remember to bring my vitamins or where is that charger that I can't find that I need to plugin?" I know where the charger is, it's in the same pocket. I don't even have to think about it. I just always grab it there and I always put it back there when I'm done.
So that process of getting everything down to a habit where you don't have to think much about it is helpful. Right down to the fact that I carry around a separate mobile hotspot. So, anytime I turn on my computer, it instantly connects and I'm instantly on the internet. I don't have to go searching for a Wi-Fi connection or get the Wi-Fi password from whatever conference I'm at. Notwithstanding the fact, there's also some information security issues with logging onto random open Wi-Fis, but always carrying around a mobile hotspot so I never have to think about internet connections and finding how I'm going to get connected. I carry a thing around, it's got a full day's battery. I plug it in when I go to sleep and I put it in my bag when I wake up and I've got internet for the day without needing to think about it.
I'm just constantly amazed at how often people don't simplify the systems around them and they have to spend a lot of mental energy thinking about things that will not actually advance your life and improve your business for what, in the grand scheme of things, is a very modest amount of money as a business expense. I'm a walking internet connection with my bag and I never have to think about it. It's just always there. And it only has to save me about an hour of productivity a month and it pays for itself 3X or more.
Carl: I think that switch you get at some point – like, "Why am I always running around trying to figure out where that thing is? Just buy another one!" You're like, "I don't want to spend the 50 bucks. No, spend the $50." Right? It’s not an expense; it’s an investment in my own sanity, probably an investment, period.
Michael: Yeah. Even for people that don't travel a lot, the number of times I've been at a conference and I see an advisor walking around saying, "Oh my God, does anybody have a power cord that fits this particular model of Dell or my MacBook Air?" At least there will probably be someone else there with the MacBook Air that can lend you a power cable. But “I forgot my power cable, I forgot to grab the one off my desk and pack it in my bag.” All I can think is, "Dude, the average advisor does pretty well. Buy a second cable and put it in your bag and then you never have to remember to grab the cord from your office and put it in your bag because the fact that you forgot, at the rate you bill your clients, you are losing an ungodly amount of money by not just buying a second cord so you don't have to think about it."
It's those same kinds of scenarios where we create these extra cognitive loads on ourselves, don't even think about them, and inevitably, you can't possibly remember everything if you make yourself have to remember everything, and then you lose productivity and lose opportunities, because we created these impediments for ourselves. And so, a lot of what I do is just try not to create those impediments. At least if I'm going to screw something up, it's because I was focused on it, not because I made myself remember a whole bunch of things that I can't possibly remember because I juggle way too many balls.
Carl: Awesome. It's been super helpful for me. These are questions I have been...I've got more, but I think we'll save them for another time. The number one thing I wanted to uncover was, were they actually the exact same brand of shirt. And now that we know that, I think the rest of us can sleep.
Michael: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I buy the shirts 12 at a time and now we've got matching Kitces-blue socks. So, I buy the socks a dozen at a time from boldsocks.com.
Carl: Amen. Thanks for sharing that, Michael.
Michael: Thank you, Carl.