Julius Ballanco: Traveling and a virus
If you don’t take care of yourself, you don’t survive as a road warrior.
For the last 43 years, I have been a “road warrior” consulting engineer. On average, I travel between 180 and 220 days a year.
Typically, I am on more than 100 airline flights each year. In 41-plus years of marriage, my wife and I have never spent more than three months sleeping in the same bed together. I am always gone.
Before my wife walked down the aisle at our wedding, I surprised her by singing from the alter, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (No, I’m not a singer). That was a premonition of what was to be our life together.
I mention all of this because for the last two months I have been constantly asked, “What about the coronavirus? Aren’t you afraid to travel?”
The answer to the last question is, “No, I’m not afraid to travel.” If I was afraid to travel, I’d be out of business. My work requires me to travel all the time.
Some of my distant family members, as well as friends ask, “Are you doing something special? Are you wearing a mask? Are you carrying hand sanitizer? Are you taking extra vitamins? Do you avoid crowds? Are you eating room service?”
The answers to all those questions are, “No, no, no, no, no and no.”
Road warriors take a pounding to their body. If you don’t take care of yourself, you don’t survive as a road warrior. I have seen the impact of traveling on a number of my colleagues. Some have become alcoholics. Some have had nasty divorces. Some have added 50 pounds in weight.
If you are traveling as an engineer, you need to have discipline. That means avoiding certain temptations. It also means keeping up normal routines.
When someone else is paying for your meals, you can have really elegant dinners. Do that for a week and you come home 10 pounds heavier. Do that for six months and all of a sudden you are 50 pounds heavier and none of your clothes fit.
Some dinners are accompanied by a fine wine. All of a sudden, you are drinking the entire bottle of wine. Then you repeat that the following night. Within a short period of time, you qualify as an alcoholic. Too many times, I have seen careers ruined that way. I often test myself and go a month without having an alcoholic drink. That simply proves to myself that I am in control, not the alcohol.
Getting back to the virus, in particular, the coronavirus identified as COVID-19. When you travel, there are many viruses around you, especially in the colder months when everyone spends the majority of their time indoors.
Each winter, my grandkids seem to give me a cold that lasts a few days. I have been blessed by not having had the flu for the last 20 years.
The measures to avoid the coronavirus being announced by the media are practices we should already be following in our daily lives. That is especially true for road warriors. I wash my hands thoroughly every time I use the men’s room. I also wash my hands at home anytime I am doing something that will require a cleanup. When cooking dinner, my hands are washed at least five times — just the nature of preparing food in a sanitary manner.
On the road, I try to get the proper amount of sleep. When you are alone in a hotel room, it is often hard to fall asleep. You have to learn to force yourself to sleep. Not only do you need to be at your peak as an engineer the following day, you also need to maintain your health by getting enough sleep.
I also try to exercise every day. Not much, but enough to stay healthy. Every morning it is the stretches and sit-ups. When there is a moving walkway at the airport, I walk alongside the walkway at a pace to keep up with the people walking on the moving walkway. It is my means of getting a little extra exercise. When going one or two floors up or down in a building, I take the stairs. Again, simply a little extra to stay healthy.
As for meals, I have learned to not eat everything on my plate. All too often, restaurants fill your plate with more food than you need. My mother made me eat everything on my plate. I had to get over my mother’s instructions and realize that too much food is not healthy.
Watch the water
Staying healthy is one of the best ways to fight any virus. Our immune system is what attacks any virus we contact. The healthier we are, the stronger our immune system.
Not surprisingly, I have found that viruses are not my biggest enemy when traveling. What is worse is the drinking water. We are so spoiled in the United States. We know that all water is safe to drink from any faucet or drinking fountain. The same is not true in many foreign countries.
Bad water will get you faster than viruses. Of course, as engineers, we know that because that is an important part of our profession.
I just returned from Ghana on another mission trip. I was with our host, meeting with the vocational school to go over plans for developing WC buildings for remote villages in the Kwahu Eastern Region. We missed the lunch that is prepared by the NGO that we collaborate with in Ghana. Fred said he would take me out to a fine restaurant in the area. Fine in Ghana is not how you would describe the restaurant in the United States. When we asked for a menu, she said, “Chicken or goat.” I took the chicken.
Within two hours, I was glued to the water closet. My screw-up was not the chicken or the rice. It was the salad that was not washed with bottled water like our NGO does. That was enough to turn my gut upside down. One Cipro later (a prescription drug that many road warriors ask their physicians for when they travel), I was good to go. It didn’t take me long to realize I made a mistake of which I knew better.
Heck, I wrote the book on traveling. (Editor note: Julius actually has written a book on traveling, “Travel Like a Pro.” Ask him about it sometime.)
So, if you travel as an engineer, be vigilant. Pay attention to your surroundings. Stay healthy. Try not to get stressed out over coronavirus.
If you do get sick on the road, stay in your hotel room or go home early. The last thing you need to do is get other people sick.
Last but not least, drink plenty of CLEAN water.