#886: “I’m very anxious about an upcoming work trip. Can you help me figure out how to be professional and take care of myself?”

Hi Captain!

I am hoping you can give me some scripts and tips regarding an incredibly awkward work trip that is approaching in about a month. I have been with my company for many years, but have obtained a promotion a year ago and am now remotely supervised. My boss also has another employee is in the same office as her, they have worked together longer, and seem to have a tight relationship, whereas I have only met my supervisor face to face three times. My former supervisor always gave me a lot of encouragement and feedback, but since my current supervisor is so far away, and she doesn’t give me much feedback, I feel like I have no read on how she feels about me or if she approves of my work.

My supervisor has worked hard to obtain a scholarship for an amazing multi-day training conference across the country for all three of us. She has also mentioned how important it is to develop relationships as a team during this time. It is possible that my co-worker’s sister, who works in the same field, may join us. My supervisor has let me know that due to funding restrictions, I will definitely be sharing a room with her, and all four of us may have to share a room. My supervisor is aware that I am an introvert and has joked that I should get as much alone time as possible before, since we may be all crammed into one room.

On top of this, I am terrified of flying and this is going to be a long trip and I can’t sleep on planes even with the anti-anxiety prescription I take when I fly. I tend to need more sleep than many people (nine to ten hours), and if I don’t sleep, I often get physically sick. The thought of the exhaustion of being with other people 24/7, being the odd one out when everyone else has established relationships, and trying to establish a professional relationships with everyone has sent my anxiety about this trip through the roof.

So I am asking advice on (1) how to recharge/complete self-care when there might not be any alone time, (2) good scripts to develop professional relationships, and (3) any tips on how to not completely break down physically and emotionally while traveling, since this is a professional trip and I really want to make a good impression. On the bright side, both my supervisor and co-worker seem like genuinely nice, kind human beings, so I expect them to be forgiving, but I still want to remain professional.
(she/her pronouns)


Terrified of Trip

Dear Terrified,

I hope this gets to you in time before you travel.

One question is: Is it a) financially possible for you b) worth it for you to pay for your own room at the conference?  I know that goes against the whole “Also, we’ll be bonding!” aspect of the trip that your supervisor has in mind, but “I need a certain amount of sleep and solitude in order to function, so much so that it’s worth it to me to pay extra for the room, see you at breakfast!” is one solution. Even when everybody knows and likes everyone, sharing a room on a work trip is a lot to deal with. Another option: Is it possible for you to fly in 1 day early so you can acclimate & catch up on sleep before you’re inundated with the others? Not everyone can throw money at problems like these, but if you can & you want to it might be the simplest solution.

On fostering relationships with your coworkers & other attendees:

  • If you’re traveling with kind human beings, being your kind self will help foster professional relationships without you having to particularly strategize or perform. It sounds like they recognize your introversion and will respect you if you say “I’m heading back to the room/to bed early to recharge a bit/to grab a night shower so there’s less competition tomorrow morning, see you later!Conserve your energy so you can be very present at instruction periods/conference sessions as well as mealtimes and scheduled social events (where the best networking at conferences & training session happens) and give yourself permission to turn in and turn on early each night.”Drinks sound fun, but I need all of my sleep or I will be a cranky wreck. See you in the morning!” 
  • Participate in the awkward-ice breakers, small group discussions, and other interactive stuff. Many, many people feel awkward about these events and these are designed to pull people out of their shells and help them cooperate and learn.
  • Go to mealtimes & scheduled social events. You’ll be tempted to sit with people you know every day, but try sitting with someone different every day. The course gives you built-in small-talk subject matter with this room full of strangers. “Neat session today – I really liked hearing about _____. What did you think?” See also: What do you do? How did you get into this field? Is this your first time at one of these? How far did you travel? I’ve never been there, but I’d like to go/Oh, you’re from (city where conference is)/ Neat, what is a great place to eat/fun thing to see/do? Read any good books lately? Have you read (our trainer/speaker’s) book? Would you recommend it? I’m going to get more water, can I bring you something?
  • Exception to above: If your boss says “Wanna skip (scheduled event) and grab dinner somewhere?” say yes. Small group bonding with your coworkers is part of the reason to all go.
  • Let your boss take the lead. Teambuilding is an important goal of the trip? Cool, hopefully she’ll facilitate some.

My other suggestions for carving out some personal territory and safety & keeping it together:

  • Take the anxiety seriously and treat it like the medical issue it can be. Ask the therapist/mental health pro who currently treats your anxiety for recommendations – maybe an adjustment in meds or a temporary supplement to your normal meds, or some calming rituals & strategies. Plan for and rehearse possible situations with them. Readers, what are your best self-care rituals in situations like this? 
  • Create a cone of silence. If you don’t currently use earplugs and/or a sleep mask, acquire some and see if you can get used to sleeping with them in before the trip (if you’re not already used to them, they’ll be of minimal use on the trip). Your coworkers will feel self-conscious about not disrupting your sleep if they come in after you’ve gone to bed, and you reassuring them “I will be blindfolded & dead to the world” will make it easier for them.
  • Plan short breaks throughout the day. Better yet, bribe yourself with short breaks throughout the day. Knowing that in one hour you can have half an hour to yourself with headphones on and a book can help you make it through the hour. I did this in college in the library – 1 hour of studying/course reading = 30 minutes of reading my novel.
  • Honor your anxious feelings but use procrastination in your favor, i.e. “I’m feeling overwhelmed and horrible. Does that mean I have to do something about that right now? For example, a good friend’s child is having some serious anxiety issues which result in them sometimes calling my friend at work wanting to be picked up in the middle of the school day. My friend wants her kid to know “Hey, I’m your mom and of course I’ll come for you if you really need me!” but also not be leaving work to pick the kid up from school every single day because of upsetting & scary feelings (feelings that are not linked to any specific source or cause, like bullying, so, don’t worry – kid is ok, just, super anxious!). The compromise they have worked out is a version of, “Kid, wow, that sounds really terrible and I’m sorry you are sad. Can you try to make it through lunch/one more class period/until (Mom’s lunch break at work)? If you’re still too sad I’ll come get you then, but I want you to try to hang in for a little while and see if you feel better.” What happens is, most times the kid is comforted and no pickup is necessary, and the calls for rescue are becoming less and less frequent because the kid is becoming proud of being able to wait out the feelings – “I almost called you at lunch but then I waited I felt ok!” Whether the comfort comes from knowing that Mom will come if it’s a real emergency, being given the autonomy to decide what that is, or being 10 and not being able to hold onto a terrible mood for very long I don’t know. Maybe your inner kid needs a reminder that “Hey, Brain, we can peace out of here if we really need to, but can you try to make it until lunchtime?” If you still feel crappy at lunchtime (or if you know just can’t hang in until then), politely excuse yourself.
  • Remind yourself: It’s only for a few days. It’s a neat event that you want to go to, with neat people that you like working with. You can make it for a few days! Schedule a day off and/or something super-not-taxing for immediately after you come back.

I hope everything goes great. Please report back if you can.

160 thoughts on “#886: “I’m very anxious about an upcoming work trip. Can you help me figure out how to be professional and take care of myself?”

  1. Short breaks are key. I go to a blogging conference once per year (I’m an introverted extrovert) and always take at least an hour break to go back to the room and recharge. If your roommates are in the room, perhaps adjoin to a coffee shop or somewhere quiet.

    1. I don’t travel for work, but this is how I manage myself at fun cons. Take naps, get coffee, etc. I miss things but I’m better able to handle and enjoy the things I make it to.

      You can also turn coffee time into team building. “I need a few minutes to recharge and refuel. Can I bring anyone back some coffee/snack?” may be helpful. No one needs to be the wiser if you hide out for five minutes of alone time before you acquire coffee.

      Good luck, LW. As a socially anxious introvert, you have my sympathy. I wish you more fun and less stress than you anticipate!

    2. Right, INCLUDING, if you can’t get to the room alone, then on EVERY between-meetings-ten-minute-break, at a MINIMUM go to the bathroom and hide out in a stall for a few moments. That is not ideal, but, like, every moment of non-face-time helps!

      Oh, leaving to get coffee or tea (as suggestd in this thread) is a great idea! Go for non-caffeine if anxiety is still spiking.

      1. I am the queen of using bathroom breaks to just sit and breathe with my eyes closed for 5 minutes.

        1. I did that at college the past couple of years: my classmates (and teachers, for that matter) were majority loud, boisterous men and I am a generally quiet woman, so I, and the one other woman in the program, would regularly just chill in the bathroom for a few minutes for some peace and quiet.

      2. Also, remember, tea is much more relaxing than coffee. It has a calming drug (l theanine) that coffee lacks.

      3. As a person who finds the between-session bathroom situation to be super stressful (ladies’ rooms are usually packed), our professional conferences are always in big conference hotels and there is ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS a quiet hallway to be found somewhere. I would unabashedly plunk myself down with my phone or a book and revel in the silence. I’ve been known to sneak into unused conference rooms as well.

    3. My number one piece of professional advice for people going to conventions for work is “Make time to sit in the grass and eat an apple.” This is both literal and metaphorical. I legitimately give out this advice professionally. Taking small breaks to recharge is SO IMPORTANT to performing at a high level.

  2. “I’m feeling overwhelmed and horrible. Does that mean I have to do something about that right now?”

    i’m now concerned that it took me the first, like, three years of therapy to figure out something vaguely approximating this when you just WROTE IT DOWN LIKE IT’S OBVIOUS


    1. redpen, don’t be concerned. These things are only obvious once you know them. It also took me years of therapy to get there.

    2. “Refrain” is a word and concept I’ve pinched from religion to use on myself. It both arrests me and comforts me, by gently showing me there’s an alternative to what I’m feeling.

      1. Redpen, PS- three years of therapy is a lot of showing up and courage. I admire you.

    3. I was the opposite, which isn’t always better. I was so used to just ‘dealing’ with things that it took literal collapse to allow myself to get help for stuff (taking care of myself counted as help). There’s a point to be made for recognizing the other side of the line between “can deal with it for a bit” and “can’t”.

  3. LW you have my sympathies. I do not have anxiety nor am I am intovert but I too need a lot more sleep than other people. Sharing a room with ANYONE for more than one night fills me with dread. I refuse to share a room with my own mother when we go on trips just because I know it will make me physically ill and have a huge negative impact on my mood. Something even she has a hard time accepting because she can a) sleep anywhere no matter how noisy/light/uncomfortable it is and b) function perfectly well on less than 10 hours a night. Please don’t feel disheartened if your colleagues seem to shrug off your concerns in this area, people who don’t experience it don’t understand straight away. But if they are as kind as they seem they will soon understand that this is not something you chose and the effects are not under your control. Take care of yourself

    1. Unfortunately some people actually do. I’ve known a few jerks who have perfect health, and think that because they can hold gallons in their bladders, everyone else can, too.

      I have also discovered that peeing oneself in public may be embarrassing in the moment, but it can certainly stop these jerks from treating one that way in the future. When *she* says she has to go, she has to go. And no, this is not being passive-aggressive. Unless you do it on purpose. That’s not good. I’m not saying you should lie and set up that belief. Just saying that if you’ve ever had an accident, there IS a positive spin to take.

      Frankly, I’d much rather have the mildly embarrassing reputation of being the woman with the pea-sized bladder than be stuck somewhere, and not allowed to use the restroom when I need it, because “it’s not professional.”

      My bladder does not have an MBA.

      When my niece was six or seven, one of her teachers tried to pull that “It’s not professional” thing on her, and saying that all the children should go during the break between classes, and no one would be excused for a bathroom break during class. I happened to be there, and said, “Oh, NO! Not for my niece! When SHE has to go, she has to go, and I don’t care if she just went five minutes ago. Sometimes it really does happen that way! And five urinary tract infections are quite enough for one little girl to go through, thank you very much! We do NOT want to deal with another one, just because you don’t want to deal with a minor interruption.”

      The teacher shut up about it, and my niece was allowed to go, whenever she needed. But that teacher had to be TOLD, because truly, not everyone gets it.

      Fortunately, though, most people do get it, either from personal experience or because someone close to them has some issue. It may be bladder issues or IBS or something else. If you just prep people with a simple, “Just to warn you, I’ll be taking frequent bathroom breaks,” they’ll probably nod knowingly, and murmur something about how their cousin has the same problem. People have a tendency to fill in the blanks, given the opportunity, and that can be pretty useful.

      1. ….the LW says her boss seems very kind, so it seems a little premature to suggest that she be prepared to visibly piss herself and spin it into a positive?

      2. This is such a bizarre comment. No, you don’t have to pee yourself on purpose and it really isn’t a positive to do so.

        There is absolutely no indication that the boss would a) argue with anyone about peeing themselves, or b) hold the power to stop someone.

      3. In most professional situations, no one will monitor or comment on your bathroom use. This seems like very much of a tangent from the OP’s problem. There’s nothing to suggest that anyone will try to stop her from going to the bathroom; that would be very odd, and not something she is likely to have to worry about.

      4. Just for the record – I was on my pain pills when I made the comment, and I was thinking about a time waaaay in the past.

        Not really apropos of LW’s issue, no. Sorry about that.

        1. “My bladder doesn’t have an MBA” is pretty hilarious and a good reminder of the agendas we impose on these mere bodies.

          1. Thanks! And although the vast majority of people realize that bodies are not and cannot be subject to agendas, there are still enough jerks out there to make life awful.

            I saw a documentary not long ago, that told about a lady at court (either French or English, I don’t recall), back in the days of chamberpots. She did ask to be excused to the antechamber, to use the pot, and was denied, because apparently, if the Queen can hold it, so can she.

            She couldn’t, and there was a puddle which “endangered the shoes” of those around her.

            When someone’s in that situation, they can be embarrassed. Or, they can turn it around and own their humanity, and point out that the other person, by dismissing their humanity, is the one that caused the problem, and THEY should be embarrassed.

            That was my point, but I didn’t make it very clearly.

            As someone with various health issues, though, I take the whole “You have to force your body to be professional” thing kind of hard.

            LW says her boss and co-workers are nice. I really do hope that this trip re-inforces that belief, and they prove that they are nice, and understanding of her real needs. And that she doesn’t have to deal with too many twits along the way.

            I hope LW updates us. I’m anxious to find out how it went.

  4. Do you have a yoga/pilates/meditation practice established, or a regular running habit, or some other exercise/self-care routine? Scope out what you can do to continue that in the faraway city, whether that’s finding a running route/pool with early hours/drop-in yoga studio around the corner. It will make for a convenient excuse – Gotta go to bed early, I want to get in a run before breakfast – and keeping up some semblance of your home routine will help things feel more normal. Plus, you won’t always feel like you’re avoiding your coworkers by hiding in your shared room. Now you can avoid them by doing a socially accepted activity 🙂

    1. Oh also, whether or not you do exercise, scope out the area around the conference. Can you find a pocket park/library/art gallery/church within easy walking distance? These would all be good places to go and catch a few breaths where you’re not expected to interact with others.

    2. I don’t even have a regular exercise routine and still used this when I went on a work trip last year (it was good for me mentally and physically). I found out the gym/pool hours and told coworkers as dinner was wrapping up that I had to go to take advantage of gym before it closed. And because it was kind of late, there was no one else in there to notice that I was only halfheartedly pedaling on the stationary bike while I went over my presentation for the next day, then read a book while listening to music. At one point I was sharing with one other stranger, but we just ignored each other, and it was very relaxing.

    3. Great idea. Scope out some area of the hotel or convention center area where you can do a recharging thing:

      -hotel gym/pool/hot tub if they have them and you enjoy those things
      -put in headphones and read a book/journal at the hotel bar/cafe/restaurant, or one near the convention center

      And if you can I HIGHLY suggest getting your own room.

      The last business trip I took was for a small startup that was, shall we say, not quite in sync with regular work culture. They wanted me to sleep on a bunk bed in the CEO’s guest bedroom, where the other two cofounders (both men, I’m a woman) were also staying D: I finally convinced them to spring for a hotel, which my boss whined about but finally accepted.

      IMO no one should be forced to share rooms on business trips. Anyone who thinks this is a reasonable thing has probably never dealt with any kind of mental or physical health issue that might make sharing a room less than ideal–and OP, your anxiety is just as real as someone needing to use an oxygen tank or have a wheelchair accessible room or any other issue.

      1. So, so agreed.

        A while back, I shared a hotel room with my then-research mentor. Some loud noise woke me up in the middle of the night. That loud noise was me – I was sleepwalking, tried to go out the door which I’d prudently thrown the chain on when I went to bed, and yelled through the crack down the hallway.

        At least she was amused; all three of her kids were sleepwalkers. I was a bit more embarrassed. Stress brings on the parasomnias, so no more room sharing and no rooms without chain locks. =)

        1. In case this hasn’t already been mentioned, Ask a Manager did a great answer to a question about sharing beds with coworkers. (http://www.askamanager.org/2016/06/i-had-to-share-a-bed-with-a-coworker-on-a-business-trip.html) I’m just worried that 4 people in 1 room for the OP means sharing a bed with a co-worker.

          Basically, it’s completely unprofessional and TOTALLY squicked me out. Like many of the commenters, I’d shared a bed before on trips with college friends, or people in the same club or Mary Kay conferences. For a job? Absolutely not, and I would 100% spring for a room on a credit card if need be. I need down time, and down time means alone time when you’re not “on”. I know they are on a budget, and maybe next time OP you could ask about building rooms

          of your own into the budget. BUT most real, professional organizations know that if they dont have then budget to send all the attendees with their own rooms to X event, then they need to pair down on who is going or else not go at all.

          One other final thing to note: Being forced to share a room also means potential liabilities of unintentional sharing of private health/medical information as in access to prescription bottles of your anxiety meds etc. This is one thing to consider if you decide to book your own room, you can say that you have some personal medical issues that you would prefer not to have to share in such an intimate setting (anxiety is REAL and having dealt with it myself, I feel where you are coming from OP!)

          1. Sharing a bed with someone who is essentially a stranger would be a deal killer for me. If I couldn’t get out of sharing a room (and I’d go into debt if needed), I’d sleep on the floor.

      2. In case this hasn’t already been mentioned, Ask a Manager did a great answer to a question about sharing beds with coworkers. (http://www.askamanager.org/2016/06/i-had-to-share-a-bed-with-a-coworker-on-a-business-trip.html) I’m just worried that 4 people in 1 room for the OP means sharing a bed with a co-worker.

        Basically, it’s completely unprofessional and TOTALLY squicked me out. Like many of the commenters, I’d shared a bed before on trips with college friends, or people in the same club or Mary Kay conferences. For a job? Absolutely not, and I would 100% spring for a room on a credit card if need be. I need down time, and down time means alone time when you’re not “on”. I know they are on a budget, and maybe next time OP you could ask about building rooms of your own into the budget. BUT most real, professional organizations know that if they dont have then budget to send all the attendees with their own rooms to X event, then they need to pair down on who is going or else not go at all.

        One other final thing to note: Being forced to share a room also means potential liabilities of unintentional sharing of private health/medical information as in access to prescription bottles of your anxiety meds etc. This is one thing to consider if you decide to book your own room, you can say that you have some personal medical issues that you would prefer not to have to share in such an intimate setting (anxiety is REAL and having dealt with it myself, I feel where you are coming from OP!)

        1. “Yes” to getting a separate room if possible, but “No” to referencing privacy issues, medical or otherwise. It can easily sound like you don’t trust your coworkers, or they may just pinkie-promise not to look.

        2. “you can say that you have some personal medical issues that you would prefer not to have to share in such an intimate setting (anxiety is REAL and having dealt with it myself, I feel where you are coming from OP!)”

          I was going to suggest the same thing. It’s hard to argue with medical needs and if the boss is generally kind and professional, she won’t ask for any specifics.

        3. I thought the same thing – I cannot fathom sharing a room with coworker (other than one coworker who after 3 years morphed into a bestie). Let alone 2- 3 coworkers I have barely spent any time with in person . . . FUCK THAT. I’d sooner sleep in a tent and I hate camping. But that’s just me and I am fanatic about alone time.

        4. After reading the room/bed sharing stuff, I could only think of one good response – learn to snore. Even if you can’t get out of the room sharing this time, if it comes up again, you should tell your (next) employer that due to a sinus problem, you snore loudly, get up frequently at night, and will undoubtedly keep everyone up all night. I’m guessing that this would get you a room to yourself.

          1. Warning people about my snoring has served me well in various travel with all-women social groups. I always get some distance! It even helped another member of one group, who was younger than most of us by a decade and being aggressively pushed by another into too-close friendship (non-sexual, I’m pretty sure). The sixteen of us were being divided up into groups of two by our host families (in another country), each of whom had volunteered a double room in their home. I mentioned my snoring, and the youngest quickly volunteered to be my roomie. Then she only had to deal with about 20 minutes of the aggressor trying to change her mind.

  5. As someone who goes to a lot of crowded “fun” conventions, I find one of the most important things to care for my introvert self is to allow myself to be alone in a room of people.

    It is ok to let your mind wander and relax for a few minutes while you’re sitting in conference rooms. Take some time, even in a full room, to ponder your current book or daydream about a place you’d rather be. It can help you feel refreshed when you need to come back and participate.

    Nobody will notice if you tune out for a few minutes, and even if you miss a bit of info, practicing this self-care can help you make it to the more important parts of your day like relationship-building with your coworkers. Good luck!

    1. This is awesome advice. I am a gregarious introvert with a job that involves a lot of travel and spending time in rooms full of people, and this is a technique that I’ve been using since I was a child, to great effect. I find it very helpful when I have to share a bedroom with people, also: just taking some time after the lights are off to go into my own head and re-establish my own (mental) space.

    2. Yes x1000! I’m fortunate to work for an introvert in a field that tends to draw them, but even still, conferences and room-sharing are tricky for me. Going to a breakout session, sitting in the back and doodling while half-listening can be really, really restorative for me.

  6. I did a lot of group travel/ room sharing for conferences in grad school. Some things I’ve done that helped me recharge:

    * Ask for a cot at check-in. Just having that little buffer of space that meant I didn’t have to get SUPER close to people helped me enormously. I have a tendency to thrash in my sleep, too, so potential bedmates were grateful and nobody thought it was weird.

    * Does the place you’re staying have a pool or a hot tub? Going there is an excellent way of getting some alone time and also some exercise to keep the anxiety away. The exercise room can work in a pinch, but I prefer the hot tub for relaxation and laziness reasons.

    * I definitely second the Captain’s eye mask/ ear plugs suggestion. Also, a personal reading light can be a godsend if you’re struck with travel insomnia.

    * Do you do some kind of crafty thing that can help to keep your hands busy while flying? I also hate to fly, but I find that knitting helps. It keeps me just enough busy without making me have to really concentrate. If you don’t craft, maybe one of those big crossword/word search books they sell at the supermarket would work? Something that makes you focus but doesn’t require a lot of brain power is ideal.

    1. Excellent suggestions!

      Please note – technically, knitting needles ARE allowed on planes, but some TSA agents will confiscate them, anyway, as being “too pointy.” Either bring cheap needles, or dull ones. Maybe plastic. Do not bring your Addi Turbo Lace needles. They are expensive and ver pointy, and you’ll miss them, very much. Circular needles have a better success rate of getting past TSA screeners than double-pointed needles, if my old knitting group’s anecdata is true. Denise sells some wonderful plastic circular needles that are a pleasure to use, and should not raise any red flags.

      Crochet is generally good, too, especially at a larger gauge. Again, it’s hard to argue with plastic hooks. Small gauge metal hooks, however, might be snagged by an extra-vigilant TSA agent who likes to go above and beyond the printed rules.

      Adult coloring books are becoming very popular, and no TSA agent is going to confiscate some twist-up coloring pencils. Markers and gel pens might not work so well in the air, and pencils that need sharpening could be problematic with the TSA, but twist-up pencils should cause no security problems, and do the job well enough for a few hours. Personally, I’d rather lose coloring than my crafting supplies, to that would be my go-to choice.

      Better to be safe than sorry, when it comes to the possibility of having the TSA take away your coping device. Even if they’re overstepping, fighting them for your posted rights just causes them to double-down, and that’s the last thing you need on a stressful business trip.

      1. I always bring cheap needles and a throwaway project (I’m big on dishcloths for this purpose), but I’ve never actually had a TSA agent challenge me about my needles–which I always stick through a big ball of yarn, like “here’s what these are for! Not weapons!” just in case.

        1. Most TSA agents won’t, but it only takes one twit to spoil your trip.

          Back when I went to a regular weekly knitting bee, several of the people shared their traveling experiences, and that they had lost their expensive needles (rosewood, in one case, and nickel-plated in another, and I think the third didn’t specify, just “my favorite needles”) because despite the fact that knitting needles ARE allowed, the TSA agent on the spot decided to confiscate them. A big discussion ensued on the weaponization of various forms of knitting paraphernalia. Fun, but only because none of us were traveling, at the time.

          One knitter thought that her particular agent was just really jealous of her lovely needles, and wanted to keep them. Maybe, maybe not. The point is, there are some jack-asses out there, who will spoil your trip, if you happen to meet them. That is the last thing that LW needs on this already stressful trip. If someone’s a jackass, it’s not her fault, of course.

          I now have some lovely plastic circular needles (Denise brand), and they are both great to use and inexpensive to lose. And, as Elizabeth says, you can’t drop one, unlike straight needles. When you’re cramped up tight, circular needles are the best! You can do big or small projects, in the round or back and forth, and you don’t even poke your neighbor with your long needles. I love my circular needles! And the Denise brand are actually adjustable, so you have one compact kit, with a whole variety of sizes, for changing gauge mid-project.

          Dishcloths and other “throwaway” projects are great for traveling, too. Cotton yarn, excellent for wash cloths, is cheap, and you don’t mind so much if it gets lost in the shuffle when you’re packing up to go back home. And they’re fun to use at the hotel.

          For some reason, tiny scissors are OK, but circular yarn cutters are on the banned list, because their blades are “exposed,” (not really, thus the quotes). Always check before you fly, and my advice is to take the cheaper option, in case you lose it.

          1. I tend to go with those $5 bamboo circulars from Walmart, for travel purposes. Cheap, easy to replace if they get confiscated, and probably a bit harder to argue that I could hurt someone with them. I’m not sure they even really show up on the scanner, since they’re wood.

      2. Circular needles are also unlikely to be challenged, and there is no reason you can’t knit back-and-forth on them. I actually prefer them for plane knitting, anyway, as I can’t drop one.

    2. seconded on busy hands-it makes such a difference to me at anxious crowded times to be able to pull out some knitting-it instantly makes my anxiety levels go down when my hands are employed, and it can be good for starting conversations.

    3. How do you knit in a plane if sharp objects like knitting needles are banned from flights since 9/11? I’m not casting doubts over the veracity of your words, I just got VERY curious about it.

      1. Knitting needles aren’t banned. Some TSA agents choose to ban them, and you have better luck with plastic or wood needles (and bigger needles) than you do with smaller metal ones, but they can be brought on planes.

        1. Also, technically scissors with blades less than 4 inches are allowed but those little circular thread cutting things aren’t, which feels very counterintuitive to me. Again though, to avoid the possibility of an overzealous TSA agent, kid’s safety scissors are a good option.
          On a side note, similar to what Christina mentioned about sticking them through a ball of yarn, my anecdata suggest TSA folks are much less worried about needles if they already have a project attached to them.
          (Fellow anxious flier/plane knitter here!)

          1. Another sure-fire thing that no TSA agent will confiscate is one of those little knitting dolls (it looks like a wooden or plastic doll, with 4 pegs on top of its head, and comes with a little plastic tool). I’ve also seen home-made versions, where you use an old wooden thread spool, four nails, and a small stick.

            Basically, you loop the yarn around the pegs, then loop again, and use the tool to lift the first loop up over the pegs, leaving the second loop behind. You can make long, narrow cords this way. It’s very zen (or boring, depending on your attitude ;-D) and is incredibly easy to learn, even if you’ve never knitted before.

            As to what to do with the cord, usually you just sew it onto clothes as a decoration, similar to piping, but you can also do other things with it. You can look online for tips on what to do with that kind of cord. I once found a whole book devoted to using up cords.

          2. For yarn/thread cutting – bring a pack of dental floss and use the floss cutter. Works a charm, and will never be challenged.

    4. Other hands-busy suggestions include:
      – Tangles! They’re so awesome and provide infinite motion and you can get brightly coloured ones (that the TSA can in no way mistake for a weapon) or more demure ones if you’re nervous about attracting attention at the conference. I have a small-sized fuzzy one that I keep on me at all times when I’m bouncing bars and no one’s noticed I use it after a year.
      – Putty! Silly Putty is usually the cheapest choice, but my favourite is magnetic putty. Many stores have rebranded Silly Putty as “Thinking Putty” to appeal to “professional” “adults”. You can fidget with it or sculpt things on your lap-tray.
      – Cross stitch! Plastic canvas and plastic needles for best plane results, but if your metal needle is blunt enough you may be able to get away with it. I logged a ridiculous amount of hours in cars last year cross-stitching Minecraft sculptures (benefit of plastic canvas: you can make 3D objects).

      1. I tuck my metal needles down the spine and edges of my wallet, not had an issue with it yet

    5. Personal reading lights are awesome! I strongly recommend getting one with a red or dark amber light, as this color of light has less of a tendency to wake people up, or to keep you feeling wakeful when you’re trying to get sleepy. Which is important if you’re sleeping alone, but especially if you’re sharing a room!

      1. Huh, not sure how this comment got where it is — I intended it as a reply to Christina Rothenbeck’s comment below. Seems like this happens to me about half the time when I try to post comments on this blog… :-/

    6. Another great option for insomnia is sleeping headphones – they’re built into a headband so they don’t poke your ears. You can listen to a relaxing podcast* or your favorite tv show without bothering your suite mates.

      * I’m fond of Sleep With Me, which is stories that are just interesting enough to mildly keep your attention but boring enough that you don’t get too engaged. I’ve never listened to an episode all the way through. 🙂

  7. Since you mentioned you don’t know how your current boss feels about your work, that in itself (and the fact that she’s gone to trouble to arrange for you to come on a development trip) is probably a sign that she likes it and you fine – she’d be more critical/ involved in your work if she had concerns she needed to flag up. I get into the trap of worrying a lot about what other people think of me, but if you can hold onto the fact that most people’s default position is liking other people, and that your colleagues don’t want you to fail, it might help. Good luck!

    1. Yes, this! I think your current boss likes your work– otherwise she wouldn’t have worked so hard to get this trip organized for all of you! Best of luck.

  8. I did a lot of group travel/ room sharing for conferences in grad school. Some things I’ve done that helped me recharge:

    * Ask for a cot at check-in. Just having that little buffer of space that meant I didn’t have to get SUPER close to people helped me enormously. I have a tendency to thrash in my sleep, too, so potential bedmates were grateful and nobody thought it was weird.

    * Does the place you’re staying have a pool or a hot tub? Going there is an excellent way of getting some alone time and also some exercise to keep the anxiety away. The exercise room can work in a pinch, but I prefer the hot tub for relaxation and laziness reasons.

    * I definitely second the Captain’s eye mask/ ear plugs suggestion. Also, a personal reading light can be a godsend if you’re struck with travel insomnia.

    * Do you do some kind of crafty thing that can help to keep your hands busy while flying? I also hate to fly, but I find that knitting helps. It keeps me just enough busy without making me have to really concentrate. If you don’t craft, maybe one of those big crossword/word search books they sell at the supermarket would work?

  9. In the past, if we’ve been able to get a suite, I’d volunteer to sleep on the sofabed, usually in another room, so I could get some alone time.

    I’m super socially awkward, so I’m also pleased to tell you my fool proof strategy for talking to people at lunch or other functions: Find a table with some people already talking to each other, especially if you can see that they aren’t from the same company (key sign that they may be conference buds!). You sit down, say hi, then they start asking you questions (where do you work? what do you do?) and you can ask them back and then the conversation flows. If you can choose sessions, if there’s someone you recognize from every session (indicates similar interests/job/level of seniority), maybe find them and employ this strategy. This is how you make conference buds. There are a few people whose names I could not tell you who I see at all the conferences I attend every year. And we chat, even though we’re super awkward, and occasionally get dinner and it’s great. Even if we only know where each other works and vaguely what we do and absolutely forget each others names….

    Lastly, if this is a long conference, give yourself permission to have room service once every five or so days. I know Cap talked about small group dinners, and that’s DEFINITELY recommended. However, the conferences I attend usually don’t have dinner included, so every night is a small group dinner. If that gets to be too much, be honest with them and yourself and get take out or room service (and maybe the day you fly in? room service can be expensive, but dear god is it a lifesaver when you’ve been on edge all day)

  10. I second throwing money at this problem if you can, by the way–I have a work conference in October, and I’m going for the “early pre conference day” to help do registration or whatever, but also so I can get acclimated to the time change before the meat of the conference starts, because I get absolutely awful jet lag complete with terrible sleep disturbance (and I usually can’t sleep on planes). If you can afford the difference for a private room, or to fly early, really consider doing it–your sleep needs aren’t a personal quirk, they’re a physiological necessity. I always find as well that if my room is a place where I can be chill and recharge, I am less likely to get overstimulated at the conference activities because I know that when I walk into my hotel room, I am going to be able to relax.

    I am an extrovert, and I love going to conferences, but even extroverts need time to process their experiences and recharge from being “on” in the way that you have to do at a professional conference.

    I hope your conference goes well!

    1. Also, check with the conference organizing page, it’s possible they get a special room rate. Even if your company isn’t willing to pay it, you might be.

  11. If there is any set-up to do beforehand, perhaps you can volunteer to take care of that, if it means arriving on-site a day early? Maybe do some research and find something you can do there to justify going a day early? Even a half-day early? That would give you a few hours of recuperation time, before you have to bond.

    Another thing to look into is self-hypnosis. It probably won’t work wonders, but it can be a way to do some quick soothing, as well as to prime you for the event. Or, you might ask your mental health pro about hypnotizing you in advance to set you up with some trigger words you can use to get you into a soothing state, as needed. My Dad used to hypnotize himself and others, and sometimes it came in quite useful. But it doesn’t work on everyone. Lots of people cannot be hypnotized, at all. So, your mileage may vary. However, when it worked for him, he was able to take a fifteen minute “nap,” and wake up as refreshed as if he’d slept for a full 8 hours. I was jealous, because I couldn’t be hypnotized. Anyway, check that out in advance, because it might be useful. Your mental health pro should be able to tell you about it, and possibly do it or recommend someone to you.

    Also, remember the value of bathroom breaks. Even just a short two or three minute retreat to the bathroom can be an introvert’s best friend. You don’t even have to actually use the toilet. Just go in the stall, and do some quick calming exercises. Maybe visualize washing the stressors away, as you wash your hands, afterward.

    Good luck on your trip, and I hope it leads to great success!

    1. Yes to self-hypnosis! There are many apps for this. As I tell my anxiety-prone students, fiddling with a cell phone is totally private. Everyone does it. No one needs to know that you’re not texting or enjoying a great song, you’re breathing with an app.

      So some of these are good even if you’re with people. You can say, “Excuse me, I’m going to take a few minutes to check my email.” Just not too often or it could seem unprofessional or asocial.

      *If I weren’t using a phone to type this, I would rearrange the paragraphs! So I will number them. *

      3. Sleep. I use one for Android called “Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson”. His lovely calm Scottish voice is so soothing I rarely stay awake to the end. This app and others have different settings so you can end with a gradual wakeup (for a nap or brief mental vacation) or not (to stay asleep). Instead of earbuds in bed, I like Sleep Phones (“Pajamas for your Ears”), a flannel headband with soft speakers sewn in.

      2. Relaxation. Other sleep or relaxation apps include loops of white noise or gentle nature sounds, some with embedded deep tones meant to prompt calmer brainwaves. I don’t vouch for the scientific evidence, but they are available for free and have helped me relax.

      1. Immediate calming. Yet another free calming app was developed for U.S. veterans. “Breathe2Relax” (B2R) helps you regulate your own breathing pace to reduce anxiety on the spot. After an initial learning curve of maybe 30 minutes, you can have it preset for your own preferred rate and get it going very simply and intuitively.

      As other Awkwardeers have said, start using such apps at home for best results. Good luck!

      1. Thanks for the mention of sleep phones… I can’t tolerate in-ear headphones. Plus they do a runners version which hubby might like. Our dog is obsessed with his ear buds and hopefully these wouldn’t be so much fun to chew (or so easily stolen).


      2. I have serious insomnia in the form of difficulty falling asleep at night, and the very best thing I know for it is the right audiobook. I love the Harry Potter books read by Jim Dale — his voice is so soothing, and the way he reads is so slow and steady and calm. The elderly-English-dude accent helps too; he sounds like someone’s pleasant, retired Dad.

    2. Oh yes! I’ve recently been exposed to hypnosis and as I’m lucky enough that it works on me, I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s so relaxing and although it works better for me if someone else hypnotizes me, I can self trance well enough to really relax myself. Now I just have to learn how to extend that into falling asleep!

  12. When traveling for professional reasons, having the schedule available ahead of time means that you can familiarize yourself with it. Once you have done that, you will be better able to take small chunks of time to yourself. When I traveled recently for grad school interviews, I was able to be the first one to arrive at the room where the next presentation was, which gave me several minutes to quietly sit and drink my coffee before anyone else got there. Even in the middle of the day, you may be able to carve out several small periods of time where you can be alone between the events where you need to mingle and socialize. Altogether, I’ve found that these small breaks can be very helpful to stave off anxiety. Good luck!

  13. I travel a lot with colleagues and once a year (or more if I am lucky – not) get to attend corporate retreats. I too am introverted, dislike crowds, and need lots of sleep.

    I suggest taking the day off before you go on the conference – or as the Captain and others have pointed out, see if you can go a day early. This will let you bank some alone time to get prepared for the conference. Or take the day off after you get home with the excuse that you need to do laundry, take care of things at home, etc., and use this time to recharge.

    Always follow your bed time. The scripts that Captain had for this are great. No one will slight you for it and they are probably envious that you have the guts to stand up for you and go to bed. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from hung-over colleagues the next morning that I was the smart one for going to bed early. Do the same. Get your sleep. BTW, if you can sleep with earbuds in, I recommend doing that with a white noise app running.

    Take full advantage of the cellphone and email breaks they give you to get outside! Grab your cell, pretend you have lots of email and slip away. Even if it just to the parking lot, some sunshine and fresh air (plus the five minutes alone) will do you good. Plus I am sure you will notice a lot of other people doing the same thing.

    The advice on getting alone time by going to the bathroom (or saying you have to go and then heading outside or just for a walk around the corridors) is great. The person who posted that is so right. No one will say anything about a trip to the bathroom.

    The advice from aaq above is great and is fool-proof. I use that table strategy and conversation strategy at every conference.

    Above all, remember that people are so usually focused on themselves and what they are doing that they will not notice what you are doing. So do not be afraid to be your introverted self.

    Finally, finally, stay hydrated. I always get dehydrated when I travel and I find I fare much better if I remember to stay hydrated!

  14. Another great excuse for a little alone time in the room is work. If you have to send e-mails, catch up on reports, or other things, spending coffee breaks or the hour after the conference ends but before dinner, is great. And if you’re working a little slower than you would in the office, well that happens. (Only downside of going with your boss is they will def. know if you are sandbagging how much work you need to do. I pretty much always act a little busy so I can hide in my room or leave cocktail parties early.)

    It also might help to prioritize what you’re going to get out of this conference. First of all, you’re going to learn some new skills. That’s super important and honestly, prioritizing that will impress your boss with your diligence even if it doesn’t make you BFFs.

    Second, you’re going to spend time with your co workers. That doesn’t have to be ALL the time. I think even someone who identified as an extrovert is going to be about done with people after enough time with all these people. Try to focus on getting quality time, small group lunches/dinners, if they decide to go on any fun adventures. But if they are just all sitting around the room or the lounge that is a good time to excuse yourself to take a walk, or go catch pokemon, or whatever.

    I would not prioritize a lot of networking with other people from other companies. It sounds like this is a training event. So unless you just hit it off with someone in the coffee line, I wouldn’t make this a big focus for you. Be friendly, but It’s also okay to look quiet and busy.

    I guess my big concerns are more about your long term work situation than this trip. Does your team have regular phone calls where you all talk? Do you get one on one time with your boss? The conference might be a great time to bring up scheduling more frequent check ins, even though they are over the phone.

    You feeling disconnected from the rest of your team is a fixable long term problem, you just all need to make a bit more of an effort to connect. Letting your boss know you’d like more feedback, and more touch points is a very reasonable request. And it’s something you could start now before the conference, to possibly make the few days you get to spend together more fun, instead of awkward.

    But also keep in mind, you don’t have to be close to be an effective team.

    1. I read your reply while the devil on my shoulder nudged me to confess. I am both fascinated by and have a deep knowledge of the technical areas of my work- which I like to try and hide in, imagining I can avoid negotiating relationships. What this has looked like is that I’ve overperformed, hit a crisis, then having had no allies, blew up- and no one missed me once I was fired. This happened several times, costing me money and reputation. I have done a lot of work on myself since then, learning to manage my state. Chiming in on the self hypnosis being wondrous.

      With the fact of the co-worker’s sister coming, this event does have a social tinge. I want to offer up suggesting that, with your own team, you consider learning a couple details about these people-less, sick children or divorce and more, favorite volunteer project or plans to adopt a rescue pet. Something that you authentically enjoy, too. Then when you’re waiting together for the leader to start the conference call, you can chat lightly. Baby steps to support you.

  15. I don’t know if this is helpful, but sharing a hotel room between 4 people just plain sucks, even for extroverts. It is totally OK to feel uncomfortable, and your coworkers probably sympathize with discomfort and awkwardness. Chances are they’ll also be looking for ways to take care of themselves during the trip. As long as you don’t disappear for long stretches of time (“has anyone seen Terrified since yesterday morning?”) they might enjoy the opportunity to have their own space, too.

    I remember one work trip all it took was one person to say “You guys do breakfast without me tomorrow – I just need a half hour alone with my coffee, and I’ll meet up with you after.” Everyone else was chiming in with relief that they would also do breakfast by themselves, what a great idea 🙂 There might be a couple people who prefer company, but overall travelling with people is stressful under any circumstance.

    Maybe it depends on your industry, but in mine it’s very, very unusual to ask more than 2 people to share a hotel room, and even then many companies try to avoid making employees share rooms at all when traveling for the business. It can make you feel like you’re working/”on” 24/7, which isn’t good for most people’s mental health. So you are not alone!

    1. By the third day of my open source crew’s last tech conference, our Fearless Leader said: “Who’s down for introvert lunch, where we go to the diner, sit at the counter, and nobody talks to each other because we’re all reading our phones?”

      All five of us were.

    2. Agreed – I travel A LOT for work, and while I’ve had to share a hotel room once or twice when we got stuck because of weather, our company really avoids making employees share sleeping rooms, and asking FOUR people to share a room is, IMHO, really unprofessional. I am giving a LOT of side-eye to a boss who thinks sleeping four to a room on a business trip is ok.

      1. Its horrible. But LW shared the glee that their boss felt at even managing to get this group to this conference. I got that its a new thing. Maybe if its found to be successful, they’ll be in a position to go, “Great conference, but, wow, we will need a different room solution, amirite?” Maybe it’ll become one of those war stories told for a laugh in the office.

        1. Definitely, and the LW didn’t write in asking for ways to ask for her own room or to turn down the trip, so it sounds like the four to a room is just a thing that is happening. Personally if I were the boss I’d be trying like hell to get something like a shared house AirBnB or some other option, but it sounds like that ship has sailed.

          1. The boss will be a veteran after this trip. I posted downthread about seeing if a free upgrade to a suite might not be available on check-in or the next morning.

            If LW wanted to quietly enquire, I suggest going down to the lobby desk for this, rather than doing it on the phone. Sheepishly admit your group are new to this, and remember to tell this Guest Relations person all the things you like about the hotel. Ask to enroll in their (Business) Rewards Program, which may bring comps or upgrades to you just in signing up.

          2. This is my last PS, but I keep thinking of things- for anyone having to expnse something like this, do check your credit card perks. (AAA?) They might offer room upgrades.

    3. Yeah, I cannot think of a single person I know who would enjoy spending a few days 4 person to a room. Even the most introverted person I know. (Okay, maybe some teenagers? But no adults.)

  16. As someone with absolutely awful anxiety, who has been in a situation of Gigantic Convention And I’m Claustrophobic Oh My God What Do I Do (capitals totally necessary), I am totally nth-ing the suggestions to make sure you have some alone time to recharge and to be positive you get all the sleep you need. Those are actually the things I did – it helped that the friend-slash-internet-sibling I was staying with knew about my quirks and was more than alright with me ducking back into the room every so often to destress – and I came through it not only just fine, but I enjoyed myself so much I literally cried when I had to go back home.

    (Not my finest moment, but I digress.)

    If it works for someone whom severe anxiety has been known to send into a seizure, it’ll most likely work for you too. Good luck LW – you got this.

  17. I like to scope out independent coffee shops and fancy doughnut places that are a few blocks away from the hotel. Instead of grabbing a Starbucks in the lobby you 1) get to take a walk outside alone with your nametag off, 2) remember that the rest of the world still exists, 3) might just get a better cup of coffe, 4) get to be a rockstar when you return to the group with a dozen wacky doughnuts.

    Also, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be “rude.” I can put my head down and look at my phone and shut out the world for a few minutes. Just because someone else wants my attention doesn’t mean I have to give it to them.

  18. Tip from someone who works in a pharmacy in the USA! Not sure where LW is based.

    If any of your anti-anxiety meds are a controlled substance and you end up with an increased dose and/or need to fill it early, make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to fill them. Because of laws a pharmacy can’t fill a prescription early without Doctor approval, and a new prescription doesn’t count as that. So try to get all that dealt with at least a few days before your trip!

  19. I had just this problem this past winter. I took small breaks alone in my room when I could. When I got back, I spoke to my psychiatrist about the problems I had, and he gave me a script for a much stronger anti-anxiety med to take as-needed during the next trip. It’s habit-forming, but he says that using it daily for less than a week, like I need it for these situations, is fine.

    If your psych can help you out like this, it might be a lifesaver. I wish I had gone to mine BEFORE my trip, for sure, but at least I’m prepared for next time.

  20. Earplugs are THE GREATEST and not just for during sleep. I always carry mine while traveling. Five minutes of sitting in the airport with earplugs in to block out the stimulation helps me recharge between a cab ride and the security line, for example. You can use them while you’re on your bathroom breaks – hopefully it will be quiet in the bathrooms anyway, but a minute of extra extreme quiet while you’re safely locked in a stall can be awesome.

    Also, if it’s the kind of conference where there are a bunch of different sessions in different sized rooms, there’s often at least one room not being used for any given slot. Those should be nice quiet spaces and easier to get to than going back to your hotel room between sessions. Write them down on the official schedule you’re using so you know what your escape options are during the day.

  21. Goodness, I know different industries work differently but if a company does not enough money for everyone to have their hotel room, and they do not have enough money for the trip. It is incredibly unprofessional to ask your employees to share bedrooms and opens the company up to all sorts of potential problems and liabilities.

    I wear this doesn’t help the LW but if any other readers are managers, please, please never do this. There’s a reason it is completely unheard of in corporate environments.

    1. It’s pretty standard in academic ones, alas, even for those of us who aren’t faculty or students. Luckily, for my conference in October, my coworker who’s going is bringing her family, and they can’t very well ask me to share a room with all of them! 😀

    2. It is super-common in academia. I was usually my school’s go-to person to send to conferences (there were only three full-time people in our department, and two were Notoriously Difficult), and the only time I had a room alone was when I was the only woman in the group.

    3. I work in an industry where sharing rooms is common, sometimes even sharing with employees of competitor companies. The primary reason is cost — many companies in my industry operate on shoestring budgets and have to stretch their resources thin even to attend these conventions — but also because the larger conventions overwhelm hotel space; frequently, there just aren’t enough rooms to be had.

      I’m fortunate that I am senior enough in my company to say “No, I need my own room” and have it stick a lot of the time (I’m often “on” for 12 or more hours at a time at major shows and the owner is paranoid about employees bringing back the next superbug, so “I need a private room or I won’t get any rest” is a compelling argument), but when we take a dozen or more people to a show, getting that many unique rooms would be ruinous.

  22. If you are totally lacking alone time, consider finding a nearby coffee shop to take yourself to in the morning or between sessions–just a little breather from the schedule and other people with a “reason” like “I just prefer this espresso to the conference coffee!” (or whatever applies) can be really pleasant and, for the other people you’re with, totally understandable. I was recently at an 8-day event, rooming with a stranger, and the solo coffee detour was often the most peaceful part of my day. You might also take yourself in walks or jogs for alone time, especially in the morning when other people are unlikely to ask to join you (and if they do ask, say you like to run alone/talk to your mom while you walk/no thanks!). Good luck!

  23. Fellow anxiety sufferer and conference goer/work traveler here! I’m getting ready to go to another one in a few days (definitely not avoiding practicing a presentation right now *cough*). Echoing some of the tips everyone else has said:

    – It’s okay to take a break and skip sessions to recharge. Take a walk outside the conference area.
    – I also need my sleep and those script lines are exactly what I use. “I’ve had a long day, I’ll catch up with you in the morning”
    – Have a 30 second pitch for what you do helps for introductions. (“Hi, I work on blah blah blah”).
    – If there are evening events that rely on shared transportation, have a plan for getting back earlier than everyone if needed.
    – For breaking the ice and meeting new people, I like to find a group that has at least one person I know and join that. This may work better after the first day.
    – My current team is also remote. When I joined my teammates had also known each other for much longer (I was the first new person in 5 years!). Having them share stories about the team before I came was a nice bonding experience and gave some good starting conversation about the direction the team was going.
    – Be direct with what you need when sharing a room, if you are traveling with good people they can usually handle it. Ask about bed times and wake up times and turning on lights.

    I don’t take medicine for flying as my anxiety tends to be about travel in general and not flying. Things that help me when traveling by plane
    – Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and get to your gate.
    – Research the airports you are going to be at. Knowing what is there makes me feel better (“I know what’s going to happen!”)
    – Bring a snack with you on the plane, especially if the flight is cross country. Listen to your body more closely than normal. Hunger on airplanes quickly turns into “can’t deal” for me.
    – Let yourself have a ‘treat’ at the airport. This is something you may not normally buy but is something that you can look forward to. I like to buy travel magazines with pretty pictures.
    – If you have a lot of down time at the airport, look for empty gates before going to yours. These are often quieter than busy waiting gates.
    – Noise cancelling headphones are amazing! They also serve as a nice “don’t talk to me” signal.
    – Bring a notebook and pen. Being able to doodle or just right whatever comes into my head relaxes me.

    Best of luck! Remember to listen to yourself and check in with yourself more often than you might at home.

    1. Seconding the airline tips! I have a peculiar set of travel-related anxieties (Flying? Totes fine! Catching a cab to an unfamiliar hotel? Cat-approaching-full-bathtub levels of panic). Researching a bit about the airport, knowing the layout of things like baggage claim and taxi stands, and paying very close attention to your basic needs can help remove the things that might amplify your anxiety and make it simpler to cope with the demands of socializing.

      And, if there’s any particular thing that’s looming – a big dinner, a presentation, or something similar, try to build in a special reward for yourself. As I said, I hate strange vehicles and unknown destinations, so I buy an interesting book at the airport, and give it to myself when I make it to the hotel, as thank you to my brain for letting me doing the hard, scary thing.

      1. I’m exactly the same – I have absolutely zero fear of being on a plane when it’s in the air, but once I hit the ground and I’m responsible for getting myself around my breath starts getting way faster. I’m even prone to anxiety when booking plane tickets.

  24. I’ve had people mock me because I need 10 hours of sleep or I am non-functional. Physically sick to my stomach, headache, the works. I just take my little black sleep mask and go to bed early. I have since I was a small child. My parents never had to drag me to bed. I got tired. I went to bed. I can’t use ear plugs due to chronic ear infections but I’m not beyond wrapping a pillow around my head. I am a very extroverted very social person but I have anxiety attacks and get tired. I envy the people who can function on six hours of bad sleep but I am not one of them. I also don’t like sharing a room because I snore and have to get up and pee a lot. I always try to get one of my own.

  25. RE: earplugs–YES! But don’t get the rubber ones–they are awful. Get the silicone ones–Mack’s is a good brand but there are also store brands. Good luck and report back!

      1. Yes, I was just coming in to say that the wax ones are the way to go. I cannot wear either the silicone or rubber ones as they hurt like hell, but the wax ones are comfy, clean and don’t fall out. I’ve recommended them to friends who also cannot abide earplugs, and they love them. Also a nice big of built-in stress relief because you have to warm them up by squishing them a bit first. 🙂

  26. Keep a tally of every stranger you have a short conversation with (extra points if you initiate), every meal that you eat with people (including your co-workers), and every time you say yes to an activity. The numbers don’t actually matter (so please don’t let this become an additional stressor!). It’s more like trophies to hold up. “Wow, it’s only 10 am and I’ve already talked to four random people today. I deserve to take an extra long refreshment break.” “I’ve chatted with my neighbor for three sessions in a row! I’m allowed to hide near the back and study a pamphlet at the next session so no one talks to me.” “If I ask that vendor a question about their product, I’m allowed to take a pen and a stress ball from their booth!” When I’m at conferences, I struggle with feeling guilty for not networking more, so it’s helpful for me to see how many people I actually did speak to in a day. For a shy, introvert, I try to feel impressed and compliment myself for having any interaction with strangers (or coworkers in this case, since you don’t know them well. They count too!)

    1. This is fantastic! I’m an introvert currently at a work conference and I’m totally awarding myself XP from now on.

      Most of my strategies have already been mentioned. But I’d add:

      – Request a roll-away in your room if you’ll have to share a bed. You need your personal space.

      – Take a long evening shower if you can manage it. Even better, upgrade it to a bath and you’ll carve out some alone time.

      – Talk to the convention services. Many now have specifically designated quiet spaces during the day.

      – Bring comfort items with you. Comfortable or favorite things to wear, the extra-good smelling lotion or shampoo, delicious snacks, etc. (When I travel, I treat myself to the more expensive snacks I can’t justify buying at home and buy new extra-nice comfy socks to wear in the room.) Pampering yourself a little where you can helps balance out the difficult parts a bit.

      – Go for a walk, preferably somewhere green if possible. A park, a pretty campus, a river boardwalk, someplace where you can get a bit of air, exercise, and time alone. Tonight I walked around the nearby university campus then down the street to a cool bookstore. It helped bring my shoulders down from around my ears after 10 hours of intensive work training and social interaction. (Also a possible group suggestion – I’m not sure why, but walking and talking is usually less stressful for me than other kinds of social interaction.)

  27. I agree with the paying for your own room suggestion. If you feel you’d be more effective that way, it’s worth a bit of extra money.

  28. LW, I’m a fellow white-knuckle flyer and before a trip I get get a prescription for some strong stuff for use only when I fly. If you’re lucky, you’ll get something that also makes you drowsy so maybe you can actually sleep a little.

    But I’ve been able to not take drugs for the last several years by practicing two forms of meditation, one of which is Sudoku. Honest! It causes the right side of my brain to take over completely, so I am almost literally incapable of thinking of anything else, much less get emotional about it. When right brain needs a break or weasel brain starts acting up, I practice mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes, then back to puzzle solving..

    Alternating between puzzle solving and meditation allows me to fly nonmedicated without freaking out. And knowing that I’ve got my trusty drugs as a back up helps.

    If there is a puzzle that your brain obsesses on you can use it to keep your brain occupied during the flight.

    Puzzling might also help keep things together during the conference. When I’m so stressed out I can’t think straight, I do Sudoku and it drives out emotions and gets my brain processing again, so I can go back to wherever I was on an even keel.

    Good luck with your trip. I hope you have a great time.

    1. I second a recommendation of dedicated strong drugs for flying and Sudoku (or in my case the crossword). I can’t sleep on any transport, became scared of flying, and found that trying an anti-anxiety prescription did nothing for me on planes. What *did* work when I had to take night flights was asking the doctor specifically for sleeping pills that would knock me out and ensure I got some sleep. My doctor gave me a very small number of sleeping tablets for this specific issue, and it worked like a charm.

      The unexpected bonus was that the seriously strong sleeping tablets also worked in a way that allowed my brain to reset its attitude to flying and start to get over its fear and now I don’t need stuff when I fly in general, only if I’m going to have to sleep.

      There is one caveat when flying with drugs: always check that they are legal in the country you are going to and that you have the appropriate documentation if they are at all restricted, such as a copy of the prescription and any form you need to complete in advance to import them.

      1. Here’s my trick when I need to distract myself from something: I pick out a Wikipedia article on a topic I find interesting, and choose a version of the article that’s written in a language that I kinda-sorta know but in which I’m not fluent. Then I open up an online dictionary of that language (wordreference.com is great and has lots of languages) and I read through the Wikipedia article sentence by sentence, looking up each new word and idiom I come to. I get to learn something interesting about the Spanish Civil War or sea slugs or whatever, and at the same time I get to improve my command of a foreign language. It’s the nerdiest thing in the world and it’s usually too engrossing to leave room for me to dwell on whatever scary or stressful thing is going on.

  29. You should not go. Seriously. Way too much and I think it is totally unacceptable you all have to share a room. I would rather lose my job then deal with that hell.

  30. If you do share a room, you can get some quiet recharging time by being like “Okay, I’m getting ready for bed now”, then spending some time under the covers listening to music, reading, etc. This is legit “winding down” time.

    In terms of the team building, this is actually going to be pretty straightforward. Do some things with the team, such as going to the same sessions and having some meals together. If an outing is proposed, go on it. Show obvious attention when chatting with your team and volunteer things about yourself (“I just love music and going for walks on the beach!” kind of things) and boom, done. Team building is a two way process and your team will be on board so it honestly will not be overly complicated.

    On-the-spot self care: focus on your breathing, and slow it down. Calm, deliberate breaths. Tense your muslces and then relax, from your toes up to your head. It’s pretty unnoticable. You can also rub your wrist in a soothing touch.
    Other self care – make sure you eat well (regular meals, maybe some additional snacks, nice hot drinks that you like, not too much caffeine or alcohol, drink enough water). Sleep wise, try to start out well rested, and then in the hotel just say “I’m going to turn in, I want to be well rested for tomorrow” rather than feeling obligated to stay up and watch TV with the rest of the group. That’s fine. However

  31. LW: I am an introvert who has anxiety tasmanian devils, who travels to conferences or conventions a few times a year, and who doesn’t have a lot of extra cash to throw around. Here are some things I do to ensure I have a good time–and even fun!–while ensuring I am comfortable and can be a better version of my self:

    — I ask my psychiatrist for a short-term bridging prescription in case of break-through symptoms and/or in case I need a little help falling and staying asleep. While I don’t need quite as much sleep as you, if I borrow against my sleep needs too much, I tend to be squinty and cranky.

    — If you don’t have physical sensory sensitivity, I definitely recommend an eye mask and ear plugs. I am light sensitive, can be a light sleeper, tend to be more of a morning person and these things can be very useful when sharing sleeping space with folks who have different rhythms than I.

    — Does the conference publish their schedule in some form? If so, find the top thing you want to do each day. I know this gives me something to look forward to–or something I can count down to if I’m having a more difficult time.

    — This also gives me permission to check out if I need to save my spoons for what I want to do.

    — P.S. It is totally okay if what you want to do at the conference is different than what they others want to do. “Okay then, I will see you at meal/during the break/at the room. Look forward to hearing about your experience!”

    — This also will give you an ice breaker or something to talk about when you meet up with your boss & colleagues at a later time.

    — Make sure you have a room card, so if you need to escape, change, or find yourself in the need of a nap during the day, you have the option.

    — I will nth the recommendation to search out quiet spaces at or near the convention space. This can be a quiet nook, a stairwell, a bathroom, a patio, a nearby coffee shop or low-key restaurant, or the venue’s gym if they have one. I have also found a table at the periphery of the hotel bar to be good; I can order a beverage and sip on it slowly between sessions and with something else to occupy my mind.

    — And even if the location doesn’t have a gym, it is okay to walk around the building. Heck, it is totally okay to explore nearby if you are up to it.

    — If you are of the crafty variety, there is something to be said about sitting at the back of a conference room with something to keep my hands occupied–that isn’t a keyboard.

    — If you can and are willing, I suggest broaching the subject of having a set time everyone gets together to talk about what they did or found interesting during the conference. You could even frame it as, “Boss, wouldn’t it be cool if we did breakfast/coffee/other meal/break time together so we can share what we have learned/found interesting/found touching during the conference?”

    — This might have the added bonus of showing some leadership with boss, while setting some participation expectations and boundaries.

    — P.S. I’m all about finding third options or dual duty or win-win situations.

    — The beauty of conferences is it makes breaking the ice or meeting new people easier, because the commonality gives everyone a base line, no matter where they come from.

    — The beauty of conferences is, I–as an introvert–can “peace out” of a conversation or making small talk by encouraging others to talk about themselves, while I listen.

    — Have a pill box and spend some time finding where the water fountains are. Sometimes, needing to take “my vitamins” to step away for a moment, gives me an exit. If there aren’t any, figure out if you can get a cup of ice water nearby.

    — Having something comfy and/or soft that I bring with me. I have a couple of sets of comfy pajamas and a set of silly slippers (if I have room for the latter) I bring with me. Bonus: If I’m in my “lounge wear” and I find that I need to leave the room for ice or to get something from the vending machine, my slippers are an instant ice-breaker in case I run into others in the hallway.

    LW: You’ve got this. I am totally cheering you on from the sidelines and I hope that you report back!

  32. LW, I hope this reaches you in time. If you do have to share a room, these can be a lifesaver; they’re comfortable enough that almost anyone can wear them to bed and you’ll be able to listen to music or Audible or white noise or whatever you need to block out the world.

    (Not a shill, just a satisfied customer!)

    1. Totally came here to make the exact same recommendation. I love mine. They helped me sleep AT work, a noisy 4 story building, when I was working doubles and triples, and had to grab naps under desks at random times.

    2. I know this is a little off-topic, but thank you for that link! I’ve been looking for headphones I can sleep in for ages, and these look perfect.

  33. A few little tricks that have helped me. Healthy snack foods like granola bars in my purse. So I can skip breakfast and get that little bit of extra sleep. Dry shampoo, so I can not only get extra sleep by skipping a shower, but also not having to manuevre shower time with 3 other people. Going to the dinners etc, but leaving before desert so I can have some alone time in the room. And be happy with who you are and knowing what you need. If you are happy with yourself, it makes is easier on those around you. I had a wonderful roommate on a trip once, that announced all her idiosyncrasies and how she dealt with them, but she did it in such an accepting way. I still smile when I think of her to this day. She had germ issues, and cleaned our hotel bathroom before she could use it. My attitude is “emy race your oddities” so that you can learn to live life and be as comfortable as possible.

  34. I wanted to second the idea to find a Quiet Place to go if you can. My personal havens are either churches/chapels/meditation rooms (since often they have a space that is deliberately for people to have quiet alone time, and my experience is that they will welcome visitors who are polite [although some churches will be closed during the week]) or libraries, because they also tend to be quiet and have a space where you can go grab a book and be by yourself. You can also look around in the area of the conference and see if there’s any public space that seems like it would be quiet (and maybe interesting).

    When I have gone to conferences in the past, I have sometimes chosen to take a break from one of the sessions and just go back to my room/outside for a walk/someplace where I can be alone. Since everyone else is at the session, it’s easier to find the space to be alone. YMMV because I’m not sure if you’re required to be at all of the sessions, but if you can choose one to skip (maybe a day or two in, when you know you’ll be needing it), that can help. I also make a point of going on walks whenever we have a break; this is partly because I get fidgety sitting that long, but also partly because the fresh air helps. Set a timer on your phone or watch if you think you might lose track of time, and then you can ignore time constraints.

    I would also say that in the past I have let people know up-front that I’m an introvert, and when I need a break I go off in a corner, face the wall, and pull out a book, and ignore everyone for awhile. If you’ve explained it up-front, people are usually understanding, although you can feel them out first beforehand.

    I also like to set a goal for myself beforehand. For example, a place where I do Preferred Activity has a guest event roughly once a month where us oldies are expected to mingle with and welcome the guests. I try to set myself a goal, which is usually to interact with 1-3 guests over the course of the evening. The rest of the night I’m free to hang out with people I know and ignore the new people (unless of course they come up to talk to me [although if I don’t have my 1-3 guests in, that totally counts even if they initiated it!]). Some nights my reaction might be, “I will not run screaming from the room even though there are all these NEW people here, and I will look pleasant if they come up to me.” And that’s okay. Once a month gives me plenty of chance to practice welcoming behavior (which IS something that matters to me, even though it can be hard). What I’m getting at here is that maybe you find something that can be YOUR goal, and use that. Say hello to one person, or learn one person’s name, or make it through a whole lunch with a table of strangers, or whatever might be meaningful and appropriate for you. I find it helpful to do that, and then if I need to do Preferred Introvert Activity for awhile then it’s okay.

  35. I’m not exact proud of this one, but…in the past on longer coworker intensive trips I’d come up with the name of a friend who lives in the city, and have ‘plans’ to go to dinner that start after my group has gone out. Then she would cancel and I’d have dinner alone at the hotel bar while reading my kindle.

  36. Nthing all the excellent advice above. I’d just like to add one small thing- once you have made the decision not to go to some particular thing (or to go), try not to allow yourself to get into an anxious tailspin about how you are wasting precious business opportunities or what if that one thing was going to make or break your entire career or whatever. Easier said than done, I know. Maybe try thinking about it as though once you’ve made a decision, that decision was handed down by a tiny boss inside your brain who cannot be contradicted.

    Jerkbrain: I can’t BELIEVE you’re not going to [thing]! What was even the POINT of coming here???
    You: Hmm, yes, shame, but that’s what Brain Boss decided.
    You: Maybe I would have! But you know Brain Boss doesn’t like to be contradicted. She’s such a hardass!

    Try and remember that making the most of this conference does not mean driving yourself to a state of nervous exhaustion by going to everything and talking to everyone. The parts where you give yourself time to recharge are just as vital a part of your positive experience as anything else. More vital, even.

  37. My fave self-care break during the day at professional conferences et al:

    Most venues that host professional events have ladies’ rooms with an additional parlour-like room, with fairly comfortable chairs, carpeting, and often gentler lighting. If I want a break and a recharge, I’ll find one of those and settle in for ten or fifteen minutes of reading or whatever. If I can’t find a ladies’ room with a parlour, I’ll check the satellite areas of the venue — mezzanines, etc. — and look for comfy chairs in unoccupied corners.

    During an event, most people stay in the central zones, and you can get some really lovely quiet time by scoping out the corners. If you’re concerned that the other women in your group will look for yopu in the rest room, there’s an easy fix to that: find a restroom that’s not the closest one to the conference rooms. It will often be entirely empty.

    1. The last time I went to a formal event (not professional, just formal), I was at the Too Many People Make Them Stop point and was hiding in a bathroom lounge like this. I said to my cousin (who was hiding with me; she’s close enough to be okay even when I’m peopled out) that I needed a baby to hide behind, so I could have an excuse to wander off to a quiet spot and Take Care of the Baby (which is much less emotionally draining than socializing for me). Just then someone walked in with a) a baby that was b) related to me (so I could hold her and her parents thought it was great, not creepy). I promptly took her, and she and I had a GREAT hour or so.

  38. One of the most fascinating things I’ve found to deal with my stress levels is that access to any form of nature is a force multiplier for alone time. Ten minutes with trees and grass = 1 hour alone in a hotel room. Even just having access to sky and fresh air is an improvement upon the florescent-lit hell of hotels.

    I”m v lucky in that I don’t need extra sleep and I’m a lark, so I can usually be the person who wakes up at 5 am and goes out to eat breakfast alone in the park nearby. I don’t know if that’s a thing you can do or what your trade off is between sleep/alone time, but it works for me.

    Finally, I always just assume I’m going to be sick in the aftermath of a conference or even plane flight and I plan for it accordingly. If you get sick *quickly* from lack of sleep, this is not feasible, but if it takes a few days (my husband gets sick without enough sleep but not for a week or so), and you have the sick time to do it could you make a decision that “I will get up early for alone time and accept that I’ll run up a sleep debt and give myself three days off to crash and recover.” There are a lotta “ifs” in that solution, but it’s how he deals with similar situations.

    Good luck.

  39. I’ve found the last point really useful—remember that whatever is going on won’t be happening forever, and/or that similar things have happened and are now over.

  40. Wow 4 seems like a lot of people for one room. You’ve gotten tons of helpful advice and it’s all good (nobody questions bathroom breaks most of the time, hotel gym can be great quiet time, you don’t have to go to every session and volunteering can be your friend.) It’s okay if you zone out. I actually find paper notebooks helpful for this. You look like you are taking notes, but if it sometimes becomes journaling who’s to know?

  41. I travel a tremendous amount for work, and I’m an introverted, routine-bound person (I just got back from a conference that left me so tired I couldn’t form coherent sentences for a day when I got back), so I have some tips that may help.

    First of all, I’d just like to say I think it’s a terrible thing that your organization is making you sleep four to a room. I know this isn’t unusual in some industries, and I guess it’s better to go to the conference than not go at all, but I still am giving major side-eye to your boss for that.

    It is completely normal to be freaked out at the idea of sharing a room with three other adults.

    One thing I do to keep myself from losing my mind when I travel is to try to recreate the rituals I have at home that are calming. I’m a big tea drinker, so I bring a packet of teabags and a teacup or nab one from the hotel when I arrive. When I’m done with conference stuff but have other activities in the evening, I’ll hop into the shower for a quick neck-down rinse and change into a new set of clothes so my brain can go “off with conference mode, on with socializing mode.”

    Stick with your normal eating schedule if at all possible. I am one of those people who needs to eat as soon as they wake up and can’t skip breakfast, and if I don’t eat I get sick, shaky, and mean. Keep an eye on how much you’re drinking, drink extra water if you’re walking around a lot or talking a lot. Try coconut water or Gatorade in place of regular water. The air in conference centers and hotels is usually really dry, and by day three I start feeling like a little parched cactus if I’m not pounding water.

    Try to be realistic with the amount of people-time you can handle and build in alone-time. For me, it’s hard to balance needing to be alone with FOMO, so usually I will go to an event and allow myself to leave right away if I’m not feeling it.

    Here are my introvert traveling tips, for what it’s worth:

    1. If you’re going to an event, have a way to leave. That way you’re not stuck waiting for Chatty McExtrovert to wrap up their final three hours of socializing. Whether that means taking an Uber, or a cab, or whatever.

    2. Give yourself permission to go – AND to leave.

    3. Master the Irish goodbye. I often “go for another drink” or “go to the restroom” when really I’m leaving, and at large receptions or parties, no one cares. If you don’t tell anyone you’re leaving, they can’t try to pressure you to stay.

    4. Hang out in the bathroom. Seriously. I’ll sit in a stall and read a news article on my phone or look at Instagram for a few minutes to recharge.

    5. Keep an eye on the alcohol. Traveling, being tired, and being off your schedule can make booze sneak up on you faster. Alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic drink.

    6. If you’re sharing four to a room (seriously, ugh) ask housekeeping for a lot of extra towels. Most hotel rooms are based on double occupancy.

    7. If you’re like me, and you’re a cluttery person, keep an eye on that and make an effort to put away clothes, tuck shoes into the closet, keep toiletries neat, etc. What I have found helps is to actually unpack, hang up clothes and put them in drawers, and I use a ton of pouches I can dump stuff back into. I have a charger pouch, makeup pouch, jewelry pouch, makeup brush pouch, etc. Ziploc bags work just as well (I use leftover Ipsy pouches). That way I can shuffle my stuff back into its pouch quickly and it’s picked up but I know where it is.

    The hotel can also store empty suitcases for you until you’re ready to repack, if you need to get them out of the room to make space.

    8. I love the soft sleeping masks with eye cups that Bed Bath & Beyond sells. They’re comfy and don’t mess up eye makeup if you wear it. If you practice sleeping with it a few times you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

    9. As a courtesy to your suite-mates, give them a heads-up when you’re going to shower or spend a lot of time in the bathroom, so if anyone needs to pee, they can do it before the bathroom is tied up. Ditto for things like sleeping with the blackout curtains drawn or not drawn, when you’re setting alarms, etc. I don’t think ANYONE is thrilled at the idea of sleeping four to a room, so a little extra courtesy will go a long way.

    10. Check EVERY drawer, closet, under the bed, and in the shower before you leave, even if you don’t remember using a particular drawer.

    11. Find one place you want to go – for me, I try to check out one thrift or vintage store per trip, or go to a fancy dessert bakery – and reward yourself with a little you-trip, even if it’s just to go get coffee or a pastry somewhere neat.

    12. Try scheduling something relaxing like a massage when you get back. It’ll give you something to look forward to.

    13. Bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. Extra underwear and a few extra shirts are great, especially if they’re the kind of shirts you can wash in the sink and drip-dry if you need to.

    14. Comfy shoes! DON’T bring a pair of new shoes to a conference, no matter how tempting. You’ll regret it.

    15. Mini first aid kid, with painkillers, bandaids, and similar. I carry a little pouch with those supplies in my purse and it’s super helpful.

    16. Moisturize more than usual and bring a little bottle of lotion. The hotel air is super dry and will suck all the moisture out of you, and then it’s papercut city.

    17. Bring some comfy clothes to hang out in the room with that aren’t necessarily pajamas, so you have an option that’s not just work clothes / sleeping clothes. For me that’s usually a big fluffy skirt.

    18. Travel sized toiletries! Bed Bath & Beyond has the best selection, or you can buy one of those kits of small bottles. Make sure lids are on tightly and pack them in Ziploc bags so you don’t show up at the hotel and find out your lotion leaked all over your clothes or something.

    19. If you wear perfume or hairspray, check with your suitemates about whether anyone has any sensitivity before you use them.

    And finally, like we’ve talked about in a few other threads, you may have certain things that cause you a lot of anxiety or are triggering things, and the only way your suitemates will know this is if you tell them.

    I have a lot of anxiety about being seen as a messy person because of various childhood things I won’t get into here, and I have one friend who is a super neat freak and trips this anxiety a lot. She’ll do stuff like walk into the bathroom and start criticizing me for having “stuff everywhere” (I personally don’t considering having a hairbrush and toothbrush on the counter ‘stuff everywhere,’ but it’s a good thing we don’t live together), and I’ve learned to shut it down by reminding her I’m on vacation and not letting it make me feel judged or ashamed.

    If there is something that particularly sets off your anxiety and you are comfortable sharing it, you may want to tell people in advance.

    I hope this was helpful – I’m on the road 2-3 weekends a month, so this is all stuff I’ve learned through trial and error and attending way more conferences than I’d like to admit. 🙂

  42. A book or tablet with ebooks can be a lifesaver, too, and the bonus for the tablet is that you can pretend it is career-related reading if you have to. I can shut out the world when my nose is sunk in a book or I’m reading something. I find it super-calming and, especially if you combine it with headphones, most people will respect your Cone of Silence set-up.

  43. If you do end up sharing, pick the bed furthest from the door, so if people come in later than you they won’t have to push past your bed, and you’re also less likely to be disturbed by people going to the loo during the night, etc.

    Can you take some kind of screen? In a room I rented, I took some black lace (the cheapest I could find in a fabric shop, about 3 metres of it) and some string, then I screwed some eye hooks to the wall & tied the string up, then put the lace over the string & safety pinned it on, to make an impromptu privacy screen a bit like a black mosquito net.

    Obviously a hotel won’t want you screwing hooks to the wall, but there might be another method of attaching if it’s only for a few days? Some furniture you can tie to?

    Having that net over my bed made me feel safe inside, it kept *some* light out but not all, so I could still read, and it made me less likely to be disturbed while I was in there. So I still had my own space. I liked it when I was alone, and when I had guests staying in the room I *loved* it. The guest bed had a similar shroud – of red crushed velvet – which was a surprise to my dad when he visited 😉 but did mean we had privacy while sleeping. Since I tend to throw clothes and covers off in my sleep, a screen / tent / net thing is a good idea!

    Also, thin lace and string folds down fairly small so it’s not too hard to pack. Don’t be afraid of it looking odd – if it’s something you need to do, then why not? Privacy and feeling safe is important.

    1. Temporary plastic hooks with sticky stuff on the back. I think one brand is “Command,” but I’m not sure. Ask at the hardware store, though. There are plenty of options. Dorm-dwellers deal with it all the time.

  44. On the one hand we have genuinely nice people. On the other, we have nice people who have joked about banking up on alone time because there won’t be much. Also, they seem to know that the LW needs privacy but have made arrangements that have her traveling together and sharing a room anyway. These things don’t go together! It’s like they’re trying to get it but don’t really.

    You might find my personal experience funny. I’d said something to my family about feeling overwhelmed at big parties because I need to get off by myself to recharge. A short time later at a family wedding, my father saw me slip into the stairwell and followed me there because he knew I needed alone time and thought he’d keep me company while I was being alone. Classic example of someone who means kindly but doesn’t have a clue. If these people really don’t get it, they’ll see nothing wrong with continuing to chat with you in the restroom, going with you when you head out early for coffee, and apologizing for interrupting you at night while doing it anyway. (“Hey, I’m really sorry, I know you need down time so I’ll make this quick …”) It’s like if they see you there, they can’t help talking to you.

    I suggest framing every bit of time alone not as a request or a quirk or a favor, but as a necessity. Everyone would love a private room if they could afford it, and they’re treating your desire for it that way, like something they’d all like but can’t have. It’s the same with sleep. They see it as something everyone would like but something that can be done without if need be for a long weekend. You’ll have to disabuse them of this notion. I’d go to my wonderful boss, thank her for the fantastic scholarship, reiterate my need for 9 hours of sleep and X number of hours private time, then say that you understand if she can’t provide that and you’re sorry but you can’t go if that’s not provided. Compare it to a life-threatening food allergy. Everyone would love their favorite foods cooked just for them but will eat what’s available if they have to. That’s not the same as someone who absolutely cannot eat peanuts making do with peanut butter just this once. No, in that case, it’s okay to raise a fuss and say ” anaphylactic shock is not an option. I need something else to eat.” You may very well need somewhere else to sleep, and if you can’t have it, you can’t go on the trip.

    Then after you’ve said it, work with her every way you can to come to a reasonable compromise. Look for an airbnb near the conference center. Look into getting a private room even if it’s practically a closet. Actually schedule your break times, and don’t let last minute anything get in their way. If meals are the only time to get to yourself, sacrifice some team-building and eat by yourself. Insist on it.

    1. “then say that you understand if she can’t provide that and you’re sorry but you can’t go if that’s not provided”.

      Sorry, but I completely disagree. That attitude will get you put on a blacklist. You never tell your boss that you are making the rules.

      In most cases, you will be considered a problem employee. Not a team player. Your career will go nowhere and your name will go to the top of the layoff list. That is reality.

      1. Yeah, while I would never expect an employee to share a room with THREE OTHER PEOPLE OMFUG, I would also….not react well to a subordinate giving me an ultimatum.

        1. I see what you’re saying about not giving ultimatums to a boss. Excellent point about how that can hurt a career. The thing I wonder about is how getting physically ill from exhaustion will affect a career as well. The picture I was getting was one where LW does her best to get her needed sleep and alone time, doesn’t get it, and melts down as a result. I thought it best to make her needs known ahead of time.

          I’m starting to see “team player” as a code word for “we get to exclude people who strike us as different due to race, religion, creed, ethnicity, or disability.” It’s sort of a politically correct veneer for something horrible. You eat different foods? Well you’re not a team player if you don’t eat out with us. You need 9 hours of sleep and don’t do well sharing quarters? Well you’re not a team player if you get sick on this fun! fun! trip.

          1. And yet, that’s the reality we live in, which isn’t going to change in time for the LW’s trip.

            A more workable solution for this trip might involve the LW paying for their own room (and framing that as a need) or scheduling time off before and after the trip. If choosing to not go, using a script like “I’ve thought it over and the lodging situation is just not going to work with my sleep and privacy needs–I think someone else would be a better choice for this trip.”

            so that they come off as thoughtful rather than demanding.

          2. There’s a difference between “change it or I’m not going” and “my needs are X, can we accommodate them or some of them?”

            I do totally agree with you about the use of team player, though – that phrase makes me cringe. I am not a team player by nature, not every job requires a “team,” and the people who use that phrase is earnest tend to be of the “play hard! work hard! PUNCH THE SUN!” nature, and I am definitely, definitely not one of those people and I find them terrifying.

            Being an introvert in a people-facing job, as I am, is tough, which is why I’ve come up with work-arounds where I can, I’m very careful to monitor my spoons on work trips, and I know what things I can deal with for a short amount of time and what I absolutely can’t. Fortunately I work in an office that happens to be mostly introverts, and I avoid the PUNCH THE SUN people as much as I can.

            It sounds like the trip is happening, the shared room is happening, and LW needs strategies for how to navigate this trip without a meltdown within these parameters, since she didn’t write in for advice on how to tell her boss she couldn’t or wouldn’t go.

          3. “I see what you’re saying about not giving ultimatums to a boss. Excellent point about how that can hurt a career. The thing I wonder about is how getting physically ill from exhaustion will affect a career as well. The picture I was getting was one where LW does her best to get her needed sleep and alone time, doesn’t get it, and melts down as a result. I thought it best to make her needs known ahead of time.”

            The thing is that it’s one thing to say to your boss, “This is NOT happening, I can’t do it, and I’m not going to,” if it’s something that your boss said you have to do. It’s another thing to call in sick and say, “I must have come down with something, can’t come in for [a few days].” The second is fairly normal, with or without intense trips and is unlikely to make your boss think you’re being disrespectful. The taking a few days off before or after sounds like a GREAT idea, though.

            (And yes, “team player” can be highly overused, and in manipulative ways. In its most innocuous sense it means just someone who’s willing to cooperate, but so many times it’s misused to drag people into things they’re not comfortable with or guilt them for boundaries.)

  45. A lot of the conferences I’ve been to have some built-in downtime or unstructured time. it’s nice to use some of this to socialize if there isn’t a lot of ‘mixer’ type time already built into the schedule, but you don’t have to use all of it like that. One strategy I use is to use at least 50% of this time as my own break time. You can need to go back to the hotel for a few minutes or need something at the store, back in half an hour, etc.

    Or, another thing I do in packed conference schedules is go back to my room (or to lunch or something with folks I like/am relaxed with) and then come a bit late to the less structured events such as mixers or poster sessions. Those are important to attend, sure, but it’s not a problem if you’re 15-30 min late for a poster session or mixer that lasts 2-4 hours if you’re not presenting anything that day. That gives you a bit of recharging time between something like a long session with multiple presentations and an event where you’re supposed to be really social. If my room is close by, I’ll go back there and use the washroom, put stuff down, nap, get water, change, contact family/friends, internet check etc as needed.

  46. All this advice is genius! I travel a lot for work, so I thought I’d see if I had anything to add, but you guys have pretty much everything covered.

    One tip that isn’t necessarily specific to this situation, but could be useful to the LW along with any other road warriors: If you’re using earplugs and are worried about sleeping through your alarm, plug your cellphone in next to the bed and then put it under your pillow (with the alarm set and vibration on, obviously). The cord will act as a tether that prevents your phone from disappearing into the mattress/headboard abyss, and the vibration should wake you up even if you can’t hear the ringtone.

    Also, make sure your self-care routines include eating. For whatever reason, the whirlwind of travel+socialization throws off my rhythms to the point where I don’t experience hunger the way I do at home, so it’s way too easy for me to go from “totally fine” to “RAVENOUS AND TANTRUMY.” To that point, you might want to bring along a few shelf-stable snacks to keep on hand back at the hotel–sometimes work-event meals aren’t great in terms of actually acquiring sustenance, and you don’t want to manage a trip like this while poorly fed.

    Good luck, LW, and fingers crossed that you manage to carve out some personal space for yourself!

    1. “t’s way too easy for me to go from “totally fine” to “RAVENOUS AND TANTRUMY.”” Are… are you me?

  47. I haven’t scrolled through all the comments, so apologies if this is a repost, but I can’t recommended highly enough Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking By Susan Cain, there is lots of advice on how to take time out in a professional manner and also general reassurance about it being okay to be an introvert. Good luck!

  48. Another suggestion for lowering your stress on this trip:

    Pack at least one full change of clothes and 2 changes of underwear in your carry-on. That way, if your luggage is lost, you won’t be stuck in stinky clothes. Knowing that you’re covered in case of a luggage mess will help to lower your anxiety.

    The more little things you can cover, the more spoons you’ll have to deal with the big things.

    Speaking of which – if you have time beforehand, you might consider a “practice run,” where you pack your things, drive to the airport, find your check-in point, and see how long it took you. See if you can go the whole weekend at home living out of your carry-on suitcase. Likewise, get online and get maps of the area you’re going to, and possibly even floor-plans of your hotel and/or convention center. Knowing that you will know your way around really helps to alleviate travel stress, too. And if you can show off your knowledge to your boss, all the better!

  49. I too am distressed at the idea of sharing a room with any co-workers, let alone having 4 in a room. I wonder how much of the problem is budget, and how much is Manager having the damnfool notion that enduring other people’s snoring, sleeplessness, active bladders, etc., at night constitutes ‘team building’. ‘Budget’ is a convenient scapegoat sometimes.

    In the 1980s I traveled a lot on business. There was one manager who thought he could save some money by doubling up the guys (I was invariably the only woman on the team). He had a mutiny on his hands. People who he desperately needed to travel, flat-out refused to do it if they had to share. The key was, he needed us more than we needed him, and it doesn’t sound like LW is necessarily in that position. As it was, we were traveling for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, working 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week. Did we bond? Heck, yeah! We bonded over oscilloscopes and computer printouts and nasty, obscure computer bugs that took us intense group effort to find and fix. We bonded over supporting each other being away from our families. And we all got to sleep in our own beds, with our own self-generated noises, at night.

    LW, I encourage you to push back against the notion of sharing a bed at the very least. That’s unacceptable.

  50. The best plan I’ve come up with on trips with other people where I need alone time is to pretend that I work out/run every morning or evening. The truth is that I sometimes work out or run when I feel like it. What is does though, is carve out an hour to an hour and a half where people assume you will be elsewhere and unreachable, and it’s the kind of excuse that doesn’t get a lot of pushback I’ve found – people seem to respect “I always go for a run at 8pm” more than “I’m done with people by 8pm and need to be left alone now” for some reason.

    Then you put on comfy clothes and sensible shoes and if excercise is relaxing for you then do that, or just pop off to a coffee shop/park/library/quiet corner somewhere and do whatever is relaxing for you. For me, it’s a quiet corner of a cafe to watch Anthony Bourdain episodes on youtube.

    You don’t even have to all the way lie when you get back either. If someone asks how my run was or something I usually just say “I got out and realized how beat I was already, so I just wen’t for a little walk and did some window shopping/did some stretching in the park” or something

    1. Exercising is actively encouraged in our society, and is almost never denied as a reason to get out.

      Some people might want to make it a group activity, but most understand if you are used to working out on your own, and/or want to work out alone. For some people, working out is a form of meditation, and any interaction with others spoils it.

      My advice – don’t say you’re going for a run, if you don’t intend to do more than walk. “Power walking” is just as good. And in this case, it would be re-filling your power bar, basically, even if it’s just a mosey through a flower garden.

  51. Years ago I had a job with a horrible male boss. He made inappropriate sexual comments about ladies working for our prime contractor – and I have a “one strike you’re out” rule. (If he made that sort of insinuation about them, he’d do it about me, and since he’d already passed the thinking to saying threshold, I wasn’t going to let him get near the saying to doing threshold). Our prime was in another state, meaning site visits were necessary.

    I remember calling up the chain (my boss’s boss) and saying “I don’t care if I have to pay for it myself, I will never be alone in a car with this person.” – no citing anything, just declaring that I wasn’t going to do it.

    And you know what? the big boss made sure that I never was. If there were two teams on site, I was always in the other car, and if there weren’t I got my own. They paid. I’m not saying that this always works – or that you can expect it to work – but sometimes the declaration of “this is important enough I’ll pay for it” can signal what a big deal it is to your company and get them to take it seriously.

    (I ended up leaving that job for reasons somewhat related to horrible boss – such as boss’s boss also left – but that declaration was apparently what was needed to get management looking more closely at him, and he was let go for other bad behavior with the client several months later)

  52. Quick thought: if you are four in “a room” it’s possible the hotel has an upgrade to a “suite” which would give you more personal space.

    1. I’m referring to a time four girls on a bachelorette party to Vegas asked for and got this free upgrade when we checked in. I felt like I was in a Doris Day movie. But, even at a conference it may be possible to negotiate. And maybe, even more possible after the first night of the conference, if the suite wasn’t sold. “Let’s use what we’ve learned to reassess” might show more team-building skill than grimly sticking it out.

      1. “Let’s use what we’ve learned to reassess”

        This is fantastic! The basis of all trouble-shooting, and trouble-shooting in front of your boss is a great way to impress.

  53. Heck. I’m an extrovert, and I still find these kinds of events daunting and stressful (even if I really want to go). Don’t be afraid to take little breaks. I would love to go to the room between sessions for just a few minutes to use a private bathroom and have some of the water/soda/snacks I brought for myself (if you get chummy with a roomie, it can be nice to use each other as a buffer for down time). Enjoy different parts of the hotel. If it’s a nice day, you could get out and sit in a garden or by the pool if it’s not crowded. Maybe there is a cafe or little restaurant or bar area that is less chaotic. I also have very introverted friends, and I would not be offended at all if they did not want to share a room with a group. So if you can swing that, it could be a nice little safe haven for you. I think it’s important to know many around you at this event are nervous about meeting all these new people in a weird setting. You are not alone, and The Captain is right about trying to meet a few new people. It could be a great opportunity, or at the very least, a good exercise for these kinds of scenarios in the future. 🙂 Good luck, and I hope you have a great time!

  54. “Better yet, bribe yourself with short breaks throughout the day. Knowing that in one hour you can have half an hour to yourself with headphones on and a book can help you make it through the hour. I did this in college in the library – 1 hour of studying/course reading = 30 minutes of reading my novel.”

    I love this SO HARD. Stealing for my life.

    “Readers, what are your best self-care rituals in situations like this?”

    Personally, this trip sounds like hell to me. I hope it doesn’t end up being that for you. This is my arsenal of dealing with Trips of Misery (doesn’t mean I do all of these things, it means these are my options):

    1. I am a tea drinker, so I bring my favorite soothing teas. If the conference has hot water you won’t be bound to those crappy black tea bags. And they will be nice treats throughout the day. Mint, cinnamon, and green teas are some of the least odorously offensive.

    2. Plan something super rejuvenating and/or decadent for after this trip. I usually plan an extra day off where I do a “blackout day” (shut off all communication) do whatever feels good to me that day (read, play video games, get a massage, binge Harry Potter), and treat myself to a decadent dinner: pizza + sushi with a gelato dessert. Give yourself a BIG reward for this and it will be something pleasant and positive to look forward to.

    3. When I am feeling overwhelmed I remind myself “this will end. this is not permanent. it is difficult now, but it will not be difficult forever.” Sometimes just remembering that this too shall pass, makes it more bearable in the moment (see also “I have #2 to look forward to!”)

    4. I have a weighted blanket – it’s great for anxiety and feeling over-stimulated. I don’t fly but if I did, I would have it on my body the entire flight.

    5. My brain and body are super closely linked – so if one is off, the other is off too. If you are the same way, make sure to attend to your physical health. Some options: stretch (I have done yoga poses in the shower at a particularly heinous family event), walk, run, go to the hotel gym or pool. Just 15 minutes will help. Also, eat fresh fruits and veggies as much as you can. If the hotel room has a fridge I will stop by a grocery store and pick up pre-cut carrots, apples, grapes, etc. Conference food makes me feel groggy and gross and much like a toddler, I am much more prone to melt downs. Easy access to nutritious food can be the difference between sobbing in the ladies’ room on the third day because my blood sugar crashed vs. actually enjoying my afternoon.

    6. Alert Team Me that I may need some extra love, support, and validation that weekend. So when they get a super negative text about that Bitch Eating Crackers, they know what’s up.

    7. Be SUPER kind to myself, as much as I can. Don’t beat myself for having negative feelings or thinking super judgemental mean things (that’s how my people fatigue manifests). I think of this is a marathon – I just have to get through it. It’s going to be hard and exhausting but I am going to be really glad I did when I am back home.

    I hope you are able to enjoy the good moments and accept the bad ones as they come, and that the trip is overall a success.

  55. This is fantastic advice from everyone and the Captain. What helped me was remembering that this kind of thing isn’t a personal event, but a professional one so that the expectation that you become besties isn’t there, just professional, polite and civil. Much lower bar.

    I found earplugs when sharing a room are your friend, as well as establishing a routine that involves early solo walks listening to audiobooks to get alone time, or even announcing that I as the resident introvert needs to recharge with alone with a book for a 1/2 hours before dinner (or whatever).

    Memorize the scripts, smile, take frequent breaks, breathing exercises, making a list on your phone of tips and scripts that you can use in the moment when you get overwhelmed so you don’t require your brain (when it’s in the middle of a brain weasel attack) to come up with stuff on the fly.

    Basically this is something you can plan your way around, which is really a good thing.

  56. Work travel sucks. I don’t have social anxiety, but I do need lots of sleep and privacy so I can relate. Here are my tips:

    1. If you can afford to pay for the room an extra day, arrive a day early. Just tell people you get serious jet lag and you want to be on your game for the conference. If you can’t do that, see if you can arrive as early as possible. Preferably, you’re the first to check in and you can get settled with no one around. Take a nap if you can. If possible, choose the bed closest to the window and furthest from the door and bathroom. You want to be next to a wall if you can be. With your suitcase and stuff all set up by that wall.

    2. If you can’t sleep on the plane, try to schedule the flight at times you would be awake anyway. (I know this might conflict with tip 1, but use the tip that works for you.) Pick stuff you love to watch/read in advance. Something you can read in bits of 5 minutes on your phone is great. It gives your brain something comforting to do.

    3. Pack early. Bring only what you need. Plan your outfits in advance and put them together in advance. It’s okay to check your bag — sometimes that’s easier. Give yourself the luxury of streamlining. The only exception to this is snacks.

    4. Plan your transportation to the hotel. And look at the hotel and conference layout so you know where cafes and bathrooms are.

    5. A thousand times yes to ducking out early whenever possible. I suck at this but every successful person I know does it. They check in with a few people, then say they need to go make some phone calls or respond to an email or just hit the hay. They’re wonderful at the gracious goodbye. I always feel like I was liked by someone way more businesslike than me. Another aspect of this is arriving early and festively greeting people you know as they come in. They feel like a million bucks when they hear that, “Hello, ! How are you?! I saved a seat for you.” Or “would you like to sit here?” “Or would you like me to save a seat for you?” Seriously, that’s all they’ll remember. That they were welcomed by someone in a strange place.

    6. Kind self. I’m so glad I read that. I’m always trying to make a good impression and all I need to do is be considerate. That thing about “don’t worry you won’t wake me up” is brilliant. So is taking a nighttime shower — bathrooms are great places to be alone, and at night you can take your time. If you like long showers, let everyone know first and see if they need anything before you duck into the bathroom.

    7. Bathrooms. You can say that you need to just go freshen up *anytime you want*. Get yourself in a stall and pull out your iPhone and browse your favorite sites. Look at your clock and give yourself 10 minutes. Breathe deep. Rub your face, massage your head and shoulders, close your eyes. Another alternative is saying you want to grab a bottle of water or a newspaper or ask the hotel desk clerk something. Often there are cubbyholes for people to make phone calls or stuff. Those little private spots are never quite as private as you want them to be, but hold a phone up to your ear or throw a laptop in front of your face and you’ll be mostly ignored.

    8. Brief walks. People understand about and respect people who care for their health. You could say, after any meal or talk, that you want to just stretch your legs and go for a brief walk in the sunlight. Walk once around the block or around the hotel. Even if somebody asks to come with you, at least it’s just you two alone, taking care of your need for a mental/physical break. All you need to talk about is “ahh, this feels great.”

    9. Afternoon naps. If it works with the schedule, it’s totally acceptable to use the downtime to say “I’m going to go rest my eyes for 20 minutes so I’ll be fresh for .

    10. Snacks. You are going to need snacks. Sturdy, leakproof, nonperishable, comforting snacks. Pack them in your purse. It’s sometimes hard to eat in front of people when you’re nervous, so here are some tips: Arrive early to meals if you can so that you can start eating before lots of people are around. Breakfast is a great solitude time. Have a couple of plastic containers in your purse. It’s okay to say, “You know, I think I’ll take an extra muffin for an afternoon snack just in case.” Or “Everything’s so good, I think I might save this half of my sandwich for later.” You can eat snacks in the bathroom or in your room during your afternoon break or when you leave early in the evening.

    11. Unless you need to do it for work, don’t exert yourself. You don’t need to tour the city just because you’re there. Work trips are not vacation trips — that’s a big lie. If you really do want a vacation component, book a room for a few days for before or after the conference.

    12. Great ways to seem like you’re meeting/socializing to the utmost with minimum effort: Memorize names. Do this one thing and you will seem in the know. I did this at the dog park and everyone thought I knew everyone better than I actually did. Knowing a name makes it easy to ask a question, or introduce 2 people. Then they do all the talking and you get all the credit. If you get a name wrong or need to ask it again, just do so! People don’t care! Everyone sucks at names and they’ll be thrilled you confessed it first. Just say your own name over again as well as the people near you. Keep chipping on the name ice breaker. Example, “You’re Rebecca, right? And I’m Jane, and this is Lucy. It’s hard to keep everyone straight, isn’t it?” Another tip: Ask people about any events you left early or missed part of. “How’d it go?” “What did I miss? Anything fun? Did Oprah appear and give everyone a new car?” Let them tell stories or tell you that you didn’t miss much. If there are inside jokes that have developed, this is the time they’ll start introducing you to them. Collect business cards. Later in the day, write a note on the back about one thing you talked about. You’ll never see 99% of these people again but just go on LinkedIn and connect. That makes you look popular and it also stores their info in one single place in case you do need to connect again. No need to write a personal note in your LinkedIn invite — just click the button and let LinkedIn do it for you.

    13. Scripts. Full disclosure: I’m known as the person who brings people together, starts the party, sparks the conversation. It’s weird — I love people and I’m not anxious, but I also crave, crave, crave downtime. Lots of people have asked me how I’m so good at making conversations work, so I started trying to figure it out. I think it comes down to only a few things:

    –Making a silly joke, usually an exaggerated statement. Like, “Yes, I met Rebecca this morning. We bonded over our love of blueberry muffins.” When really all you both did is say, “oh yum blueberry muffins.”

    –Saying someone’s name to ask them a question or introduce them.

    –Remembering a single thing about them and bringing it up again. Like, “Hey did you ever find that charger station?” or “This is Neil. He’s from California so he’s super cool.”

    –Connecting people based on that one thing or on nothing. Like, “Hey, Rebecca, Lucy was asking this finance question. You’re in finance, right? Maybe you know the answer or can point us in the right direction?” This doesn’t have to be at work. It can be about the weather in California or anything. It’s sort of like that game where one person starts a story and the next person adds a sentence. You just look for any tangent that fits with another tangent, no matter how improbable. In fact, sometimes improbable is even better. Like, “Hey, Rebecca, Lucy was asking this finance thing. Do you happen to know? I feel like someone mentioned that their third cousin twice removed was in finance. Was that you?” Of course, it doesn’t have to be anybody. It can be totally made up. But Rebecca can laugh and say she has no idea, or brainstorm, or miraculously connect Lucy to someone. Whatever happens, conversation is now out of your hands and in the hands of Lucy and Rebecca. Another thing to talk about is a TV show or news item, as long as it won’t offend someone. Foods you love — this is great at meals, where you can just riff on recipes or restaurants or garden vegetables or something. Crazy questions are good, too: “Which food would you most miss?” “Which food did your mom make you eat when you were a kid?” Or which food do you make your kids eat even though they hate it? My friend blends spinach into pancake mix and her kids are never the wiser.

    –Let people be goofy and silly and talk about non-work stuff. Twitter accounts and celebrity gossip and nail polish. Ask about their kids — tell them you love stories about cute things kids do and ask them to tell one. Or what are kids obsessed with these days? What are the current kid trends? That will get them talking. And if you bring up Pokemon Go everyone will have a story. If you say one silly thing about yourself that gives others permission to be silly, too. Like, “I can’t help myself, I have a secret obsession with Kate Middleton. I think it’s the fashions.” Or, “I have to confess that I don’t know a single thing about wines. Can you help me choose?”

    Okay, I guess this topic really spoke to me! Good luck, you’re gonna do great. Rest and nourish yourself, and if all else fails just smile.

    1. Totally seconding the learn people’s names trick. The more you can learn, the better off you are. People REALLY care if you know their names; it’s a sign that They Matter. And even though they know it’s just for a weekend and you might not remember later, it still makes a difference. Even if you just say, “Hey, Amy, Tom, how’s it going?” and that’s the ENTIRETY of your conversation.

      I would give one note of caution on taking the bed closest to the window. I personally HATE being cold, and that is usually the spot closest to the air conditioning. Especially if your trip is coming up soon, it’s possible there will be someone who wants to blast the cold air. if you enjoy that, then this is obviously no problem, but I’ve had some amazingly cold, shivery nights in hotels before because of this.

  57. Omg, close to the last sentence you mentioned something about “expecting” your boss to be forgiving, which sort of put me off you, but still the name of this game here is “helping” – so lemme give it a shot. First of all, you say your boss had to jump through some hoops to get everybody included in this, so don’t forget you’re the one who needs to basically “put-up & shut-up” about things that may not be to your specific liking. Remember that and the fact you can’t expect your boss or anybody else to babysit you or have you be a ball & chain as you all get through a couple of days of this training. We don’t live in a perfect world surprising & distasteful as you may find the concept. I sort of wonder whether you have the maturity to be traveling so far from home, but it’s a done deal so make the best of it and don’t embarrass yourself or your employer. And that’s really the theme of my advice and how you should handle the whole thing. Grow up. Don’t forget too, you’re supposed to be learning at this thing so the more you worry about little inconsequential stuff, the more it takes away from the central reason you’re even there. Just go and don’t be a baby about it.
    PS. Maybe staying awake the whole night before you leave will have you exhausted enough to sleep on the plane and to make your anti-anxiety more effective purchase a couple of nips from the flight attendant to down them with. I guarantee it works.

    Bill M.

    1. I sort of wonder if you have the maturity to be commenting on other people’s lives. Signing an exhortation to “grow up” and “don’t be a baby about it” with “Respectfully,” is a true exercise in irony.

      1. Plus the bit about mixing anti-anxiety meds with alcohol. I imagine Bill M. will say he was being funny and none of us have a sense of humor.

        1. The beautiful thing is that we’ll never again know what Bill M. will say about anything! 🙂

          1. I’m SO wishing I could like this comment! (To be precise, the comment that I wish to like is, “The beautiful thing is that we’ll never again know what Bill M. will say about anything!:)”)

    2. ……..wow.

      Leaving aside the general horribleness of your comment, you’re really recommending that someone go for 24 hours without sleep and then chase anti-anxiety medication with alcohol? On a plane?

      So glad the Captain’s banhammer is polished and ready.

  58. I’m also an introvert & have learned to cope with conference travel reasonably well. Bathroom breaks & stepping outside for a few minutes are unremarkable. Just standing in front of a window or something that might be plausible to look at for a few minutes & zoning out also works, and is surprisingly unremarkable.

    I would ask my supervisor ahead of time what she had in mind in terms of relationship building activities on the trip. If any of them seemed especially difficult for me, I’d get back to her after a couple of days and suggest some alternatives that would work better for me.

    I would definitely get the conference schedule ahead of time. If there are evening sessions, then depending on how the earlier conversation went, I’d either let my supervisor know that in order to take full advantage of this terrific training opportunity, I would really need to have dinner alone to recharge on at least some of those days; or I would privately accept that the evening sessions were going to be wasted on me, and I’d come prepared to doodle and zone out during the evening sessions. (I find doodling very soothing, especially mandala style doodling.) I’d also jot down a few words or phrases every once in a while so I could hold my own in a conversation afterwards.

    Re: “they all have relationships with each other”, I would very firmly remind myself that this is not about me being the left-out kid in the schoolyard. I’d make up a counter-story: we are adult professionals, and these three colleagues are actively interested in getting to know me and incorporate me into their professional network.

    Good luck! And in those moments when it’s really hard, remember the whole Awkward Army is there behind the computer screen, waving pompoms and cheering you on. 🙂

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