Nov. 27, 2011— -- Art Manask feels increasing stress as he prepares to leave for a business trip to New York, Boston or Chicago.
"The reason is congestion and traffic," says the Los Angeles-based consultant in the hospitality industry who has spent 100 nights away from home this year. "It's not easy to get around in those cities or to get cabs in bad weather, and I find subways intimidating and crowded."
Though many hardened business travelers like Manask have journeyed from one end of the Earth to the other, the prospect of visiting some cities — particularly big ones — still can be daunting.
In a survey of very frequent business travelers who provide information on USA TODAY's Road Warrior panel, New York and Los Angeles were cited more often than any other cities for creating stress before a business trip.
It's stressful to drive in those cities, to be stuck in traffic and to hope that "I am not late for meetings," says Michael Gregurich of Manitowoc, Wis., a sales director in the travel industry.
Robert Bender, an architect in Lenexa, Kan., who also is stressed by the prospect of business trips to New York or Los Angeles, says, "The bigger the city, the more you have to think through every step of your trip."
He goes down his checklist of questions when he travels to either city:
•Where is the meeting?
•Is it in a safe part of town?
•Can I take mass transit, and what stations do I need to be familiar with?
•What is the timing of getting from the plane to the meeting?
•Do I need to fly in the night before and leave the day after to account for traffic and flight times?
•How much cash do I need to take?
Psychologist Nancy Molitor of Wilmette, Ill., says the thought of traffic congestion, high prices and some high-crime areas stresses some travelers before arrival in New York or Los Angeles. Both cities also have "large, sprawling airports" that "many frequent travelers dislike because of abundant ground delays and cancellations."
They may also worry "that they will get lost, ripped off by cab drivers or other service workers, or simply be overwhelmed by the sheer density, noise and large numbers of people."
Molitor, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, says many business travelers blame pre-trip stress on the "hustle and bustle" or congestion in a big city, "but I think it's actually more about a fear of the unknown."
Psychologists call it "anticipatory anxiety," she says. Travelers might fear getting lost, being overcharged or getting robbed.
Gregurich reduces stress in New York and Los Angeles by working out in a gym, sitting in a Jacuzzi or visiting an "attraction I am interested in."
Joe Harvey, a software consultant in Lafayette, La., who has spent more than 300 nights away from home this year, feels stressed by toll roads and big-city driving, particularly in Chicago.
To reduce stress, he advises hiring a driver or getting the business card of a taxi driver and using that person exclusively. He also recommends finding restaurants "you can safely walk to" and walking or running to get some air and "feel the vibe of the place."
Harvey also tries to reduce pre-trip stress at home.
"Before a trip, I like to sit on my front porch with coffee and a newspaper in the morning before getting ready to go to the airport," he says. "I like to look at the flower beds, pull a few weeds and breathe the fresh air with a hint of the Gulf of Mexico in it. It's very relaxing."
Virginia Williams, a sales manager for a company selling children's products, says no matter how often she goes to Los Angeles, she never feels confident in the city, and her "pre-trip stresses all come to life" there. She feels stress from the city's traffic and freeway system and worries about getting out of the Los Angeles airport on time.
Williams, of Dothan, Ala., says she reduces stress by trying to "schedule my appointments intelligently" and staying at a centrally located hotel.
Before heading to a city perceived as stressful, business travelers should "take a step back" and ask themselves what exactly they are stressed about, Molitor says, and question whether it's a realistic fear and within their control.
"If it's not in my control — things such as weather and traffic — how can I let go of these things and focus on what is in my control?" she says. "Make a plan to control what you can, and let go of what you cannot control."
When business travelers identify what is stressful, they sometimes realize their worries are tied to something they are grappling with at home or earlier in life, the psychologist says.
Maybe the stress comes from the trip occurring on the anniversary of a mother's death, or it's making it impossible to attend a daughter's honor society installation. "The more you can zero in on the real source of the stress, the more able you will be to help determine the right fix."