In 2014, I was 9 months pregnant and working as a sales representative for a small nutrition company. At the time I traveled at least one week a month, sometimes more, to pitch products, attend industry trade shows, and meet with prospective buyers. And once I got back from maternity leave, my boss wasted no time before asking how soon I could start traveling again.
Given the nature of my position, it just wasn’t feasible for me to stop traveling. Plus – I’d built relationships with buyers and store managers across the country for the past five years! Leaving it all wasn’t something I was ready for. But at the same time, I had a very tiny human who was counting on me and leaving her regularly just wasn’t going to happen.
No matter what your profession is, balancing personal life and professional goals is difficult. If you travel a lot and work long hours you may begin to feel like you’re missing out on your children’s lives. If you always bring them along you may not be able to focus on the, ahem, business part of the business trip. (Plus you’ll miss out on the luxury of getting room service in your robe after a busy day!) There is a balance to bringing the kids. But if you know how to pull it off, it can be an absolutely incredible experience – for all parties involved.
Here’s my best advice, and advice from fellow working parents who have done it:
Tell your boss – Under no circumstances should you take your child on a business trip without first informing your boss. Let them know why you want to involve your kids (i.e. you travel so much) and assure them that it will not affect your work while you’re there. Certain events such as tradeshows and all-day conferences may not be the best times to bring kids. But many trips involve a few meetings or a single meeting – leaving plenty of time for family. Since your family will likely stay in a hotel room paid for by your company, it is only ethical to inform them of your plans.
Plan your childcare – If you have young children, you will need to arrange childcare while you are work. For me, this was usually my husband, who came along with me. Most of my trips were on weekends, which made it easy for him to miss school and help. He stayed with our daughter during my meetings or events, including the evening dinners I was obligated to attend. But the rest of my time we were able to spend as a family. If your spouse cannot come, consider bringing a grandparent, sibling, or nanny. Some larger companies have corporate daycares that will take your child, so don’t be afraid to ask if that is an option. Lauren Townsend, a professional out of Jacksonville, Florida says that she asks the work contacts she’s going to meet with about childcare. Often they have a beloved babysitter or nanny they’re happy to recommend.
Keep the business part of the trip at the forefront – Business travel is all about business, which means that no part of your trip should interfere with it. If you plan too many external activities, you could be late, unprepared, or disheveled (as parents tend to be)! We usually stayed close to the hotel or event center so I would not be late for my meetings. Or we would rent a car and my husband would drop me off at my meeting and take our daughter to a park or library until I was done.
Be careful about jet lag – I’m convinced that children have tiny internal alarm clocks. Taking a child across time zones is always a recipe for schedule upheaval. Especially if you are going overseas. As a parent, you’re probably used to interrupted sleep. But make sure you get enough sleep before your meetings so you are able to fully function.
Stay for the weekend – If you’re not going for the weekend, consider staying for it. After all, you’re already there. There is no one to rush home for! It makes it easier on the child (and you) when you can focus on your work initially and then focus on them and do something fun before heading home.
Find a hotel with a pool – After taking my toddler to Canada on a business trip and doing sightseeing before coming home, I asked her what her favorite part was. “The pool,” she said. We spent about 90 minutes in the hotel’s basement pool the first night we arrived. Ask any kid, and the hotel pool is bound to be their favorite part of the trip. A lot of business-oriented hotels don’t have pools, so check before you schedule it.
Make it fun – “I try to take each of my four teenager kids on one business trip a year,” says Darrell Mattson, a banking software account manager. “I love getting one-on-one time with them, and I always look forward to it. I ask them to plan something special for us to do while we’re there and they love finding a baseball game, or restaurant, or museum to visit. They seem to forget their boredom at the hotel while I’m gone and just remember the good times. Some of our best conversations have happened on these trips and it makes me feel a little less guilty about being gone so often.”
While traveling for business with kids might seem like a lot of work – it can be rewarding. It’s important to show your kids the world – and if you’re already traveling for work, why not take the extra effort to include them? Just a few extra plans could make your drab business travel a way to make lasting memories.