I’m looking at a new job opportunity that has a pretty hefty travel commitment. I didn’t travel after I had my kids, but now that they’re both in school it should be fine. I love to travel, and I figure the family can even come along sometimes. My husband is on board with the decision, and the job is a step up, so what’s the downside?
Congratulations on your new job opportunity, especially in the current climate where we’re hearing about a step out the door more often than a step up the ladder.
Every up, however, must have its down. Heavy business travel, as with anything else, does have a downside that you need to consider before jumping in. While at first seemingly interesting, if no boundary is set, this commitment can take a significant toll on both you and your family.
I often find business travel to be interesting, as it offers a change of scenery and pace. At times, I’d even describe it as fun or exciting, depending on the location and amenities. For moms, it even offers a break from taking care of everyone, and affords you the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep. Since, like me, you enjoy travel, you’re off to a good start.
But there are frustrations inherent to the process as well. Heavy travel can knock work-life balance right out of the equation for a number of reasons, so let’s look at the myths and the realities of this commitment.
Myth: I love to travel, so this is a good fit for me.
Reality: You’re not going on vacation.
It’s important to remember that personal travel is much different than business travel. When you’re headed to Mexico in a sunhat for margaritas, you don’t mind airport security so much, and will gladly slip off your fuchsia sandals for screening. But the eleventh time you have to unzip your laptop, and try to hide the hole in your stockings as you reluctantly relinquish your pumps, you start to mind.
Living out of a suitcase can wear on the most travel-savvy individual. The guy next to you on the plane who is there to make friends. Dragging your personal belongings (with an ever heavier briefcase in tow) through various trains, planes and automobiles. And, of course, the hotel room that reminds you of that Dateline expose you caught about less-than-stellar room cleaning practices.
While this travel time is a break from packing lunches and soccer practice carpools, it is definitely not a break from your duties at the office. So instead of trying the fabulous restaurants you’ve heard about in your exotic port of call, you’ll likely be holed up in your room with hotel food as you catch up on emails and other ongoing projects. Whether you’re in Boise or Baltimore, a deadline is a deadline.
Understand that travel can take a lot out of you, so plan accordingly. Don’t schedule time in the office on the day you fly back from a five-day stint in San Diego. Set an “out of office” email responder before you leave 1) so you don’t spend your travel time trying to keep up with all of your messages and 2) so you don’t come back to people who are wondering why you’re ignoring them. Try to finish up projects the week before you leave, or ask for more completion time.
And don’t just lighten the business load; lighten the actual load. Streamline your wardrobe selection. Bring your tablet instead of your laptop. Try to find ways in which you won’t throw out your shoulder every time you head to Chicago.
Myth: My husband is on board.
Reality: Your husband is theoretically on board, but has not experienced your travel schedule yet.
At our house, for example, my husband and I are a team when it comes to the kids. He makes the breakfast and I keep them moving so we get out the door on time. He helps with homework and I manage the after-school activities. If someone gets sick at school, the one with the least hectic schedule that day wins the pickup.
Since you have not traveled for business since your kids came along, your husband may not have a full appreciation for what this will look like in reality. How flexible is his job? If your first grader is up sick the night before his big presentation, can he roll with that?
Does he have patience in reserve for packing lunches, remembering that your daughter needs hip hop shoes for hip hop class, and helping to decipher the math homework while asking the kids for the tenth time to please eat their nuggets?
And when he calls you and expresses the ridiculousness of his day as a single parent (“As if that were not enough, then he…”) and his flat-out envy that you’re nestled in a hotel room away from the madness, can you just let him vent or will you be flattened by guilt?
Whenever you’re going to have only one spouse on deck, set up support systems in advance. Can Grandma pitch in with ballet pickup? Can your husband align his work calendar with yours so he’s not on a major deadline when you’re scheduled to be in Albuquerque? Can you cut up some carrots or make up some sandwiches before you leave to make meal prep easier?
Business travel goes much more smoothly when you have systems in place to combat everyday home-front challenges. You have enough to pack; leave the guilt in the garage.
Myth: I’ll just bring the family along.
Reality: The probability of complications increases exponentially.
Once upon a time, on a business trip to California, a magazine editor told me he had brought his family with him. Although it hadn’t occurred to me before to bring my brood along, I immediately thought it was a stellar idea. Your company is covering the hotel room, you can eat great meals together, expose the kids to new places and ideas, and in general have your favorite people with you. It initially seemed like just a smart thing to do.
Fast forward to a wintry week in Manhattan. Rockefeller Center. Radio City Music Hall. The art museums. The potential activities for my family were endless; how would they fit it all in while I attended my conference by day? As it turned out, we needn’t have worried about that.
The first night we were there, at 3 am my eight year old got sick. Very sick. Was it the hot dog from the vendor? An ill-timed virus? We didn’t know. And after she threw up 15 times, I left her in her father’s care and stumbled to my meeting, clutching the coffee I was offered for dear life. My husband then spent the remainder of our stay in a dark hotel room watching The Disney channel ad nauseum while re-hydrating our little one and trying to keep her younger sister occupied.
That room seemed to get smaller by the day. My daughter was very sad when I had to head out for meetings, and it ripped me up to have to leave her when she was ill and just wanted her mom.
On the business side, it was harder to balance the lunches and the dinners and the overall focus on the meetings I was there to attend. People do business with people they like, and networking outside of the business event you’re engaged in is very much a part of the process. This is harder to manage when you have your family in tow.
And when I came back to the hotel to put my feet up and recuperate from a full business day, I couldn’t, because it was time to put my Mom hat on. While travel can be a lot of family fun, business travel that incorporates the family can be very complicated.
Most budgets have called for less travel lately, and the virtual world has helped, but it’s still part of doing business to some degree. The reality is that the work-life balance equation you have figured out at home gets a little trickier on the road. To make this new travel schedule work for you, set up support systems and understandings in your relationship well in advance to avoid potential turbulence.Getting Fired, Getting Hired