Within two months of having my son, I was up in the air again, to steal a term from the 2009 George Clooney flick. As a professional speaker, you really don't get a lot of say in when you work, you just work when there's work.
On this particular trip I was doing a keynote speech in Houston. After a sleepless night on the road and a busy morning on stage, I boarded the plane for my return trip home. While this might seem like the obvious point in my article when I talk about how much I missed my son, the reasons for the separation anxiety were 99 percent physical.
My girlfriends failed to warn me about the pain that nursing moms endure when they cannot, well, nurse. Twenty-four hours on the road and a three-hour flight didn't help my swollen situation. As a frequent flier, I was lucky enough to upgrade to business class, so without going into too much detail, those hot towels they hand out before your meal came in handy to relieve some of the, umm, pressure I was feeling. Within the first hour of the flight, I knew that I had no choice but to duck into the tiny lav to pump, and pump some more.
While I was worried that the noisy electric pump might arouse suspicions 30,000 feet in the air, I had no choice. As the only woman at the "front of the plane," I was trying desperately to keep my composure, maintaining the mantra that there's no crying in business class.
This was a defining moment, the time I became aware that moms who travel for business have different challenges than their male counterparts.
I can't accurately comment on which gender has it worse, but my personal experience has taught me that women definitely don't have it easy. Aside from the general guilt (aka the women's disease), there are the physical implications if you're a new mother. Fortunately, after three years of motherhood and hundreds of speaking trips, I am confident that these three "be prepared" tips can help other mommy road warriors like myself.
1. Prepare the household. Although my fiancé Chris is a superstar dad, I'm a big fan of organizing the home before I leave. I'm not talking about tidying up, but instead it's critical to look at our family calendar (we depend on Google Calendar to see each other's meetings and appointments) and ensure that child care is covered during the days that I'm gone, and that there is family on standby in case my partner needs help. This means emailing the in-laws about my travel plans well in advance and setting up any play dates to keep my little guy (and big guy) occupied. I also grocery shop for easy meals and good healthy snacks they can have while I'm out of town. The extra work it requires to prepare everything at home will give you peace of mind while you're away, and help you focus on the task at hand.
2. Prepare the kid(s). When my son was an infant, he didn't notice that his mom was away, so it was nice to know that each time I returned home he was excited and unaware that I had been gone for any length of time. As a pre-schooler, I now have to explain to him well in advance that I have to go away for work. I'm not sure how much he understands about what I do, but I'm always keen to share where I'm going and I try to keep him in the loop on what I'm doing and when I'll return. While we used to rely on Skype to see each other, I've noticed that this tool only reminds him that I'm not nearby (sometimes VoIP technology just leads to a little one's frustration). Sometimes I buy a cool toy (e.g. a robot) for him to build, or I download a movie for him to watch when I'm MIA, again, keeping him busy.
3. Enjoy the break. It would be an injustice to other moms if I didn't tell the truth. I have, on occasion, holed up in the corner of an airport—Atlanta to be specific—and cried about how hard it is being the one in the family who is always leaving. These are the days that I daydream about staying at home with my kid (an equally hard job, I know), teaching him to read, baking him perfect little cupcakes, or just doing something deliciously domestic. However, this is not my life. I love to work and I love what I do, so I can only learn how to make the best of business travel. Sometimes this means sitting by a hotel pool for 30 minutes, ordering room service (a meal where I can enjoy every bite), and catching up on my favorite TV shows.
Finally, I always pack light. Think Clooney's character going through security. Yes, that's me, but with a sunnier disposition. I have one small carry-on and a large purse, two outfits max, plus workout gear for the hotel gym. After all, the best part of any business trip is landing back in your hometown and knowing it's just a short walk from the gate to a taxi, no waiting for luggage or any unnecessary delays before the glorious return to family life on the ground.
If you're a business traveler with family, and have useful tips for juggling life on the road and at home, please tell us about them in the comments.
[Image: Flickr user Heider K]