If you’ve got a family, traveling for work can be tough. You miss the kids. They miss you. That homesickness leads some working parents to consider a radical solution: bringing the kids along on business trips.
There are pluses and minuses, says Henley Vazquez, cofounder and CEO of Passported, a website focused on family travel. She began to bring her two children on her European business trips years ago because her husband’s family lived in Spain, and she continues to bring them along frequently. There are the obvious downsides, including airplane temper tantrums, she says. There’s this less obvious one, too: Sometimes working parents need solo time. “I kind of like returning to the hotel room when I’m exhausted, having no schedule, and flopping down and eating dinner in my bathrobe with the TV on, which I never get to do at home,” says Vazquez. “People shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time for themselves.”
On the other hand, “If you have to go somewhere, why not turn it into something beyond sitting in a hotel room and going to meetings all day?” she says. “Use this as an excuse to show them someplace new.” Another upside: “The sooner you start traveling with them, the better.” Soon they’ll be good little road warriors who pack their own suitcases and write detailed restaurant reviews on Yelp. Here’s how to make it go smoothly.
If your co-parent can come along and wrangle the children, that’s wonderful. If that’s not an option, you need other plans. Some large companies have corporate daycares that will take your kid while you’re meeting at headquarters. If not, ask friends and colleagues in the area for sitter referrals, or you can use someone the hotel has a long relationship with. But don’t wing it; “Don’t say, ‘Don’t worry, Johnny can sit in the corner watching his iPad!’” says Vazquez. “That should only happen in an emergency.”
A child who wakes up at 6:00 a.m. on the East Coast will wake up at 3:00 a.m. on his first night in California. A child who doesn’t sleep on an overnight flight to Europe will try to nap all afternoon his first day there, and then won’t sleep at night. If you know this, you can deal. Parents aren’t flummoxed by a little interrupted sleep. That said, don’t make life harder than necessary. Don’t, for instance, plan a late dinner the first night if your kid will be up at 3:00 a.m. “You need to show up as your best self,” says Vazquez. You don’t want to be the exhausted parent who can’t cope.
“Don’t forget that you do have them with you,” says Vazquez. You don’t want the child to feel that she got “dragged along like a suitcase.” So make time for a zoo trip, or a special dinner out. Check to see if the hotel has a pool–not all business hotels do–and if it does have a pool, that it’s not attached to a high-end spa that doesn’t welcome children. Done right, a business trip can be a real relationship-building opportunity. “I think what can be really fun is if you take one [child] and sneak in one-on-one time,” says Vazquez. “It makes it feel really special for them.”
With business travel, you’re often racing home to see the family. If the family’s with you, you don’t have to. “Don’t take the crazy flight,” says Vazquez. “Everybody will be cranky.” If your meetings are late in the week, stay for Saturday, and if they’re early in the week, consider coming out the Friday or Saturday before. You’ll have time for the fun stuff. “That’s what truly flips a business trip into a family trip,” she says.
Travel with children features soaring highs and wretched lows, often within the same hour. In that way, it’s just a microcosm of parenting in general. So set the expectation that there will be soul-crushing moments, and then you can be pleasantly surprised by the good things. Tell the hotel you’re bringing children, and what they like. “You never know what kind of surprises they’ll come up with,” says Vazquez. Traveling with children can help you see new places through new eyes. That’s the point of travel, even if we tend to forget it after too many business trips.