For many parents, business trips are a necessary evil—no one likes to leave their kids at home to attend a meeting or a conference, but sometimes it's unavoidable. If you have a long trip or are leaving a kid at a stage when they're particularly attached to you, the guilt can be terrible.
When you travel for work, you miss your kids. Your kids miss you. You miss your spouse. Your spouse misses you and also is completely exhausted. In short—it's difficult for everyone. But there are a few things parents can try in hopes of making a business trip a little easier. Here are my top 10 tips.
1. Bring home swag—the cheesier and less useful to you, the more your kids will love it. We have mini Frisbees, boarding-pass holders galore, a couple of those fans that mist water on you—they're all emblazoned with company names and logos, and they're in heavy rotation in my house. In fact, when we had our then 2-year-old choose his favorite toys for a 2.5-week trip, two blinking LED "ice cubes" with the Google logo made the cut. So steer clear of things you might use, like USB drives and flashlights, and load up on silly things. Swag that actually is a toy, of course, is a must-take.
2. Don't stop by preschool/daycare on your way to the airport to kiss your kids goodbye. They will inevitably think you are there to take them home early and be horribly upset. I learned this one the hard way and still feel like a jerk.
3. Video chat apps are your best friend. With FaceTime, all I need is a wifi connection and my kids and I can see each other. (Plus, your kids will love seeing themselves in the little thumbnail viewer. Be prepared for lots of funny faces.) Skype and Tango are other options. 4. Another way to make technology work for you: play a game remotely against your kid. Draw Something is fantastic.
5. Let your kids draw in your work notebook. When a meeting's going long, it's nice to flip a page and find a family portrait drawn by your toddler.
6. Make sure your children's school and/or caregivers have current contact information for both parents. You might be the usual emergency contact, but if you're halfway between NYC and LAX and your cell phone is on airplane mode, the school nurse needs to be able to reach your spouse instead.
7. Familiarize yourself with your airline's policy for same-day flight changes. It varies widely from airline to airline, but if it's compatible with your work schedule, it's a real treat to switch to an earlier flight and get home before your kids get to bed. Or, if you're traveling in winter and there's a bad snowstorm approaching, switching to an earlier flight can allow you to avoid spending an unplanned extra night at your destination.
8. A business trip can be a rare opportunity for you to recharge. Take advantage of this. You'll have an uninterrupted night's sleep. You'll have a spotlessly clean rental car, and if someone cuts you off on the highway, you can call the other driver what you really want to call them instead of whatever non-obscene substitute phrase you've begrudgingly adopted since having kids. If you're in a town that's boring at night, you can to a non-animated movie. Your kids will be much happier if you come home energized instead of exhausted.
9. Plan on spending quality time with your kids the first day you're back. Your spouse will also appreciate not being on duty for a while.
10. Lastly, consider appending a family vacation to your business trip. If you're at a convention in Orlando for a week, your spouse and kids could fly down on Friday. You could hit the theme parks that weekend, and fly home together on Sunday. (Note: Doing a family vacation before a trip might sound tempting, but I don't recommend it. It's a major downer.)