The sacrifices of a business traveler.

When you travel week after week for months on end you begin to realize just how much you sacrifice for your job.  I missed the Mini Warrior’s 11-6-14-1first day of preschool, the first time he went in the potty (trust me, that’s a big deal in the life of a parent of a toddler), the first time he went to a baseball game, and the list goes on and on.  At the end of a long trip I’ll be scheduled to arrive in time to hold my child before he goes to bed only to have those hopes dashed by airplane maintenance or a weather delay. Then there’s the sacrifice the Home Warrior makes.  He’s a stay at home dad and typically cares for the Mini Warrior during the day then I care for him at night.  When I travel it’s up to the Home Warrior to care for the Mini Warrior all day, without break.  Our child does now go to daycare for ten hours a week, but even with that relief it’s a challenge for him when I’m gone, especially when one or both of them are sick.

Time with friends and family also takes a hit when I travel. When I finally get to see my friends and family I always find myself starting out the conversation, “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever!”, which is probably true. I miss get-togethers, from the informal happy hour to weddings. Then there’s entertainment.  When I’m traveling all the time we constantly have to say no to outings because I’ll either be gone or too exhausted.  Finally, there are vacations.  It’s easy to book a business trip when it’s required by your job, but I find myself dreading the thought of getting home from a long trip then turning around and getting right back on a plane again, even to fly somewhere awesome.  It’s like home almost feels like vacation at times.

I’m writing this not because I want you to feel sorry for me, but because I know there are business travelers all around the world sacrificing their family, friends, and personal life for their jobs, and I want to start a discussion on how to make things better.  Here a few ways I try to minimize the impact of business travel on my life and my family.

Super long travel days. For a normal trip I will often leave early in the morning rather than leaving the night before. Yes it means a really long day for me, but I would rather get that extra time with my family. (Of course, if there is a very important meeting I will fly out the night before.) I will also plan to go home the same day I finish working instead of waiting until the next day. I’d rather get home at 2am and be there when my son wakes up than get a good night’s sleep in a hotel.

Breaking up trips. If I need to visit three different locations I will often visit two in one trip, head home for a few days, then go to the third site. Otherwise I will be gone for over a week at a time, which I try to avoid as much as possible. I am lucky that I can control certain aspects of my travel schedule—not everyone has that luxury.

Bring family. Consider bringing a friend or family member with you on a business trip to make it more enjoyable.  Pay for their ticket using miles, or if you have the Southwest Companion Pass transfer the pass (if needed) to their name so they can fly for free.  (You can transfer the Companion Pass to another individual up to four times a year.)  It may make sense to add some vacation days to the end of your business trip and have your friend or family member join you during those days. I’ve had family travel with me on work days and usually have to desert them until the evening.  This can still work out, just try to help plan activities for them during your work hours.  If you’re sharing a hotel room remember to ask for two beds if it’s not your significant other.  Finally, I always make sure my tag along can access the WiFi before I leave.

Meals planned for family. Before I leave I make sure that all of the meals are planned and the food is bought. If the Home Warrior is making a crockpot meal I will sometimes mix everything together so all he has to do is dump it into the pot. Anything to make things easier!  Speaking of crockpot meals, I found a free ebook deal going on right now for 85 Quick and Easy Low Carb Slow Cooker RecipesI downloaded it and it looks pretty good.  Not sure how long it will be free though so be sure to check the price before you click buy if you want it for free.  For more information on taking care of loved ones left at home check out this post.  

Clarity around schedules. My husband and I use Google calendar to share the itinerary for my business trips.  When I first started traveling I would just verbally tell the Home Warrior my travel schedule.  This is a bad idea!  When you don’t write down travel days, flight information, and hotel information you’re adding an unnecessary burden to those at home.  As soon as I have my trip information I add it to the Google calendar, and if there’s flight delays when coming home I make sure that I’m communicating that to the Home Warrior. I also make sure anything he needs to be aware of at home is on the calendar—doctor appointments, playdates, etc.

Readers, what do you do to lessen the impact of business travel on your life?

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  1. Oh you miss stuff. I am currently in China, wrapping up an extended assignment. Since mid July, I have been in the US less than 10 days.
    One guy who is here had his wife over for about 2 months. Since the company reimburses BC travel, he is considering the AMEX Platinum card for the BOGO BC benefit. My wife works, and this was not a practical option.
    But yeah, when people seem envious of your traveling, you have to work had to suppress the eye-roll.

  2. I employ one of the working mom jedi mind tricks – the first time only counts if it’s the first time for you! my little guy walked at daycare for the first time but I ignored that milestone and only documented the time he did so at home in front of me. I also plan the weekend activities before I leave so that my husband doesn’t stress about entertainment. I put everything into a Google doc and Google Cal, and leave hard copies of the schedule and the tickets in a folder. I always fear that they would just spend the weekend in front of the TV without me! I alert the daycare about my travel as well, and my boss/team if my husband is the one who travels. in addition to food (making a couple of meals in advance + stocking the fridge) I also make sure we’ve done all the laundry. The last full work day before my departure (i.e. Thursday if I leave on Friday) I work from home so I can finish packing and can concentrate on family time on my last evening/day with my guys. my husband knows that as much as I miss them, I also love the time on my own (sleep! someone else cooks and cleans for me) and I try to make thing as easy for him as possible.

  3. From 1988 to 1993 I worked as Regional Auditor for an NGO in West Africa, staying in god-awful rural places where there were no hotels, or in hotels where the sheets had not been changed in weeks, and no proper restaurants.

    During one trip to rural Sierra Leone, a colleague and I stayed in a government guesthouse and we had to fetch bathing water ourselves at 8 in the evening, and the water was slimy and green.

    One would think that my boss would be more considerate of these sacrifices and be more reasonable with expenses during my twice-yearly official travels to our USA headquarters. But no. On one occasion, I had some sushi (around $8.00) and a can of root beer from a sushi stand on my arrival at Boston Logan airport (not even at a restaurant).

    My boss disallowed the cost of that meal, stating that I “already ate on the plane (from Europe).” Airline food, even then, was not very filling. And given the long journey from West Africa and the time difference, I was famished.

  4. Since our employer was a child-sponsorship NGO, the bulk of whose income consisted of individual monthly donations from sponsors, around $22 per month.

    Our travel expenses were always measured against equivalent monthly donations. For example, if one of us had a $20 dinner, s/he would be told “Your dinner is almost the equivalent of one sponsor’s monthly donation.”

    The unwritten guideline for cost of meals was $5 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, and $15 for dinner, including tips. So, to stay within those guidelines, one had to order breakfast costing less than $4, in order to be able to leave a $1 tip.

    Once I purchased a 15-piece bucket of KFC and made it last for dinner and next day’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  5. On my first, month-long trip to their USA headquarters, in the Summer of 1987, I was booked in a $16 a night motel within walking distance to the office, so that we did not need to rent more than one car. Three of use shared one car and many arguments resulted.

    On our second weekend, the three of us were asked to leave the motel because it was fully booked for the weekend, and to move to a Sheraton at the airport area (around $60 per night), which for me was the height of luxury, considering the level of accommodations in West Africa.

    We left the motel on Friday afternoon with all out belongings (as mentioned, it was a month-long trip) and returned on Sunday afternoon. The entire weekend was wasted, we spent it packing and unpacking instead of sightseeing.

  6. I use Trip It and make sure I keep it up to date with all travel plans. My husband’s phone is signed in to my trip it account. That way he always knows where I am in case of an emergency. Trip it also notifies him of delays and cancellations.

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