Anticipating bad news on a business trip

sympathy cardWhat do you do when you’re expecting bad news on a business trip? Reader S asks….

I have several work trips coming up in the next month. This is normal for me. Unfortunately my grandmother is in bad health, and could pass away at any time. I can’t stop traveling indefinitely, but I want to be able to get back quickly if she takes a turn for the worse or passes while I’m gone. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Reader S, I am so sorry about your grandmother. I actually have been going through something similar for the past couple of months and can totally relate! My own grandmother was in hospice for several weeks before passing away last week. I had several trips scheduled over the past month, including two while she was in hospice. In an ideal world you could just stop traveling and stay close to home for as long as you need, but in reality that’s often just not an option. Here are the ways I tried to prepare in case the worst happened while I was gone.

Have a gameplan. For each of the trips I made before my grandmother passed, I had a gameplan in case the worst happened. This included researching alternative flight plans for an early return home, what work could be pushed back or passed on to co-workers, and who needed to be notified in what order.

Buy refundable tickets. It may be a good idea to buy refundable fares for the time being, obviously depending on if the potential savings outweighs the cost of cancelling a less expensive ticket. Another option–fly Southwest for a while, who has a much more lenient change policy than most airlines. If you have the option to buy airline tickets through your company’s travel agency,  I would do that for the foreseeable future. If you need to change or cancel a ticket they may be able to  help more quickly. If you don’t have that option, you  can always call the airline and explain what happened. Bereavement fares are sometimes available on short notice, but they may not be cheaper than a last-minute non-refundable fare.

Have your “out of office” message ready to go. This is a simple thing, but when your brain  isn’t functioning at full capacity it helps to have as much already figured out as possible.

Keep a running  list of projects. Even when I wasn’t traveling, I had a list of everything I was working. This way I could hand anything urgent off to a co-worker if necessary. It may also be helpful to keep a rolling list of meetings that would need to be cancelled.

Obviously these tips are only useful if you are anticipating bad news. If something unexpected comes up it’s an entirely different ball game. In that case, grab your stuff and run for the airport, calling the travel agency or airline on the way.

Readers, any other tips for Reader S?


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  1. I’m late to this, but just wanted to add that I’m in a similar situation at the moment. The tips here are great – especially about booking things which can be cancelled easily.

    I’ve recently put together a small basic emergency overnight bag for me and my partner, in case we need to stay over somewhere unexpectedly (we both travel regularly for work – both overnight and long day trips – and our routine can be pretty unpredictable). It includes a minimal toiletries bag (all samples and travel sizes), 1 set each of clean underwear and t-shirts, a spare USB phone charger, stuff like that. The key for me has been using all duplicates – in an emergency I wouldn’t want to have to think about transferring things from another bag, or think about choosing what to pack, or explaining over the phone to someone what to pick up for me! It’s also extremely light – just enough essentials for 24-36 hours. If I have time, I could add extra things, but it’s reassuring to know that if I don’t have time either me or my partner could just grab this one bag.

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