January was a busy month of business travel for me. With three business trips in as many weeks (two of which were cross-country) as well as three separate trips (one for all of us, two others for Scoot) to the Bay, it would have been easy for any one of the four of us to have a complete meltdown. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it went. Though most of the credit goes to having a more-than-capable husband willing and able to stand in for me while I’m away and my dad who pinched hit for a couple days while we were both away, I also like to think that the tricks I’ve developed over the years have helped make my absence less burdensome to Scoot and the boys. In the hopes of helping others relieve some of the stress (and, perhaps, guilt) that come with being a traveling working mom, I thought I’d share my experiences.
- Plan ahead. While Scoot is responsible for cooking meals most weeknights anyway, I usually develop a weekly meal plan that he follows so he doesn’t have to think about what he should make and we’re sure to have everything he needs in the fridge/pantry. Before I leave for a trip, I write out the meals for the week and, if appropriate, where to find the recipes and post them on the fridge. Anything that is out of the ordinary such as snack day, fundraisers due, etc. are dealt with ahead of time to minimize the number of things he has to remember in my absence. We let the boys get hot lunch or have a Lunchables (I know, not the greatest nutritional options but the vast majority of the boys’ lunches are quite well-rounded and health-conscious) to make getting out in the mornings as easy as possible.
- Do ahead. When I leave, I try to have the first day’s meal in the crockpot and the first day’s lunches made. I double-check to make sure all the bills are paid so neither of us has to worry about that while I’m away. I hate coming home to a messy house and a sink full of dishes but I understand how hard it is to find time for cleaning during a busy week. I’ve found that the cleaner I leave the house, the cleaner it’s likely to be upon my return. Think beyond the day of your return as well. Planning the day after my return keeps me from having to be “on” as soon as I get home. (See also, #10.)
- Keep a routine. Having mom gone can be disruptive so keeping a routine for the boys is important. We do whatever we can to keep their before and after school routines as normal as possible. Scoot, DJ and I share a Google calendar and I put everything (basketball practices, dress-up days at school, library book due dates, etc.) on there so all three of us know what’s supposed to happen on each day. I also make sure to tell the boys’ teachers/daycare workers that I’ll be gone so they can adapt to funky moods or the need for a little extra TLC (this was especially true when they were in daycare/preschool).
- Allow for fun. My mom didn’t travel much for work but the times that she did were great fun for me and my dad. I have fond memories of going to St. Louis Cardinals games at Busch Stadium on *gasp!* weeknights while my mom was off at her conferences (there’s no way would that ever fly if she were home). Though I don’t want to break the bank or get the boys’ routines out of whack, I generally encourage some special “Mom is gone, let’s go crazy” activities like a trip to the ice cream shop or a special dinner out. This extends past my return as well. If at all possible, I try to make sure Scoot gets some down time when I get home so that he can unwind without the boys too.
- Plan travel around your family. Sometimes meeting times, flight costs and schedules, and company policies dictate what times and days I travel. But if I can leave after morning drop-off (Scoot does pick-up anyway) or get back in time for dinner and bedtime routines, those extra few hours of being able to provide my regular contribution to our family’s day are incredibly helpful. Not to mention the fact that each extra day of added care for the boys costs $32. If I can at all make it work, I try to schedule my trips so that I leave and return while they’re at school.
- Pack fast and light. Even my dog gets stressed out when I bring out a suitcase and spend hours debating what to put in it. Dragging out my preparation just rubs my boys’ noses in the fact I’ll be leaving them so I try to pack either after they’re in bed or when they’re off at school right before I leave. Even when I was away for an entire week, I packed in a carry-on so I could get off the plane and into my car to get home to them as quickly as possible. I find little worse than being “home” but delaying my arrival home for 30 minutes or more while standing around waiting for luggage.
- Stay in touch. Technology is a godsend for the traveling mom. Even on a regular day, Scoot and I are in frequent communication with each other about home life. Being available (when I’m not working or in meetings) to answer quick questions like, “Where are Bop’s basketball shoes?” or being kept abreast of the days’ developments like, “DJ forgot his homework,” help me feel connected and relieve a bit of the pressure on Scoot to keep track of absolutely everything under the sun. Ever since DJ’s gotten his iPod, I’ve used email to send him little notes, letting him know I miss him and am thinking about him and sending little reminders. Bop has discovered Facetime on Scoot’s phone and he LOVES talking to me and making funny faces through it. I’m grateful that it’s so much easier to stay connected than it was a generation ago.
- Get rewarded. I’ve signed up for a handful of relevant loyalty programs (airline miles, hotel points, etc.) and take advantage of my travel in order to accrue points that I use for family vacations. I maximize my earning potential by trying to travel on one of two airlines and earn my points wherever I can. (For example, you can usually opt for airline miles instead of or in addition to hotel points at most hotels). I use programs like Star Alliance to focus on accruing on US Air even while traveling on United. Similarly, because I have to use a personal card and get reimbursed for travel expenses, I signed up a Chase Disney Rewards Visa that accrues points that convert to Disney dollars. On our last trip to DisneyWorld we had $600 worth of Disney dollars accrued that we used for food, souvenirs, hotel and tickets. My philosophy is if I have to travel for work, the least I can do is figure out ways for the boys to benefit from it (besides, you know, the whole paycheck thing. Heh.)
- Take care of yourself. Traveling is hard on the body. When I travel for work, many of the factors most important to feeling good are out of my control. But I try my best to eat well (including lots of fiber and lots of water), take my vitamins, get sleep, etc. Sure socializing with coworkers, clients or business associates can be fun and sometimes required, but late nights out – especially those that involved drinking – can take their toll. I try to take advantage of the peace and quiet that come with being alone in a hotel by reading, watching a TV show or movie that I’ve wanted to see and – by far the best part of business travel – sleeping diagonally across the bed.
- Celebrate your return. I make sure the boys know when I’m coming home (with the always fun caveat that sometimes things happen and flights get delayed) and I make plans with them for the special things we’re going to do when I return. I pick them up from school (rather than having them go to after school care), take them to lunch or dinner or ice cream, or just get in bed and snuggle with them. Being back together again is certainly cause to celebrate.
So that’s it. I hope some of these tips help relieve the stress and guilt that can accompany a business trip when you’re a wife and mom. What about you? What do you do to make sure everyone survives when you’re from home?