The crisp white linens of a hotel bed have never looked so delightful to me as the first time I traveled for work eight months after my daughter was born. I was going to SLEEP! In a bed. By myself. Maybe all the way through the night. A heavenly chorus should have burst into spontaneous hallelujahs right then and there.
I was going to watch TV. I might read a book or flip through a magazine. I was going to have time to wash AND dry AND straighten my Troy Polomalau-style hair in one sitting. You would have thought I was on an all-expenses-paid luxury cruise instead of staying one night in a modest hotel in Dallas.
Well, it turns out all that stuff doesn’t always happen when you’re traveling for work, especially when your little ones are little. Traveling for work can be a mixed bag. There are some things that are fantastic about it, and there are some that are super lame.
Pro: You get to sleep in a nice place.
Yeah, I know that sounds super-basic, but for my frazzled post-childbearing self, I was doing really well to make sure there WERE sheets on the bed, much less that they were perfectly tucked in, crisp and fresh, and mounded with fluffy pillows. And, wonder of wonders, guess what? Something magical happens when you leave your hotel room. Some magic transpires (or, more reasonably, some wonderful person takes care of it) and—ta-da!—everything in your room goes back to normal, clean, freshly scented glory when you leave for a few hours. The whole trip is generally worth it just for the magic of maid service and meals you don’t have to prepare yourself.
Con: You may still have motherly duties to take care of.
On my first overnight trip, I did go out to a nice restaurant and watch utterly frivolous TV. However, I also woke up in the middle of the night to—oh, joy of joys!—pump (heavy on the sarcasm here), and I did have to stop in the middle of my day of meetings to pump in spaces that were totally not intended as areas to produce liquid for human consumption. And I did get to indulge in the utter delight of TSA and the intense scrutiny and bottle-swabbing to be able to carry that hard-earned milk back through the airport. I could probably write an entire post just on the topic of “Places I Have Pumped,” to include The United States Capitol, a semi-public bathroom space in Scottsdale, an airport lounge, a weird storage area in a bank branch, and the Google headquarters. Yeah, motherhood is awesome. There’s nothing that keeps you humble like remembering, “Oh, it’s just about time to attach my breasts to suction cups and stand near the only electrical outlet I can find, while no fewer than 35 other women walk by and stare me down.”
Pro: You can network again.
In the earlier days of my career, I worked in PR and my husband was frequently out of town in his consulting capacity. Being a PR person can often mean attending after-work events, and I also prioritized my friendships and relationships more. I planned evening events for team building with my department and socialized within the industry. After my daughter was born, there was a definite shift in my schedule, and I wanted to go home after work and spend time with her. I went from being out and about five nights a week to struggling to carve out time for a monthly book club meeting. Now, I find that work travel gives me the extra time to form and cement relationships, not only with others in the industry, but with my own colleagues. It gives back just a little of that extra time that was traded off when you assumed parenting duties, and it gives you the chance to do it (sometimes even over Tito’s or sushi) without feeling like you’re slacking on the non-career-front.
Con: Time doesn’t stop while you’re away from home.
When you come back from a business trip, the inevitability of work—both business and personal—does come home to roost. Even if you look like a walking Apple Store between your iPhone, iPad, and laptop, you still won’t be able to keep on top of the mounds and mountains of work emails. Projects will have continued rolling forward so you’ll be expected to jump right back in seamlessly. At the same time, on the home front, even the most supportive of spouses can’t always juggle everything. The laundry, the dry cleaning, the housework, the quality time between you and your child AND you and your significant other will all be in the hopper as well, totally worthy but also totally preventing you from ever getting fully caught up after a week away from home. The extra burden traveling puts on your spouse shouldn’t be underrated either. When I’m out of town, it’s easy for my husband to feel burned out because he’s been handling the full workload and there’s been no downtime for him. It’s important to make sure to either schedule some time together or give your S/O a chance to decompress when you return.
Pro: You get to be away from your family.
OK, I’ll pause a second while everyone gathers their virtual rotten tomatoes to throw at me. After all, in popular parenting parlance, you should be soaking up every single last coffee and dish detergent and stale Cheerio-infused moment and feeling miserable maelstroms of mom guilt just for being a working mom, much less being a working mom who travels. But here’s the thing: part of the reason I work is because I love ideas and strategizing and accomplishing goals. When I go out of town for a meeting or conference, my brain gets this extra jolt of energy and passion and excitement. When I bring that back home with me, I’m a better mom. I feel better able to nurture and inspire and support my daughter when I’ve had a little time for thought and personal growth. In a household like ours, where we’re far from family and both maintaining busy schedules, opportunities for self-care are few and far between. If I have to get it by simply being able to take a daily shower two time zones away, so be it.
Con: You might miss your family.
No matter how energizing a trip can be, it’s never 100% easy to be away. That pesky mom guilt I mentioned? It’s still there. The first week-long trip I took away from my daughter I cried the majority of the Uber ride to the airport, pausing only to let the driver know he went the wrong way TWICE (which, naturally, did wonders for my frame of mind). I knew she was in good hands, the trip was mandatory, and that I should suck it up and act rational, but there was a part of me that felt like I was the worst mother on the planet when I saw her little face looking at me from the porch as I rode away. FaceTime and other technology do wonders to make you feel connected while you’re away, but between time changes and fully packed days and baby bedtimes, it can seem forever to both parent and kid.
So, work travel is great, except for those few moments when it’s not. I believe you can make it easier on yourself by going into it with a realistic perspective, not being too hard on yourself, and consciously showing gratitude to those who make your trips possible and smooth. A few shout-outs from my perspective go to companies (like KKR and IBM) that give travel perks to travelers with families; my own management team at my company for giving me the opportunity to grow and enrich my career; and my husband for being so patient and giving me the chance to thrive in my work.