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Travel is a part of our family’s life. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I hate it (mostly when my husband is gone for work on a little too regular a basis), but there is no denying we have learned to live our lives both together, and apart. I think that a key to doing this as successfully as possible is to have a plan for staying in touch with with those family members who are back at home. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Scott Mayerowitz about this topic as he was putting together his recent article on this topic for Travel and Leisure.
I’m sure every family has their own plan for staying connected on the road, but here is what we do.
- Set communication expectations before you leave home. Normally the plan is just to touch base at least once a day, but this gets harder when you are talking about timezones and long flights. You may not even be available during the waking hours of the family back at home on your long travel days, so set those expectations in advance and make sure your schedule is known.
- Communicate daily. With the exception of when you truly are unavailable (and you hopefully set those expectations in step 1), whenever possible communicate daily. For most trips this will mean talking over the phone, via FaceTime, or Skype at least once a day, but if you are in a remote situation then perhaps it will simply be a daily email. However, with younger children getting to hear your voice or see your face will mean more than a letter from you via email, but some communication is better than none.
- Pick a time to talk. This won’t be necessary for all families, but if you find it is hard to talk at a time when both parties aren’t in the middle of 14 different things, then pick a time to talk. If you are on opposite sides of the globe, it may require one party to stay up late, or get up a little early, so make a “talking date”. Then, do your best to be available for your talking time. Conversations don’t need to last forever – even 10 minutes a day can make a big difference. We find that after our kid’s bath, but before she is asleep, is one of the calmest and best times of the day to talk and catch up on the day’s events.
- The focus is on those at home. You may be on the trip of a lifetime, or a very difficult business trip, and while you should share some of your day with those at home, your day is not as important as the day of the family you left behind. I can’t emphasize this enough. This is not the time to go into detail about how beautiful the architecture was on this building and that building, or how your meeting got bogged down for hours because of some complex discrepancy that you try to describe for 15 minutes. Keep the summary of your day short, and spend the majority of the time hearing about your kid’s day at school, what they are studying in their homework, what books they are reading at bedtime, how your partner’s day went, etc. Being a “single parent” for a period of time is not easy, so let your partner at home vent a little if needed without trying to one-up them with how hard your (kid free) day has been….even if your day really was very hard.
- Plan for roaming and internet issues ahead of time. Especially if you are leaving the United States (or your home country, wherever that may be), you need to plan in advance for issues like roaming on your cell phone or limited internet access. Get a international plan via your cell phone company, get a local SIM card wherever you land, or do whatever necessary to still be in contact with your family at home. If you are a single traveler, or even one without kids, this may seem totally unnecessary as you can just disconnect for a few days, but when you have a spouse and kids back home it is better to just plan in advance to solve for the barriers of staying connected. Personally, if I can’t afford the cost to stay connected to some degree when I’m on the road, then I probably can’t afford the trip. For some, this will also mean that they are selecting a hotel that has free WiFi even within the United States.
- Bring something back from your trip. A final thing that we do to keep connected to our kid on trips is to bring her something back. This has varied from a toy carved out of wood made by a local craftsman, to bongo drums, to pink kid’s chopsticks from Japan, to sea shells from the beach, to stuffed animals. She really loves it when we text or email a photo of the toy we found for her, so she can look forward to it and ask questions about it when we talk on the phone. We also have a “secret stash” of toys here at home to give her in case we simply don’t have time to get her one on the road. We try to only bring her something back from longer trips as we are gone too much for her to get a new toy every time we go out of town.
What does your family do to stay connected when some of the family members are on the road?