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Work trips usually mean that the hotel, airfare, and maybe even some meals are a covered expense for the traveling employee. Sometimes work trips are to pretty boring towns in the middle of nowhere, but sometimes they are to more exciting cities like Orlando, Las Vegas, New York City, Nassau, and beyond. For families, this can be a chance to piggy-back with the traveling employee and create a family vacation of sorts for less out-of-pocket cost since some of the costs, including lodging, are being paid for by the employer. It sounds like a great idea from a budget standpoint, but be aware there are some things to keep in mind when turning a work trip into a family ‘vacation’.
Make sure it’s okay with the employer:
Unless you work for yourself, the best place to start is to make sure that bringing the family along is okay with the employer footing the bill. I’m sure in some situations you could ‘sneak’ the family along without clearing it with the boss, but that sounds like more trouble than it’s worth to me. Lots of conferences are located in destinations that are designed for you to have fun outside of the regular meeting hours, but it’s still safest to double check that bringing along the spouse and kids (on your dime) will be okay.
I would also think through how children are received in your industry, as some professions are just naturally more child-friendly (or at least child-tolerant) than others. You may or may not care how your fellow co-workers perceive you mixing business with family, but it is something to think about ahead of time.
Think about what free time you actually have:
Some work trips naturally have more available downtime than others. Sometimes with conferences and meetings there are dinners, happy hours, and other required or ‘strongly recommended’ activities that start up when the traditional work day ends. If that is the case for your work trip, then be aware that your available time to hang out with the family may be severely limited, or non-existent. This may set-up a disappointing and frustrating situation for everyone, so think through the official and unofficial agenda before deciding to bring the crew along for the ride. I would also think about how predictable your schedule will be in advance, obviously the more set and predictable it is likely to be, the better in terms of bringing along the family.
Have firm plans for the kids while you work:
It’s a work trip, so your priority has to be to meet your work requirements, even though the family is there. This means you need to have a firm and clear plan in place for your kiddos during your work engagements. In many cases this will mean that your spouse has full child care duties while you are in meetings or presentations during the day. That arrangement may work just fine, but it needs to be very clear in terms of when you will and will not be available to help and participate. The flip side is that your spouse needs to want to have lots of time during the day (and sometimes the evening) with the kids as a solo parent. In some cases you may also be able to secure a hotel kids club or babysitting service to let the “non-working” spouse have a little time to themselves, to join you for happy hour, or hit the spa. You can ask for recommendations from friends who might live in the area you are visiting (Facebook is super helpful with this), or I know many also turn to care.com or get the hotels recommendations to find a local nanny/babysitter.
Sometimes you can also partner up with some friends who might have also brought their little ones to have some fun ‘play dates’ during the day. At the recent Frequent Traveler University in Seattle, my daughter and a friend’s daughter had a play date at the nearby Museum of Flight while I gave my presentation. There’s no way I would have been able to bring my four year old without a good plan for her while I gave my presentation, and I’m just a little too jittery about finding childcare on the internet to use a ‘stranger’ off of care.com or similar.
Be aware your kids may be in some “non kid-friendly” situations:
I’m probably really crazy because I have brought my kid on a ‘work trip’ even without my spouse being able to come with me, and this means that my kid has been in some ‘not-so-kid-friendly’ situations, such as having a plate of fruit made for her at a hotel bar out of the drink garnishes during a ‘meet and greet’. We gave the bartender a big tip!
….or she entertains herself by playing hide and go seek under the presentation screen while I set up to present.
This set-up wouldn’t work for everyone, but for us it is the reality of bringing a kid on a work trip. There will probably be times when the kid is exposed to the ‘work’ part of the trip. I think in small doses that is actually a good thing, but you have to keep that part in check as it makes working harder, and it will get boring for the kid before too long. In the meantime, having them practice giving a presentation about travel to an empty room is kinda entertaining!
Make plans for fun:
Just like you will have dedicated work time on the trip, you also need some dedicated time for fun with the family…otherwise what is the point? I recommend taking full advantage of the city you are in and doing things you can’t easily do at home. For example, our recent work trip to Seattle only included 24 hours on the ground, but we not only worked in a trip to the Museum of Flight for C, but also took her to the Seattle Great Wheel on Elliott Bay, set-up a “movie play date” with her friend, and took her to eat some yummy seafood. She was well entertained, we had fun together, and I was still able to do the ‘work’ tasks I had to complete. The hotel pool can also provide great and easily accessible entertainment.
Honestly though, the biggest upside to having her join on the work trip was just having time together. We had fun just ordering room service breakfast, hanging out on the planes, in the airport, and being together. As is the case for many working families, the biggest barrier for family time together is simply time itself. This was a relatively easy way to get more one-on-one time together while still working. She was booked to come at her insistence, and I eventually gave in after explaining repeatedly how short the trip was and what would be happening during the trip. If she really wanted to see what a ‘work trip’ was like, I was going to let her. Luckily I had the support to make it work, and I think overall it was a real success. Had I known from the beginning she was coming, I would have booked a bit more time on the ground in Seattle. In fact, if possible, I recommend extending the business trip some on either side so that you have time just to play with the family without lots of work requirements.
We weren’t able to extend the trip in our case due to her late minute addition and me already having non-refundable tickets, but we still made it work and had lots of fun together. Does your family sometimes mix business with pleasure and leverage work trips into little family getaways? What tips do you have to make that work?