Bringing Your Family on a Work Trip

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

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’.

20140427-104538.jpg

Little C came to work with me at the recent Frequent Traveler University

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.

20140427-104229.jpg

Josh looking ‘excited’ to be at a conference with C!

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.

Museum of Flight

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! 

20140427-104146.jpg

….or she entertains herself by playing hide and go seek under the presentation screen while I set up to present.

20140427-104245.jpg

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!

20140427-104306.jpg

20140427-104254.jpg

Practicing her family travel presentation

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.

20140427-130849.jpg

The Great Wheel in Seattle on a beautiful day

Turning the crab bib into a cape in downtown Seattle!

Turning the crab bib into a cape in downtown Seattle!

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.

20140427-131058.jpg

Laughing on the big ferris wheel

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?

Pingbacks

  1. […] 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’. Read full article […]

Comments

  1. Bringing family on work trips is a recipe for disaster. Not every time of course. In fact, 95% of the time it goes swimmingly. But the damage that the 5% can cause to either career or family dynamics is probably not worth the risk.

    Your situation is different being essentially self-employed, but I can’t stress enough the importance of letting your chain of command know about the family accompanying you. I’ve been in the position of being the manager who had to terminate an employee because she had brought her kid along on a work trip and then tried to fake an illness when work requirements changed and she had no backup option for child care. I’ve also authorised an employee taking her child along at company expense under a specific circumstance that warranted that concession.

    Overall though, many (most?) people make really poor judgement calls about how they can balance family and work on business trips. Best for all concerned if you simply take a long weekend or similar on the back end (NOT the front end) of a trip rather than have family accompany you on the trip itself.

    • Sean, I totally agree that you should clear the family coming along with the appropriate chain of command. I also very much agree in having a firm child care plan in place – usually that will be the spouse watching the kids while you work, but sometimes it might be a bit different. Clearly not every business trip is suited to being made into a family getaway of sorts, but I do think it can work just fine in certain circumstances if you have good expectations and plans in place.

  2. I believe it all depends on the situation. Mommy Points is the owner of her own business so she is her boss 🙂 I would not bring family in a business trip unless I brings wife and two kids and they get to do their own stuff while I work. We can then enjoy maybe the weekend together but I would not count on even having dinner with them. I’ve been in situations where I had a business trip to my home country and while there I decided to have dinner with my parents one of the nights so we could spend some time together. Even tough I had a “free night”, my father picked me up at my hotel and paid for the dinner couple days later I was told by my manager that some people in our group did not like my attitude because even it was a free night people expected that we stick together as a group. BS!!!!! I was very mad but there was nothing I could say.
    On the other hand there are some companies that allow employers to bring family along while on business trips. A friend of mine had a two week business trip to Asia where he would be visiting several countries and his company allowed him to expense two coach tickets instead of his business class ticket and take his wife with him for free. She stayed in the same hotel room with him and he made sure he only expensed his part of the meals and paid for hers from his own pocket. She spent the entire trip as a tourist while he was working and enjoyed evenings and weekends together in Asia. That was a nice gesture where his wife had an opportunity of a great trip for free and he did not have to stress about being away from his wife for two weeks. In my opinion it is a win win situation.

    • Santastico, indeed my situation is now different since I ‘work for myself’, but we did this back when I worked for someone else, and still do it on a few of my husbands trips…but, as you say, it all depends on the situation. It is easier when it is just the employee + spouse, but kids can work in some situations. Very cool when companies actually pick up the tab for a spouse to join!

  3. I have actually just been thinking about this topic today. Thinking about signing for the Chicago Seminars and bringing my hubby (non-points guy) and 2 year old to tag along. Do they offer in-between times to go spend time with the family, or is it pretty much go-go-go? I think my husband might kill me if I leave him alone with my son for the weekend….either at the hotel or at home!

    • Kayla, well you can certainly go to as many or as few sessions as you want. There will be a reception for the spouses late Saturday afternoon with some free drinks and door prizes, but basically it will be up to you to pick sessions and skip sessions at your leisure. You could certainly make it work though – especially if you skipped out of the sessions a little earlier in the day.

  4. I go an a big work conference every year, often to a fun international city. I have tons of professional obligations (dinners, drinks, etc) and would feel very uncomfortable with my husband or kids along (although others do it). But to maximize the free flight and hotel on my part, my husband and I travel to the city on Friday, when normally I would arrive on Sunday evening for the Monday morning conference start. My air ticket is still fully paid, and we only pay the hotel on Friday and Saturday nights, usually able to extend the conference rate or we use points. We enjoy the weekend, get our Sunday night hotel paid, then he flies home Monday morning.

  5. In my experience, it is hard to have family there on a work trip, but bringing them on the front end or back end of the trip (before/after the work) is a great option. My husband has to be in Hong Kong for a conference in a few weeks, so my daughter and I are arriving on the last day of the conference. We are all going to take a few days to explore the city together and hit Hong Kong Disneyland. I’m glad that I won’t be there during the bulk of the conference though because I know my husband’s schedule will be totally jam-packed. And I’d probably get worn out being a totally solo parent in such a far-flung destination.

  6. I think it also depends on how old your kids are. I’ve taken my two older children with me on work trips and they generally stay in the hotel room when I’m at the meeting (they are old enough to stay home / babysit). My work trips are typically just 2 days of meetings in the afternoon and are usually very flexible, so I can pop in and out as needed. We then use the other time to sightsee.

  7. I am very old school and also very “corporate” and will get flamed for this but it is my opinion. I think it just looks bad to bring spouse or kids. It shows you are not committed to the reason for the trip. I have never brought my family along. Also I do to want to see your family at any event since it should be all business. Now if it is a corporate family picnic or something like that, that is different. To bing them along for the free hotel room is just not my style.

    Many people can make it work seamlessly but I like to keep them totally separate.

    Note: FTU is a different type of event. I am equating this to the more traditional types of business trips like a trip to the home office for a few days of meetings.

    • Andrew, I totally get it and there are indeed some industries that are still a bit more “old school” as you put it where families would not be as well received, even if they were nowhere near the meetings or conference. It is important to know your industry for sure.

  8. Great post! I’m a SAHM of a 3 year old, so I’m very fortunate to go with my husband for many of his work trips! Sometimes the trips are to a city that’s just a few hours drive away, and my son and I have fun exploring the city during the day and then have dinner with my husband at night (unless he has a special conference dinner one night). These trips are a nice little break from cooking and cleaning, and they cost us almost nothing, since hotel, gas, and food are paid for. If we go to bigger conferences, such as in Europe or at beach resorts, we try to use miles for our plane tickets (my husband’s is paid for). Sometimes we’ll pay out of pocket for extra hotel days and sightseeing together, so that we do still get a family vacation but at a fraction of the cost. For me, the hardest part about these conferences is the long days when we may not see my husband much at all, or going out to dinner which is often late at night (I try to have our son nap so that he doesn’t completely melt down!). As for my husband, he mostly just complains that we get way more sightseeing or beach time than he does!

  9. I’ve done this a few times and it requires balance. I think it really depends on what the work trip entails and the industry you’re in.

    In your case, while she probably would get bored, FFers would probably welcome your daughter at seminars and she can get a great opportunity to observe and possibly interact with a variety of different people. I would not contemplate taking my children without my spouse though as my industry isn’t kid friendly.

    In my case it’s either been conventions where I knew I didn’t have any obligations after the events (ie taking customers out to dinner etc.) or longer trips where we drove and could spend weekends together exploring the area.

  10. My daughter is 7 and has been to more states than most adults. As a baby she came with grandma (both on my dime) so I could nurse. (I highly recommend paying the plane ticket of a relative who doesn’t get to see your child much. They often are much more enthused about 24-7 babysitting than a spouse.) Now at only 7 she is downright helpful, e.g. can fix the keystone on a projector better than an adult. When we stay at one hotel chain she remembers all the others in that brand we’ve been at before recently and compares them. (While a Hyatt girl she is learning to appreciate the others as well.) I feel so lucky she’s been able to watch me run a successful business and learn to interact with adults as well as see the world and have fun.

  11. My hubby has to travel to Atlantic City for work quite often. Last summer, we turned one of those trips into a small vacation for me and my son.
    Hubby’s work schedule is usually Tue-Thu with travel days on Mon and Fri. We flew in on Monday and while hubby was working Tue-Thu, my son and I checked out Atlantic City and the Jersey shore. (I used my companion ticket with US Airways!) Then, instead of flying home on Friday, we booked the flight home on Sunday and spent a couple days in NYC. We had to book a different rental car for the weekend NYC trip because he was only reimbursed for Mon-Fri and they want a receipt. But other than that, it was pretty easy.

  12. My husband was hired by a company who is sending him across country to a major city to do a weeks worth of training. I’m a SAHM and we have a 4 and 2 year old. We travel a lot as a family, and this year I took the kids to Disney by myself while he did conferences in Orlando – we had so much fun! I’m used to getting my kids on and off buses and keeping them busy during the day with sightseeing. My husband is from near this area as well and it would be a chance for the kids to see their grandparents (a very rare treat). I know I can handle watching and keeping the kids busy during the day and evenings on this upcoming trip, and we’d pay for all our own expenses. But I am not sure how it would look to the company to have him bring his family along? They just told him to book his own ticket and find a hotel close to their business, so it is not a group training. His fellow employees wouldn’t see his family or anything while we were there, so no awkwardness, and it’s fine if he needs to stay late for extra meetings or dinners. Looking for some opinions – should we attempt it, or would it get him started on a bad foot with the company if we even asked???

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *