Travelling for work

How to balance work travel with home life

Man on the phone holding a little girl

Enjoying work travel while doing the best for your family isn’t impossible – it just takes time, care and preparation. Working mum Andrea Mara, working dad Terran Williams and Bupa Medical Coordinator Ariel Arcaute share their tips for alleviating the negative impact and guilt that can come with travelling for work.

Balancing a successful career and a fulfilling family life can be a challenge, especially when your job regularly requires you to spend nights away from home. While you’re clocking up the air miles, your family often wishes you weren’t so far away, and are counting down the days until your return. What can you do to make business travel work for those left at home?

For Andrea Mara from Dublin, travelling was always part of her job, but her desire to continue with work trips abroad changed when her first child was born. As a manager in financial services, she says her destinations were often two flights away from home. “I hated being away from my daughter,” she says, “and started to resent travel, particularly when it was unnecessary.”

The consequences of being away from home can be hard to handle. Terran Williams works full-time in Cape Town, and blogs about his parenting experiences. “I’m still haunted by the memory of my two-year-old running up to my friend instead of me as we exited the airport after a long trip away!” he says.

Ariel Arcaute, Medical Coordinator at the Medical Service Team for Bupa Global Latin America, explains that work travel can disrupt the whole family, creating tension between parents and confusion for the children. Often the parent who is left at home ends up shouldering the brunt of the responsibilities, while the one who is travelling feels guilty and stressed.

Luckily, there are many things you can do to ease the impact on yourself, your partner and your kids. Here are some tips.

For your kids

Stay in touch whenever and however you can

Andrea found Skype calls to be a huge help when she was visiting offices in Luxembourg and Germany. “They allowed me to see my daughter each night when I got back to the hotel, and while not the same as actually being with her, it made an enormous difference.”

But big time differences or children who find it hard to say goodbye mean a Skype call isn’t always the easiest option. As Terran says: “For our young kids, sending a short video of myself each day worked better than a phone call.”

Some parents try to involve their children by bringing along one of their toys and taking photos of it on the trip – in the hotel, on the plane or in the office, for instance. This can help the child see where their mum or dad is and relate to the world in which they’re temporarily living.

Let your little ones know what’s going on

Even young children can benefit from a sit-down chat about where you’re going, for how long and why. “Kids understand more than we think they do,” Andrea says. “Even before my daughter had a real sense of days and time, it seemed to help her to know I'd be back in two or three ‘sleeps’.”

Memories that you create together are more important than gifts

Bringing a gift home can make your kids happy and show them you’ve been thinking about them while you’re away, but make sure you prioritise spending time with them too. As Andrea says: “I couldn't always control my absence, but I could control my presence. So at home, I put away my phone and spent time paying her one-on-one attention, reading to her, snuggling her and telling her I missed her.”

For yourself

Actively try to find ways to minimise travel

After her daughter was born, Andrea became determined to travel less, but not wanting to compromise her performance at work, she approached her boss with a potential solution: switching to videoconferencing wherever possible. “My boss was happy with the savings, and I was delighted to stay in the same country as my baby. Win-win.” This meant more time at home to spend with her growing family.

Look forward to – but be realistic about – home time

Work travel tends to be tiring, and there’s a good chance that no matter how much you’re looking forward to getting home, you might not be on your best form when you get there.

Terran suggests that for the sake of your family, you need to do your best to keep smiling. But he also adds: “There’s something to be said for planning a period after work travel to catch your breath and be with your family – even take a few days off if it’s possible.”

For your partner

Frank communication is key

When you have to travel for work, it’s your partner who will normally be picking up the slack at home – and that’s a big burden, no matter how essential a trip is to your career. Make clear plans for communication during your time apart and do your best to stick to them, no matter how manic your schedule. It’s also worth remembering – if you’re the partner left at home – that the trappings of work travel (expensed meals and spotless hotel rooms) don’t make up for tense business meetings, long hours and solo dinners.

Ariel also says it’s important that you don’t see work travel as the enemy of family wellbeing. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to grow and, where possible, try to combine work and family travel.

Use technology to keep up with home

Let the new breed of apps and online organisers take the stress out of planning everyone’s schedule with family-friendly helpers like Cozi or FamilyWall. These can help you to share special moments as well as routine appointments, which is useful when you’re miles from home.

If you don’t want to download apps, try to remember to sync calendars with your partner or family regularly. This makes it easier to stay on top of last-minute changes for everyone.

It’s also important to define roles and responsibilities within the family – stamping out ideas of inequality when it comes to chores and household tasks is vital to happiness when one of you is away regularly.

For more insight into how to reduce work stress levels and minimise disruption on family life, check out this article – you might find that yoga or meditation has a big impact on happiness levels both at work and at home.

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