Traveling as a Parent is Tough
I recently traveled to Joburg for work, and while I was away I realised that work travel always seems to follow a familiar pattern. So, here’s a little insight into the experience of a traveling work dad:
Some time before the trip:
I get told that there is an event/meeting/some other reason that requires me to be in a different city for a bit. To be honest, sometimes I put my hand up before I get told in an attempt to be seen as an important employee and team player. Also, my work is interesting and my colleagues from other parts of the world are great, so it’s generally worthwhile to physically meet with them.
But as the decision is made, a shiver goes down my spine as I think about telling my family I will be away again. Sure, my wife will understand but knowing that this means more pressure on her will make me feel guilty, regardless of what she says.
I eventually build up the emotional energy to tell her, and we immediately do the same thing: Open our calendars. There are few periods where we don’t have anything that will be affected by my work trip. Family commitments, school events and home admin still need to happen, not to mention that my wife regularly travels for work herself, meaning that we suddenly have to go into full on planning mode.
Day before the trip:
Depending on the length of the trip, packing might start on this day. This includes ensuring all the travel admin is sorted and that all your paperwork is ready. This has to be done while trying to get some proper time with the family before you go, and doing everything you can to make your partner’s life easier while you’re away.
The Day you leave:
You’ve triple checked everything, and yet you still can’t shake this feeling that there is something important you’ve forgotten.
You go over the plans for school drop offs and pick-ups, meals and general life at home with everyone one more time, and then you say goodbye and head off. In the busyness of getting going, you haven’t really had a chance to focus in on how you feel. But as soon as that plane takes off and you realise you’re stuck in there for a bit…you suddenly start to miss your family.
You also start thinking about the fact that if anything goes wrong at home it is going to take you forever to get back. Of course there’s nothing you can do about that, but it’s tough to get that thought out of your head. Since you’re in the air, you can’t even do the irrational check-in message so you’re just stuck there, trying not to panic.
Eventually you land and you immediately check in to make sure everyone is okay…and of course they are. They’ve carried on with their day as they usually would, and this isn’t the first time that dad has to be away for work. They’re fine.
That first night can be quite interesting, depending on what kind of work you do, who your colleagues are and where you are going. Sometimes, this could be the first night in forever that you can go out on the town and not feel guilty or worry about your kids, or have to consider the fact that someone might be waking you up at 530am because they had a bad dream.
In another situation, you might be alone in a hotel room with nothing to do…again, for the first time in a LONG time.
But here’s the catch…the more you are enjoying yourself, the more guilty you feel, knowing that your partner is doing solo parenting while you’re having a good time.
The rest of you're time away:
Hopefully, the reason for the business trip keeps you busy enough that you don’t have too much time to feel homesick…but this is where the blessing of being alone in a hotel room becomes a curse. You can facetime as much as you like, but what you really want at this point is some nice long hugs from your family and to be in dad/mom mode for a bit.
You’ve spent the last few years having people around you, and not just any people, your people, and as nice it was to be able to stretch out in a double bed it doesn’t make up for the lack of being with your family.
This is when traveling for work gets really tough: the long, lonely nights.
Time to leave:
Eventually, you get to the day when you can pack up and head home. Unlike the trip out, where there may have been some level of excitement about what’s to come, the trip home is a real drag. You just want to get home, so every Uber, every queue, and every moment where you are waiting for your flight to take off is a painful delay to you getting back to your family.
Then there is the moment you finally get home.
I’m lucky - generally when I get home there are lots of hugs and kisses and happiness that I’m back. So, even though I’m exhausted, I get right into husband and dad modes. Gifts are distributed to kids who were really good for their mom while I’m away, and to moms who held the fort down so well.
After a long trip, it can take a few days to get back into the rhythm of our home, but the joy of just being back with my family also hangs around for a bit. Of course, you try to take as much of the household work off your partner’s hands as you can, because even though work travel is exhausting for the person leaving, it can be even worse for the person who has to keep the machine of family life going.
You are relieved to be home and rested…and then you get an email from your work about an exciting project that will require some travel…