Keya Williams used to be a travel pro. As an executive recruiter she would regularly hop on a flight across the country with one day’s notice, only to interview candidates in the airport and take the red-eye home.
“I could drop everything and fly out the next day,” she recalls. That quickly changed when she had kids.
For many employees, business travel is exciting: the chance to explore a new place, reconnect with colleagues, and immerse themselves in projects that they are passionate about. But for working moms, business travel can be a logistical nightmare and an emotional strain.
"I used to extend trips over the weekend to get a chance to actually see the city I was visiting,” says Sarah Ware, CEO of Markerly. “Now my main focus is coming home as soon as the last meeting ends."
Despite the hassle, business travel is an inescapable part of the job for many people. We talked to working moms who travel regularly to find their best tips for mastering business travel and mom life.
Learn To Let Go
Today, Williams is a psychologist and yoga lifestyle consultant who helps moms learn how to juggle work and family. While she still travels about twice a quarter, Williams has chosen to cut back on business trips because of the sheer amount of work that goes into getting away.
One of the biggest pieces of work, however, has been mental: learning to let go.
“A lot of moms who are career women already have a type-A personality to begin with. We want to have our finger on everything,” she says. “It’s about just managing the inner control freak. I had to take a step back and trust that everything would be ok. The world would not end if I were gone.”
When Williams leaves for a business trip, she reminds herself to leave home at home, accepting that while her husband may do things differently than she would, the kids will be taken care of.
“If I’m not in the house with them there’s really nothing I can do,” she says.
After the chaos of preparing for a trip, Williams suggests that working moms pause to consciously shift their mindset.
“When you get to the airport, take a moment to sit and get into that different frame of mind,” she says. “It’s a different mental attitude at home versus home with kids.”
Of course, one way to let go of home life worries can be to get things organized as you like them ahead of time. Many moms find that if they lay out clothes and prepare meals ahead of time they feel less stress about how the home will run when they’re away. Technology also plays a role, with apps like Cozi that allow you to coordinate calendars and lists with who ever will be looking after your kids.
Being properly organized starts well before a specific trip is planned, however.
“I input all important dates at the beginning of the year: birthdays, school performances, etc., and create my travel schedule around that,” says Jenelle Hamilton, who travels regularly for her job running a PR agency.
Hamilton also organizes her departure times in order to suit her daughter.
“I ensure that I take my daughter to school that morning, and get a later flight out that day,” she says. “It means that I sometimes arrive at my destination late, but those few precious hours in the morning I have before dropping my daughter off at school are super important for us, so it is worth it.
Make Your Trips Fun for The Kids
A little bribery can go a long way toward sweetening the idea of having mom away for a few days.
“I make my business trips fun for my daughter,” Hamilton says. “I buy her a small gift like candy, a toy, or book wherever I travel. That way, she is excited about what she will receive when I return home.”
Heather Monahan, a business consultant, plants surprises for her son to find while she is gone. She hides notes in his backpack and around the house for him to find while she is away. She also leaves behind Hershey’s Kisses candies for a special goodnight kiss ritual.
“Each night my son gets to eat one of the kisses and this allows him to count down with me how many sleeps he has until I am back,” she says.
To Call, or Not to Call
Many parents debate whether or not to call their children during the trip. Some kids find a call or video chat from mom upsetting, while others like to see and understand where you are.
"I’ve found that, for my kids, they’re perfectly happy with 'out of sight, out of mind,'” says Williams. “They’re secure enough that they know I'm coming back. They don’t feel that they have to talk to me and I don’t want to make them depend on that.”
Sometimes, the call is more for mom than the kids.
“When I do call to talk to them it’s usually for me,” Williams says. “I’m feeling lonely, but they’re usually having a blast.”
Having the caregiver send pictures and videos of your kids, and checking in with the caregiver but not talking to the kids, can be a good way to make sure that things are going well and get your daily dose of cuteness without distressing little ones.
Travel While Nursing
Perhaps the most complicated time for moms to travel is when they have a nursing infant.
“It is extremely difficult to arrange business trips, but it can be done with a little help from your family or friends,” says Angela Watts, owner of Slyde Handboards and mom to a three-month-old who is exclusively breastfed.
When Watts travels, she brings along her mother or aunt to help with the baby. She doesn’t have to pay for their time, just for another plane ticket, and her daughter is close at hand for nursing.
If bringing your infant is not an option it’s still possible to travel and nurse — with a little extra coordination of course, and perhaps a bit of added frustration.
Carla Caccavale Reynolds, who works in PR, once pumped every three hours on a flight to Abu Dhabi, only to have officials in the emirate seize her milk before her flight back.
“I was hysterical,” she says.
In the US, however, you are allowed to transport pumped breast milk in unlimited quantities in your carry-ons. You can also bring freezer packs in order to keep your milk cool, although these must be completely frozen. If you’re pumping, request a mini-fridge in your room, and consider asking the hotel to freeze your milk before you depart. A soft-sided cooler is perfect for transporting milk home.
Ditch the Guilt
Leaving kids behind for business travel is never easy, so there’s no need to make it more complicated by feeling guilty.
“I used to beat myself up for traveling for work but now I have decided to feel proud of myself instead,” says Monahan. “I am teaching my son that he can accomplish anything and that hard work will get him ahead in life and in business.”