Traveling for business is tough. For most men I speak to, the time away from family and on the road is usually an emotional, spiritual and often physical black hole.
My friend Danny recently came back from a business trip. Bleary-eyed, he shared that the meetings were poorly planned, his flight was delayed – and it took him at least two days to recover from a feeling of exhaustion after getting back to his wife and four kids. And his family was a mess as a result of his week-long trip.
Another friend, Andrew, sent a group of men an email,
“I’ve been asked to head up a church group specifically for guys whose jobs have them on the road frequently. Those of you who travel regularly know that it can be challenging to get connected with other men while traveling. We also want to help strengthen men in the face of temptations that often present themselves while away from home. Do any of you have recommendations for a small group study that speaks to these challenges?”
Looks like the challenges of life on the road are pretty widespread.
Traveling loses its luster pretty quickly when you’re only between conference rooms, airports, and generic hotel rooms. Though being on a business trip has an air of importance and unhinged freedom that can often puff us up, often we quickly crash back to earth when faced with temptation, long hours, short nights, and missed kid’s soccer games. The biggest challenge most business leaders face is loneliness – and traveling solo doesn’t help.
There has to be a better way.
When meeting with my friend Dave, he shared with me that better way: take a kid with you on the trip. Whenever he travels for speaking engagements, he tells them that a part of his travel fee is that he always travels with a guest: rarely does he say it’s one of his four children.
So, on a recent business trip to visit a foundation, I took my oldest, Sierra, 8, with me on the trip. And it was a total move of genius. Eating chocolate pancakes, spying night-time pool cleaning machines, putting on cheese heads at a Wisconsin airport – we had a blast.
Here’s why I think traveling with a kid ought to be a regular practice for dads on business trips – and why I think businesses should fund their little traveling companions, too:
- Traveling with kids leads to an emotionally and physically healthy trip. Sierra was delighted by the airplane, giddy as we ate spaghetti and meat balls together, and talked about our trip to Chicago for weeks prior – and months afterward. Her delight and wonder rubbed off on me. “Dad, I just can’t help being so excited about the airplane!” We smiled, laughed, and chatted our way from rental car to hotel to meetings because of the joy of my daughter. Moreover, because I had to put my daughter to bed as soon as we arrived to the hotel at 10pm, I went to sleep then as well. And woke up right at 6am. The pull towards destructive behaviors to make myself feel better after a long commute….completely disappeared. I got enough rest, prayed with my daughter, and felt energized for the business meetings I had the next day.
- Traveling with kids keeps families healthy. How many families have been crippled by absent dads on the road – or husbands who strayed from their wives while thousands of miles away? Having a kid on the trip draws us immediately back into the commitments and loves of our families, and instead of putting strain on the family, draws families together. For Sierra and I, it was precious one-on-one time that is rare for a family for four kids. One she still treasures – and I treasure, too.
- Traveling with kids cultivates spiritual health in employees, thus making them more productive. Is buying the additional plane ticket on the company dollar really worth it? Maybe a better question is: what’s the cost of spiritually unhealthy employees? I’ve spoken to dozens of men who feel an unusual pull toward pornography when away from home – and in the cycle of addiction, no productive work is done. When dads get home, often we find we need to do triage after leaving our wives with 100% of the family responsibilities for a few days. And thus we need to work less because of the additional emotional stress of being gone. (Or our time at the office the next day is tinged with a an additional level familial stress.) An extra plane ticket is indeed an expense – but if we have health incentives programs at our companies to exercise and eat right, why not make an investment in healthy relationships?
I’ve shared my affection for traveling with kids (and my spouse, when we can find a brave babysitter for four kids!) with friends and business leaders, and here are the questions I get:
What do you do with your kids during business meetings? Good question. And I have a pretty simple answer: give them homework to do. Sierra traveled with a binder of homework – long division, reading, writing, and world geography (which we had a chance to directly experience while on the road). During lay overs and during meetings, I simply gave her work to do. To be practical, I’m not sure if doing business travel with kids before about age 6 can really work that well. But after that, if they can do audio books or iPad math, they can productively use the time to further their education – and not get behind on class work.
Won’t my kids get bored? That’s possible. Conferences of mortgage lenders or pharmaceutical sales aren’t exactly Disney Land. However, when I travel with kids, we make nearly everything an adventure. Exploring hotel hallways, ordering fun meals, exploring new lands on the Illinois toll way. Plus, just before we flew out of Milwaukee, I took Sierra to visit lake Michigan (see picture below). That half hour on the shores of one of America’s Great Lakes has been the topic of her school writing exercises for a full month after our trip.
How do I get this business expense approved? Make the case that healthy men need healthy families, and that being isolated from our families for days or weeks on end isn’t healthy. It may be a first-time conversation with your supervisor, but make the case that employees are not just human ‘doings’ that accomplish tasks, but human beings who need deep spiritual, emotional and physical health to do creative, productive work.
At the hotel in Chicago, the front desk clerk looked at Sierra and I, and she said, “How cute! I wish my dad would have taken me on business trips as a kid. Our home was always so crazy – seemed like he never had time for me.”
Time for new trend in global business travel.
Mary Lou Erlacher
Great idea, Jeff! Even for the occasional trip! My husband was on the road for several days a week while our sons were young. For their “business” trips, they took activities in a briefcase – just like Dad’s – and did their work while he did his. It gave them an idea of what his life was like away from the family. Your article made me wish we had made it more of a regular practice!
Mary Lou Erlacher
By the way! The pictures are fantastic! Happy faces on both Sierra and Dad!!! Merry Christmas to you and your family!
Thanks Mary Lou! So glad you enjoyed it – and Merry Christmas to you!