Going on my first work-related trip since COVID started has me thinking about work travel this week.
I’ve had a complicated – but likely completely normal – relationship with work travel over the past decade since I became a working mom. My first trip post-baby, which happened when my oldest was 6 months old, was full of tears and hormones. But of course, ultimately, everyone was just fine. (See more on travel when your babies are really small, in The Blues – and Bliss – Of Work Travel After Baby.)
Until my oldest was about 2 years old, I often took both my baby and my self-employed husband with me on trips that lasted more than 2 nights. I loved not having to pump as much or separate from him at night. And we had some great adventures together, in Denver and San Francisco, in particular. We gave up that habit, though, when we he turned 2 and started to cost us an extra plane ticket. My second child was also born around that time, and the prospect of going on a work-related trip with all four of us was too much for me to get my brain around.
As my kids grew, I came to enjoy most of my work-related travel. A majority of my trips were domestic and were only for a day or two or three at a time. The change of scenery always did me good. As did the opportunity to simply be alone in a quiet hotel room. My small suitcase, journal, and yoga mat were my companions. For many years, all journal entries I wrote were marked as being written from airport waiting areas.
And Then, COVID Struck, and Travel Ceased
My mixed feelings about work travel continued during the pandemic. Initially, I was elated at the prospect of not getting on a plane. Or having my heartstrings tugged at when I left my boys.
But as days of lockdown and remote school turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, I started to crave the travel again. Not necessarily the miles and airports themselves, but the re-finding of myself that came with each trip. In the dark depths of the pandemic winter, I declared openly (to anyone who would listen) that I would give my right arm for a single night in a random Holiday Inn in the middle of ANYWHERE.
I thought my first post-vaccination trip would happen a month ago, in September. But then the Delta variant struck. The meeting I was scheduled to attend in North Carolina moved to Zoom. And I cried when I called the airline to cancel my plane ticket.
Back on the Road Again
All things – good, bad, and complicated – do come to an end, though. This past week, I went on my first post-COVID work trip (though the word post-COVID doesn’t feel quite right, as my kids can’t yet get vaccinated). I had my lawyer hat on and went to visit a health system client up in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The distance from Washington, DC, where I live, was in that grey zone between whether it made more sense for me to fly or to drive. But given both COVID risks and my recent experience driving cross-country, I decided the 4’ish hour car ride wasn’t very daunting. So I drove.
I was only gone for a night. And with meetings that started at 7:30am, I didn’t exactly spend much time in that quiet hotel room. But it was something. A start. A reminder of what it can feel like to be somewhere alone, overnight. A sweet taste in my mouth that reminded me how delicious work travel can be.
I love my boys dearly. And being with them every single night for the past 20’ish months has been a lot. We all need a break, and gosh was it good to get one. Everything went just fine while I was gone. The hardest part was probably deciding what to wear on the trip, given I hadn’t had any reason to look “professional” from head to toe in a good year and a half!
4 Tips about Work Travel, and the Guilt
Perhaps you’re returning to a bit of work travel yourself soon. Or perhaps you became a parent during the pandemic and have never had that work travel experience while also having a little one at home. To you, I offer the following reminders:
- All your feelings are normal. Guilt, sadness, glee, relief, terror…all of it are normal. Name the feelings, sit with them, and realize that they will move in an out like waves in an ocean.
- Your travel gives space for other child + caregiver relationships to flourish. Going away on a work trip when my oldest was 6 months old was probably the best thing I could have done for the relationship between my husband and baby. It’s normal for villages to support our little ones. And your travel gives other caregivers space to find their own way.
- Use your trip as a way to re-connect with yourself. Bring that journal. Use the car ride or airport waiting time to call a friend or family member you haven’t connected with in a while. Read that novel you’ve been dying to crack open. You have permission to enjoy some of this time away.
- Some employers pay for child care if you bring baby with you. I have spoken with moms who have been able to negotiate having their employer pay for the cost of bringing a nanny to a required conference. And to moms who have traveled abroad and whose employers paid for local childcare in their business trip destination. You never know, unless you ask. (More thoughts on this topic here: Work Travel & Child Care: Will Your Employer Pay?)
Regardless of where you’re headed or for how long, you can take comfort in knowing that other working parents have wrestled with these issues before. And that you and your child will be just fine.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave