This past week I went to London and New York for work. While I was away, my son crawled for the first time. Once upon a time that would have crushed me—but it didn’t. That's because I’ve learned mom guilt doesn’t fit in a FAA-compliant carry-on bag.
Here are my four tips—ditching mom guilt included—for taking on work travel as a working mom:
Count in breakfast and bedtimes, not days. I cannot count the number of times I have been on the phone with a client to plan an in-person meeting in their city. We’re discussing dates, comparing calendars… and I’m feverishly checking Google Flights at the same time. That’s because I don’t count in terms of days away from my kids. I count in terms of breakfasts and bedtimes. A 2:00pm vs. a 2:30pm meeting is sometimes the difference between making or missing the return flight that gets me home for bedtime.
Something Major Pro Tip: I never plan to pick up my kids on a day I’m returning from a trip. It’s just too much of a headache, especially if planes or trains get delayed. Plus it’s a total life hack if I can beat my kids to the house and actually put my feet up for a minute before they come home.
2. Make it “worth it.” This means something different to each person. I work in a client-facing job. That means if I’m doing my job right, I should be traveling pretty regularly. Unlike before I had kids, I have to choose (and plan!) those trips really carefully. That’s why I’m hellbent on making each one count. For me, that means getting in as many client meetings as possible when I’m in a single city because it’s not easy to just pop back another time.
Something Major Pro Tip: you are entitled to consider if a meeting or conference is “worth it” or whether you want to send somebody else. What feels like a burden to you might even be an exciting professional development opportunity for another member of your team. Remember, you don’t have to say yes to everything. If you do make the commitment though, make it worth your while.
3. Make a plan. Here’s my secret: I basically make the same plan every single time I’m on the road for work.
I keep my days packed and my nights early. I schedule time to FaceTime with my kids and I help coordinate any childcare plans before I leave.
I plan my accommodations nearest to my first morning meeting, even when the neighborhood isn’t sexy. Take note: a sexy location is negotiable, safety is not.
I always pack my gym clothes… and I truly luxuriate in getting to the gym without getting 2 kids out the door first.
Lastly, I plan like hell for my meetings. Not just because it’s my job to nail them, but because being there meant missing out on time with my kids.
Something Major Pro Tip: I don’t nurse and pump. If you do, planning ahead on where you’ll pump and how you’ll store your milk is absolutely essential. Don’t be apologetic about making that a top priority as you plan your meetings, travel, and accommodations.
4. Leave mom guilt at home. A few years ago my husband had to take a trip to China while I was 36 weeks pregnant with our first… and finishing a major renovation of our house. He called me the first day of his trip from a luxury hotel as I was returning 30 pounds of tile at Home Depot (don’t ask) and said: “I feel guilty I’m here and you’re there.” I said, “If you don’t at least enjoy it you’ll have made it a complete waste.”
… and that’s how I feel when I’m on the road. If I choose to spend the whole trip focusing on my kids then it was a complete waste.
Being a working mom means making a lot of hard choices and travel is just one of them. When you feel confident about making thoughtful choices and really own them once you have, it’s hard for guilt to find its way in.
Something Major Pro Tip: When you’ve done all of that and it still doesn’t feel right, think really hard about what didn’t work. Let it be a lesson learned instead of a guilt-ridden regret.