I love to travel. Last year I went to China to deliver a 4-hour seminar on Performance Management. Whilst most of my colleagues thought I must be crazy, for me it was a chance to have some uninterrupted sleep (albeit on a plane), watch a movie, catch up on some work and of course deliver my seminar!
Not all of my work trips are as extreme. Now that I’m a mum I’m a lot more selective about where I go and how often I travel. After my second maternity leave I embarked on a ridiculous schedule that took me away from home every week for 8 weeks, so I decided I had to set some boundaries. Whilst I’m a seasoned traveller and only go overseas once a month it can still be tough. It can be hard leaving your babies – getting up at the crack of dawn to catch an aptly named red-eye flight, and creeping upstairs late at night to stand over little warm bodies and watch them sleep. So what can you do to make your work trips as stress-free as possible?
- Choose your days – I try where I can to avoid travelling on Mondays and Fridays. Not only are the flights more expensive but it means I eat into my weekends – either thinking about going away or getting home late on a Friday night.
- Challenge the need to go away – if you’re travelling to attend a meeting ask if you need to physically be there – or if you can use technology to dial in. Granted you may miss out on some of the pre/post meeting conversation, but it can be effective especially if you only need to hear/input on a specific topic. If you can sell the benefits in terms of time/budget saved then you may be able to influence the organiser. It may not work every time, but if you never ask you’ll never know.
- Checklist – My first 3-day trip after my second maternity leave was a disaster. I forgot to pack my contact lenses, straighteners and moisturiser and packed my old black maternity trousers instead of my new smart ones and had no travel adapter. I coped of course but certainly didn’t feel at my best. With all the best will in the world my packing is still usually done at the last minute so now I have a checklist of things I need to pack which I run through just before leaving the house.
- Plan ahead – Avoid last-minute stresses at the airport by having a handbag with a front pocket where you can quickly find your passport and boarding card. Lay out clothes the night before. Depending on your set up at home, stock the freezer up and leave an organiser detailing who needs to be where and when. I used to create loads of extra work for myself by frantically cooking the night before I left (not great when you have a 4am start!). Now, I try to batch cook the couple of weeks before a trip so the freezer is already full. Or I ditch the guilt and buy a few pre-prepared ready meals – Marks & Spencer kids meals are my new favourite.
- Plan what you’re going to wear and be ruthless. Decide what you’re going to wear each day including jewellery and shoes. Dresses are a great option and take up little space. Shoes are bulky so good pair of black and nude heels are a wardrobe essential for a travelling lady – as are a good pair of flats for the airport. Read more about your work wardrobe here.
- Have a ready to go toilet bag – avoid packing and repacking by having a bag full of travel sized toiletries. It not only saves time it means you’ll never be without any essentials.
- To skype or not to skype? When you’re away from home nothing can lighten your heart more than the sight of those cute little faces on your screen. But sometimes it can cause more upset than joy. My eldest boy is 4 and loves chatting on Skype or FaceTime – whereas it upsets his little brother who is just 2. He can’t understand how he can hear me and see me – but I’m not there. Consider how old your children are and how they will react. Until they’re old enough to understand it might be better to have someone send you a picture of them. Some mums have a practice session before they go away – try skyping from another room and see how they react to seeing you on a screen.
- Expect some reactions – your little one may ignore you when you come home, or may be extra clingy. Whatever their reaction, remember that whilst you were away they will have been happy, loved and cared for.
- Little touches – It can be hard for young children to have an appreciation of time, so write up on a noticeboard how many sleeps you’ll be away for and let them cross it off each morning. Older children (and partners) may appreciate a little note left under their pillow or in their lunchbox.
- Show gratitude – when you’re away your partner, mum or in-laws may pick up the slack and have to do a bit more to help out. When you arrive home tired and possibly jet-lagged it’s easy to forget to say thanks.
- Arrange an online shop for the evening you get back – there is nothing worse than coming home and find the cupboards bare and no milk for a cup of tea.
- Bearing gifts – this one is a personal choice. I usually don’t. I didn’t want to set a precedent of every time I go away they expect something. It means when I do bring them home something small they get really excited. I find airports offer either only chocolate or expensive Lego toys, so I keep a couple of small things like little books at home which I can give them when they wake up in the morning – which saves me from making rash (and costly) impulse purchases. Plus, when I come home, they usually just want to spend time together so often we plan something fun to do, or just play.
- Choose how you spend your evening – Sometimes having dinner with colleagues can be a great chance to unwind and be sociable. But it’s also okay to politely decline invitations and have some downtime. Or it can be handy to work a few extra hours in the evenings. Many mums do this so that they can work guilt-free in the evenings and can then leave work early when they’re back. Do what works for you.
- And finally – enjoy! Pack some pampering treats – Make the most of having some time to yourself with no ironing or housework to do! Create your own traveling spa by stocking up on mini-treats to take with you. Indulge in a bubbly bath with a face mask, do your nails or give your feet some well-deserved attention. Catch up on your book-club reading by making sure you’ve downloaded some good books onto your Kindle.
At Mumager we support working mums. We’re here for you – if you have an issue or a question then we’d love to hear from you. You can ask a question via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We run workshops throughout the year so do get in touch for more information