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Combining business and family travel

As more and more companies are requiring their workers to spend time on the road, more and more employees are finding a way to make business travel a little more palatable. They’re bringing their families along.

The best type of carry-on
I recently took a business trip across the country. In addition to bringing my usual baggage on this 3,000 mile flight to California — lap top computer, suit bag with dressy clothes, plenty of business cards — I had another interesting carry-on item with me; my two-year-old son.

Combining business and family travel together has many benefits. The cost is lower since your tab — at least most of it — is paid for by your company. You get to spend a little extra time with your loved ones. And you get to journey to some places you might otherwise never visit. Over the past five years, I’ve tagged along on my husband’s business trips to Italy, France, Chicago and more. In return, he’s accompanied me to New Orleans, Maui (on several occasions) and San Francisco. Since his birth, my son has become a regular frequent flyer, courtesy of our respective companies.

But pulling double duty is not all fun and games. It can be tough to maintain your professionalism when you’re in the midst of typical family hassles and activities, whether it’s keeping the kids quiet while you take a business call, finding activities for your family while you’re in meetings or getting everyone to bed at a reasonable hour so you can be bright-eyed for your 8 am presentation.

Some tips
Here are seven tips to keep in mind before you pack up the spouse and children and head for your upcoming sales conference.

1. Business comes first. It can be tempting to skip a meeting or two, or head out of the office early in order to meet up with your family. But remember who’s footing the bill for your enjoyment — your company. Instead of cutting your work hours short, arrive a few days early or stay a few days later to enjoy the locale with your spouse and kids.

While it might be OK with your boss to leave a half-hour early occasionally, don’t make it a habit, and don’t be obvious about it. While you’re traveling for work, your time belongs to your company.

2. Give yourself plenty of space and time. Nothing’s worse than looking for your copy of the annual sales projections and finding that your three-year-old has turned it into paper dolls.

If you can, spring for the difference between your regular room and a corporate suite so you have ample space to keep your business equipment safe from little hands. Likewise, don’t try to pack too much in one day. You may be tempted to try to meet your family for every meal, but instead have breakfast and dinner with them, and lunch on your own. You’ll save your sanity by refraining from overbooking yourself. Besides, a lot of business gets done between 12 and 1!

3. Be honest about the expenses. Each company handles travel expenses its own way. Some ask you to submit receipts from your lodging, meals and other expenses; some provide you a per diem amount that you can spend any way you like.

Whatever your particular situation, be upfront about your expenses. Don’t try to convince yourself — or your accounting manager — that the $65 room service breakfast was really all for you. Keep to the straight and narrow and realize that just by having your expenses paid for, you’re already saving a bundle. It’s not worth the extra money to risk your integrity or your job by fudging your numbers.

4. Set expectations beforehand. Talk with your spouse and kids before you leave, and explain what they can expect. Will you have to attend late-night cocktail parties without them? Will you need to join the other execs on the golf course early Saturday morning? Whatever your business requirements, lay them out early on so everyone else can make other plans.

5. Be flexible, and ask your family to do the same. Sometimes meetings run late. Sometimes trips get canceled. Sometimes kids get sick. Make sure that everyone knows upfront that things could change.

6. Make childcare arrangements before you leave. If you decide to take one or more of your children with you without your spouse, or if your spouse isn’t available for babysitting duties, make all childcare arrangements BEFORE you get on the plane. Many hotels have either in-house babysitting services, or they can refer you to a local service they’ve worked with before.

The same goes for relatives in the area. If you’re visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s hometown — as we often do in California — check with them early on to see if they can watch the munchkins. Don’t expect them to drop everything on the spur of the moment to play Mary Poppins. And do offer to compensate them in some way for their help. Even a dinner out can go a long way to making them feel appreciated.

7. Take a trial run first. Before carting everyone off to Istanbul for a month, try a local, short-term trip first. You can iron out any difficulties and troubleshoot for your next time around.

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