Hitching a Ride: Turn Business into Pleasure for Kids

No time for a traditional family vacation? Extend a business trip into a family getaway.

My dad traveled so often for work when I was growing up that we three kids gave him the affectionate nickname “Uncle Daddy.”

We’re sweet like that.

I was the only kid in the seventh grade that had pearl earrings from Tokyo and a gold bracelet from the far-away land of California. Back then, none of my friends had parents who traveled for work.

My dad, on the other hand, was away so frequently that he didn’t even know my ears weren’t pierced.

While we were in school, it was difficult to travel with him, but as we got older we’d sometimes hitch a ride on his business trips.

I was just out of college and gleefully unemployed (much to my father’s chagrin) when we all traveled to London on his corporate dollar.

We had a great time. Well, everyone except my dad, who ate something bad (England in the early ‘90s—need I say more about the cuisine?) and got a nasty case of food poisoning.

That was more than 10 years ago. Today business travel is so commonplace that certain airlines are known for catering only to the suit-and-tie crowd.

Squeezing in Together Time

Tom Parsons is a father of two, and he knows all too well what it’s like to be away from his family for an extended period of time.

After a weeklong trip turned into two long weeks away from his girls, Annie and Katie, he and his wife decided that next time, Parsons’ sojourn would be a family one.

“It was really hard to be away from home for so long, and most of the places I travel to are within five or six hours from our home,” he says. “Flying is more trouble than it’s worth, anyway, so we decided ‘why not?’”

The Parsons girls, now ages 10 and 12, have hit the road with mom and dad for the past five years.

The fact that the kids are home-schooled makes it easier to take them on the frequent trips that are required for Parsons’ work in the insurance industry. On average, he says, he travels at least once a month to places like Nashville, Tenn. and Charleston, S.C.

The Parsons family also turns the trips into educational opportunities to build on what they are studying at home.

“When we went to Washington, D.C., we had the opportunity to [visit] some of the museums and the National Treasury,” Parsons says.

Separating Business From Family Pleasure

But bringing the family along on what is fundamentally a business task can sometimes be tricky, Parsons admits. It can be easy to mistake the venture for a vacation, when in fact at least one parent is obligated to an employer.

“You have to be honest and straightforward,” says Parsons. “You have to say that the daytime hours are more or less your work time. If you can work from the hotel and be there or at least be close by, then that helps them.”

One strategy the Parsons family employs is to choose a hotel that offers amenities like a swimming pool or a gaming area, so that the parent who is not working has easy access to on-site activities that help pass the time until mommy or daddy gets home from work.

If you must stay at a hotel that does not offer any diversions, try to stay close to an area that presents other appropriate educational or entertainment possibilities.

Advance planning is key to a successful family business trip. You can’t just show up with your kids in tow and work like a madman, expecting your spouse and kids to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar city.

Which is probably what I would do.

Fortunately, I now know that if and when I ever take my daughter on a working vacation, I’ll need to scout out the location beforehand.

Parsons knows that from experience, and he always tries to do a little legwork in order to find stuff for his family to do once the workday ends.

“We say that during the day I will be gone, but when I get home then it’s family time with them,” he says. “Some of that is deciding ahead of time what we are going to do as a family. We just traveled to Charleston, and I did my homework and found this funky place to go to dinner.”

And sometimes, he adds, the fates are on your side and you stumble across something cool, like the mini-golf place that was open late after a long meeting.

Having a supportive employer also helps, and more and more companies now realize that work/family balance helps keeps cheeks in the seats.

“My company is very supportive of my family traveling with me,” Parsons says. “But they put a premium on striking the work/family balance. They recognize that work can be very taxing and if folks are unhappy, they won’t stay in the job.”

All of this has me thinking about my husband’s trip to Italy this coming July, to attend an international conference in his field. We’ve discussed whether or not I will go with him, and honestly, I was on the fence about leaving our daughter home while we traveled overseas.

Maybe I’ll rethink my position, and bring her with us. After all, what 3-year-old doesn’t want to go to Bologna?

Or maybe I’ll send her with my husband and I’ll stay home—that way maybe I can finally get a vacation.

Themes: Family Travel