Work travel is challenging for families. For busy travellers, failing to reconcile work demands and the expectations of family life can lead to frustration, guilt, and estrangement.
“You’re heading into emotional territory which can lead to big conflict and arguments,” said Sherry Bevan, founder and owner of The Confident Mother, an UK-based consulting firm. “Anger and resentment leaks out without you intending it to.”
But travel is an essential part of global business. Rather than avoiding it, or ignoring the strain, two experts offer tips on how to mitigate the tension — before, during, and after your absence.
Set and manage clear expectations
Start setting expectations before you travel. Be clear about your schedule and the demands on your time; if you are at a conference meeting with important clients on Monday, with a lengthy dinner planned, let the family know that you won’t call until Tuesday.
“Clear expectations are really important,” said Bevan. “You’ve got to communicate in advance.”
Clarity and specificity about how and when you will communicate provides security and certainty, according to Teresa Hopke, CEO of Talking Talent US, a coaching consultancy.
Remember that expectations go both ways. Don’t neglect what others expect of you when travelling, and factor those needs into your schedule.
Maintain a routine
Being intentional about scheduling your routine in advance ensures that connections happen, according to Hopke. Set a time to connect every day, whether it is at breakfast or bedtime, and follow through with it.
Before you travel, establish a pre-travel ritual — packing together, going for ice cream, extra snuggle time — that signals to children that you are leaving so they can more easily adjust to your absence.
Be mindful of the routines at home. Don’t schedule calls while your spouse is making dinner or the kids are doing homework. Interruptions to the necessary tasks of home life can be a reminder of your absence and cause resentment.
Focus on quality over quantity
When you do make contact, be fully present and engaged. Children and spouses will intuitively know when you are not paying full attention. So put down the laptop, find a quiet place to talk, and be mindful of your interactions. Invest in what’s important to them and be open to their concerns. A child or a spouse will appreciate a few minutes of genuine connection more than a longer stretch of distracted time.
Ask your loved ones what quality time and attention means to them and let them guide how you spend time together, said Hopke.
“It comes back to being mindful and intentional,” she said. “That quality feeds what they need.”
Have ‘me time’
Travel is as hard on you as it is for your family. There’s jet lag, high-pressure situations, irregular diets, and disrupted sleep. All of this can lead to exhaustion and irritability that negatively impact communication. The healthier you feel, the healthier your family life can be.
“It’s so easy to burn out if you’re doing a lot of traveling,” Bevan said.
Take the time for self-care. Get exercise, spend time alone, and indulge a hobby or guilty pleasure to recharge while travelling. Come home feeling relaxed when possible so you are ready to engage with your family in person again.
Drew Adamek (Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org) is an FM magazine senior editor.