Traveling Mom: Pack Light, Carry Worry Dolls

Traveling on business before I had kids?

Piece of cake. Overseas or domestic – I was ready in a New York minute.

But once I had little ones? For awhile, it wasn’t too bad. At least, if I was headed to Europe when my boys were babies, I could travel reasonably light (if you don’t count a backpack for one and a front pack for the other), and I knew that when I arrived, I would have the assistance of loving grandparents.

My mother-in-law was delighted to have her American grandsons to care for while I did my business. Though that might mean hopping a train for a nearby country – the boys were in excellent hands, I was reasonably worry-free.

Help! Traveling With Babies

But two years later was a different story, as was domestic travel. My spouse worked a semi-road warrior job himself, and arrangements were a hassle. Besides, once I had two toddlers or older, an eight or nine-hour flight over the ocean was more chaos than I could manage with kids in tow – and my mind on my business. And of course, when they started school, logistics became even more complicated.

So that was that. I was the proverbial “married single mom” for many years. Any time I had to meet with a client or prospect out of town, I was a bundle of nerves worrying whether or not the sitter would come through, the neighbors would come through, my husband would come through and not travel – which was our agreement.

Since we had no relatives living in the area – not even close – I insisted that both of us not be out of town at the same time. A reasonable request I thought, particularly when our children were very young.

Worry Dolls, Anyone?

I recall one nightmarish experience – my sons were about three and four at the time – and I had to be overseas for five days of critical meetings. Their father had agreed to defer any travel while I was away. When I called home one evening to get no answer, looked on the news and saw that “home” had suffered a hurricane and trees down, I was panicked. When I finally got through and found out my husband was out of town and the kids with a sitter – I saw red.

He was only a few hours away by car, and the sitter was a young woman that we both trusted. Everyone was fine, but I was shaken.

Pass the worry dolls. And maybe a shot of vodka.

Those hours of not knowing who was okay and where they were? Terrible. The fight afterward? Not much fun either. And I never quite trusted my husband’s word again. Certainly not when it came to work versus parenting.

Single Mom Travel

Traveling as a single mother?

I wasn’t able to do it. More precisely, I chose not to do it as my ex had moved, I had no family within hundreds of miles, and I lost much of my support network in the years following my divorce. The great sitter moved away, and one good woman – herself with a bunch of kids and a full-time job – occasionally took my boys, when an emergency required it.

Without a reliable network or family to whom I could entrust my children, traveling as a single mom – for me – was impossible. At least, it was impossible with the exception of a few weeks in summer when the boys were with their dad, or when they were much older – nearly out of high school, and I was able to rely on their good judgment and the watchful eye of one dear friend.

Mom Guilt – I Love to Travel!

I can’t say I enjoy the process of traveling as much as I once did, but I remember loving my business travel days in my 20s and 30s, though they were not the glamorous experiences some believe travel to be, and over time, they were wearying.

Still, among my favorite activities were meeting with and training clients in Europe.

Not only did I delight in using my French, but I loved the engagement with fascinating people, seeing how the services we provided made a tangible difference in their operations, and in general, these trips both challenged and motivated me.

On those occasions when I traveled after kids, it was a relief to be on my own, to answer to no one, to eat food someone else cooked, to shower without little voices and hands in my midst, and in general… being a “grownup.”

Project Eve takes up this issue in “Guilt and the Traveling Mom,” which captures a bit of my experience, as Jennifer Barbin of Proud Working Mom writes:

When I started traveling for work after having my first baby, I had the “new mom guilt”. Now, however, I have “guilty pleasure” guilt. I have to admit, there are times when I look forward to escaping from the chaos of the day-to-day management of my family and have some quiet time for myself… There is nobody asking me to do anything for them – no kids, no husband, no babysitter… only me.

The article offers excellent suggestions for feeling more comfortable with being away, though the single / solo mom must deal with some special issues.

Traveling Working Mother: How NOT to Worry

Is there a magic formula for the working mother to stow her worries in the overhead compartment as she heads out of town? I doubt it.

But a few things have changed in the years since I did most of my business travel. Among the tools and tips I recommend:

  • Smartphones, face time, hangouts, texts – 24/7 communication!
  • Facebook, Twitter – to see what they’re up to
  • In touch with sitters, teachers, friends; know your kids’ whereabouts
  • Trusting your kids, and knowing when not to.

Can we agree that technology helps a good deal these days?

What else does the traveling working mom need, if possible? A great partner, supportive friends, and the willingness to provide reciprocal sharing of caring. And a great employer doesn’t hurt! One who understands that parents – man or woman – need some amount of flexibility. And certainly we want to attend our child’s events.

Traveling Single Mother? Oxymoron?

For years of my working life, I stopped traveling altogether. While I admit some element of that decision was a matter of phobias – fear of flying to be precise – that was only a piece of the puzzle. My fears were inextricably linked to the precarious nature of being the solo parent, or nearly, of two little boys.

The worry was inevitable. What if something happened while I was away? What if something happened to me – then what would happen to them?

As babysitting options that include overnights are expensive (and our much trusted sitter had grown and flown), I altered my career in significant ways to accommodate the need to be in town and home – for my kids.

Is this a choice that all moms would make? Certainly not. Is this a choice that some moms feel they must make? I’m guessing yes. And on those rare occasions when travel is a must, we entrust our children to the best possible hands, say our prayers to all the gods we can conjure, pack light, and carry our worry dolls.