Friday, December 31, 2010

Tips for Combining Business and Personal Travel

I've joined my husband on business trips -- both with and without the kids -- and I can tell you it's a lot of fun. But it can also be a bit stressful if you don't plan ahead. I thought since many of us are always searching for ways to make business travel a bit more rewarding, some road warriors could share their insight on how they do it. Here's the column I did for Gannett/USA Today:

Business travel is expected to pick up in 2011 after two years of cutbacks, which could put even more of a strain on employees who struggle to meet all their work demands, find time to spend with families or just recharge their batteries.

For some road warriors, the solution comes in combining business travel with family vacations or a chance to pursue private interests. Still, juggling on-the-road work duties and some private fun time isn't without a few hitches, and those who have done it successfully say it requires some planning.

Robert Barnwell, who was employed by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2007, was sent on a six-month assignment to London and figured out a way to take his 4-year-old daughter with him.

"I was able to find a nursery school for her just a couple of blocks away from where I was staying," he says.

Now a City University of New York professor, Barnwell says taking his daughter along was made after full consideration of the assignments he would be facing. He recommends not taking a child on a business trip "if you're going to bring them along and just ignore them" or if a client or company is "not family friendly" and perhaps wouldn't look favorably on having a family tag along on a trip.

"You just have to realistic. If I know I've got an urgent project with a lot of demands, it wouldn't be fair — to my family or the business — to take my family," he says.

Adam Keats, senior vice president of digital communications for Weber Shandwick, says that his wife has joined him on business trips, and he has taken the opportunity to visit places such as Istanbul and Beijing when he's traveling internationally on business.

"I think it's really better if your family joins you at the end of your business trip, because that's typically when the pressure of your job is over. If I had to give a presentation or something, that would be on my mind and I'd want to get that over with before I took some time off for other things," he says.

If you're considering taking your family along on a business trip or carving out some time for private pursuits, consider:

Doing your homework. Call the hotel where you're staying and see if they offer kid-friendly options such as playgrounds, swimming pools, in-room game systems or even free kid's meals. Some hotels off babysitting services. You also can ask if they have safety features for children such as outlet covers.

Checking the location. Choose a hotel that's close to entertainment such as museums, zoos, parks and restaurants. Ask if the hotel has a shuttle to nearby attractions.

Setting a schedule. Let your family know you're going to be working specific hours so they won't be disappointed when you can't join them for all their adventures. If you're traveling alone and looking for some private time, let your office know when you're going to take your time off.

Being realistic. Hauling small children halfway across the world for a week-long conference probably won't go well if they're not used to traveling. Don't be too ambitious with your first forays into combining business and family travels. Think about a two-day conference to start until you know how the experience will work.

Combining forces. Sometimes you'll be traveling with colleagues who also would like to bring along children. Think about offering to exchange babysitting time, so you and your spouse can have time alone.

Keeping clear records. Make sure you keep track of business and private expenses, so it's clear you're not billing your client or employer for costs associated with your family vacation. If you take side trips for pleasure, make sure it doesn't add to the company's costs. If it does, pick up that extra expense yourself and clearly show you footed the bill.


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