Traveling for business when you have young kids can be difficult. You are usually operating on little sleep, a crammed schedule, and a diet of hotel buffets and protein bars. (Maybe that’s just me…) Your kids are operating out of their normal schedule and are adjusting to not having you around. Over the years I’ve devised a small list of tactics to keep in touch with my kids and make sure they don’t feel left out or lonely.
My kids are 9 and 15. I’ll be honest, the teen texts me on her normal schedule and doesn’t require video calls or bribe gifts (but will happily accept them!) The younger child does need more attention and planning. When they were younger (I’ve been traveling for work their entire lives) it was a bit easier. When my kids were toddlers I found it actually did more harm than good to call every night and talk to them. It was a new reminder I wasn’t around and there would be crying fits or rough bedtimes.
Here are the four ideas I’ve used to keep in touch with my kids while I travel for work:
My son’s iPhone-turned-iPod can’t text (it has no phone number) he will usually sit with his 15-year-old sister on her phone and send lots of emojis to me. Sometimes I’ll make a sentence from only emojis and see if he can decipher it, sometimes he does that for me. Need help making an emoji sentence? Check out Emojisaurus (a good number are NSFW but sort through them for ideas) or the iOS app Emoji Maker. This is fun if you can’t talk on the phone since you can text on the down-low. The new version of iOS 10 also allows cool effects, games and some fun text-to-emoji typing that can be fun between you and your kids as well. I hear Android phones have already had cool messaging tricks for awhile now!
Facetime & Video Chat
With an iTunes account that I control, my son can Facetime me when I travel using his iPod. This has turned out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated, but isn’t an everyday-I’m-gone solution. Nine-year-olds have a tenancy to want to look up their own nose on the front camera. I save this for weekends when the kids have more time to talk and maybe have something to show me.
I’ll be honest here, sometimes phone calls can be hard. Kids can range wildly from not wanting to talk to talking about EVERYTHING! I’ll admit, my own kid asked to put me on speakerphone so he could finish a level in a video game! What I’ve come to realize works is very specific questions such as “what was your favorite thing you did today?” “is there anything you want to talk to me about?” and “what book did you read in class today?” I tend to avoid yes/no questions if I can.
Coordinating a time that you are free and not distracted and a time when your kid(s) can chat and not be at soccer practice is really difficult. I try to time our phone calls to right before their dinner even if that means arriving at dinner a few minutes late myself. Be wary of time zone differences – this one gets me every time. I’ll have time to chat at the end of a conference day – but before dinner – and the kids are brushing their teeth for bed.
Gift-a-Day Surprise Bags
Bribes. Flat out bribes. Don’t judge. A few weeks back I had back-to-back-to-back business events in Florida. We live in New Jersey. To add insult to injury, I was awfully close to the Mouse House for part of that trip. As you can imagine my kids were none too pleased to know I was that close to Disney and they weren’t coming along. (Shhh… I DID go to EPCOT since I had a spare day between events!)
I do not recommend this tactic unless you have a particularly grueling travel schedule. Being that I am normally gone for 2-3 nights and on this trip I was gone 12 nights, I knew it would be really hard on my 9-year-old. I thought since he’s always in my luggage as soon I get in the front door looking for swag or presents, why not give him something early to keep him occupied? I also knew swag opportunities would be limited and my suitcase was already stuffed.
Here’s how it works: Count how many days in your trip and get that many tiny toys to fill paper lunch bags or non-clear containers. Great ideas for surprises are stickers, a yo-yo, bookmarks, deck of cards or even travel sized toiletries (all that extra soap from the really nice hotels might actually get used now!) Be sure to put in some personal notes as well. Five Below is a lifesaver for bag-stuffers. You can also go to a fast food restaurant and ask to purchase a grab bag of leftover happy meal toys. In total, the 12 bags and the bags themselves cost me under $15.
Next, and before you fill the bags, write the countdown on each that says how many days until your home and on what date the bag can be opened. My first gift-a-day surprise bag said “12 Days Until Mom Gets Home” and the next “11 Days Until Mom Gets Home” etc. The bags were then filled and stapled shut. I gave them to my mom who was home with the kids during my trip and she gave out the appropriate bag but only after homework and dinner were done. My son knew the bags were coming – and tried shoving me out the door to the airport – and knew the rules. He also knew that this was an extra special occasion and that this would not be happening every trip I had to make!
I’m thrilled to report the gift-a-day surprise bags were a total success. Every night I’d call home to my son and see if he opened his bag yet (if not he opened it while on the phone) and what his surprise was. I had honestly forgotten what all the gifts were so it was a surprise to me as well! His behavior was good at home and school (something he struggles with from time to time when I travel.)
Do you have any ideas to add?
I’d love to hear any ideas you have to keep better connected with your kids when you travel for work!