5 Tips for Mixing Business and Family Travel

May 2015

Photo of Las Vegas by Anne Saita

Photo of Las Vegas by Anne Saita

I was having a business dinner at Olive’s in the Bellagio Hotel along the Las Vegas strip when the woman next to me mentioned that a friend had just gotten married by an Elvis impersonator. The next day was my 15th wedding anniversary and as soon as I got back to our hotel room, I announced to my husband and teenaged daughters that tomorrow we were renewing our vows.

I spent the next day in conference rooms while everyone else went swimming and visited M&M World. Elvis slipped us in around 7 p.m. and some 60 minutes later, we were back at our hotel room, where I spent the evening filing two stories on deadline and everyone else went in search of PG-13 entertainment.

On this trip, I brought my family for one practical reason: we were homeless. We were relocating for my husband’s job and hadn’t yet found a home when I was called in to cover a conference. But I’ve mixed family vacations with business assignments enough times to know what works for us. Chances are, it works for you too.

Set (low) expectations and make them clear. This is especially true if you have younger children who may not understand why you aren’t coming along to meals or attractions. If you’re the parent that typically takes charge, just having someone else in that role can be a big adjustment—for everyone. But it needs to be made clear that you are here to work, not play, during the duration of your conference, business meeting, etc. Make sure they also know you cannot always answer texts or calls unless it’s an emergency. And be sure to define “emergency.” Just having the phone as an option will put everyone at more ease.

Create two itineraries. Plan out your business day and then your family vacation time. The best options are to add vacation days on either or both ends of a business trip so you get to fully enjoy family time before or after the main event. Depending on your business function, you might be able to do fun, touristy things in the evenings unless socializing after hours is a part of the trip’s mission. Having a second itinerary of things for everyone to do, both while you’re away and when you are with family, will help lower anxieties and bring on more smiles.

Prepare for mishaps. It could be as simple as a rendezvous gone awry because someone got lost or it could be more serious, like a parent or grandparent breaking bones and needing hospitalization. Make it clear who is in charge when you are not there and then let that person lead in your absence. An understanding employer will accommodate a family crisis in the event of an emergency.

Bring enough funds. One reason we like to mix business with pleasure is because we can save money if the company pays for some of the expenses, primarily your own travel and accommodations while you are conducting business on its behalf. But vacations still get expensive and it’s important that you research the cost of eating out, attractions, souvenirs and rental cars/gas/taxis. It’s almost always more than you think and especially so if children must be entertained for several days. There is nothing worse than coming back to the hotel room after an exhausting day to be greeted by an ornery spouse and cranky kids cooped up in an increasingly small room because they are broke.

Bring help. I’ve gone under the assumption that if you have children, you have a partner or relative to care for them while you work. My more fortunate friends bring a babysitter. If you are traveling with elderly parents or grandparents, make sure they can function well on their own. If in doubt, ask a sibling, cousin or really close friend to come along to keep an eye on everyone.

The summer vacation season is now upon us and like any family vacation, preparation is key. Work together to generate a great list of things to do, find a place that’s going to work well for your own family’s needs, and make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them. Finally, remember to stay in the moment, whether that moment takes place in a crowded auditorium or a zoo.

—Anne