Facebook Memories recently surfaced a picture I posted after my first big work trip as a new mama. Five days in San Francisco. In the nights leading up to leaving, I frantically turned to Google with “how to survive work travel as a new mom” queries. I didn’t find much, but I did find a way to survive that week.
And then to do it again. From the time my son was just over one until he was just over two, work took me from home in Detroit to Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston, back to San Francisco, to Guatemala, and back to Charlotte. The trips never got entirely easier, but there are things that helped. Here are my top 12:
12 tips for surviving work travel as a new mama
1. Ask before you call
I couldn’t call home on my first big trip. My co-workers found it funny, but I found it essential to my survival. I knew if I heard the baby crying in the background, I’d lose it. So I stuck with texts until the very last morning, when I finally got the nerve to call.
A few hours later, I ran into my old boss at the airport. He shared what became my favorite new piece of work-travel advice: When you’re away and want to check in, first text your caregiver to see if it’s a good time. This will ensure you don’t call in the middle of a meltdown, which doesn’t help anyone.
2. Decide what you need to know, and be clear about it to your caregiver.
Remember when I mentioned that one call home? As soon as we said hello, my husband shared news: “The baby’s been pretty sick this week. I didn’t want you to worry, but I know you’ll want a heads up before you get here.” I cried. Our baby had only been sick once or twice before, so it was still new.
While my husband was right that I would not have been okay if I’d known, I did ask him to tell me for future trips. Today, I’m confident leaving, knowing I’ll stay in the loop.
3. Plan a fun event for your little one while you’re gone.
I thought I was doing great with work travel until it was time for my first international trip. All progress seemed to melt away as I thought about what it would be like to be a country away from my little man.
Then I started planning fun activities for him. I set up one night at my brother’s house, another at my parents’. This gave my husband some rest so that he could go into the remainder of his time recharged and made me feel less guilty about being away.
(If you’re curious how that trip went, you can read about it here.)
4. Try to be present in your time away.
At one point, I confided in a friend that I felt nervous about all of my upcoming work travels. She left for five weeks to shoot a TV show after her first baby was born, so I knew she’d understand.
“You’ll be fine,” she said calmly. “You love work. You’re going to be sitting on a plane, with a coffee and a book and looking out the window thinking, ‘This is good.’ “
I could see that moment when she described it. I have always loved work. Plus travel. I tried to hold on to that vision on the trips that followed, thinking about it on plane rides and savoring the moments that felt like me time. It helped.
5. Do something for you.
Like many mamas, I don’t take time for myself. I try to change that on work trips. Sometimes it’s buying a book at the airport and reading it on the plane. Other times it’s getting up early to walk to a meeting in a cool city, so I can explore along the way. These activities feel like treats. They also bring me home as a healthier mama.
6. Bring a baby item.
Once I was about to hop on an airport shuttle when I noticed one of my son’s blankets in the backseat. Without even thinking, I swooped it up and shoved it into my suitcase. That night I felt a higher amount of pain than usual about being away. When I came across the blanket, I threw it into bed. Instant comfort. I sought it out the next night.
7. Remember that your caregiver is someone you trust.
On my second trip to San Francisco as a new mama, I learned quickly that our baby was sick again. I was trying not to panic, when one of my co-workers turned to me with her own mom tone and reminded me: “You have a perfectly capable partner at home.”
She was right.
Our little guy got sick again when I went to Guatemala (I swear he only gets sick when I leave), and I reminded myself of this advice. Even being a country away, it helped calm my fears.
8. Minimize the mom guilt.
I’m still terrible at mom guilt, and work travel hits me hard.
The same co-worker who gave me the “capable caregiver” advice also told me something about time away: “It’s all about where you spend the rest of your time.” I don’t choose to go out without our son a lot or get babysitters often. I do go on work trips. Before I leave, I prioritize spending every minute possible with our son, even waiting to pack until he’s sleeping. I tell myself it all balances out.
9. Consider bringing them.
I considered bringing our baby to Boston this year. I looked at prices and thought about how my husband could come, they could have fun during the day, and we could all catch up at nighttime. Then I realized “catching up” would likely only mean watching the baby sleep. Plus, paying for his and my husband’s flights would be pretty expensive. I decided not to bring them. But after it became my choice, I felt slightly better. When I made it to Boston, I remembered the reasons I chose to travel there solo.
On other trips, I have brought my son and husband. It’s been great, and we’ve made lots of fun family memories. Either way, just having the choice (or at least thinking about how that choice might look) helps.
10. Say no to travel, or lighten your days.
Pre-motherhood, I used to always book work trips to include as much time as I could get at my upcoming destination. Now I do the opposite. If I need to, and I have the opportunity, I say no to certain trips. When I do have to go, I look for options to get up super early and fly in the morning of meetings, instead of missing out on the night before with family. This helps with mom guilt, too. I just really rely on coffee during takeoff.
11. Nest if you need to.
My husband is also perfectly capable of picking out baby outfits. In fact, with that sort of thing, he’s got better fashion sense than I do. Yet it still made me feel better before my first few work trips to make sure all of my son’s clothes were cleaned, and his outfits were ready for the days I’d be gone. So I did it. Each time. It felt therapeutic as I set out his little outfits and gave me even more confidence that everything would work smoothly at home while I was away.
12. Just get to the airport.
For me, the anticipation is worse than the actual trip every single time. Distracting myself beforehand helps. When distractions run out, I just tell myself I need to get to the airport. Then I can head straight to the bookshop to do something for me and prep for my big “be present” moment on the plane.
If you are preparing for your very first work trip, don’t try to take on all of these ideas at once. Choose a few that resonate and test them out. And remember: While these tips make work travel easier on me, you might find different things help you. Try to stay patient as you explore what works and feel confident that you will find ways to ease the stress of being away.
You’ve got this, strong mama!