Traveling For Work as a Breadwinning Mom – Leaving Guilt Behind

I mentioned last week in my post wondering whether you splurge or go frugal on work travel that I just came back from a week-long business trip. Back when my youngest son was a baby, I traveled to a conference in San Diego for a week, while he was still nursing. I’ve been traveling for work now for years, for periods of time ranging from a very long day to a week, and I’ve never felt guilt about it. But traveling for work when you’re a mom can be difficult, guilt-ridden, and sometimes impossible for moms – so I thought I’d address it head-on today.

“Head On” – Get it? This is from San Diego.

Traveling For Work as a Breadwinning Mom

First things first – my work travel situation and perspective isn’t the same as many other moms. That’s because I have a husband who’s a stay at home dad, and who’s more than willing to watch the boys for a few days or a week (or even a few weeks) so I can go on a business trip. Back when he worked part-time, my mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother all helped to watch the boys while I was traveling for work. So this story will be about work travel from my perspective, which I recognize is unique.

After all, if you’re a single mom or don’t have a supportive spouse/family nearby, traveling for work could be impossible-or at a minimum extremely difficult. There’s almost no after-hours childcare available, and overnight child care is nearly impossible to find. Depending on the age of the child, you might need someone to watch and care for them 24/7, or perhaps someone to bring them to activities and school while you’re traveling. That’s a lot to ask of someone, so arranging for more than an occasional trip can be very hard.

There’s also a large range of travel demands for different types of jobs, different companies, and different roles. If you’re a consultant you may travel for almost every week out of the year. On the other hand, if your entire team is located in the same building you may never need to travel. It might involve just a day trip to a location a few hours away, or it can mean flying overseas for several weeks. In my case, I don’t travel too much. I frequently go to a different office which means a slightly longer commute, but usually only have a few longer trips each year. This year I’ve had two longer trips – one to PA and one to FL, each a week long.

So what’s so special about work travel as a breadwinning mom? Only that I have more flexibility to do so since my husband is a stay at home dad, and that my traveling is less disruptive than some other moms doing so since my husband does so much of the work at home. I’m not the one who does the after-school activities or school drop-offs and pick-ups. So when I’m gone, the routine isn’t changed very much.

This flexibility isn’t something I take for granted. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ll know that my husband almost died of septic shock several years ago. Back when he was sick, or when he was recovering from one of his several surgeries, I wouldn’t have been able to travel. In face there was a year-long period where traveling would have been impossible. He was not only in the hospital and rehabilitation for a month, but then had multiple appointments/therapies to attend. He had other surgeries requiring months of not being able to drive-much less care for the boys. So I’m very familiar with life situations where you can’t travel, and I’m grateful that at my work travel is almost always an option-not a requirement.

Moms Traveling for Work – Don’t Assume – Ask!

Travel for work is a big area where many folks make assumptions about moms that they really shouldn’t. Yes, there are many moms who can’t – or don’t want to – do significant work travel. However, there are also many moms out there who would love the opportunity. They may have a stay at home spouse or a very supportive family, and love the opportunities traveling brings.

I’ve had people assume before that I don’t want to take international work trips because I’m a mom. Um, no. I once went to France for two weeks and China for ten days as part of my MBA program – and my husband watched the boys that whole time. I certainly wouldn’t mind an international trip for work. I’ve always appreciated the folks that asked, rather than assumed, whether I would travel somewhere. After all, if I was a man with a family at home, I don’t think people would be assuming I didn’t want to travel.

Traveling for work can be disruptive regardless of gender. No one should assume a man wants to travel, and at the same time, no one should assume a mom doesn’t want to. After all, that man could be a single dad, or be the caregiver for a family member at home, or maybe he simply hates flying.

How is work travel disruptive? It upends your entire routine. It’s also not fun, and it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I distinctly remember in the first few years of my career, I was so jealous of people who had one of those cool jobs where they got to travel all the time. Now that I’ve been in the workforce over a decade, I know that traveling all the time gets tiring – and there’s nothing glamorous about airports.

Why Is Work Travel Important For Your Finances?

In my particular industry and company, higher level positions almost always require some level of travel a few times per year. Whether to another work site (I work at corporate headquarters), a conference, training, a meeting, or something else, the higher up you go in the company, the more frequently you would be tapped to travel. So at least in my company, not being able to travel would put you at a significant disadvantage in competing for higher-level jobs. And of course the more money you make, the faster you can grow the gap between your income and expenses-and the faster you can reach financial freedom.

Does this mean it’s impossible to get a higher level job if you don’t travel for work? Of course not. There are plenty of positions that require no travel-or even let you work from home. There are also lots of other companies with similar positions that require no travel. As I mentioned at the start, work travel requirements vary a lot between company, position, and role.

So although traveling for work can be important for your career, it’s not a must-do. If it’s not possible-or not desirable-for you then you can almost certainly work around it.

If you haven’t already, be sure to swing by my new one-stop shop page for Breadwinning moms, featuring all my prior articles and interviews (plus some updates on prior interviewees!).

I Want To Hear From You!

What’s the hardest part of traveling for work? The best part? Let me know in the comments!

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10 thoughts on “Traveling For Work as a Breadwinning Mom – Leaving Guilt Behind”

  1. I definitely see the pros/cons of my work travel (not regular, but it can stack up so I have odd “bursts” of several trips in a month). I find travel in general a bit tiring and the whole “get up at 4am to catch a flight for a 10am-5pm meeting followed by a dinner” is exhausting. But I really appreciate that I am able to see new cities, meet people face to face, and have a little “me time” (hotel room alone with no chance I will be woken up by a toddler at 2am!). I also value the travel more now that I work remotely full time. It helps me to remain connected with my peers and those in my industry (conferences, etc). Overall, I like my occasional business travel.

  2. For those business trips, whether it is a mom or dad, the challenges for the parent at home are still considerable. I remember having to travel 3-4 times a year (over a 3 year period) to India while small PIE’s were very small. Mrs. PIE, a working parent, had to be Mom, Hercules, role model work colleague all rolled into one. These trips, I was away for 7-9 days at a time. To make matters worse, I invariably came home exhausted or sick due to a bug I picked up in India (very, very easy to pick GI stuff up in Bangalore, Hyderabad….). Thus sometimes the “trip” extended another 2-3 days to recuperate/recover.

    Work colleagues often commented how glamorous it must have been to travel and conduct business in India. Eh, not so much!! Just ask Mrs. PIE!

  3. Not having kids means travelling for work has always been easy for me. I have had the opportunity to discover places I would never have thought about visiting without work. Your observations about it not being glamorous ring true, though. In the end everything looks the same when you only go from airport to hotel to conference/office to hotel to airport. I’d been to Melbourne 3 times and never had the chance to actually visit it because it was fly-in fly-out!

  4. Darren (@learn2bgreat)

    My pros of business travel:
    1. Travel to destinations you want to visit. I’ve been to Hawaii, Guam, Alaska, etc… Felt like I was on business vacation!
    2. More time to work on things outside of work (like blogging, reading, learning) with fewer distractions
    3. Travel rewards and perks. Seriously, this should be #1 in terms of financial benefits. This “pro” alone has been worth tens of thousands.

    My cons of business travel:
    1. Time away from my family, especially my young children ages 8 and 4. Don’t want to miss too many more birthdays and special events. 🙁
    2. Travel to destinations you don’t want to visit. I went to South Korea 6 times. Definitely gets old.
    3. Meals. Eating out gets old and can add up quickly unless you stay in a suite and cook. Most rooms have microwaves. Some hotels that I’ve stayed in while in South Korea didn’t have microwaves but eating out in South Korea is less expensive than in the U.S.
    4. Couldn’t consistently follow my morning and evening routines because of jet-lag, schedule, getting sick, etc…

  5. I have a newborn and I can barely get organized to leave the house LOL- my husband has been super helpful and I don’t know if I would be able to manage if I didn’t have a spouse or a supportive spouse. That’s great that you have the opportunity to travel for work and have a supportive husband. You mentioned that you went on a business trip while still nursing. Did you pump beforehand so that your husband could bottle feed?

    1. Yes-I work full time so I had lots of pumped milk. Luckily there was enough in the freezer to make it for five days-and I was able to pump while on the trip. It was tricky to get all that milk back but I did it, and he continued to nurse for another 8 months after the trip.

  6. Reblogged this on The Small Investor and commented:
    Interesting post from the Chief Mom Officer on business travel as a mom who is the primary breadwinner while the husband takes what I see as the more important job of raising the children. I especially like that she points to reasons to travel for business as ways to enhance your career and thereby provide more for your family. It is always important to remember the reasons we leave the cave to hunt in a society that tends to place more importance on the hunt than on the reason why we’re hunting.
    I always make the most of any business trip I take, working overtime and using my time to get as much done as I can. I think most people I talk to do the same, which certainly doesn’t make business travel anything like a vacation.

  7. This is important. In my line of work (medicine) travel is important. Attending national and international conferences is what gets you noticed, expands your practice and placement on advisory boards. As there are very few women in my field (surgical subspecialty) I am frequently the only female physician in the room if not at the conference! As a mother of 3, the team approach (parents, in-laws, neighbors, etc) is the only way I can survive. Traveling almost monthly does leave me with the guilt of missing out on some of my kids activities. But when I am home, I am present. I feel they appreciate that more.

  8. Hey ladies! I’m a single mom to an autistic child with other physical disabilities. I don’t get child support or help from the state. My parents are elderly and unable to help. I work for the U.S. railroad. I travel 11 days out of the 14 days. 1 day off after 6 days. 3 days after day 11. I’m home every other morning or night. It’s extremely difficult especially now that he is 2 mo. from 13. I feel alone 10/10 times especially because I’m also Native American living in the 3rd biggest city in our country. Covid has made it worse, but I’m tripping along. It’s a difficult life, one I didn’t choose for myself, but the healthcare requirements my son needs are met, so is my Pension and retirement. I’m grateful for being an essential employee and providing for my son and our 2 furbabies, but, my house is near always a mess, and I’m extremely ALWAYS tired. Even when I’m off work. The face time works, I keep his story books and Teddy with me on my layovers, and check his homework too. It’s a daunting life, I feel like I ALWAYS fail in some way or another.

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