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Back in October 2016 I took my 4-year-old daughter on a business trip to Austria for 3 days. She was with me every minute of every day, sitting in on my meetings and joining in on the adventure. It may sound like a recipe for disaster, but little did I know then, that it would teach me so much in such a short space of time.
Here are the 24 things I learned:
1. To avoid a continual stream of questions and ‘how long until we go’ based queries from your child, do not tell them you are going on a trip 3 days before you are actually going. I learned this the hard way. Three days is a long time for a 4-year-old and their excitement can soon turn to impatience and even boredom. Meanwhile, the constant questions can test the patience of any grown up.
2. Can you risk losing ‘Fluffy’? Think carefully about taking their favorite comfort toy with you. What happens if it gets lost? If it cannot possibly be left at home, take photos of ‘Fluffy’ and attach a label with your number on it should it ever be lost. At least then there could be a chance of being reunited should that special toy go astray.
3. Magazines. Buy as many kids magazines as you can fit in your luggage. Everything takes a long time when you are a pre-schooler. Planes take a lot longer to taxi, to take off and to land when you are 4.
4. Aim to get flight times that are not too early in the morning. Waking your child early to fly may seem exciting as you set off, but 5 hours in the novelty wears off, for both of you.
5. Be prepared for airport security. It’s a sad but true fact that a Dad with limited bags and a 4-year-old daughter traveling on an early morning flight out of the UK raises flags to security. Be prepared for scrutinizing looks from officials and double-checking of your boarding cards and passports.
6. Have your travel route nailed and backup plans at least given a thought. When you’re carrying your child and all the luggage while keeping your travel documents handy you need to know where you are going as soon as you get off that flight.
7. When it comes to comfort and safety, a Trunkie booster seat or similar is a must. They are great for taxis, are a backpack too for stashing all those magazines, and they also create the right height for your little one to lay across you on a plane when they need a nap.
8. Make sure you know a little about the healthcare system in the city you are visiting. Where’s the nearest doctor’s surgery, etc. And go prepared with a mini first aid kit including the essential infant paracetamol. You never know when a mild temperature will strike with small children and knowing where you can go if it becomes something more serious helps to alleviate the pressure.
9. Get a hotel with a pool. Wake up early and head straight to the pool for a swim and play. It’s a brilliant way to start the day for you and your child.
10. Make sure you get a room with a separate bed for your child. Thinking it will be fine to share your king-size hotel bed with a small child is asking for trouble. Waking up with a foot in your back or suffocating under a mop of wavy hair is not a great way to start your morning. Lack of sleep is never good.
11. Better still, try to get a room with a separate sleeping area, either around a corner in the same room or a separate room. That way when your child goes to sleep you can have some space to work, talk and think. If you can’t, use it as the perfect reason to catch up on your sleep and go to bed early too.
12. Before I set off on this trip I put my plan to my client and counterpart who was quite happy with the concept. I also made sure that everyone I was going to be meeting knew that my little girl was coming with me and that she would be there for the meetings. No one pushed back or made the situation difficult, in fact, everyone was really accommodating.
13. I spent a few weeks prior to our trip teaching my daughter a few key words. I’ve always tried to learn a little of the language of the country I’m visiting. I’m not a great linguist but I believe it’s important to have a go and teaching my daughter a few words and short phrases like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘may I have’ or ‘where is?’, was an important aspect of our trip.
14. Keep your working time in the office to under 3 hours. We planned our meetings meticulously to ensure we went to the office for 9 AM and finished by about 11:30 AM. This was enough time to have 5 half hour meetings. Over our 3-day trip we managed 10 meetings. There’s not much you can’t cover in that time. This kind of planning keeps your meetings incredibly focused and productive.
15. When there is a child in a meeting, no one in the room swears. Everyone is on their best behavior and more considered in making their negative comments. Generally, everyone is more controlled and positive.
16. When you are in a team of 8 people deeply trying to solve a problem, starting to get a little stressed, there’s nothing like seeing a 4-year-old contently focused on coloring in a picture of a princess to put your emotions into perspective.
17. Sharing your business trip with your little one forces you to turn down the late night drinks and dinners that often accompany business trips. You know that she’s got to be in bed by 7:30 at the latest. This makes you disciplined and more productive. Instead of being in the bar until gone midnight then wondering how you’ll prepare for the next round of meetings, you are done by 9 PM and ready for a sound night’s sleep.
18. Take time out in the middle of the trip for you to enjoy together. We were lucky that we had a national holiday in our host country when we were there. This gave us the perfect opportunity to see the city and get a sense its culture.
19. We went to a play park and just as in the UK, kids will play with other kids without any social bias. My daughter was off climbing, running and joining in games with many of the children in the park. The majority of them didn’t speak English, or perhaps as much English as she spoke German. Interestingly she didn’t even mention that they didn’t talk much to each other. This interested me and showed me just how much of what we communicate is unspoken. Body language, facial expressions and the subtleties of our movements can show our meaning and intent no matter what language we speak.
20. I really wanted to take my daughter to a music concert or the ballet but sadly there was nothing suitable on at the time. So, instead, we explored the many sites from ‘The sound of music’. We visited the old palace and had a coffee in one of the oldest coffee shops in Austria. We made sure we had time to explore some local attractions and make memories.
21. We were blessed with taking the school class mascot home for half term. Unbeknownst to the teacher, this gave us a great excuse to document our trip. You rarely document a business trip, but this time we did. It was fun to do and taking photos of ‘Hodge’ at the different places we visited gave us a beautiful reminder of the fun we had. Even though Daddy was working!
22. Going home after a break is always hard. Don’t make it more difficult for yourself. Don’t book a flight home for any later than 8 PM. If you do, you will regret it, especially if your flight is delayed.
23. I soon realized that as a ‘solo’ parent traveling with a small child, people rarely tend to help you. Our flight was delayed, my daughter was poorly and by the time we were leaving she was sleeping on me. I had 2 bags to carry and no one offered to help me at the airport, boarding or disembarking our flight. I now know that whenever I see a parent on their own traveling, I will offer to help. If they say no thanks, then that’s cool. But I know from my own experience, that they are most likely too busy juggling everything to ask for help when they need it most. And I know I would be extremely grateful to someone reaching out a hand to help me carry a bag at a time like that.
24. Be prepared, everything that can go wrong could wrong. On the last day of our trip, my daughter got ill. She slept across my lap in a meeting and could not eat any lunch. We left early in search of Calpol and then when we found the Austrian equivalent I had to make sure I gave her the right dose. Thank you google translate. We then proceeded to queue for a train that had already departed, then run for another train, to get to the airport early. When we got the airport we were in the wrong part of it. Then the flight was delayed and the battery ran out on my mobile. We were exhausted. We finally got home safely just 2 hours later than planned after what felt like an epic journey.
This trip was truly eye opening for me. I never anticipated the level of connection to my daughter that it gave me. In 3 short weeks, seeing her outside of a family holiday or our home setting was a real pleasure and enlightening. She is a true blessing in my life and can teach me a thing or 2 about being human at work. After all, we are all the parents or children of someone. From worker to CEO, what connects us all is that we were all once children and may also be lucky enough to be parents.
The trip brought a whole new meaning to taking your children to work. It may not work for everyone, but if the opportunity presents itself to you, I would say go for it. Be prepared and enjoy it for what it is, quality time with your child and taking your whole self to work.
Lee Mallon runs rarely.io, a tech consultancy which helps organisations and their staff by automating the things employees hate doing. Lee is an advocate of life/work time hacking being featured by the BBC, the Guardian, CIPR & GulfNews particular around removing email from his life where possible. Lee writes about his experiences when he can on https://medium.com/@