Reader Q&A: Getting Over Travel Guilt

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A reader who travels frequently for work recently asked the ladies of WMAG for a little advice. Here’s her note:

I am a military officer (Lieutenant-Colonel) currently posted in a great job in the U.S. Actually, it is a NATO position. I teach military public affairs courses. This job requires that I travel extensively – I am currently in Holland, heading to Greece next week. I am home for two weeks and then off again to Switzerland, Rome and then Germany for another three weeks.

My husband is a retired military pilot who otherwise would be a cabinet maker (his intended second career) when he is not looking after our two children: Ian (11) and Ingrid (10.)

I am finding that I am feeling guilty about visiting all of these marvelous places while my husband is doing battle (pardon the military analogy!) with our daughter who likes to strenuously avoid her homework. He is slogging it on the home front whilst I visit such locales as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and scour local shops for presents (to assuage my guilt perchance?)…

I gotta get over this!!! Any advice?

–Karen

Sara’s Take
Wow, Karen, this is timely because I just returned from a work trip to Hawaii. I seem to land in jobs that require travel to cool places. My passport boasts stamps for China, Singapore and Scotland, not to mention the great mainland locales I’ve visited.

I know how wonderful it feels to be able to go to interesting places, eat at nice restaurants and stay in great hotels without little ones needing your attention and limiting your activities. I also know how guilty you can feel because you feel so wonderful – especially if someone back at home *is* dealing with the little ones.

But before you go feeling too guilty, let’s be honest: Don’t you sometimes wish your loved ones had a more realistic view of what you actually do in Honolulu or Hong Kong? We are not on vacation when we are traveling for work. We are WORKING! That means we’re dealing with all of the usual stresses of day-to-day business, in addition to navigating unfamiliar cities, new cultures, different time zones and air travel, which, even when I flew business class, wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun.

Take my recent trip. I worked a trade show from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. inside a convention hall. In the evening, we didn’t have much time to travel outside of Waikiki, so my dining options were PF Chang’s, Cheesecake Factory, or $50 for a salad and glass or two of wine at the hotel bar. Plus I fell into bed, exhausted, by 10 p.m. each night due to jet lag. Granted, our hotel was on the beach, so I did get to enjoy the ocean view, put my feet in the waves and soak up a bit of aloha. Plus I love my job, my co-workers and clients, so the trip definitely wasn’t torture. But when I called home to check in with my husband and kids, I tried to talk a bit more about the “ho-hum”/stressful aspects as opposed to bragging about the delicious mai tai I just savored while watching the sun set.

But really, there’s no reason why your hubby – and even the kids – can’t get in on the fun every now and then. Save up those frequent flier miles and Star Rewards points (if your employer lets you keep them) and bring them along. Your husband will still have to handle child care duties while you’re in meetings, but afterward you can all enjoy sightseeing together. Or you can do like my bosses: they sometimes bring along a family friend who helps out as a nanny.

If you can’t include your family in your business travel, then you still can give yourself permission to enjoy it. It’s part of a job that you love, and we all deserve some time away from being “mommy.” When you get home, just make it a point to give your hubby a break from being “daddy,” even if he travels no farther than out to a bar with his friends for a few nights. The fact that you feel guilty says you understand what a big job you leave him with when you leave the country. Make sure he knows how much you appreciate him.

And make sure to spend a lot of extra special “mommy” time with your children before it’s time to jet off again!

Susan’s Take
Karen, first let me say, I’m envious! I love to travel and haven’t made it to Europe since my college tour of duty back in the ’90s. How cool that you get to go there so often — and to such amazing places!

Now, the guilt issue. When I travel without my kids (for work or pleasure), I don’t really feel guilty. I do the bulk of the childcare and housework when I’m home, so when I get a break because of travel, I just enjoy it. My husband is perfectly capable of keeping the home fires burning while I’m away. And I think it’s good for him to get a taste of all that I do most of the time.

The other thing I love about travel, especially for work, is briefly escaping the drudgery of wiping butts, cleaning dishes, cooking meals, feeding pets … you know the list goes on and on. Isn’t it nice to have someone else do the cooking, cleaning, and driving for you? Plus there’s the peace and quiet of a hotel room. That’s simply heaven to me.

So my advice? Leave the guilt at home and fly away, free to enjoy the perks of your work!

Got a question for us? Email us at workingmomsagainstguilt@gmail.com. We’d love to help if we can.

Susan Wenner Jackson

Susan Wenner Jackson is the cofounder and editor of Working Moms Against Guilt. She lives in her hometown of West Chester, Ohio, with her husband, two children, and their dog.

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