The time has come. You are heading away from your family- it could be a business trip, a romantic getaway with your partner, or a weekend with the girls. Maybe you’re cheering inside. You could be holding back tears as you go over the “in case” list for the hundredth time.
For those of us who travel for a living leaving for the week is a reality that comes every seven days or so. Luckily I have acquired a wonderful husband who is not only the love of my life but also is very skilled at running the home and family while I am on the road. After 4 years of this lifestyle I have compiled my trusty list of helpful hints (husband not included).
1) The perpetual suitcase. When you’re leaving every week or so it makes no sense to unpack the essentials. Make sure your suitcase is well stocked with toiletries (pack in an easy to reach zippered pocket to speed up going thru security), hair elastics, and hygiene needs. Make sure you have two of each essential charger (laptop & phone) and keep one at home and one in your suitcase. This avoids panic on the road when you realize you forgot it. I also keep a spare EZ Pass toll transponder in my suitcase for when I am in areas with automated tolls.
2) Unpack into the laundry basket. I have a Samsonite small roller bag. It’s blue, I named it Papa Smurf, and I love it. One side is zippered and the other is not. At the beginning I pack all clothes into the zippered side. As I wear clothes and they are dirty they are packed back into the unzipped side. When I arrive home anything not in the zippered side is put into the washer. Anything in the zippered side is clean and can be left in and added to the following week. Do laundry when you arrive home and repack early to avoid “crunch packing” (aka finding out in Arkansas that you only brought 1 pair of socks and a purple bra to go under a white shirt).
3) Have a dual wardrobe. The simpler your travel wardrobe is the easier packing will be. I’m lucky enough to have two closet areas. The one in my bedroom (shared with super hubby) has home clothes. In my office closet I have a double closet rod . I have two types of work clothes, one set is black based, the other is brown based. Sounds boring, but I do have colored pieces as well. The brown hangs on the bottom rod, the black hangs on the top rod. I have shoes to match each and I know by heart combinations that work for 2 nights, 3 nights, and 4 nights as well as different occasions that I may run into on the road (meetings, presentations, spare outfits for accounts where the work tends to be more hands on). After you return home and throw the dirty clothes into the wash, pack the opposing color. This way you won’t feel like you’re wearing the same outfits over and over.
4) Use an app that will send you a weekly itinerary. I like TripCase. I enter or email in my trip info–hotels, rental cars, flights–and at the beginning of the week it emails me a printable itinerary that I can post on my fridge. This way my husband knows where I am and I can be tracked by a preschooler learning their states. In addition, when you’re on the road, alerts will be sent to your phone if flights change and you can check gates and alternate flights.
5) Be helpful while you’re home but keep in mind that this is your quality time. One of the most difficult aspects of a travel job is the guilt of being away. So I try to ease the guilt by spending as much time with my family as possible when I’m home. Sure they love a clean house but it doesn’t help anyone if I spend the weekend cleaning and they don’t see me. My husband and I have a wonderful division of labor and we each pitch in. I try to get as much laundry done as possible while I’m home and he washes some loads of diapers during the week while I’m gone. We do a half hour quick clean of our main living floor together. I try to cook two meals to leave in the fridge for the week but my husband is happy with some cheese, crackers, and salad mix in a pinch. You don’t need to be a Martha Stewart/Donald Trump hybrid – just do your best.
6) Have a few weekend routines that the kids can look forward to you when you’re home. I am a huge fan of weekend morning breakfasts. Pancakes, baked apples, muffins- we do something special every week. We also drive an hour “into the city” and leave the baby with my parents while we run errands. My husband and I will grab a coffee and enjoy our “mini-date”. Then we have dinner with my parents and let them cuddle the baby to their hearts’ content. If my 6-year-old isn’t in Vermont at that time we call him so he can chat with the whole family at once.
7) Bring small surprises home for the kids and use the opportunity of your travel to teach geography. My son can point out multiple states on the map. He’s 6 and has been pretty well versed in states for awhile now. He refers to Wisconsin as “that place with green and yellow popcorn” (Go Packers!). Start small on the surprises though. If you start a magnet collection you’ll be expected to return with a magnet each time. I usually bring back a breakfast cereal box from the hotel. He thinks its a treat because we don’t buy it and is always excited to see what kind I picked.
8) Accomplish things on the road so that you are not busy during the time you are home. I have a bills folder with stamps/envelopes/etc that I throw into my suitcase. Every weekend I reload it with new bills (and a list of calls that need to be made/appointments to be scheduled). Then I do the bills in a hotel in Tulsa, schedule appointments on a layover in Detroit, and call about the incorrect address while driving in Wisconsin. This way I arrive home with all the household management done and am ready to focus on my family.
9) Carryon, carryon carryon! I don’t check luggage. There are times when it won’t make it there. There are times when it’s snowing and you could get on an earlier flight home but they won’t let you because your bag is already on the next flight. Keep your bags with you and simplify what you carry. Unless you’re traveling to a remote destination chances are you can locate a store that sells a must have item. There is prepared and then there is bringing luggage that could hide a body. Pack light!
10) Last but not least thank your husband/mother/friend/babysitter profusely both before the trip and after. Good karma makes the world go round.