From the first meet, Donna O’Daniels is a bundle of energy and passionate about what she does – whatever it is. She’s also passionate about her family – just ask her and she’ll show you pictures!
Since college, her jobs have kept her on the road, so she’s not a stranger to the world of traveling moms. TMOM caught up with this dynamo of a woman to ask her to share what it’s like to be a traveling mom.
TMOM: Tell me a little about who you are, what you do — and your family.
DONNA: I’m the CEO of the Louisiana Northshore Convention and Visitors Bureau, with 20 employees and a $2.6 million budget to manage. We market the area north of Lake Pontchartrain, about 30 minutes from New Orleans, as a destination for visitors.
I’ve been married for almost 17 years to husband Brian, and we have two daughters, Caroline (10) and Katie (8), and Daisy – a very rambunctious Sheltie that thinks she’s “one of the girls.”
TMOM: How often do you travel for business? How important is travel to your job? Why?
DONNA: I usually travel at least monthly for work and sometimes much more than that, depending on what we have going on. Travel is very important in how we market our area, not just for me, but for my senior-level staff as well. Our sales department is constantly on the road, marketing to tour operators, corporate meeting planners, and amateur athletics organizers to bring their groups and events here. Most of my outreach involves getting travel journalists interested in covering the Northshore as a destination. Add to that all the different industry meetings and professional development opportunities. This is a very competitive business and it’s important to stay on top of trends and best practices.
TMOM: What is your Must Pack item?
DONNA: I have two Must Pack items:
Must Pack Item #1 (and most important) is my iPhone. Seriously, my LIFE is in that phone. I have thousands of photos of my kids, all my music and favorite tv shows (handy for those unexpected airport delays), not to mention everything I need for work, and oh yeah, it makes phone calls too!
Must Pack Item #2 is a pair of black shoes that coordinates with everything in my suitcase.
TMOM: Do you carry on? Or check?
DONNA: If it’s a two day or less trip, I prefer to carry on, but longer than that and I usually check a bag and just bring a few necessities in my briefcase.
TMOM: What is the best travel tip you have received?
DONNA: It’s not so much one travel tip as it is a packing mentality. When I graduated from college, I spent 18 months traveling as a national consultant for my sorority. I was on the road for two months at a time and lived out of a large suitcase, a garment bag, a briefcase and a small carry-on. I had to be prepared for all types of weather, from blistering temperatures in the Deep South to blizzard conditions in the upper Midwest. When you’re carrying your own bags, you learn very quickly what you really need on the road, wardrobe-wise – a cocktail dress, six or seven coordinates for professional outfits, a few mix and match casual outfits, a jacket that works with everything and no more than three pairs of shoes.
Beyond that, I’d say the best “true” travel tip I have received is to learn a few phrases of the native language when traveling internationally. I can order a glass of wine almost anywhere!
TMOM: How do you manage the “guilt” of being away from your kids?
DONNA: I don’t consider traveling for work something to feel guilty about. My time away from my kids actually makes me appreciate them that much more when I’m home. I’m lucky because my husband is supportive and my parents live close by, so I know they’re in good hands when I’m gone. We talk on the phone or Skype every single day and since they’re both in elementary school, my work adventures become a geography lesson for them. And since I’ve been traveling like this for as long as they can remember – this is just what I “do.”
TMOM: If you could travel anywhere with your kids/family, where would that be — and why?
DONNA: Last year, the girls and I had an incredible, three-week trip to Australia to visit friends who live in Sydney. It was a wonderful experience, but I spent a lot of time preparing them for the journey itself (including more than 30 hours in transit each way). They both did great and I expect we have many more “girls trips” ahead of us. I’d love to take them both to Ireland next summer and we’re currently planning a long weekend in New York City in July.
TMOM: What tip might you offer to other moms that travel?
If your kids are younger, figure out ways you can use wherever you’re traveling as a learning experience for them. Instead of bringing them t-shirts, bring them a small gift that teaches a little about the area you visited. For instance, if you visit Louisiana, pick up some local foods like pralines or maybe (if your kids are adventurous) do a hot sauce tasting. If you visit the Southwest, bring home a dreamcatcher and a book about Native American traditions. If you can make your work trip into a learning experience for your kids, everyone enjoys it when you travel.