The Emotional Price of Traveling for Work

As a working mom a little traveling for work can be fun. A nice break from the day-to-day office and home hamster-wheel schedule. But a lot of travel is a real drag. You can never truly relax–it’s just not the same as sitting at home in your grubby clothes, sitting in “your spot” on the couch, eating cookie dough ice cream out of the carton. Hotel rooms, even the nice ones, are, well, hotel rooms: sterile boxes that leave your praying that the person who cleaned it before you arrived didn’t have a sick sense of humor. I’m just not a fan of unknown bodily fluids anywhere near the place I’m going to sleep, eat, or bathe.

And if you are flying there in coach you really take the difficulty level up an entire notch. Air travel has become the modern-day equivalent of riding the Greyhound bus. In fact, I’m fairly certain the Greyhound experience may be superior at this point: just as clean, just as many freaks, but way more leg room. But I tolerate it and am grateful I can get around the country in such a speedy fashion. But then something happened that pushed me past the point of tolerance and into mama bear mode.

After five days of travel I was on my way home from JFK hoping to make it back in time to blow out the candles on my eleven-year-old’s birthday cake with him. I was boarding an American Airlines flight and was in group 2 (I always get group 2 because I am totally OCD about checking in online the moment I can do so and also refuse to pay extra to have a priority boarding pass on the grounds that I detest being nickeled and dimed to death. Can I get an “Amen?”) when I was told I had to check my bag because it was too large. Having flown with my bag approximately every three weeks for the last six months (mostly on American) and never having had that claim leveled against my bag I was stunned. I thought I’d just show them that the bag was legit by putting it in the sizer. It was almost as if the bag actually being the right size was the exact wrong answer because I was then told that it didn’t matter and that I would have to check it anyway. No reason. Just because. I felt like Alice after she fell down the rabbit hole.

The absolute worst part wasn’t the injustice of the moment (although that was certainly a close second) but the realization that whatever slim hope I still held onto of having a birthday candle moment with my son had just been taken from me. As if I didn’t have enough working mother guilt. Let’s just add “missed your kid’s birthday” to the list. I’ll start the therapy fund for my son now.

I once talked to the president of a Fortune 500 company who had raised three children and I asked her how she balanced it all. She told me that she had refused to travel for work when the children were young. I thought she was crazy and there was no way a professional who wanted to advance could really not travel for work. The damage to your career for not traveling would be too great a risk. But now I wonder with the advent of online meetings and Skype if there can’t be a better way–one that doesn’t force us to choose between career and family.

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