Going on a business trip with the family

Going on a business trip with the family

How can a family preserve time together that normally would be consumed by work, and even turn it into an adventure and save money? They can combine a family vacation with a parent’s business trip. With budget restrictions in place in many homes and businesses across the country, some travellers are using one trip to fulfil multiple needs.

According to a 2008 study by Egencia, the corporate travel arm of Expedia, 59% of business travellers have had friends or family join them on a trip so they could spend free time together.

Andy Palmer, a co-founder of Vertica Systems and global head of software engineering at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, combines business travel with family time whenever he can. “I hate travelling away from my family," says Palmer, who lives in New Hampshire, “so having any of them with me is a million per cent better." Last spring Palmer’s wife, Amy, and their four children accompanied him to Basel, Switzerland, when he had work at the Novartis headquarters.

His family “ate and toured" while he worked during the day, and they all regrouped to dine together in the evening. The children appreciated seeing where their father had to go so frequently. “He wasn’t calling from a black hole after that—they could imagine the setting where he was," says Amy Palmer.

Lois Howes, who works at Superior Travel, in Freeport, New York, says she has seen an increase in travellers combining work and vacation, and often makes those arrangements for her clients. Recently she helped three different sets of travellers—going to Istanbul, Seattle and Savannah, Georgia—extend their work trips for some sightseeing.

“I had a couple of married teachers from New York going to a convention in Seattle this summer and I booked them on an Alaska cruise," she says. “If their work hadn’t paid for their airfare to get out west, they couldn’t have afforded it."

Tacking personal time on to a work trip is a way to visit a place you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and to share that experience with your family, she adds. When Mary Sorensen of Seattle realized that her husband, Stan, would be taking a business trip to Paris at the same time that their children were on spring break, she sprang into action and rented an apartment there for 10 days. “We took the opportunity to transport our life to France," she says. After breakfast, Sorensen and her sons, ages 11 and 9, would hop on to the metro and explore the city. Along with visits to the Louvre and Notre Dame, they shopped at the local food market, hung their laundry out to dry and visited a bakery every day to practise their French phrases with the owner. “The boys had a wonderful taste of what it was like to live in another city," she says.

Not everyone, however, is comfortable with the idea of bringing their family along on a trip, perhaps fearing that their supervisor will think they are slacking off. Experienced business travellers advise checking with a manager. Companies are generally fine with the idea if employees don’t charge any family expenses to their employer, and can meet all the professional requirements of the trip. And extending the trip over a Saturday night may even decrease the airfare the company is paying.

In the Sorensens’ case, Sorensen’s company paid for his plane tickets and all his meals, and offered a per diem rate for lodging which the family put towards the apartment rental.

As travellers try to fulfil different objectives, however, tensions can rear up. The parent who is there on the job may need to entertain clients in the evening, or catch up on email after a day spent in meetings, but the family may be eager to go out. Expectations should be set before departure, including each day’s business obligations as well as when there will be time for recreation and family time.

To reduce the stress, business travellers say they try to separate their activities as much as possible. They don’t make business calls from museum galleries. Or they have their families join them at the tail end of the trip and extend their time at the destination for a few more days.

©2010/The New York Times

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