Taking the tots? You must be kidding yourself

Special to The Times

Mixing business and pleasure doesn't always work, so taking your children on a business trip may seem like sheer madness.

For some people -- single parents, for example -- lack of child-care options may force the issue. For others, such as Jamie Levey, combining business trips and bonding time with the kids is rewarding.

Levey, an international investment banker from Long Island, N.Y., plans to take her 20-month-old daughter to Switzerland when she is there to meet with clients. "I don't think having her impedes me from doing anything," said Levey, who has taken her daughter on several trips.

"The whole travel part of my career is to enjoy the places that I'm at and try to extend the trip," she said. "I can bring in the culture that we're in and experience the same thing with my daughter and have her enjoy it too."

Freelance writer Janet Strassman Perlmutter of Worcester, Mass., started taking her daughter Eliana on business trips when she was only 3. Today, the 9-year-old even assists her mom while she works.

"Sometimes I write travel stories with a family travel angle," Strassman Perlmutter said. "I've written on river-rafting with a 5-year-old and taking kids to the Montreal Jazz Festival. So sometimes she's part of the story and gives me a kid's perspective."

Levey and Strassman Perlmutter are in the minority. Eighty percent of businesswomen rarely or never take their kids while traveling for business, according to a March 2003 study conducted by the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University and sponsored by the Wyndham International hotel chain.

"Women may not take their kids along while traveling on business because finding convenient quality child care [on the road] can be difficult, it might make them appear that they are not committed to their jobs, and most important, going away for business without the kids gives them a break," said Brenda Elwell, founder of www.singleparenttravel.net, a New Jersey-based website that arranges trips for single parents.

The hotel industry also has been slow to create child-care programs, though in recent years more have implemented such options. "They don't see enough of it to warrant the internal expense of putting a good program together, so it is simply more cost-efficient to take care of the client's needs as they occur," said Cheryl MacKinnon, founder of www.kidfriendly.org, a Canada-based website that offers advice and information on destinations that are kid-friendly.

Even setting up available child care can have its glitches, and savvy travelers need to be prepared. Monica Moshenko, an advocate for autism education, attended a conference in San Diego several years ago and took her son Alex, who was then 7. When child-care options at the hotel and conference were full, he tagged along to the seminars.

"I was proud of my son's ability to sit through seminars for three days," Moshenko said. He read books and did other quiet activities. "I made sure that we had extra fun at night too."

Moshenko was fortunate that the conference allowed her child to attend the sessions; many in the business world don't think children belong in boardrooms or meetings.

"Only under extreme circumstances," said Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert and the founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Fla. (www.etiquetteexpert.com). "If the baby-sitter didn't show up or is sick or something like that, it's understandable to take a child to a business meeting, but certainly get permission of the other person before just walking in with a child."

The ideal is to make arrangements to have children cared for during work hours. A call to a hotel concierge usually can put you in contact with a licensed and bonded nanny service or nearby child-care center.

When author Jennifer Lawler needed to schedule a trip to Washington to promote her book "Punch! Why Women Participate in Violent Sports," the Kansas resident contacted the hotel concierge, who recommended a local nanny service to care for her 6-year-old daughter.

Lawler spoke with the nanny before her trip. "I also checked references and met with her once I got to Washington. She stayed in the hotel room with Jessica while I was gone. I needed the extra help, but wouldn't have known where to start."

Whether you want them to stay in the room or take your child to activities, nannies should accommodate your needs, experts say.

On her first business trip with children in tow, Kathleen Scott told the nanny to stay in the hotel room. On another trip, however, a nanny asked to take the kids to an art gallery. "You have to learn how to listen to your gut instinct," said Scott, an oncology researcher in Chicago. "They had a wonderful time. The nanny knew the area and was great."

If you can, choose hotels with kid-friendly programs and activities, where your child may interact with other children.

Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colo., offers a ski-nanny program that transports children (ages 5 to 12) from the hotel, escorts them to ski school, and meets them again to return them to the hotel for $40 a day.

The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs, Fla., caters to the business conference crowd and offers Camp Coconut, a year-round supervised program for children ages 3 to 12 that includes indoor and outdoor activities such as treasure hunts and a boat ride. The Hyatt also provides children's evening programs and will make arrangements to open early or stay later to accommodate a parent's meeting schedule.

The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., provides full-day and evening programs in the Greenbrier Adventure Zone, which are supervised by elementary school teachers and child development specialists and arranged by age group. Baby-sitters are also available.

Most nanny services charge for a minimum number of hours and may also require additional fees, such as parking. Ask the agency to provide proof that it is bonded and the nanny is licensed.

Some parents prefer to take a familiar face with them -- their own nanny, a grandparent, friend or regular caregiver -- which eliminates the stress of finding a new caregiver or arranging care at home.

When Ellen Seebold, president of Seebold Marketing Communications in Mill Valley, Calif., took her 8-year-old daughter on a four-day business trip to Chicago, her mother flew in to help watch her daughter while Seebold worked.

"The whole trip worked out beautifully," said Seebold. "My daughter had a valuable experience in another city, got to see the fruits of my labor and enjoy some of the perks. This was important to me. She frequently wishes I didn't have to work and could stay home like other moms."

Author Lawler, who will embark on a 40-city promotional tour in the fall, plans to take her daughter with her. She has lined up friends and family to meet her in various cities and help with child care. "I have arranged for different people to come on different legs of the trip," she said. "I don't start from 'no' when I'm planning a trip, but from 'how.' "

With some organization and patience, taking your kids on a business trip can be enjoyable. But be prepared for the worst too. Bev Bennett's toddler son got an ear infection on her business trip, and her daughter once suffered an allergic food reaction and had to be rushed to an emergency room.

"Sore throats, ear infections and fevers can happen," said Bennett, a businesswoman from Evanston, Ill. "Be prepared for emergencies and know where the nearest hospitals or care centers are."

Besides health crises, there's the emotional factor: Not all children can handle being away from home for a long period.

"The most important piece of advice is to know what your child is capable of," Lawler said. "I knew that if we were in the same place for four or five days, she'd adapt and enjoy the experience. If I had dragged her from one city to another, she really would not have done that well, and it would have been a really tough experience."

What if you can't take the kids? Some parents depend on former spouses, friends, grandparents and other family members to care for their children while they travel. Some also pay extra for regular caregivers to stay overnight.

For moms such as Kathy Stewart, leaving the kids behind requires organizational skills and teamwork. Stewart, who served on the board of directors for the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians, was required to travel to several meetings a year. Although she still takes her children on an occasional trip, missing school is not always possible, so she hires sitters.

"I arrange for a complex array of people to take them overnight and get them back and forth to school," said Stewart. "It is time-consuming to set this all up, and the whole time I am gone I worry about whether everything is going along smoothly.

"But in the day of cellphones, it is a lot easier, because if anything goes wrong, I know that I could be reached at the drop of a hat."

For Karen Kelly of Collingswood, N.J., taking her now-17-year-old daughter Emily on business trips when she was younger came with challenges. But Kelly relished the rewards.

"Time is too short," Kelly said. "All of a sudden she's 17, driving and going off on her own. I cherish our away times together."

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Tips on Traveling With Kids

* Use a luggage concierge. Holding on to children, luggage and carry-ons can be cumbersome. Keep your hands free by shipping your luggage ahead of time. Check out www.luggageconcierge.com.

* Discuss proper behavior on a business trip, advises Brenda Elwell, founder of www.singleparenttravel.net. Explain that good behavior gets rewarded and plan something special to do when your meeting is over. Have the kids help plan the itinerary so they can create their own reward.

* If you have to tote the tots to meetings, carry activities and snacks and let the older ones know that your meeting is important and that you can't talk.

* In case of an emergency, have your child carry a card that has your child's name, your name and contact information. Include your cellphone number, the name and phone number of the hotel where you are staying, and the name of any organization or company you may be with.

* Notify any caregiver of your child's special needs, including medical conditions or allergies. Make sure to leave medical information, including the names of any medicines that your child regularly takes and the medicine if it is available.

* Eliminate the inevitable question, "Are we there yet?" If you're driving, provide entertainment, such as a portable DVD player, hand-held video games, new books or magazines and some treats.

* If you have to go straight from the airport to a meeting, try to reschedule your flight for the night before so your child is refreshed and more willing to go along with the schedule.

Freelance writer Lisa Iannucci, a single parent of three, travels frequently with her children.

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