SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAREERS / BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY : More Business Trips Include Kids : Some employers pay for baby-sitting on the road or encourage parents to tack on an extra weekend day for sightseeing.
By the time Sydney Kump was 3, she had stayed in the best hotels in New York, was a connoisseur of some of the finest restaurants and knew how to hail a cab. This was all thanks to the fact that she was nursing, and her mother was obliged to take her on frequent business jaunts.
Declan Feeley recently returned from his 26th trip. Not quite a year old, Declan more often than not tags along when his father, an environmental lawyer who lives in Cheviot Hills, visits clients in New York, Chicago and Washington.
Increasingly, business travelers attempting to keep careers in sync with family life are lugging diaper bags along with their laptops. According to the Travel Industry Assn., 15% of the 289 million business trips last year included children. That’s up from 14% of 276 million trips in 1993 and 11% of 224 million business trips taken in 1991.
Although most companies have no formal policies covering business travel with youngsters, a small but growing number of employers are pitching in to make such trips more feasible. A few pay for baby-sitting on the road or encourage parents to tack on an extra weekend day for sightseeing, especially if staying over a Saturday night means that the company saves on air fare.
And some hotels that cater to executives are getting into the act by offering baby-sitting services, VCR rentals and children’s room-service menus. Hyatt Hotels Corp. in 1989 created a pioneering program at some hotels called Camp Hyatt for children ages 3 to 12. Depending on the location, activities might include cooking classes, nature and wildlife hikes, arts and crafts, swimming, biking, tennis, golf and fishing. The Marriott chain will help with baby-sitting on a case-by-case basis. The Four Seasons Hotel in Washington greets the children of regular patrons by name and puts a plate of cookies and a balloon in the room.
For many parents, such programs and services mean that they no longer have to choose between family and professional duties. They are also less likely to miss out on significant events such as birthday parties. Declan Feeley, for example, first started crawling at the Ritz-Carlton in New York. “I’d have been sad to miss that,” said his father, Michael.
To be sure, travel with children can wear thin when working parents must deal with delayed departures, jet lag, bratty behavior on long flights, sleep deprivation, early morning meetings, occasionally resentful colleagues, extra expenses--and children rendered ornery by airplane-induced ear infections or unfamiliar care givers.
Generally, though, parents tend to believe that both they and their offspring benefit. The kids get to explore other cities, visit museums, see interesting sights--and moms or dads stressed out from work can look forward to the calming effect of having a tyke to go home to, even if “home” is a hotel. Many parents notice that their well-traveled youngsters develop poise, flexibility and resilience that pay off later in school.
In the Feeleys’ case, what makes travel with Declan eminently workable is that Declan’s mother, Janet Feeley, is able to take time off from her part-time work as a school volunteer to accompany them, but such built-in baby-sitters are not necessarily the rule.
Sydney Kump’s mom, Nancy Steitz (rhymes with sheets), usually traveled alone with her and became adept at identifying kid-friendly hotels. When Steitz’s mother was unable to travel from Washington to join them in New York to baby-sit, she and Sydney stayed at hotels with access to reliable nanny services. The Grand Hyatt in New York, Steitz found, has a set of suites on a security floor--ideal for a woman traveling with an infant or toddler. She also watched for hotels with a bathtub in every room and a refrigerator or honor bar large enough to hold a bottle.
One sure sign of a hotel that’s halfhearted about children is a rickety crib with missing slats, Feeley said. By contrast, the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco rolled in a crib so nice, he said, that “I wanted to sleep in it.”
Steitz found it helpful to hire a limousine service to meet her at the airport and help with luggage (which, of course, seems to multiply exponentially with a tot). Because she took a trip at least once a month (it’s wise to fly nonstop whenever possible), she could negotiate favorable rates. It was a luxury that she found to be well worth the price.
Far from viewing her child as a crowning hassle on top of the other burdens of work travel, Steitz said she was thrilled to have the company.
“It was good for Sydney because she saw me as a role model, busy with my career,” said Steitz, a marketing research and communications consultant. “Selfishly, I got as much as I gave. It’s such a balance--you’re in your business suit and exhausted and you come home to a daughter who’s happy as a clam because she’s been out riding the Staten Island ferry and seeing the Statue of Liberty.”
For Randy Michelson, a single mother in San Francisco, travel with young Jeremy has been a given since she returned to work as a partner in a San Francisco law firm, handling corporate bankruptcy cases. Her parents are often able to watch Jeremy when business takes them to the East Coast, whereas her brother’s family pitches in when she must go to Los Angeles. For an important four-day meeting in Palm Springs recently, she had to pick up the tab for her regular baby-sitter to go along.
A child can often serve as the common ground that helps develop personal relationships with clients. On a New Jersey trip, Michelson mentioned to a client that her son was back at the hotel. Later, the client and his wife called to invite them to dinner--an encounter that Michelson figures happened primarily because of Jeremy.
With Jeremy about to turn 2 (when airlines begin charging full fare), Michelson said she might have to leave him at home with baby-sitters, a thought she doesn’t relish.
Steitz misses her daughter’s company on the road now that Sydney is a busy second-grader less able to break away. But she encourages other parents to include kids on business travel.
“I think men are as hungry to humanize the workplace as women are,” she said. “This has a softening effect. It gives them permission to talk about their children, and then you start helping each other out. People are eager to live more balanced lives.”