On the road again

Romantic as it sounds, business travel can be brutal, especially when leaving a wife, newborn baby, or toddlers behind. Another missed connection, another tiny bag of peanuts, and another Godforsaken Marriott. Kill me already.

I say this with a straight face, even as I sit on the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane, Australia, fingers wrapped comfortably around an ice-cold beer (except when they creep gently over to a warm plate of sausage rolls). It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is radiant, the food delicious, and the air is crisp. An attractive young woman on a small stage sings the most beautiful version of Hallelujah I have heard or imagined, while her guitar gently weeps along in perfect tune.

I’ll concede “brutal” doesn’t describe this scene. It’s more like a corner of heaven tucked away on the other side of the globe. There was a time (not long ago) when nothing could be more welcome or invigorating. Today, lost in the acoustic melody with a family and young children at home, a balloon-artist tugs at my heart-strings with reminders of my little ones (they love those!), and I miss my wife (she would dig this song…).

With international trips now spanning 10 days or more, the weekends afford me an unwelcome respite from the hustle and bustle. Sitting idle or aimlessly wandering the sights alone for two days between meetings proves difficult. The biggest difference has been the dynamic at home. Strange how things change with more time away, from a family anxiously awaiting your return, to one that gets on without you.

It’s a necessary adjustment, and I’m proud they aren’t pining for daddy. Nonetheless, with it comes a touch of melancholy, floating in like the morning fog. Perhaps it’s hubris, or the fear of missing out. You’re having fajitas and guacamole without me?

Service members will laugh. Two weeks do not a deployment make. But the risk they know well is falling out of rhythm. The show must go on, and it goes on without you.

Regaining your rhythm

After weeks on the road, it takes time to get back into the family “swing”. Little things that became routine, endearing even, like my snoring or affinity for getting the kids riled up before bedtime, suddenly become disruptive. It’s like Neanderthal man, loud, towering and ugly, swooping into their delicate lives, knocking over furniture, cackling, drooling and hooting after more than 40,000 years of extinction.

While some of that is inevitable, here are 10 simple ways to keep things running smoothly at home through the strain of business travel-

1. Call daily, except if you’re exhausted after a long day, and then don’t. Text a sweet nothing before bed and save the call for the morning, especially if it involves managing rat-race minutia or conflict resolution. Wait for sunrise, when you’re refreshed. If it seems overwhelming or bicker-worthy, you’re too tired, and it’s the wrong time to do it.

2. Stay positive. Your spouse is not the complaint department. Why must we dump every trivial little injustice on our significant other? No one likes a complainer, nor should they shoulder that burden. Save it for when you need constructive advice, not the opportunity to be the victim. This will improve the relationship you left behind, and your performance on the road. It starts with the stories we tell ourselves and each other… “The plumber’s bill is what?! Don’t worry, I got it. My flight? We got stuck on the Houston runway for six hours with no air-conditioning and toilets that wouldn’t flush, but I got a ton of work done, and the Marriott has never looked so good. The meetings? There were setbacks, but I was ready, and I fully expect to close the business. For now, I’m happy to put my feet up, order takeout, and think about you. What a lucky man, I am.”

3. Before you say all that, ask about her and the kids’ day. A good rule of thumb is to listen twice as much as you spend talking about yourself or your trip.

4. Unless you’re rarely away, skip the souvenirs. No one needs more airport trinkets, nor to be conditioned to receiving them, especially at a young age. Reuniting as a family is the best reward (exception: if you miss a birthday or anniversary, buy something nice).

5. Don’t cheat. What happens in Vegas, usually stays in Vegas, if you brought condoms, but at what cost? Your marriage and family are sacred; the most important things in your life, worth much more than 45 minutes of new sex with the 26-year-old blond sending signals from the booth across from yours at the LV Convention Center. Trust is cultivated in years and lost in minutes, and you cannot keep secrets from yourself.

6. Pick 1-2 destinations each year, and bring the family. In the last 12 months, Ashley and the kids came with me to Anaheim (Disney!) and Seattle in July (the best time to go).

7. Write a letter home, and drop it in the mail. Flip the stamp upside down for a little-known sign of affection from a simpler time. Address each kid and the wife with a tidbit just for them. Everyone is looking for some attention, and letter-writing is a lost art.

8. Thank her for being supportive, and managing everything at home. It’s hard on her too. Be mindful and open to changes in the routine, and don’t be upset when no one takes the bins out to the curb on trash day. After all, you’re irreplaceable, right?

9. Impose a four-drink nightly max (see #5 above). You are not 25 anymore. It may be Sales Rally, but head to your room after the 3rd or 4th cocktail, and catch an episode of SportsCenter or Shark Tank. You’ll thank yourself in the morning when you hop out of bed like you got shot out of a cannon, catch up on email, then head to the gym before nailing your presentation. It beats-the-hell out of struggling through the day as a hung over mess, or untangling yourself from the disheveled, unfitted sheets and pealing Jane from Marketing off your sweaty body so you can pop a Red Bull, rush a shave, and clamor into your meeting 20 minutes late, dehydrated and bloodshot.

10. If it gets too strained at home, you’re not doing everything else right. Reread 1-9, and if you need to scale back on travel, pick your battles, and delegate if you can. Family first, right? This one is hard for me since I consider financial security a family priority, but I am making emergency preparations for the twins’ arrival in January. With the minivan purchased, we are now shopping for an Au Pair. How’s that for commitment? The first year with two new babies won’t be any easier if I don’t hit my numbers.

So, there you have it, my friends, from one road warrior to another.

Earth shattering? No, not really. Common sense, informed by experience, and they go a long way together with faithful execution, like a cranberry old-fashioned and a Cowboy’s game on Thanksgiving Day. I’d say #5, then #8 carry the most weight. Lies and betrayal are toxic; avoid them if you can. And gratitude, sadly, may be the first thing to go with closeness, but should never go another day unacknowledged.

So, grab your wife by the jeans, pull her close, look her in the eye, tell her you love her, and that you’ve got to go hunting for a few days. She’ll understand.

Then hop on your flight, go be the stand-up guy you were born to, and close some deals like a champion. Christmas is coming, and Santa’s got to fill those stockings up tight.

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