Mobile Nation

Parents on the move find more in their laps than laptops

Halloween afternoon, 1992. Cassie Tetz, then 3, and her brother, Andrew, 5, dressed up to go trick-or-treating. Cassie was a Chinese princess, wearing a pair of satin pajamas from Hong Kong and carrying a wand. Andrew was a baseball player, complete with an oversize Chicago Cubs shirt and cap. They scored big that day, getting lots of candy. They also picked up two miniature bars of soap, a shower cap, and a package of cocktail peanuts.

That's what happens when kids do Halloween in a hotel. Andrew and Cassie were at a hotel in Riverside, Calif., tagging along on a business trip with their father, Ray. Then vice-president of corporate communications for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), a nonprofit global charity organization, Tetz was leading a three-week educational program for more than 10,000 California schoolchildren. He didn't want to miss Halloween with his kids, so he took them along on the last week of the program. "We were running a kid-centered event. So it seemed natural to bring along my own family even though it was business," Tetz recalls.

For road warriors, it's the road (rather than their role as warriors) that is really hell, especially for working parents who must travel 100 or 150 or 200 days out of the year. They miss their kids. So more and more well-traveled executives like Tetz are taking business trips with their children in tow.

It's true that for years business travelers have tried to have it both ways by, say, bringing the kids down for a few days tacked onto the end of the annual sales meeting in Orlando. But now a lot of parents are going much further, recapturing lost family time during even the most routine business excursions.

In fact, the number of business trips that executives take their kids on has more than tripled in the past 10 years, according to a recent survey conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America, in Washington, D.C. The organization found that children accompanied parents on 16% of all business trips in 1998, up from 5% in 1988.

"I'm seeing and hearing about this all the time," says Rudy Maxa, who travels at least every other week. He offers expert advice about managing travel as host of The Savvy Traveler, a public radio show. He believes parents who travel a lot should find ways to bring their kids along, as he sometimes does with his own teenage son. "In today's hectic world, where a 15-year-old can put on headphones and tune out for the precious few hours when you're home, travel can be a fantastic bonding experience," says Maxa.

Maybe it sounds crazy. Business travel is tough enough without adding the extra stress of having the kids along. But when you travel a lot, you pay a hefty price in terms of time away from your family. Tetz found that out early one morning in the summer of 1992, as his wife and children were seeing him off at Dulles Airport, near Washington, D.C. As they approached the terminal Cassie asked if they had reached "Daddy's office."

Tetz was crushed. "It felt like I'd been stabbed with a dagger, and I still had to get on the plane," he says. Maybe it was time to get a new job that did not require so much travel.

In late 1995, Tetz left ADRA to launch his own business, a full-service media-production company called Mind over Media. He did it partly to cut down on travel and have more time at home with the kids, but he still has to be on the road for nearly 125 days a year. "I'm gone enough that my wife can start to feel stranded," says Tetz. "If I want to keep domestic tranquillity on an even keel and see my kids more often, I have to find ways to take them on the road."

Tetz looks for business travel opportunities his children can easily fit into. Large conferences are ideal because of their predictable schedules and frequent breaks. Tetz will also bring his kids along when he sees long-standing clients--especially ones who have children of their own. "I've got one client who even chooses the restaurants based on what he thinks my kids might like," says Tetz.

For him, the key to successful business travel with the kids is to make sure that they won't interfere with the purpose of the trip. "A first meeting with a client is not a good situation to have your kid along," he warns. Neither is a last meeting: "I wouldn't want to bring my kids along for a meeting in which I was going to terminate a relationship." He says it also has to be a good situation for the kids, one that won't be stressful for them.

The key to a successful trip for Cassie and Andrew is to make sure they have plenty to do. That way, they share in the adventure but leave plenty of room for their father to focus on work--especially during long flights. He'd never take his children beyond the state border without Game Boys and Walkmans in the carry-on. Schoolwork is another--albeit less successful--diversion. And he always travels with Ziploc plastic bags filled with cut vegetables and cheese for those unexpected delays. "We've got the routine down now pretty good," he says.