My husband Rand travels extensively for work – he has for several years. Back when I was at a regular nine-to-five job, I’d enviously watch him leave on one of his many trips, imagining all the fun he was about to have. Fancy restaurants, trips to museums, industry parties: it all seemed magical to me.
When I started freelancing, and was finally able to join him on some of his trips, I was shocked to discover that they weren’t vacation-like at all. As obvious as it sounds, I had missed the point that business trips are about business.
Those first few trips were rough on both of us: I was miserable that he couldn’t spend more time with me, and he felt guilty for dragging me to a strange city and running off to work obligations. I’d sit in our hotel room, waiting for him to return so we could hang out. When he finally did have free time, he was exhausted. He had just spent a day presenting on panels, answering questions and shaking hands (needless to say, there were few museum visits or parties). As happy as he was to see me, he didn’t exactly have a wealth of energy left nor a huge desire to explore the city.
It didn’t take us long to realize: business trips are no substitute for a vacation.
Don’t get me wrong: traveling with Rand is wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But we both needed to have the right mindset about his trips. For him, it was still a business trip, but one made better by my presence: he had me around for company and support. For me, it was essentially a solo-trip, but with the added bonus that I got to sleep beside my husband (in a hotel room paid-for by his company!) and occasionally got to have meals with him and some of his work buddies.
Changing our frame of mind helped a lot: we both started focusing on what our trips were (amazing opportunities to see a little bit of the world), instead of what they weren’t (real, relaxing vacations). We might not have all the fun of a vacation together, but we were still having a far better time than if, say, one of us had stayed home.
Since I’m a big believer that knowledge, like birthday cakes and germs, should be shared with everyone, here are my ten tips to make tagging along on your S.O.’s (significant other’s) business trips a great experience for everyone involved. Because sometimes mixing business with pleasure really does work.
One of the hardest things I had to realize during our trips was that no matter how long I waited, or how much planning I did, Rand was not going to be able join me on a lot of excursions. Once I accepted that I was solely responsible for entertaining myself, I started to have fun. I hopped on a subway and stopped lamenting the fact that he couldn’t come with me. And if I got lost? Well, it would make a good story to tell him over dinner.
Let’s face it: if you’re traveling along with your spouse on a business trip, and your sole objective is to have fun, you have it pretty easy. On the other hand, he or she might have a full work schedule and then some. See what you can do to make things easier. It might be as simple as listening to your significant other vent about a long workday, or running out and grabbing them a snack when they’ve missed a meal. Whatever the case, offering to help out reminds your S.O. that you’re there whenever they need you.
Be on your best behavior.
Imagine how you’d behave at a company party. You’d dress appropriately, make polite conversation, and would be the most charming, clever and urbane version of yourself that you can be. Now, extend that behavior over several days, and you’ll have a good blueprint on how to behave when joining your S.O. on a work trip. And while being on your best behavior may not exactly be your idea of fun, hearing your spouse tell you how awesome everyone thought you were will definitely put a smile on your face (and earn you a couple thousand brownie points).
Don’t get offended if you don’t get an invite.
Rand often gets invited to CEO-only get-togethers, or invite-only dinners where spouses and significant others aren’t allowed. I never take it personally, because, well, it’s business – a.k.a., the exact opposite of personal. There’s lots of instances where having family members or spouses around would be strange or inappropriate (it would be about as weird as me inviting Rand to meetings with my clients). Instead of getting my feathers ruffled, I simply make other plans – a single ticket to a show or a dinner reservation for one are generally easy to come by (and a lot more fun than talking shop over dinner).
Business trips are stressful enough – there’s no need to add marital strife to the mix. Make a pact with your spouse – declare your trip a drama-free-zone. After all, fighting on a business trip would be almost as awkward as quarreling in the office (needless to say, that is not the way to get ahead in business, folks). If tempers do start to run high (because, hey, travel is stressful, and work is stressful, so when you combine the two …) just take a few deep breaths, count to ten, and remember: you’ll have plenty of time to fight when you get home. And by then, you probably won’t care about who used the last clean hotel washcloth.
Bring a few dressy outfits.
If you happen to join your spouse on any of their work-related excursions, you’ll want to look nice – and your standard vacation uniform of jeans and sneakers might not cut it. Trust me: I once headed off to dinner with Rand and several of his colleagues. He (and everyone else) dressed in nice, work-appropriate clothing. I had on jeans and a t-shirt … and later someone asked if I was my husband’s personal assistant. After that incident, I’m always sure to pack at least one dressy outfit. Not only do I avoid feeling like the odd-woman-out, but I find being part of well-dressed crowd will get you great service wherever you go.
Tour a city on your own terms.
While Rand and I generally see eye-to-eye, we usually end up compromising on a lot of things when we’re on vacation together. We’ll take turns picking out restaurants and activities, ensuring that we both enjoy ourselves at least 50% of the time. But when he’s preoccupied with work, I’m able to see a city the way I want to. I can go places that might not interest him, eat copious amounts of gelato (he has this weird rule that more than three a day is “excessive”), spend far too long in a museum, or just sit in a cafe and people watch for a few hours. And as an added bonus, because I did exactly what I wanted to do, he never feels like he missed out on anything.
Make a date.
Despite his busy work schedule, Rand and I always try to plan some quality time together over the course of a trip. On some occasions, he’s so busy that we’ll only have time for a quick lunch. On other trips, we’re lucky enough to get theater tickets or spend an entire day exploring a new city together. Whatever the case, check your schedules and see if there are any gaps where you and your spouse can spend some alone time together during the course of your trip. He or she will be able to unwind and decompress from work, you can share your adventures, and you’ll both get to enjoy one another’s company. Talk about a win-win.
In business trips, as with every other facet of work, things tend to pop-up unexpectedly. Your S.O. might snag a last-minute meeting with an important client. Lunches are canceled. Dinners are arranged. And wrenches are thrown directly into your plans. Don’t let it upset you if things don’t end up going exactly as you planned (after all, on a business trip, the business takes precedent). Instead, try to be flexible and go with the flow (come to think of it, that’s a good rule to remember whenever you travel). The second you do, your trip will become much more enjoyable – for both of you.
Master the art of small talk.
There’s no question that meeting new people is daunting. When I first started traveling with Rand, I’d often find myself at one of his work functions, surrounded by people I didn’t know. He’d try to introduce me to people, but often got pulled into conversations without me. Rather than stand quietly in the corner, I did one of the scarier things I’ve ever had to do while traveling: I walked up to strangers, stuck out my hand, and introduced myself. I asked them a few questions, told them about myself, and made a few cracks about being abandoned by my hubby. By the time Rand returned, I was usually engrossed in a conversation with a new friend and hadn’t missed him at all.
Have you ever tagged along on your significant other’s business trips? Share your stories (and tips for making the experience better) in the comments!