Podcast: Busting myths of the two-travel job couple

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

This week’s episode of Best of Both Worlds is all about the intersection of work schedules with the rest of life. First, we cover physician call — certainly, few people’s favorite part of the job, though there are some advantages to the concept (knowing when you’re on often means knowing when you’re off too).

Then we dive into myths of the two-travel job couple. Over the years, I’ve realized that there are a few particular mindsets that have a disproportionately negative effect on women’s career advancement. Some people believe that mothers shouldn’t travel for their jobs, period, though I think this is a (relatively) rare belief. The more common mindset? Only one person per two-parent couple can have a job requiring travel.

While that might seem practical, the way this often plays out is that two ambitious people meet, and marry. Then when the babies come, he doesn’t stop traveling for work…so she decides she has to. In many lines of work, if your goal is zero travel, this is going to limit your options a lot.

But this is not inevitable. My husband and I both travel for work. While I have always done some, this year has been far more intense than in the past. And yet…so far, so good. On the podcast, Sarah and I discuss a few of the myths about such a situation.

Myth #1: It’s too complicated and crazy
Don’t buy into the story that it’s crazy. Much work-life literature out there seizes on harried moments from travel as points of evidence leading to the epiphany that one must dial down, scale back, opt out… but this story format just serves to limit women’s lives. Sure, there may be occasional issues, but there are issues in all family situations. Anything that goes wrong in life is not because you travel for work (which is what the mom guilt complex would have you believe). Also, “logistically complex” is not the same thing as chaotic. In my life with four small kids, I actually think the circus metaphor works. There is nothing chaotic about a circus. It has many moving parts, but is not chaotic. You choreograph things to work right and you make back-up plans for when they go wrong.

Myth #2: You’ll never see your kids!
Even jobs with heavy travel tend to feature less travel than you might think. People who’ve read Off the Clock know that things that are memorable and novel tend to stand out, and seem to consume more space. This can make limited travel seem like a lot, and if you’re covering for someone else, doing several solo bedtimes in a row can be frustrating, and thus also make the days gone seem like more than they are. I have caught myself saying that my husband travels “all the time.” But when I add it up, it tends to be 2-3 nights per week, probably 40 weeks per year. That is not “all the time.” It isn’t even half (I put it at 30 percent). Some top sales people I’ve interviewed — who track their hotel stays for loyalty points — have put their number at around 120 nights/year, which is only a third of the time. I’m guessing my total number of work-related hotel nights this year will wind up at around 40. Yes, there were a number of NYC day trips, and in-and-out one-day flying trips too (with no hotel stay), but not an infinite amount.

Myth #3: You need extended family nearby
(I think we phrased this differently in the podcast…more that you’d never find childcare). It is definitely true that having family members who are willing to watch your kids overnight makes travel easier. But it is entirely possible to find professional childcare too. Some families opt for a live-in nanny situation. We haven’t. Instead, we have a nanny who is willing to do overnight/overtime shifts when needed. We provide as much advance notice as possible on these. This maxes out at 3x a week — which is pretty rare — and is often more like 1x week.

You do need to keep a tab on hours. In general, if you’re regularly needing more than 50 hours of childcare per week, you’re probably better off hiring a second caregiver at least on a part-time basis. This is especially true if you have lots of young kids (toddlers/babies), who tend to be more demanding.

Myth #4: Shared calendars and planning meetings are so unromantic
Not necessarily! Sure, they’re about the nuts-and-bolts logistics (who’s going to the 11-year-old’s theater camp production this week?) but you can also use these to plan date nights, fun family activities, etc.

Myth #5: Being on the road has to be miserable
Honestly, work travel makes me feel more “balanced.” Granted, I know mine is freely chosen, and tends to represent extra income when I say yes (always nice!) I also have the flexibility to work less sometimes after I’ve been gone on a longer trip. I know this is not the case for everyone, though while writing I Know How She Does It, I was fascinated to see how many other women had some flexibility in their travel too.  It would often be understood that someone traveling Tues-Thurs could work from home on Friday, and that sort of thing.

In any case, I spend a lot of time in mommy mode. When I’m traveling, I can focus on my career and on me. I’ve run in some lovely places, gotten to meet fabulous people, and explored cool cities. I’ve also been stuck on the tarmac for four hours, dug my car out of a snowdrift at the airport at 1 a.m. and eaten food out of vending machines, but that isn’t the whole story.

We do talk about managing your energy while traveling. If your partner has been covering for you, he/she will probably want to hand the kids straight over when you arrive. So…be careful about this. Taking a red-eye home and then being “on” can be miserable. You might think about how to add to your energy levels while traveling so that you can be fully present when home.

Finally, for our Q&A we address a question from a business owner who wants to shift her schedule so she can be home in the afternoons. How does she get her partners and employees on board? This one was fun because we heard back from her in time to share some follow-up as part of the episode. The answers involve thinking 168 hours, not 24, and still paying attention to visibility/availability. And, of course, results.

Please give the episode, and let us know how you’ve handled life in families with two intense careers!


7 thoughts on “Podcast: Busting myths of the two-travel job couple

  1. This was a really interesting topic given my own situation: husband and I have a toddler and our current jobs seldom involve travel. But five years ago, I was in a sales role and traveled most weeks of the month to conferences and potential clients, while he traveled for 1-2 weeks at a time with little notice. So we burnt out fast with our schedules, finding ourselves missing each other by hours at LaGuardia or JFK. So some of the myths were true for us, but more so because we didn’t want these jobs and these demands on our time as a DINK couple (dual income, no kids). We wanted more time for ourselves, for each other, and frankly…we wanted a dog.

    Fast forward to today, and the next leve or two up for us may involve more travel, but we could more easily embrace that. And I still want to be home more: we have created a home life we really enjoy and want to be there for. If I start traveling more, this episode was a good reminder of all the tools in our toolbox to help it all balance out.

  2. How do you connect as a couple? Do you do date nights? How do you plan them? What does your schedule collaboration look like and does arrangement of childcare typically fall to the women?

  3. Thank you for this episode, I’ve been a fan of the podcast since it started! I also appreciate that you mentioned military families and the stress of frequent deployments. My husband and I are both military with two small children (ages 3 and 1) and no one has ever asked him if it’s difficult balancing fatherhood with a job that has him deployed and away from his family 6 months out of the year. Even though he spends many long months away from our kids, we still talk about him daily and they know that daddy is working to protect our country on his “big ship”. 🙂

    1. @Noelle – thanks for listening! And yes, kids are resilient. Given that families get through deployments, probably most kids are going to be fine with a parent’s two-day trip to Chicago.

  4. Hello,
    Sarah and Laura

    I’m Harshawardhan ( or Harsh)
    I’ve been listening to the podcasts on this site and I really like them. Though I have very little to relate, I find it very useful to hear what challenges female counterparts have to face as working parents.

    Since this particular post is related to both parents requiring to travel for work, and that most of the times means that they have almost equally demanding job.
    My question is will the listeners have a podcast in the future interviewing a same sex couple – working parent. And how they manage households along with their jobs since there are no traditional gender roles involved.
    I’d really like listen to such a podcast.
    ( Apologies if something I’ve written is offensive to someone)


    1. @Harshawardhan – so glad you’re enjoying the podcasts! And nothing offensive at all – we’re definitely hoping to include a same-sex couple with kids in the next season of Best of Both Worlds. I agree that there are interesting differences when there are no traditional gender lines to split things across.

      1. Thank you for considering.
        We’ll be waiting for it. And thank you for mentioning it in the latest episode.
        Also Congratulations to both of you on 1st year of Best Of Both Worlds. Greetings from India.

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