Tips for Taking Baby and Au Pair on a Business Trip

by cv harquail on May 30, 2012

What can you do to make it easier on you, your au pair and your baby when you all take a business trip together?

I’m a first time host mom who’s going to be taking her au pair with her on a business trip with my 8 month old daughter.

My au pair understands that the hours might be odd, and that I may need her to be on duty more than 10 hours for some of the days. She’s happy to accommodate my schedule, and I’m expecting to be deliberate about accommodating her schedule a few times in exchange.

But other than this issue with scheduling I was wondering if other HMs some advice on issues on business trips. I’m still breastfeeding so I’m planning on coming back from the conference many times a day for feeds.

We’re staying in an extended stay hotel down the street from the conference. I’d appreciate any advice. Thanks so much  ~ BusinessMom

Dear BusinessMom–

Back when I was working full time and breastfeeding each of my babies, I really appreciated that I could bring our au pair with me on business trips.

Managing the au pair and the baby was the easy part.

Like you, I made sure to find us family-friendly hotel accommodations that had extra room for our au pair to sit and play with the baby, to prepare simple meals, and just to hang out.

We also stocked up on a few grocery items so that our au pair did not have to take the baby and herself out to a restaurant for every meal. These two adjustments made it much easier for the baby to keep her schedule and for the au pair to feel comfortable even in this strange place.

For our au pair, I identified a few touristy activities within walking distance of our hotel. Even though the baby had no interest in the National Zoo, the Space Needle, or the Mall at The Grove, our au pair was able to explore these places with the baby in tow. I also gave our au pair a ‘pay per view’ movie budget.

I did have our au pair bring the baby to me in the conference center when it was time for the baby to nurse. I would scope out the environment and find a place that was easy for our au pair to reach and reasonably quiet and private. Once, I even nursed the baby in the childcare area of the conference (even though we weren’t using the childcare service, they let me into the space).

The harder part was the demands the arrangement placed on me.

I was torn between wanting to immerse myself in the business trips themselves, and wanting to be there for my baby and au pair. For me, business trips always feel demanding, even when they are for conferences I enjoy. I feel like I have to be ‘on’ 24/7 at the event, and this is exhausting.

There was little to no down time when I was back at the hotel. Our au pair was lonely without company, and I had to spend some energy connecting with her. Plus, I did need to relieve her and care for the baby. There was no time for the usual business trip fun, of soaking in a tub that somebody else would scrub, or jumping up and down on a bed that someone else would make.

I felt as though I could never, ever rest.

Also difficult for me was letting go of the baby after she’d been brought to me to nurse. Once I relaxed with my daughter and snuggled her, it was harder than usual to give her back to the au pair, button up my shirt and march resolutely into the business fray.

Worse, when my colleagues did see me with the baby, it was hard for me to figure out who I actually was, that professor doing the interesting research on corporate reputations, or the adoring mommy with the sweet-cheeked little cherub.

That was my experience, and maybe there are some ideas in there for you.

Other moms who’ve taken babies and au pairs on trips, what have you done that’s made it easier?

Image: attendee at “Type A Mom Conference”??? Some rights reserved by kelbycarr


Seattle Mom May 30, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I took my au pair & two children with me on a business trip to DC last March. My kids were 3 and 13 months at the time. Also, I lived in DC for many years before moving to Seattle, and have lots of family there, so it was a slightly different situation. We stayed at my MIL’s house (which was both good and bad.. but that’s a whole other story), and my conference was 2 days long and then we stayed on for 3 extra days for fun.

Things that helped me and the au pair:

I sat down with the AP and discussed all the pertinent details ahead of time, especially with regard to my expectations, when she would have free time, sleeping arrangements, etc.

I made it clear that this trip was going to be a lot of hard work, but I would give the AP free time whenever possible. I told her what the hours would likely be ahead of time, and what kind of help I would need on the plane.

I allowed the AP to have the 3 vacation days completely free during the day, except that I needed her help for bedtime (tough for me to do alone in a new place and MIL was no help). If I didn’t take any vacation days this would not be possible, but I would try to build in some time for sight-seeing if at all possible. Encouraging the AP to tour with the baby might have to suffice, or encouraging her to go out for dinner by herself (maybe give her some money for dinner and a cab?).

For the 2 days AP was working, I suggested places she might visit with the children, to get them out of the house. Unfortunately one day was raining hard, so they stayed inside as they had no access to a car and everything was a long walk away. The next day they went to the playground and the grocery store, which was enough.

I borrowed a box of toys and needed baby gear (high chair) from a local friend.

This was a tough trip with a lot of hard work for both me and the AP. Like CV said, I felt like I was “on” the whole time I was working, and while I didn’t have my kids near me during the conference I was a bit torn between wanting to call the AP and find out how everything was going, and needing to focus on my work. Plus I was kind of stupid when I booked the flight and ended up arriving in DC at midnight the night before an early morning conference- so I was totally zonked. My kids & AP were tired too.

It was really fun and worthwhile though, mainly because we got to see a lot of family & friends in a short time. I wanted to try to pack more into the short time but the kids could only handle so much. Still, we managed quite a lot.

I would consider doing another business trip with the AP & kids in the future, if it makes sense- we would need a kid-friendly place to stay, and kid-friendly things to do. If I couldn’t take any vacation time at all I don’t know if I would do it, I might just try to go alone. Expense is another factor- it really depends on how expensive flights are. My younger daughter is now 15 months old and I still think she is too little to leave overnight with daddy & AP, but in a few months it might be ok.

Seattle Mom May 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm

I forgot to mention, my AP also got in touch with APs she knew (mostly from the internet) in DC, and got together with two of them. I think one of them she knew from her training, and the other was from the same home country- they have a strong network in the US. This way she had a “local” person to hang out with and guide her. I would have been fine with a playdate with local AP kids too, but her AP friends didn’t have similar-age kids.

DCMomof3 May 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I’ve done this a lot and would suggest the following:

1) Get a room with a mini fridge and microwave and help the au pair plan some meals for her and the kids – easy things like microwaveable mac-n-cheese, fruit, etc. If just traveling with a baby, this is still a good idea for the AP and may help with heating up bottles, baby food, etc.

2) Stay at a hotel that has a free breakfast in the lobby so she can eat at her leisure in the morning and stock up on fruit and juices for the day. This is a must with older kids since they seem to love getting to pick their cereal and the whole breakfast buffet adventure can kill a solid hour.

3) Have the AP help with the packing. Have her lay out outfits for baby each day, diapers, wipes, etc. Then you can just approve everything before it goes into the suitcase. There are 2 benefits to this – first, it helps you to get organized and second, it helps to have the AP actually have to think about the outfits, bibs, etc. so she sort of has a clue about what the baby will need each day while you are gone. For this one, in my experience, the pre-approval (and re-do where necessary) is a must unless you want to end up with 4 pairs of pants, 1 shirt and no pajamas.

4) Stay someplace that has some activities within walking distance, if possible. The AP may just want to take baby out in the stroller or wander through a local museum. If its someplace you’ve been before, give her a little itinerary each day to keep her somewhat busy.

5) Check out activities for babies at local library or museum.

6) Plan for AP to swim in the pool with baby if you want her to.

7) If breastfeeding, stay within close range of your meetings so you can get to baby if necessary.

8) Bring extra suits for yourself in case baby messes up one of yours.

Looking back, I would say that there is no easy way to do business travel when you have a baby. I’ve had the experience of bringing a 3 month old baby and AP on a trip and rushing from meetings to breastfeeding and back to meetings (and finding AP frantic with screaming baby in the lobby of the hotel b/c he couldn’t wait anymore for me) as well as the experience of trying to pump on an overseas flight and then arriving at the hotel so tired that I used the wrong converter plug for my pump and blew out the lights on my floor of the hotel (and fried my pump in a Middle Eastern country where obtaining a new one was not going to be easy).

However, as the kids get older, doing business travel with the kids and AP can be fun. Especially if you get to go back often to a place you like and you can really give them some solid guidance on how to have a good time.

JBLV June 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

Holy cannoli, what an intrepid Momma. Those are stories to tell for years to come.

Maren May 31, 2012 at 11:05 am

Dear HM,

Last summer, I took my then 1 and 1/2 year old son to the synchrotron at Argonne National Lab (ANL) in Chicago with my Au Pair, and it went very well. Also I still breastfed and came back to our hotel several times to do so. Measurement times at the synchrotron typically are very odd and long hours and therefore this was demanding on my Au Pair.

Key to the success of the trip – and I will do it the same way over again since I am still breastfeeding – was to have a large suite in the onsite hotel with lots of room to play and a fridge with our own food. We took many toys and a stroller along – luckily I am in driving distance to ANL. There is nice green space and park-like areas, a fish pond etc. and they could go for walks.

As a thank-you to my lovely Au Pair I tagged a two-day weekend onto the trip and stayed downtown Chicago with her and my son in a very nice hotel. I also bought her a ticket to a show downtown.

My Au Pair enjoyed both having been at a National Lab – a unique experience for Au Pairs. She got a T-shirt from the lab and looked at some of the scientific equipment – and of course she got a visitor pass for the lab. Thank you DOE for being so accommodating to young mothers and to allow foreign nannies on-site!!! And my Au Pair definitely loved the time in Chicago, during which time I had no demands on her and she was free to do what she wanted to do.

Rachel May 31, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I have taken an au pair and baby with me on many conference/business trips. In my field, there are many graduate students at the conferences who are approximately the au pair’s age. Before we leave, I make an effort to introduce her to some of the students in my department who are going so she knows people she can hang out with for meals and will see in the hallways.

In addition to all of the great suggestions above, in compensation for all of the long hours/stress involved on the au pair’s part, I usually offer to fly home alone with the baby and leave her to be a tourist in whatever city we’ve been in for a few vacation days at the tail end of the trip. Our au pairs have been very proactive about finding other au pairs in whatever city to hang out with for the vacation days and the carrot at the end of the week has made for a very happy au pair during our travels. I stopped bringing both my children on these trips when they were about a year old as they became too mobile to easily entertain in a hotel room.

JBLV June 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I’ve traveled to Seattle, Portland, and Cleveland with one baby, and just last month I traveled to Denver with my 3-year-old and 1-year-old – always with au pair in tow. The au pairs I’ve hosted were eager to go because they got to see new cities and sites. Some things I found helpful for my own sanity:

*a large room with a kitchenette
*toys delivered to the room (every major city has at least one toy service like this one: travelingbaby(dot)com/seattle)
*diapers, wipes, books, baby food, etc bought on Amazon(dot)com or Diapers(dot)com and delivered to hotel
*an itinerary for my child(ren) and au pair to keep them busy during the day. For example, Seattle has a great aquarium close to the waterfront (and lots of conference sites) that infants find really interesting.

I speak with the au pair beforehand about activities and sites she shouldn’t miss while in Seattle/Portland/etc – and the bus/train routes to get to those places. I also pack everything for the kids with the au pair – although my last au pair was so excited about traveling that she made a three page list of everything to take and started packing on her own! (She is wonderful!)

It’s also pretty awesome to have my husband on these trips when he can come because that means I can do more things at the conference if I need to. If Business Mom has an amenable mother or mother-in-law, willing to come to help out, that could be nice too.

Like Business Mom, I always found a quite place to nurse my babies away from the conference, but mostly because I wanted to reconnect with my little one. If anyone thought that I was less of a professional because I was nursing, that was his problem (my conferences are mostly attended by men) – certainly not mine. My baby was hungry, I was going to nurse [period]. If you are an academic on the job market, you will want a job in a department where people know you have a small child and are supportive. I’ve heard horror stories of women on tenure track who were not given maternity leave after having a child. (One women had three with no maternity leave, and no stop to the tenure clock). Eight years later, she still feels bitter – justifiably. She would warn you to not be her. Find a department that is supportive of women with families.

Acknowledged: it is always stressful to travel and attend conferences with a baby, but don’t fret. Your child’s baby phase will not last long, and soon you will be going to conferences solo again. Don’t worry about what you feel other people are perceiving when you are with your baby. It is possible people aren’t judging you as much as you think they are. What matters most is that you get what you need out of the conference, while also being with your 10-month-old. It’s always a juggling act on the high wire walking backwards, but remember you don’t have to do and be everything all the time. There will be another conference next year – or maybe even next month.

lifestartsnow June 3, 2012 at 6:19 am

looking at it from the angle of the AP i would suggest tying to connect her with/encourage her to contact her organization to connect with APs in the conference city. thus, the AP can discover the city possibly even with a playdate for the baby.

also, a hop on/hop off bus ticket or a weekly pass/weekend pass to the city’s attractions will allow the AP to leave the hotel room with the baby and explore an exhibit for an hour or two before it’s time to head back to the conference to nurse.

azmom June 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I’ve traveled and breastfed for a few years now – I recommend having a hotel close to where you’ll be. If it is in the same business park, even better. You can hop off before lunch (assuming non-working lunch of course) and quickly nurse and debrief – AP may get a bit stir crazy in a hotel, to before you go, find nearby parks and if you’re comfortable, a swim suit for the pool.

finally for AP sake, before you go, send her 2-3 things to do for “her” in the evenings.

Beth July 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

As the OP, I wanted to give an update on how it went. Generally it went ok, a 14 hour drive with a little one was full of all the fun stops and insanity expected of a long road trip. However, the hotel situation turned out to be not as great. We were on a map, close to the meeting hotel but in reality it was farther because you couldn’t make a left turn off the parkway. In addition there was NOTHING within walking distance of the hotel. This led to a wandering AP who needed to walk in an area that wasn’t the best for walking and far from everything. To add to the mess, we got a multi-bedroom unit and our other roommate wasn’t baby friendly with her tv watching until late at night.

So if I and when I need to do this again. I’ve learned that 1) stay in the same hotel as the meetings even if you need to rent a fridge 2) have a restaurant at the hotel for your AP 3) do not, not matter how much $ you save get a non-family member roommate.

But the meeting went well and we all survived. :)

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