I started traveling for business again when my daughter was just over four months old. It was just one night, but the prep and stress were, well, a lot. She was exclusively breastfed at the time, which meant it took me more than a week to prep her food, writing the date on the little plastic baggies carefully with a Sharpie and tucking them in the back of the freezer. By midafternoon that first day, as I was crossing a tree-lined Beverly Hills street with my clients, I got a panicked call from my husband that we had run out of food. Blood drained from my face as I tried to understand how this had happened. He had looked everywhere, he said, and it was completely gone. I told him to look again, and as I waited for his return call, I began problem solving: I’ll get the first flight back. I’ll ship food home. Can I ship anything same-day at this hour? No way. Can I get home tonight? Maybe.
Finally, the phone rang. I was sweating with worry by this point, my pencil skirt and white, cotton, button-up blouse sticking to my skin.
“I found some,” my husband said. “A lot of it, actually. It was in the back of the freezer.”
I turned my attention back to my clients and enjoyed a glass of fine wine that evening, brought back from my client’s recent trip to Italy. As I sat on the patio of the fancy Italian restaurant where they knew my client by name, the stress of that phone call never left my body. Not until I went back to my hotel room. Not until I pumped and went to bed and woke up extra early to get the first flight home and pumped again and made my way to the airport and home to my baby. When I saw her, I burst into tears.
Fast-forward nine years. Today, that baby is still my baby, but she is grown. Tall. Opinionated. Smart. A future scientist and multiple cat owner: “I’ll be a famous scientist and own 160 cats,” she tells me.
Since that first trip when she was a baby, I’ve taken dozens of business trips. I took my son and mom on one, going up to the hotel room to nurse between meetings. I used Mail Stork to send fresh milk home (stressful). I took my family on one of them (disaster). And I took many trips alone, often traveling 24+ hours across multiple countries and time zones, worlds away from the people I love.
COVID, as hard as it was, was a gift in so many ways, because it forced me to pause. Pre-COVID, I took international trips every four to six weeks, usually gone for one to two weeks at a time. One day while living in Thailand, I remember returning from Vietnam for twelve hours, just to turn around and get on a plane to the U.S., where I visited multiple states.
Needless to say, the travel was hard on my family. And it wasn’t as fun for me as it sounds. Yes, it’s a privilege and a luxury to get to travel the world, but it’s also lonely and hard when your family doesn’t get to come. And as my children have gotten older, me being away has gotten harder for them—and for me—not easier.
This isn’t to say I’m not traveling anymore or that I won’t say yes to the right opportunities. But for the most part, I would rather be here. With them. Living our peaceful daily life in Portugal.
I still travel once per quarter or so, sometimes a little more, and this quarter was London. As the trip approached, I thought about leaving. I love these trips to London. The city is alive and exciting and so different from our little town by the sea. But I go to London regularly and alone. The thought struck me: What if I bring my daughter?
I knew the logistics wouldn’t be easy. I had an all-day meeting and would need to find a trustworthy babysitter. I’d also need to take a few days off work to be present for her, during a busy time in which we are getting ready to launch a new mini-course and leading my current cohort for Nonfiction Book School. But if I planned it right, I wondered, could this work?
The thought of bringing my daughter was exciting to me. What a far cry from that first trip, when I cried as I left and returned. When I panicked in the crosswalk of that Beverly Hills street. As I struggled to fall asleep that night away from her. As I worked in the wee hours of the morning to rush back. The thought of bringing her on a trip with me, of sharing my world, of introducing her to my colleagues and staying a few extra days to explore, made me light up with joy.
When I spoke with my husband, he was fully supportive. After a couple of weeks considering this idea, I decided to go for it. After I had the tickets in hand, I told my daughter after dinner one evening.
“I’m going to London for business,” I said. “Would you like to come with me?”
She instantly began to cry and so did I.
“Thank you, Mommy. Thank you,” she said over and over, hugging me.
Best. Decision. Ever.
And so, this past week, we traveled to London together. We visited the British Museum, had afternoon tea at a cat café, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and ate at Chipotle three times (by her request since we don’t have one in the Algarve). We stayed at my “business hotel” and she met my colleagues and saw Mommy dressed up for her meeting.
No trip is perfect, but this one was pure magic. What a gift to have the choice to bring her—the freedom to make my own decisions, without permission. To make an idea happen and create a memory because I have agency over my life. To make memories in a new country with the girl who changed my life more than nine years ago when she made me a mom.
When we returned from our trip, my husband and son were waiting for us at the Faro airport. My son saw me and instantly started to sob, running toward me and burying his little face in my stomach. I, too, started to cry.
“I missed you so much, Mommy,” he said, over and over. He squeezed me as tightly as his little arms could. I bent down, and he wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me over and over on the cheeks.
“I missed you so much too,” I told him.
“When can I go to London with you?” he said. His breath was shaky.
“Someday, buddy.” I hugged him, tight. “Maybe when you’re nine.”
And I will take him someday too. Maybe not London, but somewhere in the world, just the two of us. Because I want to—and I can. Because I choose to.
What is a travel memory you cherish? How has being a parent shaped how you work or travel? How does “choice” show up in your life? Share with me in the comments! I read and reply to each one and love reading your stories.