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When to Mix Work and Play on a Business Trip

An in-depth look at the delicate art of combining business and personal travel.
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I didn't work during my honeymoon, but I came close. We were headed to Rome and the Amalfi Coast when I learned that a magazine for which I frequently contributed was planning a special issue on Italy.

I almost volunteered to write a piece on some of the Michelin-starred restaurants I was longing to visit, or on one of the enchanting neighborhoods we'd be wandering through in the Eternal City. The benefits were obvious: We'd get part of our hotel bill covered, and some meals I otherwise couldn't afford. That was how I'd explain it to my bride.

Related: Time-Management Tips from Serial Entrepreneurs

In the end, the idea of a working honeymoon just seemed too pathetic. And it wasn't the precedent I wanted to set for our marriage.

In the decade and a half since, my work has brought my family--my wife, and now our two sons--to some of the most glorious and compelling places on the planet. We've explored Greek ruins, strolled the boulevards of Paris, even attended a Romanian state wedding.

Having family along on a business trip can be an enjoyable diversion for everyone, as long as it's understood that the business is the priority. But the inverse of that, stealing away to work during a vacation, is far more insidious. If the first is a fringe benefit of working for myself and traveling for a living, the second is an occupational hazard.

Like many of you, I work for myself. I book assignments, schedule travel and pay the bills. To spend a week on the road without getting something tangible out of it seems silly, especially when I factor in the cost of the plane flight and hotel. Never mind if the week in question is over Thanksgiving or Christmas, or that my kids are yearning to do all those things together that we never get the chance to do at home. If time is money, aren't all hours created equal?

Related: Need More Time? Wait Just a Minute, Here It Comes

I'm not sure whether I should be proud or ashamed, but I've become adept at shoehorning work into family vacations. I've left the beach to pull on a tie for meetings, vanished during dinners to interview the chef, even talked up a book I'd written on a radio show during my wife's birthday celebration.

If you're reading that with a tinge of envy, it probably means you're a darn good small-business owner. But at what cost? Here are three rules I've learned to follow to help ensure that the price of productivity isn't family discord:

  1. Give full disclosure. Don't say you're leaving the pool to get your sunglasses or use the bathroom when you've actually scheduled a business call.
  2. The more fun your family is having, the less your absence will be noticed. Make that call from the parking lot of the factory-outlet mall as your wife shops, and she's far more likely to be understanding.
  3. Give your family a vested interest in your success. "If I get this account, I'll take everyone out to California when I meet with them," you can say. "Remember, their office is just a stone's throw from Disneyland."

Even so, some occasions are sacrosanct. Family time is vital for recharging your batteries. Obvious family occasions like kids' birthdays should be left work-free, as should religious holidays.

And for the sake of future marital relations, I strongly advise not working during your honeymoon. (That is, unless your spouse is working, too.)

Related: Five Ways to Become Clutter-Free

3 Places to Successfully Combine Family and Function
If your business travel is flexible, here are three destinations that will help you maximize work productivity during vacation time

Seattle. Send the family on a boat ride or up the Space Needle, then head off to see high-tech clients. A wide range of chain hotels means rates stay reasonable even during peak travel seasons.

Washington, D.C. With great rapid transit, there's no need to fight over the rental car. A compact downtown means you can meet the family for lunch--and that White House tour.

London. English-speaking, with family-friendly distractions around every corner, it's the top business city in Europe. Added bonus: the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are work days.

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