When work and family time intersect and you have to be away from home for a couple of days because of a business obligation, there are ways to minimize the impact your absence has on those around you.

• Minimize the overnight stays – In today’s high-speed world, there is often a way to travel a big distance in a short amount of time. With good planning and a little luck, what used to be an overnight trip can be reduced to long day on the road. To me, an early morning and a late return flight is always better than hotel towels and a lobby breakfast. Changing a business dinner to a lunch, a cab instead of a rental car, and making more frequent but shorter visits can also help.

• Plan your travel on specific days – During the week in our household, Mondays are the busiest and Fridays are the most relaxing.  I try to confine my trips to mid-week. It helps my family plan around my schedule even though there is often no advance notice of my departure.

• Find a time to talk, even from a thousand miles away — There is a very small chance that you can find everyone home in the evening hours at our house. We juggle too many activities, homework, etc. Instead of an evening call home, I try to phone in the morning and wake the kids up for school. It is a good time to talk to everyone, and a more pleasant time to chat.

• Take advantage of technology – By far, the best way I have found to visit with the kids when I am away is the use of video conferencing. With the investment of a USB camera and the use of the free Skype service available on the Internet, we can have a full screen interactive video call. It is easy to set up, easy to use, and an invaluable way to visit. Kids pop in and out of the room, the cat walks by, I’d say it’s the next best thing to being there, and it does not cost a dime.

• Never forget the goodies – I don’t know if there is an age where a person outgrows the excitement of dad unpacking his bags and producing a gift from a far away land, or the next state over.  I have tried them all – candy, jewelry, toys…  The best take home gift I have found is a destination t-shirt.  My kids have a wardrobe of shirts from cities, states and landmarks. They wear them all the time.  No more cheap toys to break, unhealthy treats, or expensive gifts that get lost in the drawers.

There are always going to be times when you must sacrifice and compromise the time with your family.  I have often thought that those of us who do not get to spend seven nights a week tucking the kids in are forced to figure out how to make the time that we do have as special as we can.  There is always time that is not used to its fullest potential, and only with the realization of how finite that time is are you capable of taking full advantage of it.

Robbie Cather is a project manager for the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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