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Taking the Tots? You Must Be Kidding Yourself

March 31, 2004|Lisa Iannucci | Special to The Times

MIXING business and pleasure doesn't always work, so taking your children on a business trip may seem like sheer madness.

For some people -- single parents, for example -- lack of child-care options may force the issue. For others, such as Jamie Levey, combining business trips and bonding time with the kids is rewarding.

Levey, an international investment banker from Long Island, N.Y., plans to take her 20-month-old daughter to Switzerland when she is there to meet with clients. "I don't think having her impedes me from doing anything," said Levey, who has taken her daughter on several trips.

"The whole travel part of my career is to enjoy the places that I'm at and try to extend the trip," she said. "I can bring in the culture that we're in and experience the same thing with my daughter and have her enjoy it too."

Freelance writer Janet Strassman Perlmutter of Worcester, Mass., started taking her daughter Eliana on business trips when she was only 3. Today, the 9-year-old even assists her mom while she works.

"Sometimes I write travel stories with a family travel angle," Strassman Perlmutter said. "I've written on river-rafting with a 5-year-old and taking kids to the Montreal Jazz Festival. So sometimes she's part of the story and gives me a kid's perspective."

Levey and Strassman Perlmutter are in the minority. Eighty percent of businesswomen rarely or never take their kids while traveling for business, according to a March 2003 study conducted by the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University and sponsored by the Wyndham International hotel chain.

"Women may not take their kids along while traveling on business because finding convenient quality child care [on the road] can be difficult, it might make them appear that they are not committed to their jobs, and most important, going away for business without the kids gives them a break," said Brenda Elwell, founder of, a New Jersey-based website that arranges trips for single parents.

The hotel industry also has been slow to create child-care programs, though in recent years more have implemented such options. "They don't see enough of it to warrant the internal expense of putting a good program together, so it is simply more cost-efficient to take care of the client's needs as they occur," said Cheryl MacKinnon, founder of, a Canada-based website that offers advice and information on destinations that are kid-friendly.

Even setting up available child care can have its glitches, and savvy travelers need to be prepared. Monica Moshenko, an advocate for autism education, attended a conference in San Diego several years ago and took her son Alex, who was then 7. When child-care options at the hotel and conference were full, he tagged along to the seminars.

"I was proud of my son's ability to sit through seminars for three days," Moshenko said. He read books and did other quiet activities. "I made sure that we had extra fun at night too."

Moshenko was fortunate that the conference allowed her child to attend the sessions; many in the business world don't think children belong in boardrooms or meetings.

"Only under extreme circumstances," said Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert and the founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Fla. ( "If the baby-sitter didn't show up or is sick or something like that, it's understandable to take a child to a business meeting, but certainly get permission of the other person before just walking in with a child."

The ideal is to make arrangements to have children cared for during work hours. A call to a hotel concierge usually can put you in contact with a licensed and bonded nanny service or nearby child-care center.

When author Jennifer Lawler needed to schedule a trip to Washington to promote her book "Punch! Why Women Participate in Violent Sports," the Kansas resident contacted the hotel concierge, who recommended a local nanny service to care for her 6-year-old daughter.

Lawler spoke with the nanny before her trip. "I also checked references and met with her once I got to Washington. She stayed in the hotel room with Jessica while I was gone. I needed the extra help, but wouldn't have known where to start."

Whether you want them to stay in the room or take your child to activities, nannies should accommodate your needs, experts say.

On her first business trip with children in tow, Kathleen Scott told the nanny to stay in the hotel room. On another trip, however, a nanny asked to take the kids to an art gallery. "You have to learn how to listen to your gut instinct," said Scott, an oncology researcher in Chicago. "They had a wonderful time. The nanny knew the area and was great."

If you can, choose hotels with kid-friendly programs and activities, where your child may interact with other children.

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