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My manager recently offered me a position that would require me to travel every week. I would fly to another location for 4 days every week for the first six months, and taper down to traveling every other week indefinitely after that.

Having a good work-life balance has always been very important to me, and I am not sure I am ready for this amount of travel. I am in a long-term relationship and will (hopefully) be getting married sometime next year. We also just got a dog, which, though not the same as having kids, is still a big commitment. The only reason I'm even considering this is that it really is a great career opportunity and would benefit me in the long run.

I know asking what to do is off-topic, so instead I ask this: If I were to take this position, how can I successfully keep a good work-life balance while traveling so much? Is it even possible?

Update to answer questions

My SO and I talked things through, and he is supportive of whatever I want to do. Obviously it would be tough, but we will make it work if we need to. Relocation is not an option either of us is willing to consider though. I don't have a lot of negotiation power for benefits, since this is a government job and it's not actually a job change - just a new project. However, it seemed pretty clear that this was a decision for me to make, not a command.

I don't know the answers to many of the other questions in comments, but they are certainly things I will be asking about.

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Lots of people do this regularly, like salespeople or consultants. I did it for a year and a half, and I hated it. Question: would this mean that you would leave early on the first day to catch a redeye flight and arrive home late the fourth day, or could you start a little later and arrive home earlier? I found that knowing I'd have to catch the 5:30 train on Monday soured the entire weekend for me. – Stephan Kolassa Jan 19 at 17:46
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"...for the first six months, and taper down to traveling every other week indefinitely after that." - Most managers I know have a hard time estimating resource needs 6 weeks out, let alone 6 months. I'd be skeptical that promise would be fulfilled. – Wesley Long Jan 19 at 20:32
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I wasn't expecting much on this question but the answers below are amazing, first time I ever gave +1 across the board. I highly recommend reading more than just the top-voted answers. – Lilienthal Jan 19 at 21:29
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One person that I assume (hope?) you are also discussing this with is your romantic partner. If they are excited for you and are happy to take care of the dog all alone while you are gone, then that is very helpful information, as much as if they are concerned about you being away and would prefer you put them ahead of your career. I recommend you consider this to be a team decision that you and your partner make together. Making this decision together will be excellent practice for when you are married and almost all decisions will be made together. – Todd Wilcox Jan 19 at 21:50
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One word of advice - never trust the estimate of travel. If they say 25% they mean 40%. 50% turns into 75% and 75% is really 90%. My 60% turned into 80% for a few years - it's terrible if you don't love it. – Raystafarian Jan 19 at 23:21
up vote 52 down vote accepted

If I were to take this position, how can I successfully keep a good work-life balance while traveling so much? Is it even possible?

You can't, unless you can find things you want to do in the evenings (more SE?) which are not sacrifices from your current lifestyle.

By definition you will be spending more of your life energy/time dedicated towards work. I'd suggest Your Money or Your Life as an interesting book as you consider this decision. Work has a lot of additional costs, both monetary and time. Traveling like this adds a significant time cost.

However, "good" is an entirely subjective term. For some people good work life balance would be working less than 50 hours a week (doctors/senior management). For some in Europe it'd be working less than 40 hours a week and getting 6+ weeks time off.

That being said, you mention two things that make this incredibly hard are:

  1. Long term relationship heading towards marriage
  2. Your dog

Neither of those can be maintained without in-person presence. Only you can know how important that in-person element is (maybe your partner works evenings and is already unavailable during the week). And only you know what your out of work interests are.

For example, let's consider that you spend 15 hours a week reading books, playing video games, and consuming on the Internet. If you are disciplined enough to move that activity to your travel days and reallocate other things to your actual available time, this will be less of a worklife imbalance than if you cannot do so (or have a woodworking hobby that takes the time instead).

You might also consider any social circle you have. How important are activities you do outside of work? If you are gone every Wednesday and have a regularly scheduled activity you will miss, you are going to be giving this up for work. How often do you hang out with friends? Etc.

Additionally, for some people travel is exhausting. Some people are energized by it. This is a factor you should consider. Will flying 2x a week make you exhausted and have to recover a full day on the weekend? Or will you come home SO EXCITED to do everything? For me personally, this is a huge reason such an arrangement could never allow acceptable work-life balance.

Most of the people I have worked with who did such arrangements spent more time at work, too, because they didn't have anything really to do in the evenings.

Basically, make sure you consider the full implications that traveling this much has. Whether you can keep work/life balance depends on how important the things you have locally are and how difficult/exhausting travel is. Everyone will have different perspectives on this.

For me personally, I would need a huge amount of money to make it worthwhile to be gone from my family and friends that often (given alternative options).


Also, you might consider suggesting relocating instead if this is a big factor. Hard to say how feasible this is, but it might be an option to consider.

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Also eating while travelling makes for very very bad diet. – Nicolas de Fontenay Jan 19 at 21:52
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@ndefontenay I thought about putting that in there too. Eating out every night is... great for everything but your weight :-) – enderland Jan 19 at 21:57
    
@enderland it isn't great for your wallet either – DasBeasto Jan 20 at 15:53
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@DasBeasto hopefully it's your companies wallet.. ;-) – enderland Jan 20 at 15:54
    
"Neither of those can be maintained without in-person presence." Not the dog, definitely, but I've known too many people who met and fell in love online, before ever meeting in person, and then ended up married, to believe you're right about the first point. – Mason Wheeler Jan 20 at 19:23

I did it for 7 years and it was brutal but I was making 2x a regular job and basically paid off my house.

Is it enough money or is it the experience to advance your career?

If you fly out on Monday AM and back on Thur you are in you own bed 4 nights a week. I know less than 7 but better than 3. Make that part of the deal - not flying out on Sunday. Negotiate travel as work time unless it involves a good bump in pay. Negotiate head to the airport on Thursday afternoon so you are home for dinner. That is one more evening at home.

Is it convenient travel? Are there a number of direct flights?

With cell phone and wireless Internet it is easier to stay in touch. And it is easier to stay entertained with moves, music, games, and just surfing.

Take him/her out to a nice meal and don't dwell but acknowledge that being away is hard on him/her also. Bring a small gift home. Exercise on the road. You will come back with better mental health. Don't go the gym to play 3 hours of basketball or play golf with your buddies when you are home for 3 days. Stay in touch with your guy friends but you need to trim that down to smaller chunks of time.

Sign up for frequent miles at airlines, motel, and car rental. Points add up fast and you can bring your SO for the weekend if you are in a cool location. Or easily cover dedicated vacation in a few months. In a year I could cover airfare and hotel for two to Europe. I personally don't like driving in a strange city so I would cab or public transportation and stay in a nicer hotel near restaurants. If you tell them yes but it is cheaper than a rental car they are typically OK with it.

If it is the same location then get a small apartment so you can leave stuff. Hotels will let you check stuff - like walking shoes and speakers. Another trick is to sign a lease with the hotel as in most states if it is more than 4 weeks then you don't pay the hotel tax - a full time room can be cheaper than 3 days a week.

It is easy to eat healthy on the road. Pretty much all menus are going to have low calorie and low fat options. Don't do three big meals just because you can expense it. Stop by a store and get some healthy snacks.

Don't get me wrong it is not like being home every night but it is tolerable.

It is a lot harder to find a relationship if you are on the road but maintaining a relationship is very workable if both parties committed to the relationship. A buddy of mine will get online and do homework with his kids while he is on the road.

You added this is a government job. Travel expenses are probably established. If you have to stay in a cheap hotel don't do it. But you might be able to negotiate travel on company time.

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"With cell phone and wireless Internet it is easier to stay in touch." - there should be a huge caveat on this statement. Staying in touch in a business sense is one thing (technology definitely helps here), but for maintaining a personal relationship? – Brandin Jan 20 at 10:02
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@Brandin yes, it's easier for a personal relationship as well. Not as easy as being able to hug each other, but definitely a lot easier than being stuck with hotel telephones costing you $10 per minute. – jwenting Jan 20 at 10:58
    
@Brandin So your cell phone only works for business calls? Your email only works for business? – Paparazzi Jan 20 at 15:22

This doesn't sound like the kind of position for someone interested in maintaining a healthy relationship, and work-life balance.

Disclaimer: The above is, in my opinion, true regarding the OP's situation. For other people this might not be true.

Your SO for short is probably used to you being a part of his daily life. I don't know for a fact that you guys live together, but since you "got a dog", that would suggest that you do.

He would be used to you being there in the evenings, cuddling in front of the TV, helping him cook dinner, washing the dishes if he's had a rough day, going out for a cup of hot chocolate, sharing a glass of wine, etc. (or whatever it is that you guys do together).

Now suddenly you're out of the picture for four days a week, and working for an additional one.

You'll be living out of a suitcase, never truly unpacked, as your next trip is just around the corner.

You'll be tired from being on the road, and will want to catch up on the things which you couldn't do while you were away, which probably won't include chores, which is what your partner has had to do on his own for the past few days, and would maybe like you to handle now that you're home.

Could you imagine coming home after 4 days on the road and finding that the laundry needs doing, the dishes need to be washed, etc., and furthermore, your partner expects you to do everything, because he's been taking care of the dog for the past 4 days, and he just doesn't have the energy to keep up anymore.

In my personal opinion not a lot of relationships would survive this sort of rhythm.

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+1. This is why I would never want an arrangement like this (without a ridiculous pay increase). – enderland Jan 19 at 17:56
    
@enderland - yup. If I were single i'd do it, and be excited to travel, see new places, etc. But in the context of a relationship I think this sort of arrangement would leave me unavailable for long enough as to be of no help, while present just long enough to make things worse. – AndreiROM Jan 19 at 17:57
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@AndreiROM You'd probably only see new airports, new hotels and new office buildings. In my experience, work trips rarely have enough time to include visiting "places", mostly because you... work. – xxbbcc Jan 19 at 19:22
    
Can I offer a competing point of view? Taking this opportunity is an investment in your future. It'll probably lead to better pay, either right away or further down the road. If cleaning, laundry & dishes are a problem, feel free to spend a part of the additional earnings on a maid. That way, you come home, and can go out on a walk the three of you: both your SO and your dog will be very happy you'll be back. It might just improve your relationship! – Konerak Jan 20 at 8:10
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@Brandin Because that's what the OP used in their update to the question. "he is supportive" – CodesInChaos Jan 20 at 10:04

It may work out very well when both parties understand each other's needs.

Let me give you some insight based on my personal story. I've been travelling abroad every week for the whole 5 days for the last 4 years and in the meantime got married to the girl I met right after signing the contract. I am still working for the company.

Sure, there are some differences, but let's look at what may be helpful to you.

  • The job was perfect for me and hard to get anywhere else.
  • From the very beginning of our negotiations the company stated clearly in which ways they are flexible and what rules are hard and fast.
  • There have already been more employees in similar situation, the company had learned from their stories and was very well prepared to help me in whatever ways they could.
  • I knew that it's not going to be very easy but at the same time my gut feeling was that it was worth it.
  • I made a priority list which I reminded myself regularly about, where my personal priorities were above this particular job and I have been (up to this day and further still) ready to quit anytime, should I feel that it doesn't work out (I think this one is very important, though it may not seem so).
  • I've talked to others who considered leaving (and talked to me about it) and thought about what benefit I can get from these talks (another perspective).
  • My (now) wife and I have made a decision that we are going to have a great time and enjoy our original situation to the greatest extent possible.

In the end it has been working out very well for us, I love my job and with my wife we are a very happy family (with maybe different sort of difficulties to overcome than other families have, but not that many more of them).

What I find very important is to make deliberate decisions rather than wish or hope for something, and remind myself often about these decisions. And with my wife we talk often enough about what what my jobs brings us in exchange for what particular 'price'. (And I must say that I'm lucky to be empathetic enough to have the confidence that I'd spot any trouble early enough to deal with it, which is also an important aspect, if you don't want to question your decision every other week).


Edit in accordance with @enderland♦'s and other answers: I had a huuuge 'backlog' of books I had wanted to read, languages I wanted to learn, and basically twice or more the dose of entertainment I needed to enjoy my time alone (and would not do during the family time). I thoroughly enjoyed having time for it and not having to think about whether I shouldn't have been doing something more family-wise. And I have been thoroughly enjoying my weekends as well, much more intensively than before I started this job. It worked for me but as others wrote in their answers, it surely doesn't work for everyone.

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+1 on the deliberate decision part. I think that's very important. – ventsyv Jan 19 at 22:22

You should talk to your boss to make sure the company is willing to give you enough flexibility/perks to alleviate the negative effect of the constant travelling.

For example, make sure you get paid something extra so you can pay a handyman/maid to help out with your domestic chores. You said you have a dog, are they willing to pay for a dog hotel / dog walker etc?

Make sure your company is willing to give you schedule flexibility. Can you leave early on Thursday so you can be home at a reasonable time? Can you work from home on the following Friday? Or even have the day off if you already put in your 40 hours?

Are they OK if one week you only spend 3 days on site so you can attend a family function?

Are they willing to (occasionally) pay for extra few nights in a hotel instead of flying you back so you and your spouse/SO can spend the weekend together? That could be a good perk for you if your work location is somewhere nice. It won't cost the company anything, so they'll probably agree. They could even pay for the airplane tickets every now and then for you significant other to come visit you on site.

Make sure you have some say in what hotel they put you in and that the allowance for meals is reasonable. Not waking up in a crummy motel and not having to eat junk food week after week helps a lot!

Obviously make sure all customary travel expenses are compensated. That includes the time you spend traveling, transportation to/from airports, tolls, dry cleaners etc.

Another thing that is often overlooked is how you pay for your trips. Do you get a corporate credit card? Or do you pay out of your pocket and wait for reimbursement? Do you have to file annoying expense reports?

Goes without saying, if you accept the job you should get a frequent flier card and register for pre-approved check in at the airport.

Small perks like that can make the difference between you job being enjoyable and unbearable.

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Dog walker? A big part of the fun when having a dog is the walks. – zebonaut Jan 20 at 10:26
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If you are away for 4 days a week, you spouse might not have the do it. Not to mention that your spouse might not even be a dog person... Oh the horror... – ventsyv Jan 20 at 15:48

There are few relationships that could handle this for any length of time. If your partner had an equally busy schedule and you could find someone to take care of the dog, it could work. Also, if your partner has a flexible schedule or works from home, you could ask the company to occasionally pay for your partner to fly out and stay with you. You'll need a small dog to make bringing it along on the plane practical.

Even if you can make it work, you personally may not like it. Few people can.

I would look into the project and the company a little more. Many jobs don't require everyone to physically be present this long. It sort of smells like those in charge have serious concerns about the success of this project. They make these statements about how you won't be required to keep up the initial pace, but rarely are there any concrete milestones indicating how this project can just miraculously allow you to be away. The bigger the mess, the more time you'll be there every week.

It seems you like this company or you wouldn't consider such a change. The only other benefit would be how it helps your career in the long-term for having such an experience. If it makes you more qualified to take a job with a lot of travel, I wouldn't bother.

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