The loneliness of being away

Passport and boarding pass

It started with a 3am alarm call on Monday.

The hardest bit about an early start at the beginning of a long business trip is not so much the waking up as having to sneak out of the house without waking any of the kids. Even though, secretly, you want to, knowing that you won’t be seeing them again for several days.

I’m currently in the middle of a week-long trip with colleagues from the US. 4½ days of meetings across three countries, kicking off with a 19-hour day on Monday.

Anyone who thinks travelling with work is all business class flights and glamorous dinners should try a glimpse of the reality. Drinking your second coffee of the morning to stay awake … at 6am. Seeing nothing of the cities you’re travelling to other than an airport, some highways, a nondescript business hotel, an office in the middle of an edge-of-town industrial park and a local restaurant. Squeezing into an economy seat on a fully booked flight with a low-budget airline. (This week’s addition to the list of airlines-I’d-never-previously-flown-with-or-heard-of: Eurowings.) Being sociable and talking to people you’ve only just met for the first time over dinner after said 3am start and a full day of intense meetings. Catching up with emails at midnight. Unpacking and repacking your case on a daily basis as you hop from hotel to hotel, country to country. Cursing every flight delay.

The view from 30,000 feet
The view from the plane is slightly better than the view from my hotel room …

Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy it and I’m not complaining. I love my new job and I’m far from being the only working parent who has to deal with weeks like this. But is it glamorous? You must be joking. The location may change on a daily basis but it’s still work.

At home, I’m used to waking up at 6am to find Kara snuggled up between us and often Toby wedged into whatever available space remains. My first action of the day is to roll over and cuddle the kids.

This week, I’ve still been waking up at 6am – but alone, in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. (This morning’s wake-up call came not from my phone but from a rubbish truck rumbling outside my bedroom window.) My first thought of the day was to rub the cobwebs from my eyes and ask myself, “What country am I in?” (Today’s answer: France.)

I’m back in the UK late tonight. Too late to see the kids before bedtime. Early enough that I will squeeze in an hour or two of work before collapsing into bed – but at least it will be my bed.

I’ll see the kids briefly tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll have a chance to give them some small gifts I’ve picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport – by no means a guarantee as there’s a fair chance are we’ll be running late and making a dash for the gate. But then I won’t see them again until the following morning.

I can’t complain, though. By the time one of my US colleagues gets home, she will have seen her kids for one day out of the last 3½ weeks. The other will have been away from her daughter for nearly two weeks. Some people live like this all the time, or at least on a far more regular basis than me.

It will just be great to be home. As the sayings go, home is where the heart is, there’s no place like home et cetera et cetera.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is. But it has made me feel a little better and moved me half an hour closer to returning home – and that’s good enough for me.

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