Survival Tips for When Dad Travels

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Survival Tips for When Dad Travels

If dad is the one with the job that turned your family into expatriates, he often needs to travel a lot. Same for moms holding the job. And it falls upon the other parent to single parent, now without the back-up of, quite possibly, the only other person in the vicinity who speaks your language or eats your food or lets you cry.

In our family, unless Tom is gone more than two weeks, life just sort of continues limping along and I don’t notice that I miss him until he comes back (more on that below). But if I browse social media sites long enough, I’ll stumble on posts by moms while dad is traveling and they would have me believe I should be much more exhausted, much more desperate, that I should have a calendar marking down the days with a pamper-me date in permanent marker the day after his return, and that I should tremble with fear about all the possible things that could go wrong while he is away.

I have no such calendar and no such date.

Maybe I’ve gotten used to it? Maybe I can’t be fearful the entire time, every time? Unless he calls from the plane just before takeoff and says the wings are on fire (true story), I usually don’t worry.

Here are some tips based on how we roll when dad travels.

Meals don’t need to be real food. Macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly or pancakes or the same thing three days in a row for lunch. Popcorn and apple slices for dinner. Or cereal, with or without milk.

Exercise becomes something worth fighting for. Already important to me, when Tom is gone, I need the workout even more. I enlist help – a neighbor to watch Lucy for an hour. Or I order myself to believe that it isn’t too hot to go after she is already at school and the sun is screaming. Or I bring out the Insanity DVDs and scare our house helper.

Stay up late. I’m a morning person but sometimes staying up late feels delicious so, since I won’t be running before sunrise, I bask in an extra hour of reading before bed.

Hog all the pillows. This makes the basking during my extra hour of reading even more enjoyable.

Forget how to dress. I wouldn’t say that I dress up for Tom but somehow when he is gone I go into sweatpants mode (not real sweatpants mind you, did you forget where we live?) and suddenly, I find myself at the grocery store in a ratty University of Minnesota t-shirt (go gophers!) and stained army-green pants. The same thing I wore the day before. And slept in.

Listen to music. Loud. Or, to borrow a tip from Laura Parker, watch an entire season of a television show your spouse would despise. The only way I can handle watching TV is if I’m working or exercising at the same time, so this doesn’t work for me, but I understand the sentiment. Basically, find a way to check out for a little while each day or to enjoy something the other doesn’t.

on a trip to Somaliland

on a trip to Somaliland

Prepare for something to break. Cars or electricity or water pumps or outlets that start electrocuting people (with 220 voltage) or bank cards or refrigerators, butt plates, kid’s heads stuck between iron bars. (Side note: When mom travels someone is bound to get sick. Chicken pox, the barfs, diarrhea, ear infections.)

Focus on a spiritual practice that feels life-giving to you. Now is your chance, with no one else to talk to late at night, to pour out your heart to God. You may have less interruptions while you sip your morning coffee and can concentrate on meditation or reading. Use the opportunity to recognize how you could grow in dependence on God rather than on your spouse.

I act all fine while he is gone but then I get mad at Tom within the first hour after he comes home. I say something snarky or am cold and mumbley. I slam doors. I decide I don’t want to talk about how the week was, that I don’t care about the meetings he attended. I am seriously working on curbing this, possibly by investing in a muzzle.

What I think it means though, is that while I enjoyed the loud music and the lazy lunches and the ugly clothes, I was also lonely. I think it means that I’m rather attached to this man, that I would prefer to use fewer pillows if it means he is home. That, as independent as I pretend to be, I don’t think I could breathe in Djibouti for long without him.

How do you survive when your spouse travels?

(When I reread this, it sounds like I’m advocating being a lazy bum. I guess kind of, but really in my mind, the main sentiment is one of taking some pressure off in certain areas when the pressure is upped in other areas while bearing the parenting, house, and work alone)


  1. steph April 4, 2013 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Yes, I am totally with you. Meals are all snacks, clothes are all passed due to be washed, way too much reading or TV or whatever I want (=
    My Tom travels frequently on short trips so I can indulge a little harder for shorter periods of time (=
    We both love being separate for 2-3 days at a time. Enough to have our own space but not so much that it affects too much of life (=
    Love the post (=

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 4, 2013 at 11:17 am - Reply

      Now you had me laughing – we both love being separate for 2-3 days at a time. Gotta love the honesty!

  2. Annette April 4, 2013 at 11:54 am - Reply

    HAHAHAHA! My hubs is gone right now (until Monday)and the kids and I have left the house a sum total of twice since he’s been gone, not including church on Easter Sunday. I type this sitting in my yoga pants and worn out t-shirt trying to figure out what quick snack we can have for dinner. Glad it’s not just me!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      Fantastic real-time connection going on here I think!

  3. Koki Smith April 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Loved everything about this post and can completely relate, but this was my favorite line: “Use the opportunity to recognize how you could grow in dependence on God rather than on your spouse.” Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Brenda Kimaro April 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    This is an especially timely post as I am at this moment waiting for my husband to arrive home any minute now from a 4-day safari.

    Also, the photo you used caught my eye–I work for Lutheran World Relief, that’s a carton of our relief supplies in the photo with him. (I’m in Tanzania working as our Regional Communications Officer.)

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 4, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      That’s so fun that you work for LWR and caught that in the photo. It wasn’t planned that way, but I love how the box shows up with my husband and the elders. He was delivering a shipment of school supply donations to schools in northern Somalia.

  5. Carmen April 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Love this post, Rachel. I used to do almost ALL these things when Jim traveled frequently. Now that he’s not traveling, I really, really miss the quiet time, especially at night to read in bed with no disturbances.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Its funny, but true, that you can say you miss the quiet time. As much as we love these men…I love being in a place in our marriage (and yours for even longer!) where we can say that with love and sincerity but coming from a place of real depth, know what I mean?

  6. AuburnCathy April 4, 2013 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Rachel, I’ve stumbled upon you through Communicating Across Boundaries…love this post. I am a 57 year old, empty-nester and my hubby has(and still does) always traveled at least 60% of the time…you have good thoughts on how to survive….all things I did/still do when Skip is gone…your thoughts on ‘picking a fight’ w/in an hour of when he comes home rings true…that is why it is important to make sure that you both spend time in prayer together as soon as you can/is possible once he’s home. Skip and I tried to make it a practice to put the kids (3 w/in 40 months of one another) to bed early and find some time to practice the ‘love language’ of each other (luckily, we share the love language of quality time). As always, one must practice the true art of marriage, just as one must practice being a follower of Christ…with due diligence…persevere 🙂

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 4, 2013 at 4:52 pm - Reply

      You know, we have never done that – made it a point to pray together upon his return, but what a great idea. It would go a long ways I’m sure, in curbing my bad temper and would get the return off to a much better start.

  7. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad April 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    with 8 kids – even now that they are bigger, ’cause their schedules just got crazier – the parent who stays home does bear the brunt of the it… and it is usually hubs who travels, not me (although with some speaking opportunities, that might change a bit in the not too distant future). so, i do usually get a little bit of pamper time, be it a date with a girlfriend, an afternoon shopping by myself, etc. – just to get me some space.

    i do miss him while he’s gone: i miss sharing the labor and having someone to both talk with and fuss at, to lock the doors and then get up to see why the dogs are going crazy at night, fill the water cooler with ice and water, kill cockroaches and cook the dog food. yet i do settle pretty quickly into a routine and can generally handle life fairly efficiently as a temporarily single mom.

    the hardest time is always after he gets back. it is hard to let go of the reigns and have another adult inputting into our life and schedule again. and i think that, like you, i can get snarky as if in some subconscious way, i’m going to make him pay for leaving me on my own, especially if we had any of the typical catastrophes that happen when dad’s gone. i like the idea one of the other commenters mentioned – praying together – except that we don’t do that well even when we are together all the time. we both pray, but we approach prayer differently, so… we pray as a family, but not as a couple. i often feel that makes us less as a couple and i envy those couples who do… not sure how or if that will change some day.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 4, 2013 at 6:38 pm - Reply

      I think I wrote the other day that you have 6 kids at home, sorry! 8. EIGHT. Yes to him locking the doors at night. Somehow it is reassuring to me even though obviously I can do it myself. And I’m glad I’m not the only one to struggle upon the return.

      Your couple prayer life sounds like ours. I don’t like that saying “a couple who prays together stays together.” There’s a whole heck of a lot more to say about that, but I think we’re similar in that way.

      • LeCrecia Ali April 4, 2013 at 7:14 pm - Reply

        Oh, I’m so relieved to find other couples who are healthy, godly people who don’t pray together!
        I sometimes find my Puritan-like upbringing a hinderance. There is so much more freedom in HIM than a list of “must-do’s”.

        • AuburnCathy April 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm - Reply

          Hey Ladies,
          I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my marriage prayers being “perfect”…I’ve almost 35 years of marriage behind me with hubby being gone 60% of the time; all 3 kids are grown and gone. Skip and I do pray in different styles (I would think most husbands and wives do?? maybe not??) but we found that it helped us readjust to being together again…
          The reader who commented about ‘being Queen’ hits the nail on the head b/c it was a great temptation to treat Skip as an interloper AND/OR for him to treat the kids either too harshly OR as a benevolent uncle…neither a good approach.
          We still laugh about the time my oldest came home from Kg and said she learned what the word assistant meant…and then she said…”And Dad’s your assistant”…which is for the most part true b/c since he was gone all the time, I did have to take care of most “things”.
          And here’s my best(by that I mean worst) ‘snarky’ comment: “I just keep Skip around for the sex and the money”…laughter at his expense and I knew it hurt his feelings but since our friends found it amusing, I would trot it out every now and then when I’d had a particularly hard time when he was gone.

          • Rachel Pieh Jones April 5, 2013 at 4:33 am

            I do think praying when he gets home is a good idea. I’m planning to do it next time he travels. And the rest of your comment made me laugh – Dad being your assistant, keeping him around for the sex and money. And yet, it isn’t funny because its true how those snide comments/subtle attitudes can be so hurtful and damaging. This is a great reminder to guard my lips when it comes to both the kids and my husband. And relying on my own strength to do it probably means failure, but, back to prayer…that would help. Appreciate your years of marriage wisdom and perspective Cathy.

  8. LeCrecia Ali April 4, 2013 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    I’ve been “stalking” your blog for a couple of weeks now and this post really hit home (especially the part about picking fights).
    My husband travels frequently and it seems like we always get in an argument shortly after he returns. This last time I said something in the heat of the moment that hit home for me and showed me that I need to watch my attitude. I said, “I’m the Queen when you’re gone!” It’s kinda funny repeating it now, but there is a lot of truth in it.
    When he is gone, I make all the decisions, I bear all the burdens for the six kids, I carry it all. And although after a few days, I really enjoy working together as a team on all that stuff, the first “letting it off my shoulders” is hard. Definitely some selfishness that I (and the LORD) need to work on.
    Nabad iyo Caano!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 5, 2013 at 4:35 am - Reply

      Nabad iyo caano! Loved seeing that. It IS hard to relinquish that ‘power’ for some reason, even though we’d rather not have to bear it all ourselves all the time anyway.

    • richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad April 5, 2013 at 1:14 pm - Reply

      that’s the perfect way to describe it… “I’m the QUEEN” (I have to put that in all caps… sadly… when he’s gone. And that means his return somehow puts me back in my place… hmmmmmm… good thoughts!

  9. Sharon April 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    I could relate to so much of what you said. When my husband’s ministry changed to being international in scope and much more travel instead of church planting and edification (spiritually, not physically!) where we were completely together in the ministry, I asked my friends who had husbands who traveled often what was the hardest part. Without exception they all said, “When he comes home.” I told my husband, “Don’t be gone so much that it’s hard to have you come home!” But I now understand what they meant.

    When he’s gone, I have the only vote in what to eat, how to spend my time, where to go, what to do. I have my own responsibilities in our local church, ministries, and to our family that we now live near (we are based in the States again after 24 years overseas) and when he returns, I have to turn it all back over to either him or us–depending on the topic.

    That said, I’m always thrilled he’s back, as I know you are–snarky comment or not!

    This year I had to give him up for Valentine’s Day (our 1/2 anniversary) AND will again for our anniversary–first time for both. Snarky comments are already lurking. 🙁 But I have to remind myself what God gave for me. The disciple is not greater than his Master.

    Thanks for writing. I don’t follow many blogs, but I plan to follow yours.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 5, 2013 at 4:40 am - Reply

      Thanks for following, and for commenting. It is so nice to hear that this isn’t only me, somehow I suspected it wasn’t. But to hear stories from other women about when he comes home…that helps somehow. Sorry he is going to miss your anniversary and the 1/2 and Valentine’s. I remember one year my husband missed Thanksgiving, that was hard.

  10. julia [lifeonchurchill] April 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    My husband has a corporate job and used to travel a lot. It was hard when my kids were babies (no family nearby) but now that they are older I enjoy the quiet time at night to read a book or work on a project. And we’ve found it improves our communication when we are long distance for a little while. Great post!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      It is totally different when the kids are older because there really is that quiet time, so true.

  11. Heather April 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    I too enjoyed your post, Rachel. I’m getting ready to take a trip to the US, and my husband and I realized that we will have been apart for over 2 months of the past 12. This is new for us. But I’ve done half the traveling, sometimes in country and sometimes internationally. It’s a new dynamic for us, but Eric is incredibly supportive of my traveling with our INGO and sharing the burden of our personal support raising. I love when I come back home to my family, but I know what you mean about when HE comes home – snarky comments abound! I used to find it amusing (and scary) to ask the boys what they ate. Then I figured that they’re still healthy and they had great bonding time with dad, so who cares what they ate?! Thanks for keepin’ it real, Rachel.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm - Reply

      When I leave, I think it is soda and pizza on a fairly regular basis! Totally – important that they are healthy and had fun with dad. Have a good trip.

  12. Miranda April 8, 2013 at 4:06 am - Reply

    I stumbled on this blog with your post on 15 things I want to say to my third culture kids and I love it! This post made me laugh because it is so true. My husband travels a lot for work and we have 5 small kids. His trips are usually longer (frequently 2 weeks, sometimes as long as a month) and sometimes close together. I have told people that I sometimes feel like I experience a sort of emotional/control personality disorder as I rapidly switch from “head of household” who is fiercely independent to wife who longs to honor her husband and allow him to step back in and lead our family when he is home. Between his last two trips, he was only home for 3 days, so it was crazy to drop all of our routines and try to spend as much time as a family as possible and then pick everything back up 3 days later.

    I love your comments about meals and about preparing for something to break. Last trip, husband’s plane had not been off of the ground 15 mins. (headed for Russia) before the AC and dishwasher broke and the check engine light came on in our car. I have learned to just laugh about these things. As my sister in law told her husband when he announced his deployment dates, “I’ll be sure to schedule all of our family emergencies during those dates.”

    Thank you for the smile this evening (as I stay up late!)

  13. Rachel Pieh Jones April 8, 2013 at 6:13 am - Reply

    I love your sister-in-law’s comment – schedule all emergencies during those dates! Too true, too true. Glad you have learned to laugh instead of kicking that darn dishwasher or AC.

    That transition time is hard isn’t – from he’s gone to he’s home – and the constant role changes. I think in the long run it makes us stronger though, giving the confidence to manage but also the tenderness of seeing our love for these traveling men.

  14. Kellie April 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Expat here with a traveling husband. Someone just asked me this last week how I handle all the traveling, and I felt a little guilty admitting that it’s a little bit easier when he’s gone. The standard lowers and we just kind of take it easy. I feel guilty because unless you’ve lived it, you probably don’t get that it’s easier in some ways, but you’d never want to live like that full time! And I used to be the same way about being snarky when he gets home. I’d build up this anticipation, like he’s some perfect being coming back into my life, and when he wasn’t, I was let down. Glad to know I’m in such good company. : )

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  17. lucy December 13, 2013 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    hahaha… stuff breaking… so true!!!! …. water pumps… air coolers necessitating very pregnant me climbing up onto roof via window bars… losing bank cards…losing whole wallet… losing keys… leaving stuff burning in kitchen whilst going out house….always electric cuts..water cuts…..fuse box frying…fridge stops working…usually multiples of any of the above…but WHY? aaaaaaah!!! 🙂

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