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A child travels on a high-speed train in China. (China Photos/Getty Images)
A child travels on a high-speed train in China. (China Photos/Getty Images)

Pack the laptop - and the diapers Add to ...

Last Wednesday, Carla Caccavale Reynolds awoke before dawn, roused her husband and infant daughter and waited for the car that would take her to New York's JFK airport, where she would fly out for an annual meeting in Aruba.

But the Scarsdale, N.Y., resident and partner with a Manhattan-based PR firm was not going on the trip alone. Husband Paul and three-month-old daughter Georgianna Jean were packed and ready too.

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Diapers? Check. Breast pump and emergency formula? Check. Notes for the Friday-afternoon meeting? Check.

"I'm just thrilled that Georgianna Jean is coming. If I was travelling on business without her, I think I'd be a basket case right now," Ms. Caccavale Reynolds said the day before the trip.

She's hardly alone when it comes to bringing family along on business trips. With the rise in single-parent and double-income families, a new generation of employees who simply expect flexibility, and later-in-life parents far enough along in their careers to demand it, workplaces are making it easier to travel with family in tow.

While statistics are more difficult to come by in Canada, a recent U.S. National Business Travel Association survey found that 62 per cent of American business travellers said they add a leisure element to business travel at least once a year. And among those respondents, two-thirds said they take a family member or friend along for the ride.

Embassy Suites, which is set to open a new hotel in Montreal this year, has also done some research: Its survey indicates that a full third of its business travellers with children would take their family on work-related trips if they could.

Of course, many parents who merge business and babies do it out of necessity: Grandma can't babysit the brood overnight because she's off to Florida, and the hubby is already on a business trip himself.

But a growing number of employees are tacking on a couple of extra days on the road and inviting kin for the weekend, says Nora Spinks, president of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises, a work-life consulting firm in Toronto.

"How do you blend your personal life and work life when you travel so many days of the year?" she asked.

It's not hard to see why parents want their family close if a storybook and snuggle before bed are typically hard to come by. Or an evening in with the spouse is a distant memory. For some employees, it's simply going to have to be in a Calgary hotel room with turndown service.

"There's just not enough time in the day to see who you want, especially when you're on the road all the time," said Karen Banks, director of national sales for Fuzion Consulting in Toronto, a meetings and conference planning service. "People are readjusting their thinking and family is more important now."

Bonding on the road is one of the reasons Bruce Poon Tip, chief executive officer of G.A.P Adventures, a travel expedition company, routinely visits the company's numerous offices around the world with his wife and two young daughters. In fact, by the time his first child was a year old, she had already been on at least 20 flights across Canada and to Europe, Argentina and Barbados.

"That's my life," Mr. Poon Tip said. "It was important to me that when I had children my family life would be incorporated into my work."

But is he able to concentrate on his work, knowing that his toddler might be having a meltdown a couple of doors away? On the contrary, having them in the same city gives him peace of mind, he says. "When I'm away from them I'm constantly trying to cut things short," he said, admitting he has missed meetings and even hosted one at an airport.

"I've done all kinds of crazy things to get back to them."

Colleagues and clients are often more than accommodating. Ms. Caccavale Reynolds said her Aruba tourism clients were thrilled she was bringing her baby along. Her daughter was even invited to attend a function the first night there.

Not everyone feels this way, of course. Karen Wensley, head of human resources for accounting and tax firm Ernst & Young in Toronto, says kids and business don't always mix. "Frankly, when our people are away on business, they're working hard - and it doesn't necessarily add to their peace of mind to have their family with them," she said.

Like most companies, even those known for their family-friendly cultures, Ernst & Young doesn't have a formal policy on mixing family and business travel, but it does allow employees to fly out a friend or family member on the company's dime if it's a multi-week assignment. Of course, the cost is limited to what the company saves by not flying the employee home for the weekend. Other companies are known to allow a first-class ticket to be exchanged for two coach tickets.

Still, not everyone is thrilled to see a baby at a business conference, as Alexandra Samuel, a Vancouver business owner and mother, discovered a couple of years ago when she brought her infant son to an industry event.

"Someone blogged my baby - unfavourably," she recalled. It seems another attendee found Ms. Samuel burping her baby during a session distracting.

And there are times when taking kids on business trips just won't work. Stacy Manning, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Trillium House at Blue Mountain, near Collingwood, Ont., is an old pro at including her three young children when travelling for work. Her live-in nanny comes along and keeps them busy while Ms. Manning hobnobs with clients and co-workers.

She knows from experience, however, that this arrangement works only if the hotel property offers more than a mini-bar and four-star dining downstairs. And she'll invite the kids only if it's going to mean spending more time with them.

"If there are dinner functions every night, it doesn't make sense for me to bring the kids. If I'm going to be in meetings the entire time, then it's not fair to them," she says.

For their part, hotels and resorts are trying to cash in on the mixing-business-with-family market, especially in places where a good portion of their revenue comes from conferences.

Hotel kids clubs, complimentary cribs and free children's programs are on offer, especially during the summer months, when parents are more likely to have work and family converge. Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego offers discounts to conference attendees who decide to arrive a few days ahead of their meeting or stay a few days afterward to vacation with family.

Not that family members get a raw deal on some of these trips, either. Charmian Christie, a Guelph travel writer for corporate websites, says she brought her husband, Andrew Thomson, along on one January trip to Vermont for safety reasons: Her former editor didn't want her driving 10 hours on snowy roads alone. Thomson had such a good time bobsledding, perusing galleries and sipping Scotch with the inn's owner that he felt guilty his wife had to work.

"I was really glad not to be alone, though," she says.

Caccavale Reynolds was also glad to be taking her whole family to Aruba, even if she did have to drag half their house with them to keep the baby comfortable. "It's a bit of extra planning, preparation and packing, but it's all worth it if my baby gets to be there with me."

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