Raising Explorers is all about intentional parenting, and that often includes being intentional about the time you spend away from your children. Many of today’s careers include necessary travel, which can present interesting challenges for parents. We’ve had the opportunity to speak to several moms who travel for work, and we love the advice they have about balancing your time and preparing your family for success. (Dads, we love you as well, but we feel that the traveling, working mom demographic is underrepresented).
To kick this series off, we’re talking to Ellie Holcomb, a singer/songwriter, wife, mom, and friend. Ellie’s job is unique, but the challenges she faces and the perspective she brings to balancing her time are oh-so-relatable.
Tell us a little about you and your family.
Hey! I’m Ellie. I’m married to my best guy friend whom I swore I’d never date. Real glad we got married! Going on 12yrs this June. We have two sweet kids, Emmylou (5), & Huck (2). My husband (Drew Holcomb) and I are both singer/songwriters who travel both separately and together making music and playing shows all over the country.
You have a very unique job that obviously requires some extensive travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?
Our jobs are somewhat seasonal and ever-shifting. Depending on the year and whether or not we’ve released a record that year, our travel changes. Drew travels with his band The Neighbors about 80-100 days a year , & I travel about 50-75 days. Drew’s trips are often 4-5 says, but some tours last up to 20 days at a time! I’m usually gone anywhere from 1-4 days at a time.
Drew and I never go longer than 2wks apart, but we’ve had a few stretches where he has been gone for 20+ days from the kids. My longest stents away from the kids are 7-10 days. I start missing them pretty badly at 4 days away, so 10 is always a real stretch for me !
What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?
We have an incredible community of people (an amazing nanny, sweet friends & family) who love us and our kids while we are both at home and away. We’re very aware that it takes a village, & I’m always deeply grateful for that village especially when Drew and I have to travel. We do lots of things to help our kids process where we are and how long we’ll be gone .
We have a big family calendar with both my schedule , Drew’s schedule , & our family schedule written and color-coded. Below the calendar we have a dry and erase map of the country. It’s been really fun and educational to have the kids draw where dad or mom is and where they are going. It also gives them a visual of how many days until we come back home. We’ll go through the travel schedule before we leave and the kids keep up with it as we’re gone .
If I am really on top of it, I’ll make a meal calendar for whoever is keeping the kids & have all the shopping done for them. This does NOT always happen though 😉
What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?
My daughter often gives us some token of her love for us to travel with (an animal, a picture, or a toy). As she gives it to us, she always tells us to take it so “we don’t forget her”! Hilarious, but it’s oddly comforting for her to get pictures of us with these objects wherever we go.
We’ll often bring back a small token or souvenir from longer trips we take (shells or rocks or some souvenir) from the place or places we traveled to work , & that has been a fun thing for them to look forward to as well. It’s not usually anything fancy, but it helps them know we’re always thinking of them when we’re gone. If I ever see a train, I take a picture or video and send it home as well because my son is obsessed with them.
We also keep our kids enrolled in a Mother’s Day out program a few days a week and a few activities that they love as well to keep them plugged & social while we’re away, which always seems to help when they don’t have to pause their lives while we’re gone .
We love FaceTime as well, which is a huge gift.
Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize?
It’s easier for me to get into work mode when I travel. My mindset is that if I’m on the road, I’m working, so I get a lot of writing and email work done while I travel , which is wonderful.
It’s harder for me to put on my work hat while at home . I have a vey non-traditional job, so scheduling work hours for Interviews, writing, blogging, & emails is a game changer for me. Otherwise, it all blends together and I end up not doing the mom thing or the work thing very well.
I am a late night person as well, so often I’ll get most creative or schedule co-writes at my house after I put the kids down for bed.
Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly?
Too many to count!! 😂 Our kids are very well traveled and are generally flexible souls , for which I’m grateful, but man I have made some mistakes! The mistake I make the most often is packing too much, which turns especially airline travel into a much more stressful situation than it needs to be! I’ve learned that it is always important to pack LOTS of snacks when you travel. I’ve booked several trips that didn’t give us time to actually eat a meal all day, & those travel days were NOT my favorite.
I’ve also learned to never overload the stroller because when the kids get out , it completely falls over. Actually, I still overload the stroller… but I make sure the kids are buckled in and don’t get out until I unload the stroller first 😂 .
I can also tell you which airports have great places to pump if you are a nursing mother away from your baby…random things you learn on the road !!
While work takes you away from your kids sometimes, I know it’s also given you and your family some amazing opportunities. What are some things your kids have gotten to experience with you because of your career?
We are so thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to travel with our kids. They have both had the chance to visit about 20-30 states, & when we have them out with us, we go visit all sorts of museums and parks, and we always try to learn something about the city we’re visiting.
My favorite tour we’ve brought them on was one this past fall when Drew was opening up for Willie Nelson. They had the opportunity to meet Willie , to watch several of his shows, & to see the beautiful way a crew and team can work together on tour. Willie’s team has been with him for over 50 years, & they are truly like a family on the road. They get to interact with and meet so many people from so many places, which is always a gift.
We also got to take the kids on a cruise we were playing a few weeks ago. It was like a music festival on a boat! That was a beautiful thing to get to expose them to so much music , & to see Mexico and Belize while we were at it!
Since your husband also travels for long periods for work, you also have experience as the parent on the home front. Has being at home alone with the kids changed the way you approach traveling for work? Are there things that a partner can do before leaving for a trip to help?
Yes! Our schedule is absolutely crazy. We both have stents of single parenting while the other is working on the road, & so there is a pretty beautiful understanding of both the exhaustion that comes from holding down the home-front alone and from touring and playing shows. Gratitude is a game changer. We try to be intentional about acknowledging what the other spouse is doing, whether it’s keeping the pace of a crazy work schedule or taking care of the kids at home.
Drew is an incredibly intentional human as well, which is huge. So during seasons that are really busy , he is always scheduling rest and fun for our family on the days we do get together. A lot of times , because our work schedule is non-traditional, our “weekend” is on Monday/Tuesday. I’d say that intentionality with the kids and with each other before you leave and when you get home is a big deal.
We also try to set each other up for success before one of us leaves. For example, Drew will always try to do an extra load of dishes and take out the trash before he goes, and those small acts of kindness go a long way. He’ll also try to have the house somewhat picked up before I return from a trip , which is a huge gift to a momma, so you don’t feel like you’re cleaning up a disaster zone when you get back from a work trip!
Also, if there are ever longer stents when one of us is keeping the kids alone, we try to schedule some childcare so the parent at home gets a few breaks and also has time to keep up with the work we have to get done at home.
Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?
1. You are not alone.
2. It takes a village. One of the things I love about working is that there are many other loving adults in my kids lives, whom they learn from and benefit from knowing. I remind myself of that often when I get sad that I’m not with them at home.
3. You are more than just a mom, whether or not you’re working, you have passions and gifts and ideas that make up who you are and I think it’s a really beautiful thing to let your kids see you for who you are as a complex human being.
4. My faith has been a huge part of my role as a mom, mainly because if I can remember that before I am a working mom with lots of responsibilities, I am first and foremost a beloved daughter of God, it changes my perspective on everything. I love better when I remember that I am already deeply loved.
5. One of my favorite things that Drew tells our daughter when she gets sad we are leaving for work is that we go to work to use the gifts God has given us because one day we want her to go use the gifts God has given her to make the world a more beautiful place. It is a sweet thing to see her get excited about the adventures she’ll take one day, & it shifts her perspective on us having to leave as well. We want to be role models for her and her brother, putting family first , but also going out into the world to offer what we can to make it a better place.