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Find business trips boring? Bring the kids

When the CBC asked Robert Herjavec to return to his native Croatia for a special episode of Dragons' Den last week, it seemed like a natural opportunity to work family time into a business trip by taking his 11-year-old daughter, Caprice, with him.

It's not the first time Herjavec, who is often on the road, has taken the kids along. "I took my son to Banff two weeks ago skiing while I was out west," says the newly minted TV star, who in his spare time is chief executive officer of the Herjavec Group, a security technology company. "I took my entire family to Sony Studios in L.A. while I filmed Shark Tank, I had my son come and work on Dragons' Den and I took my wife to Quebec City while on business."

Speaking by e-mail from Croatia, Herjavec said the trip was going just as he had hoped: His daughter was learning about a place where she had never been, meeting people far outside her usual circles, with her father at her side. "What a great experience and life journey that we get to share," he said.

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As the economic downturn has limited many people's financial means, the idea of mixing business and pleasure has new appeal. Taking the kids on a business trip allows you some time together, while you introduce the kids to new places and increase their travel savoir faire.

But it doesn't have to be exotic long-haul trips. According to Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, based in Eugene, Ore., and a devoted mommy blogger at, any place can be good for a kid-along. She stays away from hotels in favour of short-term rentals, which tend to have two bedrooms and a kitchen, and cost about the same as the sort of hotel room she would take if she were by herself.

A mother of three young children, Parsons finds it works best when she brings another family member to look after the kids when she's in meetings.

"Because the cost is equal to what I would spend on my own in a hotel room, the company picks up the tab for the rental," she writes. "My family member who accompanies me is comfortable and we all have access to a kitchen to make easy meals for the kids and not have to go out to restaurants."

She has found a whole raft of fringe benefits, in addition to not being away from her children. "As the kids have gotten older, they benefit from the education that travel can provide. They have been to science museums in major cities all over the U.S., as well as in Europe. They understand airport security and are pros at travelling."

And it all costs much less than taking the children on separate trips – with the extra kicker that your own expenses on these trips are, being business travel, tax-deductible.

If you're travelling with young children, all the usual rules apply: You'll need to be prepared with the kids' medicines, special food, favourite toys and so on. But many business-oriented hotels are surprisingly kid-friendly. Most major chains have implemented children's programs and perks, including child-sized bathrobes, milk and cookies, board and video games. And most decent concierges will be able to help with finding a reputable babysitter for the times when you have to be away.

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Over the years, Herjavec has found that following a few rules will help ensure a successful business/family trip. One: Schedule activities to keep the kids occupied. Two: Make sure downtime becomes hangout time with the parent, rather than just leaving the kids hanging. Three: Activities don't have to be elaborate. "I think kids find simple things interesting," Herjavec says. "Oftentimes they used to love to come with me to the office simply to draw on the whiteboard. Kids love to spend time and find wonder in the smallest things." Four: Set ground rules. This is a business trip, first and foremost. Mom or dad is working, and will need a couple of hours of e-mail time at the end of each day while the kids have their quiet time.

As Herjavec sees it, taking the kids along is an opportunity, for you and for them. "Kids love to travel and have an amazing joy for the wonder of life."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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