Travelling with kids can be hard work. A vacation with kids can be anything but a vacation for Mom and Dad, often requiring more work than you’d have to put in during your daily life at home. All of my Toddler Travel Tips are designed to make travel with kids easier but what happens when you really just want some time to yourself? Or even scarcer, time together as a couple sans children?
Let’s face it… it’s likely that you’ll have to miss out on some of the things you really want to do because of bedtimes, age restrictions or your toddler’s limited attention span. Maybe you want to spend an evening seeing a show and playing blackjack at a Las Vegas casino? Or you want to take a cooking class together in Thailand? Or you just want time to sit on the beach, relax and spend a delightful few child-free hours?
Use child care on the road.
Not every parent may want to do this. Leaving your little one alone with a stranger in a strange land may sounds like a crazy idea. There are LOTS of options, not all of them scary. If you do your research, trust your instincts and prepare you children it can be a rewarding experience for you and your family.
Here are the options:
Bring your own babysitter. Travel with Grandma (or Aunty or a close friend). This is a win-win. You get some alone time and Grandma gets a holiday plus gets to spend quality time with those delicious grandkids. They don’t even have to join your for the entire trip. On our trip to Las Vegas last year, my Mum came with us for the first 10 days. We met up in LAX, flew to Vegas together and spent 10 days in a rented two-bedroom apartment. We did a lot together as a group, spent some Mother-Daughter time doing girl things and went out at night as a couple while she spent time with Reuben. Like I said, win-win!
Travel somewhere you know people. Visit friends in other cities and countries. They might offer you a night off to do something special with your spouse. If they’ve got kids themselves, they’ll have access to babysitters already and you get to spend time out and about with your friend.
Use hotel babysitters. In the Western world, this is an expensive option. You have the added security that hotels will have vetted the babysitting staff they have or service they use. They should be able to provide police checks, first aid certificates and references. The only downside… the cost. Hotel babysitters in the US aren’t cheap. Figure around US$45 to 55 an hour with a two or three hour minimum. That can add up to an expensive night out!! In non-Western countries, outside of the international hotel chains, babysitters will just be waitstaff or reception staff or their relatives doing double duty. They’re unlikely to be fully trained but will be someone good with kids, usually a Grandma or Mother themselves. In Thailand you’ll pay a few hundred baht an hour for this. Spend a bit of time with the babysitter while they supervise your kids, make sure the babysitter speaks some English and has a caring nature. Get the babysitters cellphone number or leave one of yours with them so you can check in regularly while you’re out.
Drop your little ones off at a Kids’ Clubs. Resorts and cruises almost always have a kids’ club with a supervised, age-appropriate program for kids as young as six months but mostly for kids over the age of two or three. On cruises they’re free but resorts, unless all-inclusive, will charge a fee. It may be worth spending a little more on accommodation to get a resort with a kids’ club, even just for a few days. They’re safe, fun and an easy option.
Use a nanny service. If you’re somewhere for an extended period, you can sign up for local nanny services. The service takes a cut and they usually have a three hour minimum. If you book in advance, your child will have the same nanny for the duration of your stay, allowing them to feel more comfortable and build trust. If you’re spending a lot of time away from your child, think about what you’re comfortable with the nanny doing. Can she take the kids swimming? Or on outings to the mall or park? Make sure you can contact the nanny at all times via cellphone.
Mary from Bohemian Travelers had a great experience with a nanny while living abroad in Central America:
“My family and I lived in Costa Rica for 5 years and pretty much right away we hired a housekeeper/nanny, basically because everyone there does. It was a referral from another women who raved about our Olga. She was with us 3 days a week and although it was slightly uncomfortable at first, her being at the house so much soon became an incredible blessing. It was one of the best things about living there as she became part of our family. We learned Spanish through her, spent holidays with her and her family, and our youngest was loved by her nearly as much as by us. Truth be told, when we left, Olga was the only thing we really missed.”
Travel with a nanny. A pricey option but it’ll be someone you already know, trust and your kids feel comfortable with. The downside is the expense. Not only are you paying for the nanny, you’re also paying for all her accommodation, flights and meals. This might be OK if you’re travelling somewhere cheap and using a local nanny but can get very expensive if you’re bringing one from home.
Sign Up for Local Day Care. If you’re travelling permanently and trying to balance work, travel and parenting local daycare is a great option. Do your research before you arrive – expat forums are a good place to look for recommendations. Pick an apartment near the daycare facility you want to use.
My friend Erin has used daycare all across Asia for her two toddlers (aged 2 and 3). They’re permanently on the road and both work online so need time to focus during the day but often end up sneaking off to movies and having some fun while the kids are in daycare.
“When it comes to finding daycare in other countries we learnt just to go with the flow & trust our instincts. The kids loved it. In Bangkok we chose one based on separate activities they had going – gym, arts n crafts, etc. In Penang we chose a large Chinese daycare with a trampoline and compulsory learning of Mandarin. Our kids love making new friends and the daily activities going to school bring like arts and crafts, reading, colouring, etc. and we love that they have learned several languages and how to interact sometimes with those that don’t even speak the same language as them. It’s a global experience.”
Regardless of what option you choose, always make sure that both you and your child are comfortable with it. Go with your gut and if your instincts tell you something isn’t right, don’t do it.
What are your thoughts on child care on the road? Have you had good experiences? Any bad experiences?