Hire a Babysitter When You Travel
Several years before I had a kid myself, I was chatting with a work friend with two young kids who had just gotten back from a week away. “How was your vacation?” I asked. “Not a vacation,” he corrected me. “A trip.” He sent me an article laying out this distinction, but the short of it is -- if you’ve got your kids in tow, you are not on vacation, you’re on a trip.
Traveling with a kid is oh-so-different than traveling without one, and there’s no way around it. It is different in good ways, it is different in bad ways, and it is a logistical decathlon. One of the logistics that it’s worth spending some time on is hiring a babysitter.
For us, traveling for a year, there was no question that we’d need to figure this element out. It’s one thing to be two working parents and to see your one to two weeks away all together as an opportunity for family time. It’s another thing to have all family time all the time and zero solo or couple time. Not okay.
The solo time we give to each other, trading off with WP for a few hours linked with a nap. That gives the other person time to get a haircut, visit a museum, or read in a cafe. But for time together, unless you count the couple hours between her bedtime and ours in the living room of our Airbnb, a third adult is required.
Even for those parents not traveling full-time, this magical third person is, I believe, a requirement for getting even a glimpse of vacation while on your trip. And while some people may bring grandparents along to try to orchestrate this, bringing along family means your mom/dad/in-laws are also on a trip, too, which may mean anything from added stress to simply the fact that they want to see some sights and go out to dinner, too.
And so, the babysitter enters the picture. But how to find one in a foreign country? I’ve found two reliable means:
1) Ask friends. When we head to a new location, I post on Facebook that I’m looking for a babysitter, and often this yields results. Particularly if you’re going to a major city tourist destination like London or Paris. Even in Marrakech, we got connected to a babysitter who is a friend’s wife’s cousin. I do have a particularly robust network, but one of the things I’m always struck by is my friends tagging in other friends to help. Chances are if you’re going to a relatively mainstream destination, you’ve got a friend of a friend who’s been there or lives there and may have connections.
2) Use a service. There are services that vet their sitters and allow you to pick parameters for matches in lots of the major European cities. We had an excellent experience with a couple of these, and a couple of the sitters we hired through a friend’s introduction, that person had found through a service. If you just run a search for babysitting service in your destination, you can read the “about” section and see if they vet. You may have to pay a small fee, but I found babysitting to be way cheaper in other countries than it was in SF, so I was happy to oblige.
Another option that we haven’t used: ask your hotel. If you’re staying in a hotel, many can arrange babysitting services. I’ll admit to not having done this even the rare times when we do stay in a hotel mostly because I am flummoxed by the logistics. Does the babysitter sit in a dark room while the baby sleeps? Or will she put her down and then hide in the crevice between the bed and wall like I do so WP thinks she’s alone and has to fall asleep on her own? If you do go this route, clue me in. We barely stay in hotels at this point anyway.
It can be kind of nerve-wracking leaving your child in the care of a stranger in a foreign country – perhaps even one where you aren’t fluent in the language. But I always think of it this way: if there were an emergency with WP, I would have close to no idea the norms, logistics, and protocol of how to navigate the situation, whereas this local person watching her would likely have no trouble understanding what to do. In fact, if something were to go sideways in Marrakech with WP, the first person I’d call would be our housekeeper, who babysits for us and at local luxury hotels regularly.
Part of traveling (really traveling, not chilling in a resort somewhere) is being off-kilter a little bit, and out of your comfort zone. You have to rely on the kindness and compassion of strangers now and again, even (perhaps especially) those you’re paying for a service.
And in this case, if you don’t, you’ll never get that little taste of vacation via a calm afternoon at a museum or a romantic evening at a restaurant with your partner. You may be on a trip, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sneak a little vacation in there, too.