Travelling with children is many things. Relaxing is not typically among them. The exception is a trip that includes at least some help with child care—time when parents are free to luxuriate in that rarest of parental indulgences: time alone. But finding reliable, affordable child care can be enough of a challenge at home. Where does one even begin to get such help on the road? Here are five strategies for finding the right fit for your family:
Child care is not cheap. And what’s affordable for one family is out of reach for another. Just as at home, vacation child care needs vary wildly. The first—and most important—step in securing help on the road is deceptively simple: honestly assess your family’s wants versus needs, consider what kind of care you’ll be comfortable with and realistically calculate what you can afford. For a lazy, leisurely beach vacation to Hawaii, Mexico or the Caribbean, a resort that includes on-site child care in its price may be the answer. A long weekend in an exciting city? Hiring a background-checked, highly-reviewed babysitter for a few evening hours may do the trick. The contours of your trip—whether you’re travelling with one infant or three school-age children, for example—will determine what options are available to you. It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stepping back and really taking stock of your needs.
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Go the all-inclusive resort route
Many self-described family resorts offer some form of complimentary child care, but the set-up and limitations vary. For example, Club Med Resorts offer “kids clubs”, a daycare-like setting that typically excludes children under the age of four years. At three North American locations—Sandpiper Bay in Florida, Ixtapa in Mexico and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic—babysitting is available for babies and toddlers (four months and older) for an additional $79 (low season) to $95 (high season) per day. But if your child is under five years old, it’s wise to check the specific requirements, such as whether a child is toilet-trained. For infants and toddlers, babysitters are often available for one-on-one care for an additional fee. Kids’ clubs are usually broken into different age groups, with the youngest children separated from bigger kids and teenagers. A handful of resorts, including Franklyn D Resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, and the three Caribbean locations of Sandals’ Beaches resorts, offer private “vacation nannies”—babysitters assigned to each family—at no additional cost.
What’s child care worth?
Having seen Jamaica’s Franklyn D Resort described in online forums as affordable, I was initially taken aback by the $340-a-night price tag for the least expensive room. But then I took a mental tally of everything that was included: transportation to and from the airport, three restaurant meals a day for two adults and a child, entertainment, top-shelf liquor, sports equipment and—the ultimate perk—full-time individual child care. While $170 per adult was still a splurge for our family, the trip suddenly seemed like a bargain.
Bring your own babysitting
For parents who are uneasy about leaving their child with even a well-vetted stranger in an unfamiliar place, the best bet may be bringing along a family member, friend or trusted babysitter from home. Retired grandparents, who often have flexible schedules, seem to be a popular choice. But not all grandparents are up for the challenge and, of course, not everyone considers a trip with their parents or in-laws a ‘vacation.’ Other possibilities include a responsible niece or nephew—or another teenager in your life—who could benefit from travel themselves and help in exchange for the experience. When this works well, everybody wins. You get an extra set of diaper-changing hands, kid-wrangling skills and watchful eyes, and your travel companion-guest worker gets a free or nearly-free vacation. Clearly, this arrangement is the trickiest. It means not only finding the right person, but also agreeing on what help they will provide and what travel expenses you will cover. It is important to make expectations, on both sides, clear.
It takes a village
Consider travelling with another family and sharing the cost of a comfortable Airbnb or vacation rental. A two-family vacation doubles the number of adults on hand to look after the children. One set of parents can stay in during daytime naps or after the evening bedtime, while the other gets to enjoy some non-kid-friendly outings, like a strenuous hike or an evening of live music. By taking turns with babysitting duties, child care is free.