By Susan Farewell
Over the years, I’ve heard lots of friends talk about how they didn’t travel when their kids were young because it was too much trouble. Indeed…we’ve all witnessed overstressed parents in airports, theme parks and museums around the world.
Then again, chances are we’ve also seen the super moms and dads that soldier on, determined to expose their kids to travel experiences. We spotted a couple backpacking in Greece with one child in a backpack and the other one (maybe 5) walking along with her own backpack (a major backpack—not the Hello Kitty kind). Certainly not something every parent could do.
There is a middle ground, however. You can take along your au pair (or nanny or babysitter) when you travel. Of course, there’s no way around it…you’ll spend more and may have some logistical concerns (the extra bed, for example). But it may be just what you need to get out there and see the world with your family.
One of our readers, Heidi McGee, who travels routinely with her family (kids ages 5, 9 and 10) says the “The convenience and comfort factor of having a caregiver that the children are familiar with can more than offset the additional costs.” She adds, “It provides us with peace of mind to have a ‘known quantity’ to help shepherd the children through unfamiliar surroundings while reinforcing our parenting philosophy and house rules...and maybe even allow for my husband and I to slip away for a grown-up meal, without having to second-guess our childcare arrangements.”
Certainly makes sense to have the extra set of hands to help out. But there are many other considerations. For this piece, we spoke with Stephanie Morrison, an area coordinator at Cultural Care Au Pair, one of the world's largest au pair organizations, who answered our questions about traveling with au pairs. If you have a privately hired nanny or babysitter, not all of these answers will apply.
FarewellTravels: How do you deal with privacy or lack thereof?
Ms. Morrison: As long as the expectations are properly set in advance, there are rarely issues. I know au pairs who go camping with their host families and they all stay in a tent together. And I've seen au pairs share rooms with their host kids while vacationing at Disney.
FarewellTravels: If you take a foreign au pair out of the country, what special arrangements have to be made?
Ms. Morrison: If you take your au pair abroad (even Canada) they have to have a specific form signed by the agency they are with prior to departure. There might also be a rare case where special visas have to be issued - depending on where the au pair is from and where you are traveling.
FarewellTravels: Are you required to take the au pair to all the fancy dinners and costly events you might go to?
Ms. Morrison: Absolutely not! Have dinner alone and have your au pair stay in the hotel with the kids.
FarewellTravels: What do you do if your au pair gets sick or injured on the road?
Ms. Morrison: Au pairs have their own health insurance so host families should never be responsible for their medical bills. But emotionally, we’d hope that you'd be there for each other as they are like a member of your family.
FarewellTravels: At home, one can get away from the au pair, but on a trip, with all the togetherness, do you find people get tired of their au pairs?
Ms. Morrison: I always recommend that the host mom and the au pair talk about the trip ahead of time. Before your vacation begins, discuss what is going to be expected, what the schedule will look like and what kind of free time she might have. Remember, if your au pair is traveling with you (no matter how glamorous the trip), it is NOT her vacation! She is working. Au pairs can work up to 45 hours a week, up to 10 hours a day.
FarewellTravels: How do you deal with a fussy au pair? Not eating everything? Complaining of heat, of carrying luggage?
Ms. Morrison: If your au pair is that hot and tired, the odds are good that you are hot and bothered too. Carrying, schlepping, waiting around ... even the best planned trips can be exhausting and cause irritation. She should be in charge of her own luggage and should be able to help with your kids and their luggage too. Again, let her know in advance what you will be expecting of her during your trip.
FarewellTravels: Any other travel recommendations related to taking an au pair?
Ms. Morrison: If you are going to take your au pair with you on vacation, know that this is not a vacation for her. She can be asked to help with feeding, bathing and entertaining your children as well as help clean up after them and watch them while you are away. But remember to give her some opportunity to soak up some sun or ski on her own without your kids ... give her some "down time" so she can relax and enjoy the location. If she's happy, your kids will be too. And if they are happy .... its all so worth it!
Photo credits: Photo (top) courtesy of Cultural Care Au Pair. Disney photo provided by Heidi McGee (2 of her children with her au pair).