Traveling with Mary Poppins? Negotiating the Road with Caregiver in Tow

Author: Kyle McCarthy

Tags : Baby

Need some extra help on a family trip? If you're not sure how to travel with a nanny, read on for helpful advice.

As the summer approaches, adults everywhere are planning time with children. After months of working with never enough time to catch up, parents relax and watch young ones blossom, grandparents anticipate a family visit, others explore the world's diversity with school-age children or share new adventures with their teens. To many, bringing a babysitter on family journeys would be antithetical to the notion of "quality family time." Increasingly however, many parents are finding extra hands the best excess baggage they can bring.

According to Tia McGuire of Heartland Nannies (308/532-7504), who places 18-26-year-old women with families nationwide, "Most families with a live-in nanny take the girls traveling because that gives parents an evening out or time off for recreation." Alice, a network news producer with two preschoolers, agrees. "Two weeks on Martha's Vineyard would never have been a holiday if a babysitter hadn't come along. We were able to get some sleep and feel like we'd had a vacation, too." This winter, Jennifer brought her San Francisco nanny to Vail because last season her toddler fell ill and couldn't join the resort's childcare program. "I learned my lesson. After everything we'd invested in that vacation, my husband and I had to take turns staying in the lodge all day."

Ms. McGuire, who's available round-the-clock to counsel both employers and nannies, has heard the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of this issue. There was the mom of three toddler-to-teen kids who thought doing Disney World without childcare would be a horror story. But for Ellen, bringing a nanny turned out to be the real nightmare. "The kids had a great time but I was so concerned about whether or not my babysitter was having fun that I could never relax."

Travel with a Regular Caregiver

Ms. McGuire gently advises employers to discuss a nanny's work schedule and responsibilities before departure, and respect her need for time off, too. If childcare exceeds 50-60 hours per week while traveling, you should pay 150% of the hourly rate for overtime. Expenses are another common sore point. She notes, "Our contract calls for employers to pay for 'all but personal expenses' while traveling. Employers shouldn't nitpick; generosity breeds loyalty." Ms. McGuire also recommends establishing guidelines for spending money when your nanny is alone with the kids. With the high prices of food, museum admissions, taxis, etc. in foreign cities, a generous daily allowance is appropriate for a nanny minding two or more children. Remember to ensure accountability by asking your nanny to bring back receipts.

Travel with a Relative

Meg invites her niece, a Seattle college student, on all family trips to serve as a mother's helper. "When she comes to the San Juan Islands with us, I pay her $50 a week and she's treated as part of the family." Sally Anne's case may sound familiar to many working women. When this photojournalist, a single mother, was assigned to cover the Winter Olympics, she bypassed her regular caregiver to invite a special one -- her Mom."Everyone worked hard and had fun. Of course, the logistics and expenses fell on my shoulders, but the responsibility for coping with a 4-year-old in Japan was all Mom's".

Since grandparents and other relatives often relish spending time with children, they are naturally great caregivers. Or are they? Sometimes parents make plans with their own parents, who live thousands of miles away, and forget that their children hardly know the new grownups "in charge". Not only are they older (and probably slower) caregivers, but grandparents and in-laws may have a hard time accepting the already established protocols in your household. To avoid family squabbles, establish with relatives what's allowed when it comes to eating, personal appearance, TV watching, and other family habits. Make sure the kids know how to behave, too. When planning a trip, treat every one as a respected member of the party. Include activities for all ages, as well as plenty of time apart. Discuss expenses---will you provide airfare? Who's going to pay for meals and hotel expenses? How much childcare do you really expect?


Travel with a Professional Caregiver

Families who don't have regular childcare, and whose relatives don't have the time, interest or energy to be caregivers, can contact Best Domestic Placement Service (212/683-3060). A spokesman claims traveling with a professional nanny is a good investment. "A live-in au pair may make around $200/week while working and attending school. A professional, experienced nanny may earn $600/week. If travel was only a financial consideration, parents would leave children at home with a nanny."

Best Domestic has three US offices, open 24 hours a day, to provide families with nannies on a full-time, part-time and emergency referral basis, as well as provide relief childcare for major corporations. For clients who request summer-only help, they keep a roster of professional women who work only as traveling nannies.

When it comes to fair compensation, he advises, "It depends on where you're traveling and what a nanny's responsibilities are. If she values the opportunity to go to London, and can sightsee on her days off, negotiate. If she's your full time employee, offer additional time off at home in exchange for longer working hours abroad. If she's a temp, negotiate a flat fee for 50-60 hours of work. If a nanny is going to be stuck in a Palm Beach condo for an entire week, and has basically nowhere to go when she has free time, offer 125% of her normal week's salary."

Best Domestic also advises employers, particularly those traveling on business, to be clear about their needs when interviewing a caregiver. "Budget for full room and board. A professional nanny will expect a separate room from yours, but is happy to share an adjoining hotel room with children." Although the agency provides insurance for temporary nannies, they suggest purchasing a travel insurance policy covering personal injury when traveling with a full-time caregiver, and providing her with some spending money and a stipend for long distance phone calls. "After all, your trip shouldn't cost her anything."

Whether or not to hit the road with caregiver in tow is a purely personal decision. You don't have to let friends, neighbors, relatives, or guilt feelings dictate your needs. Adds the folks at Best Domestic, "The decision is not usually about money. Some parents just want to include their children in all aspects of their life, and a caregiver makes that possible."

So, for whatever reason you and your family take to the road, an extra pair of helping hands may be a real blessing.