Emily Post never covered it, so FTF provides essential tips for making your family vacation, plus the “all important” friend, a success.
If your child is a baby or toddler, the item most essential to his happiness on the road is probably a cuddly blanket or a balding bear. One day, though, you may find that in planning a trip for optimum family fun, the key element will be a member of someone else’s family: your child’s buddy. That time has arrived when you start planning a trip to Washington/Tortola/the Yukon and find yourself worrying that your child might be bored.
Indulgent? Not necessarily. The truth is, bringing along your child’s pal can make a good trip better for everyone. But exactly how do you extend the invitation? And if your child is the invitee, what will you want to know before you accept or decline? Travel involves expense, so the proposal is not just social, it’s financial. And it can be awkward if the terms are not made clear.
Based on a poll of friends and fellow travelers, both inviters and invitees, here’s a plan of action.
Step 1: Agree on the friend. Negotiate if you have to. If Johnnie’s first choice is someone you don’t care to watch whales with, ask for an alternate. It’s your vacation, too.
Step 2: Decide on what you’re offering. Everyone polled agreed that it’s usually food and lodging. “Remember, you’re inviting the child to make your vacation more enjoyable,” says Gay Kimelman, a Philadelphia mother of three. “Food and lodging is the least you can do.”
Step 3: Clarify the transportation and ground costs. I spoke with one woman who offered airfare because it was within her means, but not the other family’s. This kind gesture is certainly proper, but not routine. More often than not, the guest pays for his own transportation. Another item frequently mentioned: lift tickets. These, too, generally fall on the guest’s side of the ledger, as do amusement park admissions and other big ticket expenses.
Step 4: Extend the invitation to the child’s parent or guardian, and be explicit about what’s on the table and what isn’t. Give all the pertinent information, including the type of accommodation (hotel, condo, etc.) and suggest they take a little time to decide. If your child is invited, don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Step 5: Once the invitation has been accepted, fine-tune the deal. Someone (ideally the guest’s parent) should bring up the issue of spending money. My friend Barbara Hunt, a New Jersey mother of three explains, “It’s important for both kids that the guest has roughly the same amount as his friend. If, for example, Nat wants to rent a Jet Ski for half an hour, I’ll say yes only if his friend can, too.” Ask how much spending money the host feels your child will need to have. The response should be a ballpark figure. Depending on the child’s age, you might ask the adult to hold onto it.
Step 6: Offer to cover other expenses. If you want to contribute to meals or other expenses, offer it up front. Karen Maudsley, a New Jersey mother of two, once took her daughters’ fifth-grade friend on a family trip to Washington, DC. “The little girl told me that she had enough money to cover her meals,” Karen laughs. “But when you’re in a restaurant and the check comes, it’s hard to ask a 10-year-old to chip in.” If it’s important to you to have your child foot her own bills, it’s best to give the money directly to the host.
Step 7: Accept another family’s generosity. If expense money you’ve offered is refused, give in. You can always invite the hosts to dinner sometime or give them a thank you gift later on. An artist friend uses this option to thank the parents of her 13- year-old daughter’s best friend. “They take both girls to the Caribbean every year,” says upstate New Yorker Randi Foreman, “but I don’t have the means to underwrite my daughter’s share of the trip. So I express our appreciation in other ways. While they’re away, my daughter always buys ice cream cones for everyone. When they get home, I send them homemade soup and candy. I made the mother a nightgown out of antique fabric. But I think the most important thing I do is make sure my daughter knows how to be a good guest.”
Step 8: Remember to raise a good guest. Diane Murphy is an American friend living in London. Her family often travels internationally with friends of her only child, 17-year-old Lauren. “Meals are the least of it,” Diane says. “Parents should tell their kids to be polite and cheerful, help out, pack their own stuff and say ‘Thank You’. And especially for teens: don’t sulk and don’t sneak out!”
Words to live by, at home or on the road.
The State Department and the airlines have rules that must be followed by adults traveling with children under 18.
Whenever you travel with a child not your own, do not fail to bring along a note, signed by his parent or guardian and notarized, giving you permission to authorize appropriate medical help for him if necessary. It should include your name and the child’s and the specific dates it will be effective. Wise parents will also send along a photocopy of their health insurance policy information, a list of immunizations and allergies, the child’s doctor’s name and telephone number, and their own home and emergency phone numbers. Look into travel insurance companies which can provide insurance for children traveling with other families.
If you are traveling with a minor child (even your own) to any destination outside the US (including Bermuda, The Bahamas, any Caribbean island and Mexico) “inviting” parents or single parents must have proper documentation to prove that the child is traveling with permission of BOTH his/her parents. You will need a notarized affidavit naming the adult accompanying the child and stating that: 1) The child is traveling out of the US with the permission of both parents and 2) The parents are aware of the departure date and 3) An “on or about” return date is specified. Both parents must sign the affidavit. Click here for details on documentation, or call your travel agent or the US Dept. of State (202/647-4000).
Tact Can Make the Difference
This anecdote illustrates some tried and true techniques that can really smooth the way.
Tactic: Barbara Hunt has this characteristically gracious way to extend an invitation clearly. For example, “We’re spending the spring break at our house in Vero Beach. Nat asked if we could invite Billy and we’re delighted with the idea. Will you think it over? We arranged our flights through ABC Travel; they could help you.”
Observe: In mentioning her travel agent, Barbara has passed along more than just a convenient tip. She has made it clear that airfare is not included in the invitation. She also has explained that they will be staying in her home, so there is no question of a bill for food or lodging. Barbara then considerately suggests that the family consider the proposal before responding. This gives them time to talk it over and check tickets prices before deciding.
Not everyone has Barbara’s tact, so when your child receives a travel invitation, don’t hesitate to ask questions. The truth is, bringing along your child’s pal can make a good trip better for everyone.
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