Remember those early child-free holidays when you’d be savouring a cocktail or two with your partner while watching the sunset?
Or going for a relaxing couples’ massage? Or catching the latest musical together at the West End?
Instead, the only couple time travelling parents now seem to get are those stolen moments surreptitiously watching Netflix in the dark with the subtitles turned on, for fear of waking the kids!
During a recent trip to Melbourne, my husband and I managed to attend a friend’s wedding, go for a winery tour, and enjoy a much-needed night out on the town – after making the decision to engage a babysitter to look after our little one.
“But that’s so risky!” I hear you cry. “How could you possibly leave your child alone with a complete stranger?”
Granted, the first time we did so, I was a bundle of nerves – but what I realised was that with careful planning and boundaries in place, I was able to enjoy my night off, comforted by the fact that my child was in safe hands.
If you too are thinking about going down the babysitter route for your upcoming trip, these are some potential questions you may have – along with several useful tips I’ve learnt along.
How do I find a suitable babysitter?
Engage Insider Knowledge
A lot of the time, your first frame of reference would be in the form of friends or family members who are based in the area you’re visiting and whom are parents themselves. They’re often the best people to get babysitter recommendations based on their past experiences and their familiarity with the local culture.
If you don’t personally know anyone in the country you’re visiting, however, then consider joining a local parents’ Facebook group or exploring parent or expat forums in those locations to discuss babysitter recommendations with fellow mums and dads in the know.
Go Through A Nanny Agency
A good option would be to get in touch with a local nanny agency to hire a temporary sitter for the day. Nanny agencies often have careful guidelines in place for screening and running background checks on their childcare providers, which provides an added level of accountability.
You should nevertheless do your own recognisance work beforehand – research the agency’s website to check if they are accredited, licensed and qualified, and read up on reviews from independent sources (such as the UK’s Good Care Guide or the US’ Care.com) to ensure that the agency is a reputable one.
Ask Your Hotel
It’s an oft-overlooked fact that many child-friendly hotels, international hotel chains such as Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton or Hilton, and even certain boutique hotels offer in-house babysitting services for a surcharge.
It’s worth checking with your hotel’s concierge as to whether the hotel you’ll be staying at offers such services, or alternatively, whether they might be able to put you in touch with reliable agencies they’ve used in the past that they can vouch for.
Make sure to ask the hotel first about the vetting and selection process of their sitters, and find out whether the babysitting will take place in-room or at an external location within the hotel’s grounds (as some hotels have kids’ clubs or specific childcare facilities in place).
Increasingly, families are also looking to Airbnb for their travel accommodation as an alternative to traditional hotels. When searching for suitable properties, you can opt to filter your search to family-friendly listings, which often include babysitter recommendations under their list of amenities.
If not, it never hurts to still contact your hosts ahead of your stay to find out if there are any dependable babysitting agencies in the area worth contacting.
What Qualities Should I Look For In My Babysitter?
Your child’s babysitter should be someone you feel is dependable and trustworthy, with a friendly, yet professional, disposition, who possesses the requisite experience in childcare.
Don’t be afraid of asking for references or further information about your babysitter’s background or past experiences – you are, after all, leaving pretty precious cargo in their hands!
It also helps to try and ensure that the babysitter speaks the same language as you and your family do, in order to facilitate ease of communication when providing instructions.
Above all – trust, your gut instinct! If you feel less than comfortable with a potential babysitter, it’s better to err on the side of caution and search for another sitter instead.
What Practical Guidelines Should I Put In Place?
If possible, try and request a meeting with the babysitter beforehand, or arrange a phone or video call with her before your trip. A prior chat with your babysitter would go a long way towards establishing rapport with her, familiarising her with your usual childcare routine, and gaining a sense of what her style or personality might be like to see if she would click with your child. Better yet, try and get your child in on the preliminary meeting or call (even for a short while) to get a feel of how the babysitter interacts with them.
If it isn’t possible to arrange a chat ahead of the appointed babysitting date, then it’s important to at least try and get the babysitter to arrive slightly earlier on the day. This gives you the chance to get to know her, ask her some key questions, and run through your instructions to avoid the risk of any potential misunderstandings.
Occasionally, babysitters will come with some activities or games to entertain your little one – but even if your sitter has brought along a Mary Poppins-esque bag of tricks with her, it’s still best to ensure that you leave a sufficient supply of food, milk and familiar toys for your child in your absence.
Before heading out, don’t forget to supply the sitter with clear instructions and contact details of how to reach you in the case of an emergency. Your and your partner’s mobile numbers, and ideally, the contact number of the venue you’ll be at, should be clearly set out for the babysitter. If you’re engaging the services of a hotel babysitter, it’s also a good idea to leave these details with the concierge for their knowledge.
For the helicopter mum just learning to spread her wings, for your peace of mind, you could always let the babysitter know that you might be calling in at some point to check in on your child, or that you might even wish to exercise the option of remotely video monitoring your child (or the babysitter too, for that matter) while you’re out.
Having said this, however, I would sincerely urge you not to spend your entire night being wracked with anxiety and checking that phone of yours every nanosecond!
Relax, take another sip of that martini, enjoy the gentle kneading of those aching muscles, or laugh out loud at that inappropriate “Book of Mormon” joke, and revel in the fact that the night is still young – and so are you!
From courtroom trials to the trials of first time parenthood, Kimberly Lee is a former litigation lawyer turned full time employee of her boss baby. She writes about life, loss, love and everything in between as she explores her greatest adventure yet – motherhood.