By Mark G. McLaughlin
Family vacations are great for bonding with loved ones as you get away from your normal routines. But a family vacation can sometimes feel like no vacation at all for parents chasing after kids. Parents need time to themselves, and not just for romance, but to relax, reconnect and revisit what brought them together. The kids, too, often need a break - time without the watchful worrying eyes of parents, time to be kids and time to be with other kids. Even if it's for just a few hours while you and your partner go out dinner, you'll all appreciate the time apart. Travel experts like Cindy Richards, editor-in-chief of TravelingMom.com, Shelly Rivoli, award-winning author of "Travels with Baby," and Paul Mulholland, of Troy's Travel Agency in Great Barrington, Mass., share their tips for getting a vacation from your kids during a vacation.
CHOOSE A HOTEL WITH BABYSITTING SERVICES
Lots of hotels and resorts offer access to babysitters, day care and kids clubs. "When you're traveling with little ones," Richards says, "research the babysitting services offered through the resort. The extra time it gives you as a couple will more than make up for the extra time you spend researching."
Rivoli concurs, saying: "I recommend making your plan before you go, to make sure you'll have a caregiver who meets your criteria and will be available when you need her."
Even if you're only leaving your kids for an hour or two, keep safety in mind. Ask the hotel where they find the sitters, how they interview them and if they run background and reference checks. Do they watch the kids in your room, a child care facility or other spot in the hotel? Interview the actual babysitter yourself and take a look at the facilities to confirm they are clean and safe. (Keep in mind the 7 questions to ask when touring a day care center)
TAKE A KID-FRIENDLY CRUISE
Like hotels, most cruise ships offer child care or supervised activities for children. With the kids safe and nearby, parents can get some worry-free alone time. Mulholland is a fan of the Disney Cruise Line, which offers lots of options for young kids, teens and tweens. Since some cruises have minimum traveling ages, make sure your little ones are old enough to hop aboard.
BRING YOUR NANNY WITH YOU
Already have a regular nanny? Take her along. Ask if she would be willing to come with you on your trip to watch the kids part of the time. Negotiate a salary that works for everyone - maybe a lump sum for the entire vacation. Talk about what is expected: what hours will she work, will she have her own room, what should she do with the kids, etc. Keep in mind that this option can get pricey, as you have to pay for her travel, lodging and food expenses. But in the right situation, it can be a lifesaver.
HIRE A BABYSITTER
If your hotel doesn't offer a service or you prefer to do the vetting yourself, hire your own temporary sitter for your trip. Use a site like Care.com to search for sitters who live in that area. Post a job in the ZIP code where you'll be traveling (use your home address when you sign up and create an account).
Mention in the job title and description that you're looking for a vacation sitter for your kids and what you want the person to do. If want someone to watch your kids for a few short hours, a babysitter is your best bet. If you want someone to be with your kids for a longer period, take them sightseeing and plan activities, look for a part-time nanny. Make sure you still interview potential sitters (maybe do a Skype video chat), do background checks (available through Care.com) and talk to references before you hire anyone.
RESERVE A ROOM WITH A VIEW - AND A VERANDA
Not all families can afford a resort, however, and not all parents can afford or are comfortable turning over responsibility to strangers. Richards has a simple suggestion for families in that situation: "Book a hotel room with a balcony, so you and your spouse can take a bottle of wine out to the 'veranda' once the kids are asleep." This is an inexpensive and easy option for getting at least a little alone time while vacationing with children.
BOOK A SUITE, ADJOINING ROOMS, A CONDO OR A HOUSE
"When the kids are old enough (generally six-plus) to be in their own room," suggests Richards, "book a suite, condo or house swap - anything that keeps you in the same space, but gives the parents a separate room (with a door that locks) and gives the kids their own space (with a TV to keep them engaged)." You'll be able to watch over your kids, but still enjoy some privacy.
PLAN A MULTIGENERATIONAL VACATION
Make this a real family vacation and bring grandma and grandpa along. According to a poll, 40 percent of families have gone on a multigenerational vacation. In an era where many grandparents live in different cities, states or time zones than their grandchildren, a trip can forge bonds far stronger than a simple holiday visit to grandma's house. Plus, grandparents make great babysitters.
LOOK FOR THE 'ALL-INCLUSIVE' OPTION
Family camps have gone beyond cabins in the Catskills a la "Dirty Dancing" or dude ranches of the sort often made fun of on sitcoms. Many theme parks and camps have baby care centers and babysitting services. They also offer lots of options for family fun - including kids-only activities and entertainment.
With these tips, you can have the perfect vacation, complete with ample family time and just enough "alone time" with your partner to remind you both how much you enjoy one another's company.
Mark G. McLaughlin was a stay-at-home dad, Girl Scout and Cub Scout leader and grade school soccer and T-Ball coach. He is a professional novelist, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, book reviewer, game designer and columnist, with more than 30 years of experience in writing. Care.com is an online service that matches families with great caregivers for children, seniors, pets and more.
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