Traveling with Your Teenage Babysitter
Recently I headed up into the great white north (Canada) for a little ski adventure with my kids at Silver Star Resort in British Columbia. Dek was going to try out ski school, and I had the opportunity to have a private snowboarding lesson, and even try out some Nordic skiing, which I am now hopelessly addicted to. The problem with all of these grand plans is that Ty would also be with us. He was too young for the mountain’s childcare program (it started at 18 months), and he couldn’t stay home because his dad had to work some crazy hours on a project. What to do, what to do…
As fate would have it my regular teenage babysitter had spring break the same week our trip was booked. I gave her the option: she could come along with us and have a little Canadian adventure and help me with Ty, or she could watch Ty for some very long hours for a few days at our house. She chose to come along for the ride.
Bringing your babysitter on a trip is tricky enough as you now have an extra personality along on your journey, but bringing a minor across international borders when you are not her parent adds a different level of paperwork to the experience. There are a few key things you need to have in place, and a few important details to have hammered out before you take on such an endeavor.
Paperwork and Parents
- Talk to the parents. It isn’t a small thing to let another adult take your child out of the country. Sit down with your sitter’s parents to discuss what you will be doing, make a plan so your sitter can call home (and make sure she does when you arrive!), and give the parents all of your contact information where you will be staying so they can be in touch if needed. Address any concerns or fears so everyone can feel comfortable about this arrangement.
- Up to date passport. All travelers, no matter what their age, must have a passport to enter a foreign country. If your babysitter does not have her passport, and it is a last-minute trip, you may want to offer to help pay for her passport to be expedited so it arrives in time. This is a kind gesture, and it takes some of the financial responsibility off of a kid who is in school full time, and babysits your children to pay for gas in her car.
- Parent Permission form. Because my sitter was under age 18, I had a medical release and parent permission form signed by her mother and father, and notarized. I also printed out the formal Canadian travel form on the Canadian government’s site signed by her mother, father, and myself, which was then witnessed by a registered voter friend here in the U.S.A. I was never asked for these slips of paper, but since my sitter looks absolutely nothing like me, it was important for us to have in case a border agent wondered why I was running off with someone else’s child.
It’s travel, but it’s also a job
Yes, you are taking your babysitter on a trip that she might not otherwise be able to take on her own, but that does not mean she is your slave for the entire trip, or wants to play with your kids 24 hours a day. Give her some space; let her have her own personal boundaries so you all remain friendly throughout your trip. Be clear about expectations, and keep those lines of communication open.
- Separate living space. We were very lucky to be able to get a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo at the Silver Star Resort. Dek and I shared a room, Ty took over the bathroom in our room with his crib, my sitter had the 2nd bedroom, and we all shared her bathroom. She had her own space to run off too if she needed a break from us each night, and she could watch whatever TV shows she wanted, while I worked in the living room because my kids were asleep in our room. This type of arrangement is not always financially feasible, but anytime you can give you sitter her own space you will all be much more comfortable and not tiptoeing around each other.
- Set your expectations ahead of time. When I approached my babysitter with this crazy idea I was clear that I needed her help with Ty more than Dek. She would be in charge of him most mornings as Dek and I ran off to our lessons. She was free to wander around town, play in our room, or grab a croissant at the local bakery as long as Ty was with her. The resort was relatively small, so I knew she couldn’t go far. When Ty was sleeping and Dek wanted to go into the hot tub she offered to bring him so I could get a little break (I was beyond sore after my snowboarding lesson). When the kids were asleep she hung out in the room so I could have a quiet soak of my own. She helped out at meals as an extra set of hands, but it was understood that I was in charge when I was around the kids.
- Include your babysitter in some of the fun. Anytime Ty could do an activity with us I brought my babysitter along. I had gone over our itinerary ahead of time with her. She was very excited about a few of the items on our agenda. We went bowling our first night. She crushed us all! We were supposed to go tubing the second night, but a little rain derailed our plans to each take a turn going up with Dek while the other held Ty. She shared all of our meals, played in the snow with us, and in general was part of our family for a few days.
- Compensation. This is the trickiest part. I was bringing my babysitter on a vacation that she would not otherwise have been able to do. On the other hand, she was working and watching my kid. She was also invaluable on the 8-hour car ride up and then back down. Instead of me having to pull over to give bottles, dig for pacifiers, and give Dek new movies, she was able to do all that so we could get home at a reasonable hour. In the end we settled on a flat amount for this trip. If airfare had been involved, and especially because of our relationship with each other, I think I wouldn’t have compensated her as much or at all, depending on how far we were going. However, you need to talk to your sitter about this ahead of time. I still gave her pocket money (on top of the flat fee I paid her) to grab food while Dek and I were in our lessons, and she knew she could order anything she wanted for meals, but if she wanted to buy new shoes she was on her own.
Keys to a great trip
My sitter and I have a fantastic relationship. She is more like a little sister or niece than a stranger I have a business relationship with. We are neighbors with her family and she has been watching Dek since he was 9 months old. It is because of this relationship that we had a great time. I knew her well enough that I could be the voice of authority, but also we could have some fun together and she wasn’t scared to tell me if she needed something.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Ask if there is anything she would like to do that she hasn’t done already.
- Make sure she has called her mom to check in!
- Find out any food favorites and allergies before you take off so you can plan some fun meals that everyone can enjoy.
- Give her downtime each day to do her own thing (within reason.) Your sitter is not your slave while you are traveling. She needs a break from your kids just as much as you do.