On a sunny night in Queenstown, New Zealand, we walked the warf holding hands. We watched the boats moving through the port, shopped at one of the craft booths set up, and nosed in to a few restaurants that looked buzzy and welcoming. This description isn’t all too different from a typical evening for our family, except for one small — but very important — detail: our son was at our AirBnb with a babysitter.
One of the elements of full-time travel that can be challenging is the lack of support network. Most months, we’re 1000s of miles from not only our families and friends, but really anyone we know at all. We can’t call for extra help if we’re sick or busy, and we certainly don’t have any reliable sitters on hand. But every so often, we take a crack at a parents’ night out.
It’s also worth noting that one of the joys of traveling full-time is being together as a family unit. When we were still based in California and taking more standard trips, often the goal of them was the extra time together. Hiring a babysitter likely won’t make sense for every trip you take, but can be a wonderful way to unlock a date night, an extreme activity, a special event, and any other not-kid-friendly pass-time you want to try.
We’ve only hired a sitter a handful of times, but here are 3 main paths we’ve taken to finding someone reliable, safe, and great with our son:
Path 1: Find an Agency
When my son was just under a year old, we were invited to a wedding in Hawaii that wasn’t open to kids. That said, we wanted to make a trip of it and spend the week exploring, so we booked flights and set out to find a solution for the day of the event.
One of the beauties of Hawaii is that it has significant tourist infrastructure; we certainly weren’t the first visitors who’d need a sitter during our stay. We Googled around for local nanny agencies, and our hotel was able to weigh in too. These agencies had offerings for hourly babysitters, overnights, and even multiple days, and had countless reviews and testimonials to vouch for their professionalism, kindness, and safety. Better yet, because they specialized in helping families away from home, they arrived with a chest of toys, books, and tons of ideas for local activities.
We liked this solution in a place where we didn’t have a social network and wanted to have a plan set in advance of our trip. That said, of the 3 options here, this one certainly had the most overhead (online forms, phone calls, etc.).
Path 2: Leverage Your Social Network
When living in Barcelona for a month last summer, a cousin reached out saying an old friend of hers had moved there after college. She introduced us, and we got a lovely lunch at a local spot we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. At some point during the meal, our conversation turned to her recommendations for the best meals in Barcelona, both kid-friendly and otherwise, and my mouth watered at her descriptions.
A few days later, I had the thought: what if we could try one of those places as a date night? This woman’s kids were long-grown, but I expected she’d know someone with little ones at home, so I shot her a text. Within a few hours, she forwarded along a sitter who regularly watched her neighbor’s kids. She was so excited to help, and that we’d get to try one of her favorite restaurants!
While this sitter didn’t come from a direct personal connect, she did come through someone I trusted, and she had a great night with our son. This path to finding childcare is the one we’ve used most often on our travels, even posting to our social networks questions like, “know anyone in [this city] that has kids?” It’s amazing how powerful networks can be.
Path 3: Making Connections
Finally, the route that requires a bit of trust and magic: meeting someone on the go. One of the things we’ve loved most about full-time travel is really settling in to a place, and getting to know some of the familiar places at the playgrounds and community hubs. Every so often, I’ve made a connection — whether a parent or a nanny — that really feels special, and I’ve trusted my gut and gone with it.
Most recently, during our trip to Queenstown, New Zealand, we started up a conversation with a nanny caring for four siblings at the lake-side playground. It was clear her ease and joy with them, and how much they adored her. At some point, we realized she was also from California, and popped between the US and NZ doing long-term nanny stints. After we said goodbye and started walking away, she flagged us down, offering to watch our son for a night so we could go out. We exchanged numbers and I said we’d think about it.
Obviously, trust is required here, and it’s a very personal call. In other cases similar to this one, we’ve befriended other parents who then pass along a sitter. However it happens, the beauty is that we had seen this woman in action, and the rapport she built with the kids in her care. Our connection felt real and human, rather than purely transactional, much like the feeling we’d had from our own sitters at home.
Three very different paths, but all with similar stellar results. Getting a night away just us parents is a special experience, as is giving our son the opportunity to spend time with someone new. Would you ever hire a sitter while traveling?