Tips from a Travel Nanny
"...some vacations went flawlessly, some were flying by the seat of my pants, others I barely made it out with all my wits about me..."
by chez arruti werner.
Being a travel nanny is not for the faint of heart. It is challenging work to put one’s self into a family’s vacation time. You are there for them, period. Both you and your NannyFamily need to be on the same page and realize that this is not your vacation. For you it is work; for them it is vacation. That being said, if you are able to be flexible and roll with the punches, be the source of calm in others, and still keep your sense of adventure and sense of humor, this could be quite the gig for you.
In my 16+ years of working with children and families, I have been on many vacations as a travel nanny; some vacations went flawlessly, some were flying by the seat of my pants, others I barely made it out with all my wits about me, and many were a combination of all of these results. I have been a travel nanny for car trips, plane trips, and train trips. Some of my travel nanny duties included flying alone with the children and meeting the parents at the vacation destination and sliding into an assistant role, while with others, I have flown ahead of the family and opened the vacation house, rented the vacation car, and stocked the house with food and other necessities. Other times, I was required to drive alone with the children and get checked into a hotel, starting adventures for the children while only meeting up with the parents occasionally. I have driven and flown with entire families, jumping in with my support as needed and fading into the background when appropriate. I have joined families for family reunions, for work trips, fun trips, happy events, and for sad events.
One time I travelled on a plane for six hours with twin two year olds and their father. Once on the plane and settled, I asked for the backpack of fun distractions that were packed to keep a pair of two year olds happy and content for six hours (thus also keeping a plane full of people from hating us as well). Well, DadBoss accidentally misplaced that important bag…. the bag with everything we needed. Here is where you must be flexible: I dove into my purse and we managed to keep those two toddlers happy and content with band aids, combs, a notebook, a couple of long-lost lollipops, and some makeup mirrors. The flight attendants helped us out with straws, cups, ice cubes, and pretzels. We were blessed on that plane trip! I had not cleaned out my purse in awhile, so I had enough stuff in there for instant entertainment, plus it was a late flight, making great conditions for the children to fall asleep. The lesson learned? Pack your own purse with a hodge podge of extras just in case of emergencies and lost bags. Also, here’s another little tip for travel nannies, or nannies in general really: pack yourself an extra shirt in a plastic bag, no matter what age group you are flying with. I have also learned that someone during a trip (plane, train, car, it really does not matter what form of travel!) will inevitably puke on you. Truth!
The most crucial factor of being a travel nanny is to communicate with the parents before and during the trip. Ask the parents questions beforehand. Nothing should be left to guessing. How hands-on do the parents want you to be? Should you plan the activities? What is the sleeping arrangement? What is the eating arrangement? You need a little personal time each day where you know you can shower and take care of yourself, but be flexible on this. They need to know you are flexible enough to be left behind without guilt, or to join them on any adventure. Do the parents want you to photograph their adventures and be the memory keeper? If you oversee the children and their adventures for the day, would the parents like unsolicited status updates and photos, or do they want to escape from the world for a bit? This is important because each family is different with their wants, needs, and expectations. The more you communicate ahead of time, the fewer toes you will step on during their vacation and your job.
Because a vacation is not your typical shift work, you and the parents need to agree ahead of time on what the pay will be. Do not leave this issue to be a surprise at the end of the trip. Most of my experience has been to be paid hourly from the moment I arrive at an airport or train station, until the moment I walk away at the end of the trip. In recent years, one of my NannyFamilies and I have worked out more-than-fair compensation based on each 24-hour period. I have found that this takes away the confusion of overtime pay. Also, it goes without saying that your travel and food expenses should be covered, as well as activity fees incurred while working with the children.
Ultimately, the parents just need to know that you are on board with whichever role they need you in, they need to know you are flexible to go with the flow, that you will be an asset to their vacation, not a hindrance, and that without a doubt, their children are safe, loved, and having fun on the vacation. Constant communication is the main key before, during, and even after. Flexibility is the other important key, as we all know that even the best planned vacations never go off without a hitch, so roll with it and be a source of calm.