Families with only one child know that vacations can be a challenge. Parents want to relax but kids want to play. Taking a friend along is a great way to give everyone what they want but planning before you go can be the difference between a great trip and a big mistake.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is very true when thinking about taking your child’s friend traveling with you. There are many factors to consider, but thoughtful planning can make it a great success.
Choosing the Friend
The first friend we took on vacation with us was when our daughter was 10. Honestly, our decision on which friend to bring revolved around the question: who is laid back (or crazy) enough to let us bring their child out of the country? The answer was the parents of child that we took. From experience, we knew this child was not afraid to complain of discomfort and speak her mind about what she wanted to do. This made for an easy trip.
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What to Consider
- Is the child familiar with your family?
- Has the child had a sleepover at your house or been away from family for several days before?
- Have the children spent a significant amount of time together harmoniously?
- Does the child have medical conditions or allergies that you are not comfortable with?
We’ve also taken fairly new friends and travel can be a great way for children to bond, but it can also be difficult if they are not used to spending so much time together. The last thing you want on vacation is a child who you think is not having a good time.
Make sure you discuss the costs right up front. You also don’t want the poor kid to see you humming and hawing over the costs of things or worse. I’ve heard stories about parents asking the guest child to pitch in for individual meals. You want all these decisions settled long before you go.
How to Handle the Financials
- Don’t assume parents will cover certain costs if you don’t ask.
- It’s a digital world, so send an email with all the costs in writing and then there will be no confusion.
For our first trip, we went to an all-inclusive resort, The cost of an additional child was minimal so we only asked her parents to pay for her flight and give her spending money for souvenirs. We paid for accommodations, airport transport, day trips and all additional meals.
On another trip, we stayed at an a la carte resort. Although it was fairly expensive, we chose the resort because it had lots of activities for tween-aged children. We also chose to pay for everything except the flight because we felt the benefit of having a friend to swim and hang out with far outweighed the costs we would incur.
All-inclusive resorts are the way to go, in this mom’s opinion, especially when taking a friend on vacation. The biggest benefit is the selection of food available. If you go to the buffet and the child chooses food and doesn’t like it, you are not secretly groaning that you have to purchase another entrée. Also don’t underestimate the accumulative cost of water and snacks throughout the day.
What to Think about Before Booking
- With younger children one room can be fine if the child is comfortable with your family.
- With tweens and teens, you have to consider privacy issues and will likely want a suite or adjoining rooms.
- Consider vacation clubs rentals.
Which friend you take doesn’t depend only on the child and how he or she would react to being away from their family. You also need to consider his or her reaction to the destination. Make sure the friend is comfortable with the destination, especially if the child does not speak the primary language of the country.
What can be Helpful
- Have a discussion about the culture of your destination and discuss disturbing things you might see, like poverty or homeless animals.
- If hiking or camping, review safety issues for those types of environments.
- The ability to communicate with family back home can make a trip go more smoothly. Most hotel clubs offer free wifi and a Facetime call with mom can make all the difference to a homesick child.
- Destinations in the U.S. or Puerto Rico are ideal because there are no roaming charges and let’s face it, most kids have their own cell phones.
Supervision and Parenting Strategies
Vacation with someone else’s child is not the time to try new parenting styles! My husband was so delighted that he did not have to be the one in the pool with our daughter all day that he decided we would try “free range parenting.” On the first day we were stationed in front of the pool (it was a small resort) and we let them check in with us throughout the day but did not hover. I was skeptical but went along. A big mistake!
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There is a reason we are called parents. It is our job to nag and supervise. The end of our first day ended up with an unhappy friend – she was missing her parents, had little more than sugary drinks all day and forgot to re-apply sunscreen.
- Implement rules about meeting for proper meals, regular sunscreen applications and breaks from the pool.
- Ask parents about any fears the child may have.
- Be careful what you say: I made the mistake of making a comment in front of the kids about how expensive one of our dinners were, which could have made our young guest uncomfortable.
While we’ve never had health issues or problems at the border, it is good to be prepared.
- For foreign countries, make sure to check that passports are up to date well in advance and ensure that the child’s name is spelled exactly as it is on their airline ticket. Airlines will usually correct this at no cost if you contact them prior to the departure date on your ticket.
- There are rules for traveling with children who are not your own. Know them.
- When I travel by air anywhere I always make sure I have a letter (preferably notarized) from the parent(s) stating I am allowed to travel with the child.
- Don’t forget to bring a copy of the child’s health insurance card and a letter giving you permission to give consent for medical treatment if needed.
- If traveling outside the U.S. consider getting additional travel insurance for all your travelers.