For many of us, planning a stay with friends or extended family sounds like a brilliant stroke of travel planning genius. Particularly for those of us with a small child or baby in tow, particularly in these tightening economic times. What better time to plan a vacation with free accommodations—and possibly built-in babysitting to boot?
Yet before you call the cousins in California or the uncle in Umbria, do all of yourselves a favor and think through these vacation-critical points:
What’s (really) in it for you?
As a guest in someone else’s home, you will be obliged to observe their daily rhythms and routines. Enthusiastic pets, light-saber-wielding children, steep staircases, toxic houseplants, precariously perched lamps, Hummel collections, and more may await your little family at the home away from home. Just establishing a safe place for your child to sleep or play during your visit could prove challenging. Add to that the possibility of delayed bed times, extended meal times, and noisy visiting hours and you may find yourself wishing for a night off at the local motel.
How about your hosts?
As well, take your hosts’ lifestyles into consideration—in spite of your best intentions, would having a baby or small child under their roof prove a major inconvenience to them? Try to get your hosts on the same page before you arrive in their home. Describe a typical with your child at home, when he usually rises, naps, how often he eats, and what his sacred rituals are. Tell them how much you are looking forward to seeing them, but be honest about your concerns—including upsetting their own sacred rituals (like, perhaps, sleeping). Share your ideas of how you can help with childproofing concerns and other details about having a baby or small child in their home.
In some situations, it might be well worth spending a little more to stay nearby and come for visits if it means safeguarding the integrity of your relationship. But if you do ultimately decide to plan a home-stay, here are some friendly suggestions for how to avoid some of the most common points of tension that can arise from staying as guests with babies and young children in other people’s homes.
Your hosts may not be as prepared as they think they are for dealing with the thrills and spills associated with baby and toddler dining. If your child is using a portable dining booster, ask your hosts for an extra bath towel you might use to protect their chair from any overboard spills or splats. Pack a vinyl tablecloth (like those used outdoors) to spread beneath your child’s seat to protect your host’s floor during meal times. Afterward, you can simply shake off the crumbs and wipe the surface clean. Also, bring along your child’s own plate or bowl to save your host from searching for suitable dishes or risking breakage of their own.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Guests in diapers, however, may smell upon arrival. Be sure to check with your hosts early on to see where they keep their outdoor trash so that you may export any stink bombs straight away. Also, be thoughtful on disposing wet diapers; some people bristle at the sight of perfectly harmless puffy Pampers in their bathroom wastebasket. It may be simplest to bring your own sack or trash bag for collecting these in your quarters rather than filling up your hosts’ wastebaskets.
I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: Earplugs can make a thoughtful and a humorous hostess gift. If your child isn’t likely to make it through the night without a vocal interlude, give your hosts fair warning. They can take any precautions to help ensure a restful night for themselves (using aforementioned earplugs, closing their doors, indulging in a nightcap, and so on). This will also help prevent them from worrying if your child is feeling well or if you need their assistance or intervention—Uncle Larry’s get-happy clown dance could prove disastrous at three a.m.
Adapted from Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children. © 2007 Shelly Rivoli. All rights reserved.
Shelly Rivoli is the author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby. She’s changed diapers on four continents and is not done yet (baby #3 is due in February). Together her family has traveled by airplane, elephant, subway, train, cruise ship, taxi, and long tail boat. Find her online at www.travelswithbaby.com.