Travelling with your nanny
It’s almost summer. You can see the holiday just ahead, shimmering like a mirage. You can nearly reach out and touch it. You’re headed for home, a tropical island, the narrow cobbled streets of Prague, the quiet countryside, the bustle of Cairo or Manhattan, or the futuristic sheen of Japan. It’s going to be great. You’ve planned and packed and considered every option. You’re impeccably well organised, so you’ve already banked those frequent flyer miles and selected low-sodium Asian meals for the airplane.
But what about your nanny? What’s she going to do all summer? Are you going to take her with you, or will she have a ‘staycation’ in Qatar? Don’t flip a coin or make a hasty judgment. Don’t ask the manager of Aldo or the ride operator at Fun City and definitely don’t ask your husband’s best mate. Before making a decision, think about some of the following issues.
Finances & logistics
Let’s begin with the hardest bit and rip that plaster right off: the dreaded visit visa. The rules and procedures are different depending on where you’ll be travelling and where your nanny comes from, but one thing is the same—it can be quite a chore. Fees, paperwork, photos, interviews, contracts and complex immigration requirements—it’s like taking your driving test, applying for a job and scaling the Himalayas all at the same time.
It’s doable, but you need to start early, grit your teeth and be prepared to travel with a small suitcase of government forms. Layla Twebti, from Birmingham, U.K., found out the hard way that you need to take the process seriously.
“A few years ago we were going to the U.K. for summer holiday. It had been a tough year and we really needed a break. The kids were so excited. But my husband—we’ll blame him—forgot about the nanny, so we didn’t apply until it was too late.” Because they didn’t get the visa in time, their nanny had to stay home.
Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Start early, conserve energy and don’t look for short cuts.
Find more details about the domestic worker visa processes for the U.K., U.S. and Egypt on DohaFamily.com/Living-in-Doha.
Okay, so you got the visa. Great, but the logistical complications have just begun. With a nanny,
you’ll need one more of everything and you’ll have to pay for it. Plane tickets, taxi fares, entrance fees, restaurants, Mickey Mouse ears—make sure you plan, and budget, for this.
Lodging and shared spaces
Lodging is perhaps the biggest issue. If you’re staying in a hotel or holiday home, are there enough beds? And remember, just because there are enough beds doesn’t mean there’s enough privacy. You don’t want to ruin the vacation because you’re constantly tripping over each other. Travelling with an extra adult might mean getting an extra hotel room. Adjoining rooms are great—you can open the in-between door for togetherness or shut it for privacy—but not always available. Are you comfortable with your kids staying in a separate room with the nanny? Even if it’s non-adjoining? Would your kids be okay with this?
Staying with family doesn’t make this concern disappear. Martin Connor, from Toronto, Canada, stayed with his brother’s family last summer. Their home was big enough for Martin’s family and the nanny, who slept in one of the children’s bedrooms. They thought everything seemed fine, but their nanny was quiet and a bit surly every morning.
On the third day Connor got up early, offered her a cup of coffee and said, “Good morning!” To which she replied, “I do not think this is true.”
When he asked her what was wrong, she explained that the child’s bed she was sleeping in—shaped like a racecar—wasn’t nearly big enough for her adult-sized body.
Peace of mind
Remember that extra bedroom you had to reserve? The one that cost more than you expected, which is really getting on your nerves? Well, it turns out there’s an upside. You and your spouse have more room to yourself. It’s a lot easier to enjoy your holiday without the kids crawling over you and throwing Disney princess dolls at your head every few minutes. More space equals more peace and relaxation. It also means you’ll appreciate the kids a lot more the next day, when you’re at the beach, in a museum or visiting family.
You could leave the kids with hotel staff—babysitting services and kids’ clubs are often available—but it might be preferable to have someone you trust and who knows your children, their routines, their likes and dislikes. For their part, the kids might be more comfortable with someone they already know. You could also leave the children with friends or family, but if you do this too frequently it’ll begin to feel like an imposition. This could lead to awkwardness, or worse, for everyone involved.
Let’s face it: holidays can be stressful. They’re supposed to be a great way to chill out, decompress and enjoy yourself, but it doesn’t always work that way. There are challenges: getting around in a strange place where they don’t speak your language; dealing with timetables, transportation and incomprehensible money; family arguments; sunburns; trendy restaurants that aren’t nearly as good as the guidebook claims and/or tour guides that just won’t shut up. Sometimes you need a holiday from your holiday, and that’s just what a nanny provides.
Sara Nuaimi* wanted to save money and streamline her vacation. She left the nanny home while her family went back to New Zealand for the summer.
“I thought it would be so much easier, you know? But I was so wrong.” She had three-year-old twins, a five-year-old and her husband had scheduled a few meetings around their holiday. Getting the kids around the city, in and out of public transportation, dealing with them in cafés—it was next to impossible for someone with the standard number of arms and patience. Having the nanny’s help would’ve made the holiday much more calm, uncomplicated and enjoyable.
The nanny’s point-of-view
What’s it like being a nanny and travelling with some strange (let’s face it, you are) foreign family to their home or to some other country you know nothing about? Why not ask her? Sometimes the answer is that simple. Even if you’ve never brought a nanny on holiday, maybe she has experience. What was it like for her? Does she have any suggestions? Are there any good health food shops in Belgrade? (The answer is no.) Your nanny’s perspective is valuable and it’s right there in front of you, so just ask.
First, it can be awkward, for both you and the nanny, if domestic help is uncommon where you’ll be travelling. There might be no one on holiday who speaks her native language or other nannies with whom to socialise. Pam Sheehan from Ireland was mortified at a family reunion in Cork.
“It was a big party, all day long, such fun. But my parents, my sister and my friends wanted to spend as much time as possible with Sean, my new baby boy, because they never get to see him. Our nanny didn’t know anyone and she had nothing to do. She just sat there, bored stiff, with a horrible face on.”
Two words: Awww-kwarrrd. Sheehan admits that she should have thought this out beforehand and either left the nanny back at their holiday cottage or arranged something for her to do. True, a nanny is an employee; boredom and uncomfortable situations sometimes go with the job. However, she’s also a human being and, to a large extent, part of the family. Her feelings need to be considered, too.
It’s great to have someone to look after the kids when you need a break, so you can relax and enjoy the holiday you’ve been planning all year. If you decide to bring your nanny on holiday, take a few moments to consider what her day-to-day life will be like. What is there to do on her day off or when your parents watch the kids for a few hours? Will she be able to find her way around the town or city where you’ll be staying? Should you give her a little extra money for travel and entertainment? Do you feel comfortable letting her take the kids on her own in a strange place?
There are so many factors to consider. Will you pay the nanny in the local currency or set up a direct deposit back home? When will she get downtime and days off? The questions are relentless so make sure you address as many as possible before travelling. Some of these factors may need to be addressed during the visa application process so consider them sooner rather than later.
There’s a lot to consider here and the answers aren’t always easy. Take a few moments to talk through some of these points with your family and your nanny before setting off, and it’s more likely that you’ll avoid the pitfalls that can spoil an otherwise great holiday.
*Name changed for privacy.
Andrew Madigan taught Creative Writing and English Literature for universities in the U.A.E., Japan, Korea and the U.S. He was also Editor-in-Chief of a magazine in Al Ain. He is now a freelance writer/editor. His first novel, Khawla's Wall, was published in 2014.