We all know how helpful an extra pair of hands is when on holiday with children, so we got in touch with Katherine Wilkins to discuss the benefits of having travel childcare with you on your next trip.
Q. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
A. I’m Katherine Wilkins! I’m from America and grew up in Maine surrounded by nature and the arts. I was also a big theater nerd. Travel, sailing, and being on the water were always a huge part of my life. In 2012 I moved to New York City (NYC) which I now consider home. But in September 2021 I left NYC to travel full time so now I’m a nomad! I’m either volunteering teaching English or providing travel childcare as I visit countries around the world.
My hobbies include scuba diving (I’m obsessed) or anything else on/in the water, the performing arts, and trying new foods. I love all the food!
Q. What is a travel nanny and how does it work?
A. A travel nanny is childcare that you bring along with you on a trip. It could be a short-term temp position or a full-time nanny that doubles as a “travel childcare” if you’re a family that travels a lot.
Families most often hire temp travel nannies (also called Holiday Nannies) for either a regular family vacation for an extra set of hands or for work trips so they can bring the kids.
Payment structure heavily changes from nanny to nanny and even from gig to gig. Across the board, every nanny will get paid their rate (may be hourly, daily, or weekly) . The rest of the travel costs, such as food, boarding and flights are also covered. Bringing a travel nanny is a huge luxury.
The number one misconception about travel nannies is that this is also a vacation for the nanny. I assure you it is not.
Q. How did you decide to become a travel nanny?
A. I’ve been a childcare provider for over 10 years. Taking care of children has always been and will always be a huge love of mine. Add to that my love of travel and adventure and becoming a travel nanny was a no-brainer. I have worked as a travel nanny on and off over the years while I was working as a full-time nanny in NYC. But once I became a full-time traveler, it just made sense to transition it to an ongoing temporary gig to help fund my volunteer work.
Q. What has been your biggest lesson or learning on the job?
A. Have a contract! My first travel childcare job, many years ago, didn’t have one. We talked about expectations, schedules, and rates, but there’s something about putting things down in black and white that forces you to discuss every detail and make sure you’re on the same page. As it turned out, the family and I weren’t on the same page. You don’t want to find this out once you’re halfway around the world. Never again. It’s a rookie mistake in the nanny world but a mistake I see families and nannies make every single day.
Q. What are your best insider tips for traveling families?
A. Release all the expectations you may have, especially if they’re born from social media. Traveling with children is honestly one of my favorite ways to travel; I don’t dread it as many do. But when parents have lofty expectations about what the vacation will look like, it never pans out that way and everyone gets frustrated. I’d encourage families to set reasonable goals for the trip (for example, I really want to check out X restaurant and Y beach) and not overschedule yourselves. Take it one step at a time and roll with the punches. Parents always want to know all the tips on preparing for the flight, what to bring, and the perfect sleeping configuration…yes, there are tips to help with these things. But traveling with kids is also about letting that go and just enjoying the journey. If you spend the whole trip living up to perfection, or worse, the perfection you see on Instagram, you’ll be left disappointed.
However, bringing a nanny along is going to get you much closer to your vacation dreams because it gives you the ability to not have to worry about nap times, bedtime, and potty breaks. I hear some people push back on bringing travel nannies on vacations because family vacations should be “family time.” I personally disagree with this because I find the families I travel with are able to more thoroughly enjoy their time as a family by letting go of so much stress. Being able to go out for dinner with your partner after the kid’s bedtime brings your relationship closer. Not having to wake up at 5 a.m. when your child wakes up ensures you’re more rested to spend the day with them at the beach.
Q. Tell us about your favorite trips.
A. My favorite solo trip was volunteering in Thailand. I’ve lived there for 4 months so far and it feels like a part of me is there and it’s my second home.
My favorite trip whilst providing travel childcare was to Santa Monica, California. The gig was the best thus far because the family gave me their complete trust. I know that’s really hard for parents to do but their kid really benefited from it. That toddler saw more of Santa Monica and Los Angeles than their parents did. We went to all the beaches, the rides on the pier, the aquarium, and the canals. Would my job have been 100% easier if we stayed at the Airbnb all day? Of course. But it’s my belief that when children travel, they should see a new place for its individuality, not just the hotel pool. It was a great trip and job for me because the parents encouraged that and were so supportive (and I’m sure a bit jealous) of our daily adventures.
Q. Are there any family travel products you would recommend?
A. I’m a stroller junkie. I’m that nanny that is always checking out strollers, especially when traveling, to see what parents chose to bring. It’s actually been fun for me to spend so much time in Asia recently because they have a whole new collection of strollers for me to discover. Excuse me while I geek out for a moment here….
Thus far, my favorite singleton and double travel stroller is the Zoe Traveler. Unlike the Yoyo, the Zoe Traveler is good for travel and that’s it. I’d consider the Yoyo a more all-around option. The Zoe is incredibly light (about 10 lbs I think) and fairly affordable. But what really sets it apart for me are its features. It can recline almost totally flat which when you’re trying to nap a child on the go, is extremely important. The sunshade is also very generous for a travel stroller. I love that it has a single push bar because I’m definitely a one-handed pusher. It also has an under-seat basket. Lastly, it can fold small enough to be brought onto the plane, no questions asked. I see a lot of families suggest gate checking their stroller, but getting the stroller at the gate on the other end often turns into a problem. If you can bring it on board, why wouldn’t you? The Joolz Aer may also fit all of these points as well, so I’m very interested in trying that out but can’t personally vouch for it.
Other quick mentions: anything to make the sleeping quarters where you’re going as dark as possible, such as a sleep pod (for example, the Slumberpod) or portable black-out shades. A travel sound machine is also helpful even for older children. Consider the scenario where you accidentally get a hotel room next to a party room that keeps you all up at night. Having that white noise will help immensely!
In general, I’d say less is more. We all want to have the best gadgets and tools which results in families dragging around so much stuff they don’t actually need. Your child will likely be far more interested in chewing on those baby headphones you bought than actually wearing them. Don’t make yourself crazy finding all the “best” stuff.
Q. What are the challenges of being a travel nanny?
A. Being a temp travel nanny brings a whole extra set of challenges to this job. I’d say the biggest challenges are adapting to a new family quickly, in close quarters, in an (occasionally) stressful situation because you’re traveling. When you’re a long-term childcare provider, you work really hard to find the right personality and child care philosophy match. But for temp work, I’m lining up families of all shapes and styles and it’s my job to quickly adapt to their family style while also living with them. It’s a reason why having a contract is so important because it means you’re at the very least starting off strong by being on the same page. After that, it’s just a lot of reading people’s energy and being flexible.
Q. Why would you recommend your services?
A. I’m a true adventure nanny. My niche is definitely families that want their children to go outside the four walls of their resort. I have worked for families that want us to stay in the resort (especially for a baby) and we still have tons of fun as I always am finding new things to do with the kids even with these restrictions. But I really shine when I’m able to research age-appropriate activities in the surrounding neighborhood. I enjoy solo adventuring and I feel really privileged to be able to inspire that in children.
I’m also really special because of the diversity of ages I’m comfortable working with. I’ve worked with newborns through teens so I can transition from handling swaddles and night feedings, all the way to acting more like a “big sister” and taking older kids rock climbing.
Thanks so much for chatting with me! There’s still so much to talk about so please feel free to email me at KatherineRWilkins@gmail.com to discuss more 🙂 Next stop- London!
Have you used travel childcare? Would you consider a travel nanny for your next trip? Let us know your thoughts.
You might also like these articles on the Bébé Voyage Blog: