Hiring A Babysitter At A Hotel

Filed Under: Advice, Family

Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. The idea behind adding guest contributors is to add different perspectives to the blog. Travis has a unique approach towards travel, given that he travels almost exclusively with his wife and young children, which is in stark contrast to my travels, which are usually alone.

Travis is currently on a month-long trip to Southeast Asia with his wife, 3.5 year old son Squirt and 2.5 year old daughter Squeaker:

My wife and I tried something new on this trip – we hired a babysitter for a night! I know, that probably doesn’t seem very revolutionary, but for us it was. Although we have a part-time nanny at home who helps out a few days during the week, we pretty much exclusively take care of our own munchkins on the road.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I was the best man in a dear friend’s wedding in Penang this past weekend. The wedding was in the evening, and was scheduled to be followed by a multi-course meal. We wanted the kids, Squirt and Squeaker, to attend the wedding – they were both participating as flower children – but figured that by the time the party was finished, it would be way past their bedtime. And we all know that would not have ended well for us or anybody else!

So we hired a babysitter.

Though the wedding was at the Eastern & Oriental, we were staying at the Bayview which is kiddy-corner across the street, mostly to save a few bucks. (Review coming shortly.)  The Bayview advertised babysitting on their list of available services. My wife called the front desk and learned that they charge RM 15 per hour (~$5 / hour), with a 3 hour minimum. The babysitters are sourced from the housekeeping department. That all seemed reasonable, even cheap, which made us say “why haven’t we been doing this the entire trip?”

Since we didn’t know when the ceremony would be finished (and had been advised by the groom that weddings in Malaysia are kind of like United flights — they rarely run on-time), we requested that the sitter be ready and available starting at 8 PM, but explained that we didn’t actually know when we’d be ready for her. Of course, we explained that we’d pay her as though she was starting at 8 PM regardless. My wife even stopped again on the way out to go over the plan thoroughly an extra time, and the concierge seemed to understand. She said to just come by when we returned from the wedding and were ready for the sitter to start.

In my vision, this was going to be a very slick job for a sitter. My wife would bring the kids back from the wedding somewhere between 8 and 9 PM. The sitter would be waiting for them. My wife, maybe with the help of the sitter, would get the kids ready for bed, read a book, sing a song, and generally go through the routine. Then my wife would stick around for a few minutes to make sure that both of them were down for the count at which point she would sneak out and hand things off to the sitter.

Then the sitter would basically just be on call in case someone woke up or had an emergency. The odds of her actually having to do anything were very low.

Like many of the visions that dance in my head, that’s not quite how it played out.

At about 9 PM, my wife brought the kids back to the hotel only to be yelled at by the front desk who stated that the babysitter had waited over an hour at our door and then left for home since we had never showed up. Clearly there had been some miscommunication, because this was not what we had agreed upon. (They also yelled at her for not paying in advance, despite never saying that was necessary – and what decent hotel can’t just add the charges to the room?) Fortunately, they were able to call her back quickly, but it was still a little irritating to be blamed by the hotel staff (though that was somewhat a recurring theme – nothing was ever their fault – more on that in the review).

While waiting for the sitter, my wife got the kids ready for bed. It was a little after 9, roughly the time that my kids had been going to bed since we arrived in Malaysia. Both Squirt (3.5) and Squeaker (2.5) were tired and have been going down without much fuss on this trip, so everything seemed fine. Squirt was basically asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Squeaker was in bed and “assuming the position” by the time that my wife was ready to leave, meaning she’d probably be asleep within 10-15 minutes.

Thinking everything was fine, my wife then returned to the E & O, leaving the babysitter in charge. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.

At some point, however, the plan broke down.

When we returned to the room just after 11:30 PM, we found my son sawing logs as expected (great!), but my daughter was rolling around on the other bed – not her own — saying she wanted to go to sleep. Lovely.

The sitter was laying on the other bed watching TV. She told us that Squeaker had said she “wanted to sleep on this bed”, so she let her, and that’s what she had been doing for a while.  Squeaker was obviously watching the TV with glazed eyes.

My wife was not very happy. The whole point of getting a sitter was to keep our kids on their sleep schedule such that they would not be cranky the next day, which happened to be a flight day for us. Even if our kids could sleep in following a late night (they don’t), that wasn’t going to be an option this time.

But what was done was done. My wife got Squeaker back onto her mattress, settled her down, and within minutes she, too, was out. Just 2+ hours later than it should have been…..

Bayview room - Bedtime setup
Bayview room – Bedtime setup. Where should the babysitter be?

In hindsight, my wife suspects that as soon as she left, the sitter turned on the TV. Now our kids aren’t super light-sensitive, but even I have trouble falling asleep with the flashing lights from a TV bouncing around the walls of a room, and the sound on. It’s distracting and our kids definitely aren’t used to it.

I guess the part of my vision which never got fleshed out in my head is where the sitter is supposed to be through all of this.  If we had had a suite (which we often do), the babysitter could obviously hang out in the living area, doing whatever she wants, while the kids sleep in the bedroom.  But what if you don’t have a suite?

  • Should the sitter have been expected to sit in a dark room while the kids sleep?
  • Should she have sat in the bathroom?
  • Should she have sat in the hallway, with the door perhaps ajar?
  • If she had layed down on our bed in a dark room, would it have been OK if she had fallen asleep?

Frankly, any of those would have been fine. And perhaps that’s why my wife and I didn’t feel the need to micromanage her by telling her exactly where she should sit, and what she should be doing. We’re probably spoiled by the fact that we have a part-time nanny at home that knows how we operate, knows our expectations, knows our kids’ routines, and can pretty much just jump in at a moment’s notice without ever skipping a beat. I also acknowledge that there may be some cultural differences here too.

In the end, everything worked out. Squeaker was a little squeakier than usual on the flight the next day, but nothing too obnoxious. Mostly I just want to learn better what to expect next time.

So have you ever hired a babysitter in a hotel, particularly for bedtime duty? If so, what are your expectations? How did it work out?

  1. Sorry but I would never ever leave my kids in a hotel room with someone I don’t know. My kids are more important than any party, wedding, dinner, etc… If we take them with us on a trip they either go out with us or we stay in the room with them all the time.

  2. I agree with Santastico, there are horror videos (from spycam) all around Facebook of nannies mistreating children when alone.

  3. Travis,
    Thank you for this insightful recap of your experience with a hotel sitter. Unfortunately, I knew before I ever saw the comments what venom some would contain. Please ignore them. I’m expecting my second child and my husband and I haven’t hired a sitter out of the country, but we will eventually, I’m sure.
    By the way, I work closely with law enforcement as a prosecutor and so does my husband. We have over 30 years of experience between us. The vast, vast, vast majority of abuse of children occurs from friends and family and surprisingly OTHER JUVENILES. Yes, friend’s kids and older siblings of friend’s. So Santastico may think he/she is keeping her/his kids safe at all times, but are they really????
    I’ve seen more abuse cases from school employees than I have paid caregivers/ daycare workers.
    The comment about kids being more important than an event is very offensive and extremely ignorant.
    I look forward to reading more from you.

  4. We tend to get better babysitters by looking for reviews on platforms like care.com then via agencies and recommendations from hotels.
    We also try to look for day care schools like la’petite.

  5. @linda – venomous? really?

    I appreciate your comments, but referring to someone’s opinion (non-offensive) as “venomous” is a bit of hyperbole.

    He said it’s his choice not to leave his kids with a sitter at a hotel.. End of story. Please.

    Offensive? Ignorant? Jeesh. Chill.

  6. @Linda: I take care of my kids and you take care of yours. Hope you enjoy your party in an unknown country while your kids are with an unknown person in a hotel room.

  7. Travis, I’ve never tried leaving the kids w/ a sitter in a hotel before. However, my parents often left me w/ a sitter when I was a child — including some hotels. I would not expect a one-time sitter to have to sit in the dark or in the bathroom or in the hall! Rather, the sitter should be able to sit and watch tv quietly, or sit in a chair and read. Sometimes, my parents would use a sitter agency (this was in a foreign country) when they couldn’t get a regular sitter. These one-time sitters usually were older and not interested in playing games or anything. They just “sat.”

  8. @Bill —

    See, I don’t know about other kids, but there is ZERO chance that my kids will go to sleep if there is a light on in the room (let alone sound) — so watching TV is pretty much out, and reading is also out (unless the sitter has night vision goggles!) And even if they are asleep, there’s a decent chance that a light being on in the room will eventually wake them up.

    It is very common for my wife and I to sit in the hallway outside our room with our laptops doing work for a few hours after the kids go to bed…. yes, we’ve gotten some strange looks and comments before, but when you’re a parent, an hour of “computer time” can be precious — you take it where and when you can get it! Likewise, we’ve also done work in the bathroom! And there are certainly many occasions at hotels where I’ve just thrown in the towel, and gone to bed at 8PM with the kids.

    So I’m not asking a sitter to do anything I wouldn’t do. In fact, it seems like I’m offering them a really easy gig — rather than having to feed, dress, bathe, entertain the kids, I’m just asking them to “be there”. The question is where should they “be” when the hotel room is just a single room….

    Thanks for the discussion.

  9. @Santastico —

    Thanks for the comments. Everybody has different parenting beliefs, and naturally, this is one of the most controversial topics! Everybody has different perceptions of risk and has to make their decisions accordingly.

    Interestingly, the one line that sticks out to me in your comment “in an unknown country while your kids are with an unknown person”….

    First, “unknown person”. We didn’t find this sitter on the street LOL. Her day job is in the housekeeping department of the hotel. That should give me some level of trust — otherwise I probably should be staying somewhere else!!

    Second “unknown country”. Well, I certainly knew I was in Malaysia! 🙂 But seriously, would it have made a difference if I was at home in the US? Hard to say. 10 years ago, I might have agree with you. Now that I’ve wandered the globe (roughly 50 countries now), I have a pretty positive few of humanity — the vast majority of people are fundamentally good. In fact, I’ve often found that the rest of the world puts more emphasis on taking care of kids than we do in the US. The saying “it takes a village” and all that seems to apply more outside the US — just my opinion of course.

    So yes, there will always be risks. I think it’s important to analyze the risks and make informed decisions. My wife and I do this every day, and I’m sure you do as well. We just might come to different conclusions….. there’s no right answer.

  10. This is a frequent traveler blog, not ‘Housewives of Kansas’. Anyone using terms like ‘unknown countries’ is better off planning a trip to Disneyland, not another continent. Please spare us the oversimplified, self glorifying parenting advice and let’s get back on topic on how to get out and enjoy the world (with or without children). So many trolls on this blog lately, sheesh.

  11. love that quintessentially american view of “the unknown world”, as if here in the US things are just snuggly wuggly

  12. I’m hardly a closed-minded “America is the only first world place out there” type person, but there is some merit to the thought process that leads one to be more comfortable with the protections in place at home than those abroad.

    Here, I can request, in advance, a background check through a company of my choosing (so long as I’m willing to pay for it) and be relatively confident than unless the babysitter has done some extensive reputation cleansing (that, frankly, if s/he’s capable of, they aren’t babysitting) that the person is not a criminal/pervert/etc. Not all such people are caught and have records, obviously, and they do start somewhere, but it’s realistically all you can do when personal recommendations from trusted friends and family aren’t available.

  13. While in Vegas on a trip’ I wanted to go see Phantom.Opera. I normally make contact w a university and ask for a student from education, nursing, or social work because they all have clearances. The only response I got for this trip was a mom who wanted $25/hr!! And I would have had to drive my 5yr old to her. Plans were made and tickets bought. So I hired a sitter from a well known agency in the USA that parents use. According to the website, this sitter had clearances. I spoke to her by phone first. Turned out she was 27 , earning her MFA and teaching at the local univ as a part timer. I did some clearance checks of my own. She came w Dr. Seuss books, coloring books, and some toys. My son had a great time w her. After he went to bed, she sat inn he bathroom reading. I think the expectations in the USA align better with our expectations as parents but I also gave her instructions on what to do (bring reading material because he won’t sleep w the TV on). Just a single room. Was a great experience. Have used Westin.Ft Lauderdale daytime daycare service, too. Another great experience for my son.

    Everyone has different views of parenting. Please raise your kids as you see fit and I’ll raise mine.

  14. Ok first off. WHERE”S Lucky? You totally threw me off with the guest post. I’m like Lucky has kids?

    Ok secondly wherever you’re going lots of high end properties have great programs for your kids. Ritz Ambassadors of the Environment and Hyatt’s services at Beaver Creek are two that ring a bell. But that’s on the high end.

    I’ve tried working out a “nanny” sitter and to be honest don’t know if it was attitude or distrust or what I just never went through with it. It’s one thing to leave a pet with somebody else. Completely different leaving your children.

    And basically the “Travel” world is tightening screws on SOLO travelers, so we won’t even get into what the powers that be are doing to “family” travel. If any industry could be any more “Family” unfriendly, I haven’t found it yet. Maybe Waste management or sanitation and nuclear power.

    Have a great 2015!

  15. Travis, I too would be willing to sit outside in the hall or in the bathroom to help our kids fall asleep. However, I wouldn’t expect that from a one-time sitter from the hotel or agency . . .

  16. My wife and I travel a fair bit, and we hire vacation babysitters when we travel with our son – and man did we get the same crap from our family that others got from other posters! “He’ll be molested! Stolen! How can you do that to your son, leave him with strangers!” The reality is that for two working parents, strangers have looked after him from the time he was 1 years old and in commercial daycare. We didn’t interview all the staff who worked there, we didn’t interview the new people who replaced the people we did talk to, and we certainly didn’t talk to the other staff who came in when the usual people were sick.

    What we did do though, is believe that the company behind them was reputable, and performed checks and performance appraisals and credential verification. Same as babysitting services – it’s not craigslist. I think that’s the best you can do. And quite frankly, our son quite likes having a little time away from his parents, to tell someone who hasn’t heard his stories before new stories. So while the above was not a great example of a babysitting service, I have had great experiences with them and will continue to use them, and would certainly encourage anyone who doesn’t want to call it a night in Chicago at 9pm (a city that shuts down around 3am, really) they should consider it. My two cents.

  17. Hi everyone
    I’m a mum and a babysitter since 15 years now.. I’m also available in some very known hotels in Florence Italy. I can understand the parents’ fears to let their babies with unknown person but the thing to do is to ask for the references the sitter have and contact them. I myself tried a babysitter when I was really in need but shortly changed mind.
    It happened to me several times to take care of babies in hotels while parents in wedding party and I can assure you that I never watched TV or slept . It’s a big responsibility. You should as a sitter behave as if the kids were yours. you’re paid to do a good job and fulfill the parents’ aspectatives. It’s really a good help to hire a nanny when on holidays even for very short trip.
    good luck

  18. Just seeing this now, because I was actually doing a key word search on hotel babysitters. I own an insured hotel and event childcare service.

    People do need or want to have childcare while they travel. They should be seeking out people who legitimately do this. As a pro, and the leader of other pros we don’t just show up but come prepared to support families. Yes I know not all of us are equal as I will hear about this even from the clients we serve.

    Sometimes your hotel staff won’t have a clue on who to refer and who is qualified, for that check out my blog at NannyTainment,

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