It seems like a win-win — invite your child’s best friend to join you on vacation so he or she has a built-in playmate. But before you offer, consider the pros and cons.
Choose the Right Guest
The child you invite on your trip will be with you 24/7 for the duration. How does the child’s personality mesh with your family dynamic? More importantly, how well does your child know and get along with his or her friend? Your hard-earned vacation is not the time to deal with your child’s stress of working out a new friendship.
The best match is an easy-going, well-behaved kid who shares your child’s temperament and interests. If your daughter fearlessly faces the surf and braves the tallest roller coasters, make sure her guest does, too. If your son is content sitting on the beach for hours, don’t bring an overly active kid who’s always asking, “What’s next?” How well do you know the friend’s parents? Do you share the same parenting style, values, and views on discipline? If the child acts out, will you feel comfortable enforcing a punishment?
Consider the Costs
Having an extra person in your travel party means additional costs — are you willing and able to cover them? First, you may have to pay for an additional room and large accommodations, depending on where you are staying overnight. Also, an extra child means an extra mouth to feed. If your guest is a tween or teen, expect him or her to eat a lot! In restaurants, kids’ meal prices don’t typically apply once they reach age 12. Then, there are all the incidentals: admission to attractions and other activity costs, shopping, and all those stops for ice cream. A $3.50 cone every day for a week adds up.
Ideally, your guest’s family should offer to contribute toward these costs, or at least supply their kid with spending money. If they don’t, you may want to diplomatically address it, and let them know what you’re willing to pay for: “We would love to invite Justin to join us for the weekend, and are happy to pay for the hotel and meals. We plan to spend a day at Six Flags; would you be able to cover his ticket?”
Set Rules and Boundaries
You may run a tight ship in your own home, monitoring your children’s Facebook account and enforcing a 9 p.m. “lights out” policy. If your child’s friend comes from a more lax household, they may resent restrictions they’re not used to. It’s your trip, so your rules apply. Just make sure you spell them out before you go. Sit the kids down and explain your expectations, realizing that a vacation may be an acceptable occasion to delay bedtimes.
Have a plan for if and when your guest becomes homesick. Make arrangements for the friend to check in at home just enough to stay in touch, but not so much that they start missing their family. Encourage the friend to write and send postcards home, or buy small souvenirs to bring back as gifts.
Plan for Minor Health and Medical Issues
You will, of course, need to know if your guest has any food allergies, and what you need to do to accommodate and treat these. It also helps to know if they have any dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, or if they’re a practicing vegetarian.
If they take medication regularly, become familiar with the schedule and dosage, and make sure you bring an ample supply in the original labeled container; this includes asthma inhalers and EpiPens. You should also get the parents’ permission, in writing, to dispense any first-aid treatments or over-the-counter pain medication, if your guest gets minor scrapes and cuts or has a headache.
Be Prepared for Medical Emergencies
What happens if your child’s friend has a medical emergency while in your care? You should get a notarized letter from his or her parents authorizing you to seek treatment for their child in their absence. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that this “consent by proxy” form specify the exact dates of your trip. Without this letter, most likely you will still be able to bring the child to an ER. According to the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), most hospitals are required to provide an examination and stabilizing treatment to anyone who enters an emergency room, without consideration of insurance coverage or ability to pay.
Have Paperwork Ready for Border Crossings
A rise in international child abductions has made border security personnel more vigilant in checking children’s paperwork. You need a notarized permission letter allowing you to bring someone else’s child into another country. Increasingly, foreign countries are requiring children to have their own passport, and a birth certificate is not enough.
The permission letter should include addresses and telephone numbers for reaching parents or legal guardians. Laws differ depending on the country you visit, so look into it the legalities as early as possible. You can contact the embassy or consulate of the country you’re visiting, or check the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which lists the travel documents required by many countries.
The Bottom Line
The best guests to bring along on your vacation are kids you know well, and with whom your child has a long-standing, positive relationship. It’s smart to take a friend along first on a short trip to a nearby destination. You know your child best. Will they resent sharing your attention with an additional kid? Will they tire of being on their best behavior in front of their company? Will you? If you’re willing to share your experience and bring along a playmate for your child, extend the invitation.
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