Many parents who enjoy traveling pursue one of three strategies when they hit the road: leave the kids with a willing relative, take a nanny along or plan a vacation at a child-friendly resort.
But sometimes none of these is an option, so to get at least one dinner out by themselves, Mom and Dad need to find a baby sitter in an unfamiliar locale.
For those who find themselves in this situation, the ease of finding child care depends on a number of variables -- as does the range of the services available.
Parents who have traveled with their children say the first step is to call the hotel where you'll be staying before you leave home.
While a few hotels -- usually resort properties geared toward families -- have on-site child care, in most cases a hotel will put guests in touch with local child-care services.
Some hotels have established relationships with particular child-care providers and make baby-sitting arrangements on behalf of their guests, even allowing parents to bill the services to their room.
Other hotels provide guests with the names of several agencies and prefer that guests make arrangements and handle payments on their own. In more remote areas where there may not be an agency nearby, some hotels keep a list of individuals who offer baby-sitting services.
Betty Reichard, front-desk manager for the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, N.C., said she refers guests to baby sitters who are certified in first aid and CPR.
"We don't just let anybody walk in off the street and ask to be on our sitters list," she said. "They have to be referred by someone at the hotel."
Reichard said that the sitters were asked to have parents sign a form releasing the hotel from liability, and that guests paid the sitters directly -- a minimum of $40 for up to four hours for one child; each additional hour costs $10 more, as does each additional child. (The cost varies by location, but parents who have used these services say they are usually more expensive than what they pay at home.)
Hotel representatives and child-care providers suggest that parents ask some basic questions before dashing out the door: whether the hotel or agency does any criminal background checks on the sitters, whether the sitter is certified in CPR and first aid, and his or her experience with children.
Garen Gouveia, co-owner of Corporate Kids Events in Monterey, Calif., said some hotels that referred guests to his service did thorough research on the company, while others simply added it to their list. For that reason, he advises parents to go beyond the information given by the hotel.
If a hotel does not offer referrals to agencies or baby sitters, Gouveia said, travelers can find companies like his by calling the convention and visitors bureau or the chamber of commerce.
Internet users can easily find these organizations -- but it will probably take a telephone call to get a referral, and some groups do not offer baby-sitting referrals at all.
Larry Meehan, director of public relations and tourism at the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, advises parents to ask for a referral, not a recommendation, because employees are often instructed not to recommend one company over another. You can also try searching online; a search for "baby-sitting" or "child care" and a destination will often turn up child-care providers.
Karen Heying, outreach manager for Child Care Aware, a service of the National Association of Child Care and Resource Referral Agencies, recommends that travelers take advantage of the service (www.childcareaware .org or 800-424-2246), which connects parents to agencies that make referrals to child-care providers.
Although these referral services deal primarily with long-term child care, Heying said her group does get calls from travelers and can often refer them to an agency that is familiar with a community's resources.
A suggestion offered by Abbie Newman, chief concierge at the InterContinental Barclay New York, is to call one of the better hotels in the city and ask the concierge which child-care service the hotel uses. Even if you are not a guest, Newman said, "anyone in this business will understand the high priority of this type of service."
Travelers headed overseas can follow Newman's tip about calling the concierge at an upscale hotel. They can also try calling a U.S. embassy or consulate and asking if employees know of child-care resources. Edward Dickens, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said that although embassies and consulates are not required to maintain lists of child-care providers, "you may find someone who, from personal knowledge of the community, can steer you in the right direction."