Get a roomy room
Whenever we can we book a hotel room or a vacation home with some sort of extra space—a living room, a balcony, a porch. We exhaust my daughter as much as we can so she naps and goes to bed readily.
When she was very small we would feed her at her usual time and then bring in take-out to eat while she napped or after she was tucked in for the night. It’s a way to feel like you’re doing something together (especially if you bring in something your kids don’t eat) rather than just killing time while the kids sleep.
If we’re renting a house with a DVD player we’ll bring movies we’ve wanted to see. We also make a point of keeping beer or wine in the mini-fridge (next to the yogurt and string cheese) to crack open during this grown-up time. When we were in Hilton Head we could hear a calypso band playing in the hotel restaurant from our balcony. So after lights out, we’d sit outside, have a glass of wine, listen to the music and talk. If I could have gotten my husband to dance a little bit it would have been as good as a night out.
Travel with other grown-ups
We’re talking about traveling with some parent friends to someplace warm next winter. We’ve already agreed that should it happen, we each will get one date night. Maybe we’ll take turns feeding the girls and putting them to bed so the other couple can have a full night off. More likely we’ll each put our own kid to bed and then take a turn popping out to sample the resort’s entertainment or just have dessert or a nightcap on our own.
This works well with grandparents, too, especially if they tend to hit the hay early anyway and you do the heavy lifting of getting the kids fed and into their PJs. We’ve squeezed a few evening walks and even a late night dinner into multi-generational vacations. But make sure to offer the GPs their own opportunity to go out for the evening. If it seems you tagged along with them primarily for the free babysitting they might (rightly) start to resent it.
Go Someplace with Sitters
Resorts and hotels often babysitters available for an extra fee. If you’re counting on this, make sure you know what the situation is. Is the service one-on-one in your room or in a group setting? Is the sitter onsite or from an agency? Is she trained or licensed in any way or is it the maid who changed your linens this morning? In an unfamiliar setting you want to be entirely comfortable with the arrangement or you won’t have a very relaxing night out.
Many resorts and cruises have an evening version of their kid camp (typically it’s once or twice a week, not nightly). Check the minimum age requirements for these programs; they can be anywhere from two to five, or even older.
If you’re traveling in the US, consider tapping a service like SitterCity, which provides sitters on call and has locations around the country.
Divide and recreate
“Me” time is just as scarce as couple time when you’re home and sometimes it’s easier to slip away one at a time.
So look for trade-offs. At a resort, let him take windsurfing lessons one morning so you can snorkel one afternoon. If it’s a city vacation, give her an afternoon at a museum and then meet that local college buddy on your own for lunch the next day.
When we took a cruise last year my husband took my daughter to breakfast on several mornings while I went to a yoga class. Then I took her to the pool in the afternoon while he went to a cooking demonstration and watched an art auction.
If there isn’t anything special you want to do on your own, take time anyway. Sitting in the hotel lounge with a cold lemonade and your neglected beach read could be the best hour (or two) you’ve had in months.