Kim Sullivan (one of our moderators) has been to many meetings with her children and she has tried many options:
Over the years I used a number of child care situations at meetings including: staying at my parent's house and commuting to a meeting, hiring a child care provider to attend the meeting with me, bringing my husband along to care for one or both children, having my husband and children join me at the meeting for a vacation, finding a day care center near the meeting, hiring an undergraduate student at the hosting university, letting my two children explore the campus or town (pre-teen and teen years), letting one or both children spend some time in the hotel room on their own, having children sit in the hall outside the meeting room, arranging for a child to spend the day with a friend in the area and bringing infants to a board meeting.
Based on all of these experiences, my recommendations are:
1) For young children it really helps to have someone with you who is not attending the meeting. That way you can get to the talks and events that are most important to you and arrange to see the people you need to see.
2) My family was willing to turn meetings into a vacation if the meeting was in a desirable location (San Diego, Hawaii, Washington DC, Veracruz, Jackson Hole). Stay at a nice hotel your family will enjoy and use frequent flyer miles for all the tickets.
3) During the summer, many day care centers have space available when families go on vacation. Check out day care centers close to the meeting location if you need full or part time day care for a young child. They are usually not open at night or on weekends. Summer programs for school age children may also have space available due to children going on vacations.
4) Contact the meeting organizers to find undergraduate students you can hire. This can be very useful if you want to attend an evening or weekend event. If the meeting is held in a large hotel, the hotel usually has a list of babysitters available although they tend to be very expensive.
5) Go to meetings where you have family in the area that are willing to take care of your children.
6). When my children were pre-teens and teens, they would spend some time on their own in the hotel room. Book a hotel room at the conference center so you can check on them or they can call you if they need you.
7). Don't plan on going to as many talks, events or meetings when you have children with you as you do when you are alone. Figure out in advance what are the most important talks and events and schedule time with your children around these. Go to a few talks, then go swimming at the resort pool, then go to a few talks followed by a short hike. Plan something that your children will enjoy during the trip.
8). Prepare your talk or poster ahead of time and be ready to bail on the meeting if you have to. I have sent talks and posters with other meeting attendees when my children became sick right before a meeting.
9). I found the most difficult parts of the meetings were all day board meetings on weekends and evening events. This is where having someone come with you to provide childcare or hiring local undergraduates really helps.
10) Contact your institution to see if they have a travel funds to cover daycare at the meeting or the additional travel expenses of taking a caretaker to the meeting.