The first time you go on a trip with your baby or toddler, the quantity of extra stuff you are suddenly carrying will signal to you that travel has changed forever. The good news is that you won’t always have to carry quite that much stuff (eventually they even carry their own thing). But in the meantime, your lodging needs are going to be a little different than they used to be. Thanks to naps and early bedtimes you’ll probably spend more time wherever you’re staying and will use your room differently than you might have in the past.
Here are some things to think about the first time you book a hotel with a baby or toddler.
Discount hotels away from the main attractions don’t work well when kids are very small because it’s hard to leave in the morning and stay out all day. We found ourselves popping back to our hotel midday when stroller napping wasn’t happening, after a poorly timed diaper explosion or just because we needed a break from trying to sightsee with a non-stop toddler. Choosing a hotel near the things we were doing was worth the extra cost for those first few years.
The best thing about a hotel we booked in Charleston when our daughter was 2 turned out to be the Harris Teeter supermarket across the street. During a three-night stay we popped in three or four times to pick up kid food, extra diapers, or wine for our evenings in.
Traveling with a small child you’ll want to know where to find a nearby park and playground, supermarket, drugstore, wine store, and take-out restaurants for when you can’t face another restaurant meal with a squirming child. Don’t count on the concierge or doorman knowing as much about these things as they should. Before you leave use Google maps to check out your surrounding area.
On Hilton Head Island I splurged on an all-suites hotel so we could have a separate living and sleeping area and thus keep a light on (maybe even a TV) after our toddler went to bed at 7:30. I was quite disappointed when we walked into the room and discovered it was a “studio suite.” It was huge, but the living area, kitchen and sleeping area were all one big room with no walls or doors. Luckily we had a balcony where we could read and talk after putting our child to bed. But I’ve learned to double check and make sure any suites we book have divided living and sleeping areas.
Until my daughter was about 4 she couldn’t start her day without a sippy cup of milk (ideally with Ovaltine). She also devoured a lot of yogurt, string cheese and fruit. We learned early on that trying to keep milk cold in an ice bucket doesn’t really work. So whether or not a room had a refrigerator—an empty one, not filled with tiny bottles of booze and overpriced snacks—was often what determined whether we booked a particular place.
You can rely on most chain hotels to have free cribs, but smaller hotels don’t always have them, can run out during peak weeks and might charge $5 or $10 a night for them. Call ahead to reserve one if you book online, and ask about fees so there are no surprises.
Same advice stands when your child is older and you need a rollaway bed. We had one hotel run out of them before we checked in during a spring break trip, and another tell us on arrival that the rollaway would cost $15 a day (ouch!).
Once or twice that hotel that was central to everything we wanted to do during the day also turned out to be at the center of a city’s nightlife, too. Read reviews for noise complaints and when you see them make a point of requesting a room that’s higher up and facing the back rather then the street. The last thing you want is your extremely jetlagged child lying awake while some street performer sings and plays the guitar badly right under your second-floor window. Don’t ask me how I know this; just trust me.
What are some of your best family travel hotel tips?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
Traveling with babies can be tricky, but travel insurance may be able to provide some reassurance.
Eileen is a journalist whose work has appeared in the HuffPost, U.S. News, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Parents.com and many other publications. She has traveled on five continents, three of them with her daughter. She calls New York City home. You can read Eileen's blog at Familiesgotravel.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
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