*Guest post from Eileen Gunn of Families Go
With Spring Break quickly approaching and summer not too far behind, you might be thinking about how travel will be different with baby in tow. Before my husband and I had our daughter, we really viewed a hotel as a place to sleep and not much more. As long it was inexpensive and near what we wanted to do, we weren’t too fussy.
But once our daughter came along our relationship with vacation lodging changed completely. We spend more hours wherever we’re staying, especially in the morning and evening, and pay more attention to the room and hotel amenities.
Here are a few things to pay attention to:
Even if your kids nap on the go like mine did, we found ourselves popping back to our hotel midday on every vacation when our daughter was small. Maybe it was to rest, maybe it was the giant ice cream blob she got all over my shirt, maybe it was the extra diaper and wipes we forgot to stick in the stroller and desperately needed. A hotel located near what we wanted to do made things infinitely easier and it was the thing we were willing to pay more for.
Your vacation day now ends when your baby goes to sleep—round about 7:00 or so. Since you’ll be spending all your evenings in, make sure “in” is comfortable.
Look for hotel rooms that have lofts or suites with separate living and sleeping areas. More hotels are cleverly designing rooms with divided spaces. For example, Hyatt Place rooms sometimes have a half wall between the bed and a couch. Other hotels design the room so a bathroom or a corner separate adult and child sleeping areas. It’s worth it to pay a bit extra to have enough separation to be out of sight and able to read or to watch TV without keeping the baby awake.
At a beach resort your balcony can be an extra room where you can hang out at night. If hotel rooms are expensive where you’re headed look into vacation rentals. A one-bedroom apartment will do the trick and gives you access to a kitchen, too.
The Hotel Crib
Whether or not to use the hotel crib is an individual parenting choice. I was generally OK with the cribs and playards hotels provided for us. But I found that they never had the right sheets, they’d either go without or wrap a regular sheet around the baby mattress. So I always packed a crib and playard sheet (they don’t take up much room). Some parents pack a portable sleeping mat for their baby instead. In addition to lifting your child up off of a mattress many kids have slept on, it also provides a familiar constant in new surroundings.
The one thing that very quickly became a deal breaker for me when traveling with a toddler or preschooler was an in-room refrigerator. No matter where we went or for how long we stayed we always wound up seeking out the local grocery store for milk, string cheese, yogurt, and fresh fruit. It was also handy to be able to keep some cold beer or wine in the room, too, for those evenings in.
The one time I had a full kitchen I found it incredibly handy to be able to make scrambled eggs or fresh pasta for my toddler. But in general I found a microwave more essential. It meant I could heat up baby food and then Annie’s instant Mac & Cheese or other portable toddler meals. Also, she rarely finished a kid’s meal in a restaurant, but we could count on her getting hungry later. So it was helpful to be able to bring the leftovers back to the room, pop them in the fridge and warm them up later.
The other thing we have found really handy to have in a hotel room is a table to eat at; either an actual dining table or just a good-sized coffee table. Dining out isn’t relaxing with a small, active child along. We frequently would bring lunch or dinner back to the room because we were hungry and it was naptime, or we just knew that she was done for the day and kicking off our shoes with an in-room pizza was more appealing than sitting in a restaurant. We also almost always eat breakfast in the room, too. Our child can watch cartoons, read or play while we get dressed and plan the day.
If you’re traveling with a few kids, free breakfast can save you a few hundred dollars over a week’s vacation. But with our one and only we always had cereal bars, cheerios and milk in the room. All we ever took from a breakfast buffet for her was the occasional banana or box of cereal. With your first, whether or not you prioritize free breakfast depends on how much you care about it for yourself.
A pool and breakfast are touted in guidebooks and hotel websites as the features that make a hotel family friendly.
Once your first child hits age 3 or so a pool does make any vacation better. Until then, some babies and toddlers like pools, some won’t get near them (some go through phases of like and dislike). They aren’t going to miss a pool if there isn’t one, so I would say that if you have to make a choice, put your lodging budget toward a good location and a bigger room instead.
The sooner you start traveling with your child the more they take it in stride and enjoy it. I hope these hotel tips help you get started on your first family trip soon.
Eileen Gunn is the Editor of FamiliesGo!, a website that provides original, high quality destination information, travel advice and travel products recommendations just for parents. You can also find her on Pinterest and Facebook.