When my twins were about 2-years-old, we took our first real family vacation to San Diego — and I could have used some hotel hacks (lots of them). Being new to all of this, I sort of overdid it with the packing. As we rolled into the hotel lobby with our double-wide stroller, two pack-n-plays, a bag of toys, and a suitcase stocked with toddler pillows, a noise machine, and endless snacks, all for a two-night stay, I felt kind of silly. I felt even sillier when the woman at the front desk informed us that next time, we should call ahead, because they actually have cribs (as well as other items) available for guests. What?! So I didn’t need to schlep all of this crap?
As I now know, most family-friendly hotels know how tough it is to travel with little kids, and they’re prepared. Even if they’re not stocked with what you need though, there are easy ways to make your hotel room feel more like home. I spoke to a couple of family travel experts to find out their best hotel hacks for traveling with kids.
1. Ask for a room on the top floor. A corner location that’s away from the elevator is ideal, says Mara Gorman, family travel blogger at The Mother of all Trips. “It’ll be much quieter away from all of that foot traffic and noise in the hallways,” she explains. An added bonus to being tucked away in a corner: If your kids are loud and boisterous, they won’t be bugging other guests.
2. Request a room with a balcony. If you’re not staying in a suite, this hack is essential. Nothing is worse than being trapped in your room, silent, while your kids are sleeping (especially if you have young children who go to bed early!). If you have a balcony, you’ll at least have a place to hang out and chat, play games — whatever — until you’re ready for bed.
3. Reserve baby gear ahead. As I learned, you don’t have to bring everything from home because many hotels offer some of the bulkier items you may need. Hotels often have cribs, baby baths, dust mite covers, even humidifiers, says Katja Gaskell, co-founder of family travel blog Globetotting. So call the hotel before your trip and find out what you can get.
4. Create a play area for your kids. Hotel furniture is not bolted to the floor, so feel free to move things around to create a more homey feel. Gorman recommends adjusting chairs, tables, and even sofas to create a separate play space for the kids. An extra bed sheet can even double as a play mat for a baby. If you’re nursing, you can turn a chair away from the room to create a quiet space. You can also use pillows to create a natural divider in the bed your kids are sharing.
5. Child-proof the room. A vacation feels more like a full-time job if you’re spending the whole time panicked over all of the baby and toddler hazards in your hotel room. Create a child-safe space by using painter’s tape to cover outlets, cushion corners, and seal the toilet lid down. If your toddler is sleeping in a bed, create bumpers by tucking extra pillows or rolled up hotel towels under the fitted sheet. If you have a baby, Gaskell recommends bringing along a foldable baby bath like the Stokke Flexi Bath, which is especially helpful if there’s no bathtub in your room.
6. Make your room quiet at night. You don’t need a noise machine to create a Zen sleep space. There are many apps that will actually create white noise on your iPad or phone. For older kids, you may also want to consider bringing some ear plugs, which are helpful in case you have some loud neighbors.
7. Hang DIY blackout shades. If your child wakes up at first light (which in the summertime, could be 5:30 a.m.!), Gaskell recommends bringing along some blackout material and clothespins to keep your room completely dark. If you don’t have any opaque material, you can use black garbage bags (and that painter’s tape you brought along) to block the light.
8. Request a mini-fridge. One of the things that gets especially pricey when traveling is all of the dining out you have to do. So call ahead and request an empty mini-fridge. That way you can load it up with perishable meal staples like milk, yogurt, cheese, and turkey. Also, you can use the available coffee maker to make instant foods like oatmeal, individual mac-n-cheese packs, or noodle soup–anything that requires hot water.