Family vacations are part of the magic of childhood, and staying in a hotel is a big part of the excitement. I mean, who remembers the thrill of going to find the ice machine as a kid? And a pool….inside? Whoa.
That said, now that we’re parents we know that staying in a hotel room with our own toddlers isn’t always the favorite part of our trips. Bedtime routines are disrupted, everyone’s on top of each other, and the diaper blowout tends to happen at the moment when you have no idea where the baby wipes are.
But we promise, you can still enjoy a vacation where your kids sleep in the same room as you!
So whether you’ve got a Labor Day weekend coming up, a Christmas break jaunt on the calendar, a big Disney vacation planned, or you’re just hopeful for future vacation memories, we’ve collected some of our favorite hotel tricks for travel with toddlers. Because you actually want to enjoy this vacation too, right?
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1. Make your vacation home feel more like your home home.
Photo: li tzuni on Unsplash
Trying to get your child to sleep at night may be the most anxiety-ridden aspect of traveling with young kids. (Other than maybe a long flight, gah). So setting the room up to be as similar to home as possible is a great idea.
I like to bring a crib sheet, pillow, and blanket from home for my young ones, so they have the same smells and comfort they do in their own crib. If it’s viable to bring your own travel crib from home, it may be unwieldy but could totally be worth it.
And of course, favorite loveys, stuffed animals or other comfort items are essential. Board books, toys, a favorite bedtime story — I know you want to travel light but I wouldn’t skimp on comfort items from home.
2. Do a quick safety check as soon as you arrive
If your kids are like mine, they’re going to be bouncing off the furniture, opening every drawer, tapping at at every alarm clock — essentially mesmerized by all the new and different things (that are actually completely ordinary) in your hotel room.
However, hotel rooms aren’t exactly set up with toddlers in mind, so they can be a minefield to an extra-curious kid.
Tape down cords
My trick is to pack a roll of painter’s tape in your suitcase to tape down any cords that might be a tripping hazard (or chewing hazard, yikes) for your child. You can also use it to cover any tempting outlets. And while you’re in the room, go ahead and flip the swing bar lock to the closed position, so your toddler can’t open the door and wander out into the hall while you’re in the bathroom — even if the doors are super heavy and hard to open, extra security can’t hurt. Same goes for a balcony door if you have one.
Get curtain pulls out of the way
Cautious parents already know about the hazards of long curtain pulls but we don’t always think about them when we’re in a hotel room. You can also use your painter’s tape to get those up and out of the way, or see if the hotel has another option for you.
Keep the mini bar or fridge locked
If there’s no key, then again with the painter’s tape. See, it really is great to bring!
Do a desktop check
You also want to get any heavy items out of toddler-arm’s reach, like coffee mugs, an ice bucket and tongs, a coffee maker, or a lightweight lamp.
And then, there are those germs…
If you’re concerned about germs, check out this list of the germiest items in a hotel room. I’d start with the remote control — you don’t want that thing in a toddler’s mouth. Also, consider giving those drinking glasses in the bathroom a good wash before using them.
3. Try adjoining rooms…or fake it.
Booking adjoining rooms is an amazing idea and as safe as your child sleeping in another room in your home. Just bring your favorite portable baby monitor along, and you can stay up watching overpriced movie rentals (or you know, just reading in peace) long after you’ve put your toddler to sleep in the next room.
Another option is to book a suite or a room with a balcony. It will give you your own space to relax and enjoy your vacation in the evenings after your kid is asleep.
A brilliant alternative option is the brand new SlumberPod (also shown at very top) which is shipping in September. Full disclosure: I know the creator, but it’s so brilliant, it’s already exceeded its Kickstarter fundraising goal nearly 8 times over. You can preorder now at a great price that’s far less than paying for a second room for even one night.
Essentially the SlumberPod is a pop-up blackout shade tent (or “privacy pod”) that sits over the top of your portable crib. And it’s really made for travel, because it folds down smaller than your diaper bag. You can even insert your baby monitor in a sleeve on the tent, so you can see your kid but they can’t see you. Turn on your white noise machine, then pop open a bottle of wine (for you, not your kid!) and climb in your own bed while your child falls asleep without peeking their head up over the edge of the crib a million times.
A 3- or 4-year-old could comfortably sleep on the bottom bunk, while an older kid (or intrepid but small adult!) sleeps up top. Not only is it an extra set of compact bunk beds in your hotel room, it can also convert to a couch during the daytime.
Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s probably similar to the cost of the extra hotel room you’d need otherwise. And you get to keep it for sleepovers, camping trips, and future hotel trips too.
4. Set up a diapering station
Before you leave home, pack all your diapering supplies in one bag (or in a large ziplock-type bag in your suitcase) so you can grab it easily and set it up quickly when you arrive. Because your kid having a blowout when you don’t know where the wipes are is not a good thing.
Don’t forget to pack a roll of disposable bags for the diapers, so your room doesn’t stink while you wait for room service to arrive the next day.
And, for extra measure, bring along some Stinky Spray. I have been thrilled with how well this stuff masks the smell of a dirty diaper at my own house and now it’s a travel must for me.
5. Be prepared for bottle feeding. (And snacks, lots of snacks)
If you’re traveling with a child who’s still using a bottle, you don’t need to run back and forth to the restaurant downstairs to make it work. If you need warm water for formula or to warm a chilled bottle, use the coffee maker in your room to heat the water — just be sure to give the water time to cool before using it, of course!
If you’re pumping breast milk while you travel, reserve a mini-fridge in advance for your room. The majority of hotels keep them on hand for guests who need to refrigerate medical supplies. Worst case scenario, keep the milk chilling in the ice bucket like it’s a nice bottle of rosé.
And of course, bring (or run out and buy) lots of snacks — try these recipes for our favorite homemade travel snacks to save you hassle and money (just be sure you pick the toddler-safe ones). Also bring along a few plastic cups for the room, so your kids don’t get hangry — or break the glasses in the bathroom
6. Plan in advance for post-bedtime activities.
As I mentioned, turning on the TV with a toddler in the room isn’t going to work. So a book light is a smart purchase, allowing you read without waking the kids up by turning on the lights.
Or, bring an audio splitter so you can both snuggle up and watch a movie download on your iPad without waking the toddler. Psst..these are great for multiple kids on the car or plane ride too.
7. Wipe them out
Pro tip: Before bedtime, spend a good hour at the hotel pool, a play gym or playground, or basically any place that’s safe for physical activity. This way your toddler will be wiped out and ready to sleep, whatever the arrangements.