Happy Holiday Friday: 5 Tips For Surviving The Toddler-Hotel Experience

A night in a hotel with your toddler(s)? This too shall pass.
A night in a hotel with your toddler(s)? This too shall pass.

By Richard Schneider

Staying in hotels with toddlers can be challenging for parents. They’re caught in the middle of the eternal struggle between being the parent, and sticking to bed and meal times, and being on vacation, and actually getting to relax and enjoy the trip.

The kids have no such problems. For them, staying in hotels is an adventure. Toddlers look at a hotel and see a castle just waiting to be explored.

Super 8 or Ritz-Carlton, it doesn’t matter. Even cookie-cutter hotels with a “seen one, seen them all” aesthetic are fascinating because many toddlers have not yet “seen one.” A hotel can be a source of endless entertainment for a toddler, even aside from the restaurants, big-screen TVs, and recreation-and-fitness centers.

We’re talking the basics here. Toddlers are fascinated by any or all of these: decorative fountains, complementary cookies, complementary newspapers, complementary soaps, ice machines, cleaning crews, elevators, escalators, mini-fridges, mini-bars, safes, dry-cleaning bags, hangers with teeny-tiny ends, mini-ironing boards, the fold-out thing for luggage, lamps with strangely located switches, the seemingly endless supply of pillows, the spinny chair, the free pen and notepad, the little red light in the ceiling that flashes when you turn out the light, and, of course, the enormous bouncy beds.

And need I even mention the pools and hot tubs? You and your significant other need to place bets on the time lag between the first sighting of a pool by your toddler and the first pleading to go in. You’d better hope your smartphone times in milliseconds, because that’s usually about all the time it takes.

There is a very large upside to swimming. It tires out a toddler wonderfully, though yours may be the one who could swim the English Channel and still be demanding a Winnie-the-Pooh marathon at 1:30 a.m. And that leads us, inevitably, to bedtime.

The main difficulty parents face when staying in a hotel room with small kids is that the situation is too novel and the communal sleeping arrangement too exciting for them to actually get any sleep.

Some luck can be had by rearranging furniture, or even creating a partition from spare bedsheets or cushions, but generally it’s best to plan on the bedtime routine taking more encouragement and time than at home.

The important thing here is to bring along some touchstones of the at-home nighttime routine. Blankies are vital, obviously, and a selection of favorite books, but so is a favorite CD or movie. A laptop with a DVD drive is a godsend, since your hotel TV’s on-demand service may not have the exact episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that your toddler demands. If you’re really clever, and have the space, pack an HDMI cable so the laptop experience can be a big-screen experience.

Next, invest in a travel humidifier, like the ones adapted to standard water bottles. Hotels can be astonishingly dry, and on the off chance that children arrive fully healthy, they’re often not by trip’s end. Pumping up the humidity can soothe dry sinuses, improve sleep, and prevent further illness. On the other hand, should you find yourself in a humid or musty hotel, I can only offer my condolences. Ick.

Everyone’s a fan of the breakfast buffet, but it can be more trouble than it’s worth when toddlers are involved. Kids won’t tolerate morning baths or other routines when they’re hungry. The best course of action is to get them just presentable enough for the buffet, where they can feast to sleepy satiation, then return to the room to actually prepare for the day. If you have an early start planned, it’s best to have  granola and fruit on hand for an informal breakfast while dressing; once they’re dressed, anything’s possible — even an express tour of the buffet, with some yogurt to go.

As with restaurant staff, tip the cleaning staff generously – especially if you are staying multiple nights. They play a large role in making your hotel stay pleasant, and that goes beyond making beds and picking up dirty towels. I don’t know how to get muffin crumbs out of the weave of a Herman Miller Aeron chair; don’t you think the person who does deserves an extra $2?

Although hotel stays with toddlers are almost guaranteed to not go exactly as planned, they’re still rewarding. The family memories created through traveling stick with you always. So if it gets stressful, put yourself in your toddler’s place. Whether splashing in the pool or going on a simple elevator ride, you’re giving your children something to marvel at. Good luck on your future travels, and enjoy the family time.

Transplanted Philadelphian Richard Schneider travels frequently with his toddlers, and will take suggestions on how to get muffin crumbs out of an Aeron chair.

Editor’s Note: Hotel memories with your toddlers will never happen if you don’t protect them. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection is great for that. Get it here.