Since the start of 2019, we have spent over 60% of our time in hotels and AirBNBs with the four kids, and you would probably think that I’ve gone crazy by being in tiny spaces with everyone for so long…but I’ve honestly learned to prefer hotel life with the crew, as opposed to our big house that I never seem to have time to fully clean. Small spaces bring you closer together, they’re easier to tidy, and well, you can’t see the world if you’re stuck inside your house all day. We traveled a ton when we had only one child, and we continue to travel as a family of six now, with some modifications and a whole lot of pre-planning.
A lot of you have been asking how we make the suite life work for our kids, and I’m happy to share some of my best tips that I’ve learned over the years. I’m not one of those people who packs an entire bus load of stuff for an overnight trip, and we don’t actually own much “baby gear” at all (we seriously don’t have a bouncer or swing or anything); so keep that in mind and modify as you need to for your family. If your babies have comfort items that they use daily, don’t think that I’m telling you not to pack those. Also, remember that I’m a banker, so I have a tendency to accidentally talk about ways to save money, too. If you’re all about splurging, no judgement. This is just how we do life, and everyone is different. 🙂
1. Be Honest When Making Reservations
I recently talked on my Instagram about how awkward it feels when I call hotels and explain that we have four kids who will be staying in our room with us, and I was kind of surprised at how many social media comments I got that said, “Why don’t you just lie?” First of all, I teach my kids that lying is bad, so I try to practice what I preach. Second of all, I’m not going to treat my kids like stowaways and hold my breath during our entire vacation, wondering if we’re going to get kicked out by a hotel manager. Be honest, relax, and don’t lie about your kids. You would be SO surprised at how many times we have been upgraded to a bigger room because the staff was appreciative that we told them our correct travel size, and they were happy to accommodate our tiny crew. Babies and toddlers normally stay for FREE in all hotels, but there is a maximum occupancy set by the fire marshal for each room. So, it’s always in the best interest of you, your sanity, and the hotel staff if you JUST BE HONEST.
2. Pack in Storage Bins, Instead of Suitcases
This is a trick that I’ve picked up over the years, and it only works if you’re travelling by car. We pack everything into stackable bins: they are easier to stack in the car to maximize storage, they are easier to stack once they’re empty in the hotel rooms, and you don’t have to worry about destroying your fancy luggage while on a roadtrip. They also are really handy for using outside of vacation, so they’re very multi-purpose. While travelling, we designate one bin for girl clothes, one bin for boy clothes, one bin for kitchen supplies/food, and one bin for toys and homeschool materials. We unpack the content of the bins into drawers and cabinets in the hotel room, and then we stack the empty bins into each other in the closet.
3. Do Laundry on Your Trip
I do laundry during every vacation, at the exact halfway point. Right now, since we have a six week stay, I’m actually doing it every 10 days, but you get my point. Don’t overpack. Usually for a week long stay somewhere, I’ll pack about 3-4 changes of clothes for everyone, and I make sure everything is mixable and matching. Hotel laundromats are weirdly fun for my kids, they’re usually very fairly priced, and it means you get to re-wear some of your favorite outfits on the same trip. I use one of our empty storage bins as a laundry basket and push it in the stroller to the hotel laundromat. Whenever we stay in AirBNBs, we make sure they have laundry on site, too. When we backpacked with the kids through Newfoundland, it would not have been possible without washing machines along the way! It also doesn’t take much time at all do laundry, so you’re not wasting any precious vacation time on this. You literally throw your clothes into a washer on your way to do something fun, and move them over to the dryer on the way back. It doesn’t have to be a day long ordeal or anything. Plus, the hotel keeps your sheets and towels clean for you, so you actually only have like a tenth of the laundry you normally have at home.
4. Bring a Portable Vacuum
I would like to thank my husband for this wonderful life advice he gave me back when we had two kids. Bring a travel vacuum to your hotel room! Because of how our kids’ naps work, we usually have to decline maid service at least a few days a week. And you better believe the hotel carpet in our room gets COVERED in crumbs and paper and dirt and toddler grime. So, we keep a tiny vacuum in our car that goes to every hotel room with us, just to help keep things tidy in between maid services. And let’s be real: if you’re anything like me, you don’t want your maid to have to clean an immaculate mess; so pre-clean before they enter your room. You can also call the front desk and ask for help cleaning a big mess when they happen–we’ve had to utilize this a few times over the last few years. Accidents happen when kids are involved, so just be honest and help fix them. We also pack cleaning wipes, for this reason.
5. Upgrade to a Balcony, if Possible
This one is always on my travel suggestions, I know, but I’m a huge fan of balconies when you have a ton of kids. And I know what you’re thinking: “But my toddler would try to jump off! That’s not safe!” I promise you that the last thing the hotel wants is a lawsuit, so they make the door to the balconies INCREDIBLY secure. Our kids never really try to escape on ours, but Tom and I always sneak out to the balcony and enjoy a glass of wine together, while the kids sleep in the room. It gives you a little hint of privacy when you strongly lack personal space. We also like to get rooms that overlook the attractions that we’re going to see: like getting an ocean front room with a nice balcony in Puerto Rico or getting a room at the Polynesian overlooking the Disney fireworks. If you’re on vacation with a lot of babies, you’ll spend a TON of time in your room between bedtime and naps, so make sure you love your space.
6. Pack a Portable High Chair
This is actually our first trip traveling with one, and I hate that I never got one sooner. WHAT A GAME CHANGER. Leif finally has an awesome place to sit at the table with us and eat, without Tom and I having to constantly switch who is walking around with him. Ours folds up super small, and we’ve even been carrying it to restaurants when we go out to eat so we can squeeze him into booths with us, too.
7. Bring Your Small Kitchen Appliances
Y’all probably think I’m crazy here, but when we travel for more than 4 or 5 days, I pack our air fryer and rice maker with us. I promise after a few days of hotel life, you will get tired of constantly ordering out, you will feel bloated, your wallet will be angry, and there will be meals where your kids just aren’t in great moods and you’re terrified of taking them into public. Bring everything to cook meals yourself, including a can opener, a pair of scissors, a wooden spoon, and a mixing bowl. I travel very light, but I always make sure we have a separate bin for kitchen supplies because it’s something I think is incredibly important. Plus, it’s super fun figuring out a menu of things you can cook in your hotel room–I feel like there needs to be some kind of TV show about it. Ooh and I also love exploring grocery stores in the places we travel. I’m weird, I know.
8. Find Free Things to Do
This is more aimed for when you are stuck in hotels for work trips, or if you have down time during extended vacations. Obviously you want to splurge on vacation, but you can’t do that NONSTOP, every minute of every trip. I always look up local parks on Trip Advisor and the county library schedule. Our kids have been to story time at local libraries in four states so far this year, and every library is always so welcoming and excited to have us visit. If you’re constantly trying to entertain your kids with expensive activities, the money adds up quick. You don’t have to blow the budget to have fun and get out of the hotel–I guarantee my toddlers do not know the difference between a Chik Fil A playground and an amusement park that costs $40 a person. Again, it feels awesome to splurge on fun parts of the trip and make big memories, but try to find a balance!
9. Take Advantage of Hotel Amenities
Our hotel has free breakfast, and you better believe I round up our entire crew at 7 AM to go get some free food. It’s the exact same choices every morning, and as much as I want to say I’m getting tired of the same breakfast every day…it’s free and someone else is cooking, so I have zero complaints. Our hotel ALSO has a free happy hour every evening where each guests gets two free drinks and appetizers. For adults, that means free wine. For the kids, it means free juice and snacks. Did it feel weird at first taking our kids to something called “happy hour”? Slightly. But at the same time, we make it a fun family outing every day. As soon as Tom gets off work, we load the kids in the stroller, head to the hotel restaurant, and hang out for an hour, while the kids talk Tom’s ear off about their day and we enjoy free snacks and drinks. Don’t feel like you can’t participate in fun things because you have kids–you just have to modify them so they’ll be fun for everyone. If the hotel has a pool, bring the baby a float and use it! If the hotel offers anything for free, take it if you need it! Hotels usually offer cribs in your room for free, too, so don’t hesitate to ask–it’s one less thing you need to pack.
10. Use Hotel Rewards for Free Upgrades to Bigger Rooms
My husband entered our marriage with a bizarre amount of hotel rewards and points, after years of traveling nonstop as a Navy pilot, and it has been a lifesaver a few times now that we travel with the big crew. He’s got a lot of upgrades, and they were all free to join and none involved opening a credit card. If you know you plan on staying at a chain hotel more than once, ask the front desk about their rewards program. We get upgraded to bigger suites in a ton of hotels because of the rewards we rack up during our travels, both for business and vacation. You can also get free nights at a lot of places, but we like to use our points just to upgrade our existing reservations to bigger rooms. Trust me, with a ton of kids, you will be grateful for the bigger space. A lot of hotels also offer military upgrades, so don’t hesitate to call and ask before booking online.
I’m probably leaving out a ton of things, but I’ll try to update this as I think of lifesaving tips that help us out. Hotel life isn’t for everyone, and there’s a lot of work that goes into making it feasible for a family. BUT with the right planning and the right supplies, it’s the best adventure ever.