Last month, I spent 12 nights in a hotel with my toddler. I know — ridiculous! Between a couple of two-night stays to visit friends and family, a local hotel stay because of construction in our condo, and a week’s stay for a work trip where the family tagged along, I’ve become a de facto expert on hotel living with a little one!
One of the things I was least prepared for as a parent was traveling with my little one. I realized very quickly just how much I had taken for granted being able to pack my suitcase, hit the road, and enjoy a hotel stay in my pre-baby days! I worried about whether my daughter would sleep in the hotel crib. Would there be a fridge to keep milk? Would there be any place for her to run around to get her energy out?
The challenge of sharing a hotel room with a baby or toddler was one that never crossed my mind until I experienced it — and I wished I had known what to prepare for ahead of time. The next time you find yourself gearing up for a hotel stay with your kiddo, keep these tips in mind.
1. Think about bringing your own crib and bedding.
Most hotels have a crib or pack and play available for use in your room. Most hotels also have other families staying at them — ones who may have laid claim on said pack and play. If you’re planning to pack light, be sure to call ahead to reserve a pack and play and assure it is set up for you when you check into your room.
We opted to bring our own pack and play since we were staying at multiple hotels in one week and we wanted to create a sense of stability for our kiddo. It did seem to do the trick, with less fighting at bedtime than we were anticipating.
If you’re staying in a place that doesn’t offer a baby bed, you can rent a pack and play, crib, or cot for your child. Try services like BabyQuip, Rents4Baby, or Keenee, and be sure to schedule your rentals as part of your travel booking.
Is your toddler too big to comfortably sleep in a pack and play? Consider renting or purchasing a travel toddler bed — you can find folding styles and inflatable versions at many major retailers and online.
Don’t forget your kiddo’s favorite blanket as well as a crib sheet!
2. Bring a portable cleaning system for bottles, sippy cups, and pacifiers.
This is a must for us. We have the one from OXO. It’s compact and perfect for cleaning all those small toddler things when traveling!
3. Ask for a fridge.
If your room is not equipped with a fridge, it’s likely the hotel has portable ones they can bring to your room. It’s a must for storing milk and other snacks!
4. Forget the toys.
On all our trips, we bring one book and one other small toy set. Hotels have so much for toddlers to explore, from the lobby to riding along on luggage carts to an indoor pool. In the room, playing with the plastic cups intended for the in-room coffee maker is easily a 30-minute activity! Sometimes new toys (mostly coloring books and matchbox cars) are kept at the front desk, so be sure to ask.
5. Use the halls.
The hall is your friend. Yes, it may be a pain to be in a room so far from the elevator with all the luggage you have to lug, but it is also your indoor playground. Let your toddler run, bounce a ball, and run some more until they are ready to pass out.
6. Don’t forget the comforts of home.
Does your child sleep with a white noise machine? A favorite stuffed animal or blanket? Or even with a special water cup next to the bed? Be sure to bring it! Staying in a hotel room can seem fun and exciting, but these feelings can change quickly once it becomes time to sleep. These creature comforts can help to ease the transition. If your white noise machine is too bulky to pack, try setting your smartphone inside the room’s ice bucket or inside a large cup with a white noise app playing to amplify the sound.
7. Embrace the darkness.
Just like at home, it’s easier to sleep in a completely dark room. If you’ve changed time zones as part of your travels, this may be an extra important consideration around bedtime. There are a few ways to assure the light from outside isn’t peeking in and keeping your little one awake, depending on your room setup.
Clothespins or binder clips are useful in a ton of situations and can also help clip curtains shut to darken your room. If you have a room with a large bathroom or closet, that can also double as a separate, dark sleeping space to set up the pack and play. Don’t forget that most hotel furniture is moveable, so you can rearrange the space to work for your sleep setup — even if that means creating a “tent” or curtain to create a separate space for your child.
If all else fails, or if you know sleeping in the same room just isn’t going to work for your family, it’s worth it to call your hotel to ask what they have for options. Many chain hotels offer small one-bedroom suites with a bedroom and separate living room space that can double as a kid bedroom. Often, it’s a relatively small buy-up from a standard room and can be worth it if it means getting some real sleep!
This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated in 2023 with contributions from Hannah DeLisle-Stall.