Today’s the second Family Travel Tips/Tricks post here on Milenomics. I’m writing this series for new parents who want to keep traveling with their new Little Ones (LOs). When my wife and I decided to keep traveling with our LO we did as much research as possible, but there’s no way to account for everything. Some amount of trial and error is necessary. I’ll go over what works and what didn’t for us, and if you have tips and tricks to share please add them in the comments section.
My view of hotels are that they are an experience in hospitality. Hospitality means “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” With or without a baby you’re a guest, and should be greeted as such. The first, and most important piece of advice I’d like to offer is that you shouldn’t feel ashamed to be traveling with a baby. Genuine joy for seeing a baby should meet you on your travels. If it doesn’t, vote with your feet and try to find places where it will.
A second piece of advice I’d like to offer is that if there’s something you need for your LO, ask for it. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised…when you’ve spent years traveling without kids it is not so obvious. My early hotel stays as a parent all included a mini-fridge. On a weekend trip up to San Francisco we encountered a room that only had a mini-bar. This was probably something that happened often when we had no kids, and we were oblivious to it.
But with a LO I needed a fridge. So I called downstairs and explained the situation. This was a nice high rise hotel in the heart of SF. Without batting an eye the helpful woman on the other end of the phone said they’d come up, drain the mini bar (when you have kids this is way less fun) and take the shelving out so I could use it to store milk.
The maintenance worker who came up to swap the fridge actually showed up with an entirely new fridge. He said that the mini-bar wasn’t made to keep milk cold enough, and so the hotel swaps out the mini bar fridge for a true “dorm room fridge” for parents with kids. I thought this was awesome, and had I not bothered to ask I would have never known. That taught me a very important third piece of travel information. If you think you’re the first person to ask a question about traveling with kids, you’re not.
And since that day I ask questions, or at least I try to. I’ve been told by moms this is probably a dad thing, as we’re too
proud stubborn to ask someone for help. But asking gets things done. So especially for you dads out there, ask, ask, ask.
Room Location (and Crying Babies)
Proactive hotels will obviously know your LO will at some point cry. That means they’ll be putting you in a corner to try to minimize the potential for upset guests around you. So we’ve had some good luck with nice room upgrades based on asking for a “quiet room, so as to not disturb anyone if we do have some crying.” I like to use that type of phrase because I think it sets a nice tone. You’re recognizing the issue before it potentially becomes a problem.
I wouldn’t feel bad if your LO cries at a hotel–but I wouldn’t feel great either. To borrow a phrase from George Costanza, “We’re living in a society here!” The expectation that a giant building with 100’s of people in it will be whisper quiet all night is rather silly to me. I live in a major city so I’m used to noises 24/7. There inevitably will be someone who has a problem with a crying baby, maybe they live in the middle of nowhere, maybe they can’t sleep without complete silence. I feel for them, but I think those are unrealistic expectations. Be courteous, and hospitable as best you can but don’t let it get to you.
For smaller, boutique hotels and B&B’s this is tougher. We stayed at an 8 room B&B once and had a really, really rough bout of crying that lasted 2 hours. This was beyond normal crying (probably jet-lag related). I had to pretty much immediately get out of the room with my daughter and sit in the car with her until she calmed down. If you don’t have a car a walk around the block in the stroller will have to do in a similar situation.
Small thank you notes packed into your bag go a long way in situations like this. Buy a package or two now and put them in your travel bag. Not only will they smooth over some issues but you never know when someone might go the extra mile. Having a thank you note on hand is a nice way to show appreciation. After all hospitality is a two way street, and you get what you give.
Stares (and Stairs)
Those people I discussed above who will give you grief over a crying baby? They’re nothing compared to people who seem to have an issue even with a well behaved baby. I think these people want to kids to stay at home in protective bubbles until they’re old enough to go to college. You’ll get stares. Happens. Don’t let it get to you. There will be many, many more people happy to see a baby, so focus on the good interactions and not the bad.
Now, onto the Stairs. You’re not going to find ADA compliance all over the world. Airports will have elevators, but for international travel get ready for a lot of stairs. That stroller I recommended in my first post folds down to about 13 pounds, and has a handle. Pop it down and mom can carry the LO while you walk the stroller up. Pop it back open at the top and off you go.
For cities with crazy stairs, like Rome or San Francisco we often just pick the whole stroller up and carry it up the stairs. The mechanics of it aren’t bad, one parent picks up the stroller by the footrest bar and the other holds the handles as high as comfortably possible. Keep the stroller level and make sure your LO is strapped in tight.
In truly extreme situations (Like the above photo of a hike in CR) we’d just leave the stroller back in the room. Make sure you consider the expected usefulness of your stroller when booking your hotel, especially with a LO that wants to be held a lot. If it looks like you’ll be doing lots of walking you might want to pick a hotel central to everything to limit your travel. Which brings me to my next, and most important point:
Location, Location, Location…
Milenomics is about practicality. That focus on the practical has intensified even moreso with a LO now. I just won’t waste my time or my wife’s when I don’t have to. That means picking a hotel that’s got what we want WHERE we want to be. Transportation to and from places can waste a significant amount of time and money. And doing that with all the gear you need for a baby is even more stressful. Consider location before anything else.
An example from my travels: My daughter loves Trolley from Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood. On one of our many trips up to San Francisco I made sure to pick a hotel adjacent to a Cable Car stop. I literally threw out all hotel options not Cable Car adjacent. The reason behind this was one of logistics–Cable Cars in San Francisco don’t usually allow strollers on board. If I was staying far from a stop I’d eventually be carrying her (up hill). No way.
When she first heard the ‘ding-ding’ of the cable car her face lit up with pure joy. “Trolley!” she shouted. It still gets me just thinking about it. The plan worked–we rode the Cable cars back and forth that weekend until she nearly fell asleep on one. The kicker was that I asked for a room that was high enough and facing the Cable Cars so we could watch the trolley from our room. That spirit of Hospitality got us a beautiful view of Trolley in an upgraded room.
On the subject of location, a lot of people will use a search engine like Wander.me’s Hotel Hustle. Don’t get me wrong, it is an indispensable tool. Robert and I even used it in this Brandon Asks post. The problem I have with doing this is you are only seeing hotels that are bookable with points. There are some real gems out there in the world that have zero brand affiliation. Does that make them terrible hotels?
The hospitality industry works hard for your money and non-branded hotels (in my opinion) have to work harder for their share of it. If this fact wasn’t true there would be no need for branded hotels. Wine hours, early/late check in, breakfasts, these are the tools non-branded Hotels work with to to set themselves apart from branded hotels. You can think of it this way–you’ve got Elite Benefits at these hotels the second you set foot in the door. Trip Advisor is your best friend here, as well as reviews on sites like booking.com. (More on reading between the lines of reviews soon).
Hotels Vs. AirBnB
Dia, who writes The Deal Mommy wrote this post 5 years ago, and I think it is still excellent advice for nabbing a timeshare on the cheap. My wife and I never considered these options before we had our first, but now we’re actively looking at them and using both Timeshares and AirBnB for our travels. Having a kitchen is just really helpful for kids. Eating in is sometimes just easier, especially when Jetlag has your LO wanting to take a nap when you’d normally be heading out to dinner. It is also nice to be able to cook a meal you know your LO will eat.
Sometimes timeshares and AirBnB are in prime locations, say if you’re in a very popular place like Hawaii or Lake Tahoe. But oftentimes they represent a concession with respect to location. After a long discussion of location, location, location recommending them might seem counterproductive. But when a deal is as sweet as Deal Mommy’s I think it can be considered ‘Suspension of the Rules.’ You’ll save money on the room, and even save some time because you can eat in instead of going out all the time. And when your LO gets older you’ll really want them to have his/her own room. That’s an area I’m starting to wade into now, so I think I’ll be booking more Suites, Timeshares, or AirBnBs for that reason alone.
Just remember to calculate a reasonable expectation of the time a sub-optimum location will cost you, and multiply by a reasonable T-Rate. If you savings by booking a vacation rental is well above this amount I say go for it. Travel is not free, so a penny saved is a trip earned.
Soliciting Tips From Readers
If you have anything to share feel free to comment here. If you’re close to giving up on travel with your LO I implore you to reconsider. We’re Milenomics, which means we love to travel. However bad it is eventually it will get better!
– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.