I’d argue that traveling with a toddler is the most challenging of all the stages. Babies take work, but they are portable and can’t venture off on their own. Meltdowns and tantrums aside, the real issue when traveling with toddlers is that they are active, mobile, and into everything and anything. Given all the time, effort, and money that we put into toddler-proofing our homes, staying in random accommodations for even just a few days can be very stressful.
Sleep is a big issue too. Parents work hard to get kids on a schedule and accommodations need to be set-up so kids can still nap and get to bed early, i.e. the right sleeping configuration is critical.
The bottom line is that when you are traveling with a toddler, where you stay matters. It may be the difference between a relaxing vacation and a nightmare.
Traveling with a Toddler
What are things you can look for to ensure your hotel, resort, or vacation rental will be kid-friendly, safe for your child and relaxing for you?
Toddlers need an open, safe space to run around. In city hotels, it is unlikely that this will exist onsite at the hotel. Look for properties that are adjacent to a park or playground. In Europe, pedestrian-only squares are common — this will do the trick.
In rural properties, it’s easy to find accommodations with private, outdoor spaces. Look for options with flat, grassy areas that are away from open water. It is unlikely that this information will be published on the hotel or rental property website. Unless the property is featured Ciao Bambino or another family-friendly review site, you will need to call or email to confirm the exact details.
Toddler Travel Safety hazards
You don’t need to be on vacation to find that a steady stream of safety hazards exist outside of your home and parents are used to being on alert. That said, you may not sleep well if the inside of your guest room is unsafe.
Low windows. Windows set low that open wide are a problem, particularly in buildings that are two or more stories. We don’t publish this detail on Ciao Bambino, but if you have a little monkey, ask the property to clarify the window set up and make room decisions accordingly.
Balconies. A balcony with a gorgeous view can be the best feature of a hotel room. Most balconies have railings of some kind, but until you see it relative to your child, it’s difficult to predict if they are safe. Of course, you can lock the door that goes outside, but who wants to stress about that? When in doubt, ask for a room on the ground floor with a terrace instead of balcony.
Stairs. This is an issue that can be difficult to manage. In Europe in particular, many of the really wonderful countryside accommodations have stairs. If this is a concern, be sure and book a ground floor unit. If that is impossible, ensure the stairs are not the open kind where kids can fall through. I’ve found that most properties that cater to families are aware of issues like this, and when asked, will suggest the best room options.
Open water. An increasing number of accommodations have fenced pool areas. The reality is that your child will be with you and not running around the property unsupervised, but it is best to ask for rooms away from the pool if it is not fenced, and any other open water features like ponds and streams.
This is an essential issue to understand before booking a home or villa rental. In France, all villa rentals are required to have an electronic or physical fence around pool, but this is not the case in the majority of tourist destinations. Many rentals have unfenced pools that are right outside the building.
Toddler-proofing a room. Some hotel chains with family-focused programs like The Four Seasons will offer baby-proofing supplies on request. Ask if this is the case and/or plan on bringing your own basics like outlet covers (noting that for international travel the electrical sockets will be a different shape than ours) and lightweight, portable gates for multi-room guest units.
Disrupting precious sleep schedules is enough to keep some families at home. Time changes aside, managing sleep on the road can be seamless. The key is that the sleeping configuration must support your needs. If your child needs to go down at 7pm and you don’t want to go bed at the same time, you will need accommodations with separate sleeping areas. Unfortunately, in traditional hotels this means you will need a suite or connecting rooms and these larger room configurations are expensive.
If you just have one child, a workaround can be a walk-in closet where you can keep the door open for air. Or, we regularly ask for a room with a private outdoor area in warmer climates — this enables us to relax outside after we put our son down.
One important note is that some hotels call large, open-plan rooms suites. Understand if a suite is comprised of one or two rooms at the time of booking.
Young toddlers eat frequently. This is one reason why hotels with kitchenette facilities are so ideal with young children — you can at least prepare basic meals and snacks without having to go out to a restaurant. An increasing number of city hotels are offering kitchenette facilities now; it’s worth researching your destination thoroughly to understand the available options.
Most hotels can offer cribs to guests (all Ciao Bambino recommended family-friendly hotels do), but highchairs are a different story. A property may have just a few highchairs available in their restaurant. Bring a travel highchair or something similar to use in your room.
Every family has different needs and some kids are more flexible than others. Many of my friends never had to toddler-proof their homes. Not me! In fact, my concerns around how in the world I’d find a hotel that worked with my little monkey inspired me to start Ciao Bambino.
Top family-friendly hotel chains (US edition)