With summer just around the bend, many families are planning getaways. But figuring out all the details — from which hotels are child-friendly to how many diapers to pack for that five-hour flight (more is better) — can be critical for a smooth trip. Here are some lessons I have learned over the years, both from other travelers and through my own experience.
DON’T PACK WHAT YOU CAN GET THERE. Leave the extra formula, suntan lotion and Cheerios at home. Any extra cash you may spend will be offset by what you save in checked bag fees and overall inconvenience. Besides, you are inevitably going to forget something and have to make a run to the local grocery or convenience store anyway. If you’re willing to spend some money, you can give a list to the hotel concierge and ask him or her to buy your supplies in advance for a fee or a generous tip.
THINK COMPACT. The more you can leave behind the better, but there are times when taking along a travel bed or a foldable highchair is worth it. For example, when renting a house with friends last spring, my husband and I packed a borrowed Travel Crib for our daughter, then a year old. Listed at about €150 in a recent online search, the bed (which collapses into a compact carry-on that weighs 5 kilos) isn’t cheap, but it is convenient.
TRAVELING BY PLANE? DON’T STUFF EVERYTHING INTO ONE CHECKED BAG. Airlines are generally losing fewer checked bags these days. But that’s little consolation if you’re one of the unlucky ones whose bag goes missing, especially if all the children’s clothes, gear and toys are in it. As a precaution, pack half of those items in one checked bag and half in another or in your carry-on. At a minimum, especially if you’re traveling with small children, take a change of clothes onboard for the child and yourself. That way, when she spills cranberry juice all over you, or her diaper leaks, you have options.
DON’T SCRIMP ON AIRLINE TICKETS. When you are trying to stick to a budget it’s tempting to book the cheaper connecting flight or convince yourself that you don’t need to spend $25 extra each way to check that portable travel bed. The nonstop flight and checked bag fees will add to your expenses, but it’s often not worth the risk of missing a connection or the effort involved in schlepping all those carry-on bags.
GET CREATIVE WITH ENTERTAINMENT. You can quickly turn a luggage rack into an activity gym for an infant by hooking some dangling toys on it. Play-Doh is a godsend when traveling with toddlers who are too young to sit through an in-flight movie and too old to nap in your lap. When interest in that runs out, order ice and extra stirring straws. That kept our daughter entertained for hours after she quickly tired of all the books, stickers and other games we had packed for a two-flight trip to Ecuador when she was about a year old.
HIPSTER HOTELS ARE GREAT FOR KIDS. Though boutique hotels generally lack child-friendly amenities like children’s clubs or waterslides, parents with older children have told me that such hotels often have other attractions. Many teenagers and tweens love the trendy furniture and amenities. And families with young children who wake at the break of dawn often have the pool to themselves while other guests are sleeping off hangovers, as my husband and I discovered a few years ago with our daughter, then 3 months old.
One caveat: Like many boutique hotels our room had a sexy shower but lacked a bathtub. (We bathed our daughter in the sink.) But at least we could pretend that we hadn’t completely lost our cool.
MAKE SURE THAT SUITE IS REALLY A SUITE. Many hotels will call a room with anything more than a bed and a desk in it a suite, whether it has a separate living room or not. That is a frustrating misnomer for parents looking to put a door between themselves and their offspring.
Author: Michelle Higgins