If you’ve ever taken your kids on even a day trip, you already know that traveling with children can be stressful. Add in overnight stays, and one potential source of stress is the hotel. The unfamiliar setting can be uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing for young children.
Don’t cancel your reservation just yet, though. There are things you can do to make a hotel room—any hotel room—feel more comfortable and even a little more like home for your kids. As you plan your upcoming family travel, keep in mind these nine ways you can help your kids feel at ease in a hotel that’s thousands of miles away from home.
Wear children out during the day.
Studies confirm what most parents have known from Day One: a physically active child sleeps better. They fall asleep faster and they sleep more soundly. While this might not make the hotel itself any homier, it likely means your child will spend less time awake and stressing over unfamiliar surroundings. Let your children expend their energy during the day, and they’ll have less room for worry at night in the hotel.
Getting enough physical activity can be difficult if you’ve been on the road (or in the air) all day, but it’s worth taking time when you arrive at your hotel to let your children get their energy out. Visit the hotel pool, or go for a walk as a family. A little time spent being active will mean a lot more time sleeping later.
Don’t throw out bedtime.
Travel often means a radically different schedule than usual. Parents aren’t at work, children aren’t at school, and families often spend the entire day doing fun activities. While some flexibility in scheduling is necessary, try to fit your activities around your children’s normal bedtime.
It might be tempting to let your children stay up late every night on the road, but early bedtimes have clear benefits. They help children fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Studies show that an early bedtime even means children will be less likely to wake you at the crack of dawn! Plus, sticking to the same bedtime they normally have will minimize the differences between your home and your hotel.
Mimic your routine from home.
Along with sticking to bedtime, try to maintain your normal bedtime routine. While letting things slide might seem easier on vacation, the normalcy of routine will be helpful in making children feel secure. So make sure the kids still brush their teeth, change into their pajamas, and do whatever else they normally would.
Likewise, if you normally sing your child a lullaby, take the time to do so in the hotel. You’ll also want to pull out a favorite story book. Research shows that reading at bedtime can lower children’s stress levels, making it a perfect activity to bridge the distance between their home and hotel experiences.
Bring a favorite stuffed animal.
Younger children might benefit from sleeping with their favorite stuffed animal from home. Not only will it serve as a familiar object in a strange place, but it very well might help your child feel braver. Having teddy by their side will help them cope better with a potentially scary environment.
Of course, you’ll want to be careful with any stuffed animals you bring along. There are plenty of parents who can tell you horror stories about leaving a child’s beloved teddy at a hotel and then dealing with the fallout that ensued. You can set rules with your child for where their stuffed animal goes—don’t let them take it to the hotel pool or lobby, for example. Then make sure the stuffed animal gets packed up when you leave.
Have some white noise.
A big part of what makes a hotel seem so unfamiliar are the noises. They keep many travelers up at night, particularly children who may not have heard the grumble of an industrial ice machine before. There are doors opening and closing at all hours, unfamiliar people talking, road noise, and many other sounds that can unsettle children and keep them awake.
White noise can help block out these unsettling sounds. You can use a white noise machine or even just an app on your phone. Ideally, you should introduce your children to white noise before you leave home so they are already accustomed to it. Just make sure you follow guidelines for using white noise machines around children. Don’t put the machine too close to the bed, and then lower the volume after your child falls asleep.
Make sure there are enough beds.
If your children are used to sleeping in their own beds at home, being forced to sleep together in a crowded room can be distracting and upsetting. You won’t be able to perfectly recreate their home sleeping arrangements, but giving every child their own bed can go a long way.
There are plenty of ways you can arrange to have enough beds in a hotel room. While getting a rollaway cot from the hotel is always a solid option, you can also get creative by rearranging chairs and couches if you need to. For infants and toddlers, consider bringing a travel bed with you. When everyone has their own sleeping space, you’ll all feel less like you’re cramped in a small room.
Make the hotel smell like home.
The sense of smell is incredibly powerful. It can elicit strong emotional reactions and trigger memories. It’s unlikely your hotel room will smell much like home. If anything, the unfamiliar scents can continually remind children how far away they are from the bedroom they know and love.
Fortunately, there are easy and safe ways to make your hotel smell more like home for the kids. Dryer sheets from home can be used in a variety of ways: you can put one in your child’s pillowcase so the familiar scent keeps them happy at night, you can put a few in various places around the room, or you can even put one over the hotel A/C unit to spread the scent throughout the room. You can also bring a candle from home. You’ll want to avoid an open flame, but a candle warmer can safely disperse a familiar scent, helping your family feel right at home.
Bring a pillow from home.
Another way to introduce a familiar scent into your hotel room is to bring your own pillows from home. But it’s not all about smell—a familiar pillow under your child’s head will help them feel right at home, unlike a hotel pillow that likely has different materials or firmness. Just keep in mind that experts recommend bringing your pillow with a protector to avoid things like dust mites from hotel bedding.
You might also consider bringing your sheets from home, particularly if your children have sensitive skin or if they are used to sleeping on a unique material like flannel or bamboo. Again, the familiarity of smell and feel will help even a hotel bed feel just like their bedroom back home.
Bring your own toiletries.
While it can be inconvenient, bringing your own toiletries is often a good idea when you travel with children. This will ensure, first of all, that you have plenty to go around. Small hotel-sized toiletries get spread thin quickly with multiple children.
More importantly, toiletries from home will help children maintain their routine. Their own toiletries will feel the same on their skin and their hair (especially important for the sensitive skin of younger children), and they will smell the same, too. Consult a toiletry packing list for kids to ensure you have everything your children need for their stay.
Traveling with kids will always bring unexpected bumps in the road, but you can make things easier by using these tips to prepare. You don’t necessarily have to use every one of these suggestions, but try incorporating a few on your next vacation, prioritizing what you think will matter most to your individual children. You’ll help your family feel more at home—no matter where you are.