We have always preferred to skimp on accommodation when traveling. We create our own itineraries and plan our own trips. Lodging is generally an afterthought. A roof over our heads is all we need. We are always on the move. For us, the beauty of travel is in seeing and doing. Why stay in the hotel when you have a new city to explore? We take in as many sights, smells, tastes, and sounds as we can before jumping to the next destination a few days later. Repeat. Repeat again. This is not the most relaxing way to travel, but it is our chaotic method. At least it was until we had children…
Oh how time and twins have changed things! Long gone are the days we would take a night bus to avoid paying for a hotel. (The last one was an 18 hour overnight bus ride when I was four months pregnant with twins.) Sometimes pre-twins we wouldn’t make a booking in advance. Others we would stay in cramped, cheap hotels scented with eau de cockroach. These are simply not good options for a young family. Now our accommodations are all booked before departure. We spend more time in our rentals (though still as little as possible) and need more space and amenities.
We are very lucky. Our girls have slept through the night since they were 9 weeks old. They have always been great little sleepers. No matter how well your little kiddos sleep, travel will provide some bumps in the road. Different sleeping environments, travel itineraries, jet lag, etc will throw off even the best little sleepers temporarily. We hope our experiences will help you select lodging that is right for your family.
We have stayed in many different types of accommodations with our girls. From tiny 150 square foot single rooms to spacious two bedroom apartments– we have tried them all. Keep in mind that some costs offset others. For example, you will likely pay more for a rental with a kitchen, but you can then save money by dining in or packing lunch. It is important to find the right balance between cost and comfort.
We prefer to have our girls sleep in a room separate from us if possible. This usually means renting a 1 bedroom apartment and having our girls sleep in another room. This allows us to stay up comfortably after putting the girls to bed. We don’t want to worry about waking them with every little movement. That said, it is rare that we rent 2 bedrooms. This increases price and limits options. Our girls have slept in kitchens, living rooms, hallways… You name it. Keep an open mind to the possibilities and use existing space to maximize comfort.
There is one particular travel item that was invaluable for us when the girls were younger. It is the travel sleeping tent from Kidco Peapod. Travel tents are worth mentioning for a number of reasons. They are lightweight, portable, and can be set up/ packed away in just moments. With them you don’t have to rely on the rental having cribs or pack-n-plays. Any room in the rental can become a bedroom for twins. Just pop 2 tents open and zip your little ones inside. This greatly enhances your options when choosing accommodation. On the downside, they were previously taken off the market for a safety recall. They are now back after some minor modifications to make them safer. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful they were for us, but do your own research before buying.
Traveling light takes on a different meaning when you have kids. The amount of gear makes it much more painful to unpack and repack repeatedly. While many might want to slow down, we aren’t sane enough to even consider that as an option. Even so, our ‘always on the go’ method had to be modified slightly. Rather than jump from city to city every few days, we now establish fewer ‘base camps’ from which we take multiple day trips. During our last trip to Italy we stayed at five different apartments (over 3 weeks) ranging from a villa, a condo and a magical trullo in southern Italy. We stayed in each for 3-5 days taking frequent day trips. We were able to explore over 25 villages, towns, and cities in Italy off the beaten path (and put over 2500mi/4000km on our car rental in 2 weeks)! Now THAT is a vacation! (if you are certifiably insane).
WHERE TO STAY HOTELS VS VACATION RENTALS
- You don’t have to worry about bringing portable cribs or tents. Some of the hotels provide high chairs as well. Our hotel in Budapest even provided a baby bath tub, baby toiletries, diapers and baby food.
- A lot of hotels are now providing breakfast, menu to order and shuttle bus to sightseeing destinations or airports.
- Some hotels have a baby pool or water park for those families who want to utilize more hotel facilities. All-inclusive resorts take this to the next level, but family activities are often geared toward older kids.
- Some places even offer babysitting and/or daycare services should you care to partake of them.
- The rooms are often small and, if not, pricey.
- It is hard to find a one bedroom suite (especially abroad). It takes special kids to sleep in the same room when their parents are awake with the lights on. It takes really special parents to go to bed at the same time as their kids!
- Many hotel rooms (especially abroad) won’t have fridges or kitchenettes. This can be inconvenient (and also increase expense).
- There are more guests nearby who might not fully appreciate how beautiful your jet lagged bubs are as they scream the night away. If you have to deal with jet lag and crying babies in the middle of the night, the thin walls between your room and your neighbors’ can add more stress to your trip.
Recommendations: In US, we usually choose Embassy Suites or Best Western Plus Executive Suites for quick overnight trips. These two hotels have one bedroom suites with microwave and mini fridge. When abroad we only stay in hotels for 1 night stays close to airports when we have late arrivals or early departures.
Vacation Rental Advantages:
- You have as much space as you need, often for an equal or lower price than a hotel.
- You can get as many bedrooms as you want and have a living room and full kitchen.
- You want to do laundry? Choose a rental with a washing machine.
- You feel like you are at home and have more privacy if your kiddos wail into the wee hours of the night as you all battle jet lag.
- You can cut food costs (and embrace slower starts to the day) by eating in or preparing food at home for road trips and picnics on the go.
- Your options are almost limitless. You can stay in the most exotic properties, get the best views and pretend you are one of the locals. Most importantly, you can choose places with amenities specific to your needs.
Vacation Rental Disadvantages:
- The main disadvantage is a lack of baby gear. Some will have 1 pack-n-play or crib and most will have none. It is rare to find high chairs. You have to be creative with your sleeping and feeding arrangements. At times we used portable high chairs from Regalo while others we just used our Combi double stroller.
- There are no shuttles from airport.
- They have fewer facilities unless you stay in serviced apartments.
- No one will assist you with your baggage.
- There are no family activities.
- Sometimes there are no toiletries.
- They can be hard to find as many are in residential buildings and not well marked like hotels. They can be difficult to reach with public transport making it necessary to rent a car- especially if you are not traveling light.
- Sometimes you have minimum stays from a few days to a week.
- There can also be cleaning fees, deposits, cash only payments, etc.
Recommendations: We prefer to stay in 1-2 bedroom houses or apartments whenever possible. Staying in a rental not only gives you the space you crave, it also gives you the warm feeling of belonging. You bump into locals at the market, in the park, or just call a greeting when passing them in the street. You can bring to life a storybook fantasy by staying in a farmhouse in Tuscany, a rooftop apartment in Paris, a log cabin in Alps, or wherever your dreams take you.
Favorites: Of all the places we have stayed, my favorite is the two bedroom apartment in the Recoletta area of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Second place goes to the rural two bedroom apartment at a farmhouse villa near Dozza, Italy. Third place is a one bedroom rooftop attic apartment in Prague. They are all within budget Euro100 a night.
What you should be looking for (family of 4):
1. At least one bedroom with door. Even better if it has an en-suite bathroom.
2. Kitchenette: This is very convenient if you are traveling with little babies. You can wash bottles/cups, prepare foods, store items in the fridge, cook with the stove/oven/mircrowave. It can also save you money. Some accommodations provide complimentary breakfast and it’s a plus. However, you need to get the babies (and yourselves) ready in the morning and bring them downstairs to the dining hall which can be difficult depending on schedules or jet lag effects.
3. If you have a one bedroom apartment, make sure that the living room (or another space) is big enough for you to put the two cribs (or portable tents, blankets on the floor, etc). If you sleep with your kiddos make sure the bed is large enough for all of you as many countries routinely have smaller double beds.
4. Location, location, location. Know roughly where you want to stay. Where are the sites you want to see? Consider how you will travel from place to place. Are you renting a car? Do you need to be close to public transport? How are you getting to/from the airport/train/bus station? How are you getting to the next destination on your journey? Keep these sorts of things in mind when choosing your accommodation.
5. Is there an elevator? If not you may need to climb many stairs with your babies, heavy bags, and other gear. When we were in Montevideo, we climbed up an Everest-esque spiral staircase to the fifth floor because the elevator wasn’t working (the owner didn’t tell us). So, double, triple check and make sure that the elevator is working or stay close to the ground floor.
6. Child proofing. This starts online before the booking. Are there potential dangers like steps or swimming pools? Is there a spot for the kids to sleep? Take a good look at online pictures of the rental. After arrival we immediately start child proofing while our girls stay in the stroller. Get the breakables and sharps out of reach. A number of potential hazards are in the kitchen. Checks drawers for knives, scissors, glassware in low cupboards, and cleaners/toxins under the sink. Evaluate the residence for other dangers (eg frayed power cords). We bring a pinch guard, a cabinet lock latch and tape with us every time we travel. These items are very light, small and reliable. You can also bring outlet plugs though yours might not work in other countries. There is a fine line between enough and too much safety equipment. Find your own sweet spot.
7. Cribs. Always ask if they can provide cribs. A few times places with 1 pack-n-play were able to borrow or buy for us. If you really like a place, send an email or give a call to query. In some larger cities you can also rent cribs/pack-n-plays by the day. You can also use travel tents(we love our Kidco Peapod) if you choose to do so.
How to find the right vacation rental :
1. There are any number of online booking websites. I love using booking.com, hotels.com and venere.com. Booking.com is my favorite. It has Iphone and Ipad apps where I can see my itineraries. I can also link the itineraries straight to my calendar to make the travel planning easier. It has reviews from other travelers and gives detailed information about room size (sq ft/m). Many of the apartments and vacation rentals are run by companies rather than individuals. They tend to have more amenities (eg free breakfast, accept credit cards, etc). The majority of my bookings for our recent Italy rip (we stayed in 5 different vacation rentals) were made on booking.com. Most of them had no cancellation fees. We search for 2 adults and look for the terms ” children stay free” or “$x per kids.” You can limit your search to apartments or vacation rentals only.
2. We plan and book everything online. Just google “rental apartment Rome” for example to search apartments in Rome. We found http://www.romecityapartments.com/ and stayed in a one bedroom apartment near Vatican city.
3. Be cautious with some international rental booking agents (homeaway.com, vrbo.com, flip-key.com, Airbnb). Don’t book rentals with few or no reviews. You usually deal with the owners directly. Some don’t take credit cards and you often have to pay in full in advance (paypal, wire transfer). Sometimes it’s just hard, cold cash on arrival. Keep your eyes out for exorbitant cleaning fees, high cancellation fees, and deposits. Cancellations can occur with little to no warning. While we want you to take appropriate caution, these sites usually provide a great service. We have had generally excellent experiences but we have also had a booking cancelled 10 days before arrival.
4. Check reviews on tripadvisor.com. Trip advisor can also make a booking for you via flipkey.com but the processing fee is quite high. If you find an apartment that you like, go to tripadvisor and read the reviews. I won’t book anything until I am happy with the reviews on trip advisor.
5. Keep to well known and well regarded websites when making your bookings. Don’t rent an apartment without seeing the photos or information about the size and amenities. Rent only units with multiple reviews and good ratings. You don’t want to get scammed or be unpleasantly surprised on arrival. You will be tired enough after your journey so make sure you get a good place to stay.